Asheville Fringe Arts Festival turns 20

Circus artist Felicity Hesid performs at the now-defunct Mothlight in 2020. | Photo by Jennifer Bennett

What’s the 828 without a little oddity? Thankfully for all us weirdos, the Asheville Fringe Arts Festival has continued to delight + challenge locals to stay weird with experimental, out-of-the-box performances for nearly two decades. 

In honor of its 20th year — which runs in a virtual format Thurs., Jan. 27- Sun., Jan. 30 — we’re revisiting Asheville Fringe’s rich history of what organizer Jennifer Murphy describes as “an emotional rollercoaster of provocative performance, from the loony to the dark and vulnerable, from the playfully foolish to the soul-touching and scary.” 

Photo by Jennifer Bennett

So how’d all this madness start?  

For the uninitiated, “fringe arts” have long been a tradition in the performing arts community and it’s believed to have originated in 1947 in Edinburgh, Scotland when a handful of groups were excluded from a mainstream annual arts festival + decided to perform anyway on the “fringes of the city.” The concept spread quickly, soon appearing in spots like San Francisco + Toronto — which is where Giles and Susan Collard of Asheville Contemporary Dance Theater caught wind of it back in the early 2000s.

Jim Julien performing his “slow-motion” act in 2003. | Photo via Fringe Fest

The duo launched the first-ever Asheville Fringe as three evenings at the BeBe Theater, with lots of dance-based performances, plus a very memorable showing from Jim Julien as the “slo-mo painted guy.” Over the years, the festival has grown into a genre-defying, exhilarating staple of the Asheville arts scene, beckoning legends like the Butoh Parade and the Wicked Geisha Theater’s giant paper mache volcano (known to spew buckets of glitter on crowd goers).

Musical duo Charming Disaster will do a virtual tarot card reading this year. | Photo by Adrian Buckmaster

What’s happening this year?

Due to the pandemic, the festival has pivoted to a virtual lineup that’s “small but mighty.” There will be eight shows (most of which will repeat twice) which include four film nights + four live online shows of comedy, puppetry, opera, music, and storytelling.  A “fringe binge pass” gives you full access to the shows — or you can purchase tickets a la carte.