About Us

The Making Of The Milwaukee Fringe Festival

Our Inaugural Year

In the summer of 1947, eight theatre companies arrived at the Edinburgh International Festival hoping to put on their shows. When they were turned down by the larger festival, they decided to put on their own. These smaller companies literally performed on the fringe of the larger festival, and thus the idea of the Fringe Festival was born. In the time since, Fringe Festivals have sprouted up in arts-minded cities, including New York, London, Sydney, and Minneapolis.

In 2016, Milwaukee finally added its name to the list. On August 27th and 28th 2016, the first ever MKE Fringe took place in downtown Milwaukee. Following the rich tradition of Fringe Festivals, the Milwaukee Fringe Festival showcased a diverse collection of local and regional artists. From theatrical actors to painters, musicians to tap dancers, performance artists to playwrights, MKE Fringe is a joyous celebration of what makes Milwaukee’s culture vibrant and extraordinary.

Although Fringe Festivals are commonly known to feature work in unconventional venues, MKE Fringe has had the good fortune of securing a partnership with The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, and is able to put on high production-value shows in their world-class venues. Additionally, performances and exhibitions are featured along the Milwaukee RiverWalk. Outdoor events will be open to the public, while tickets will be available for indoor events in order to support the performers.

In its first year, Milwaukee Fringe Festival team curated hundreds of submissions into an extraordinary lineup featuring each art form. Theatre companies put on shows in Todd Wehr Hall and Vogel Hall over the course of the event. Boundary-pushing theater companies like Theater Gigante, Summit Players, Quasimondo Physical Theater and Renaissance Theaterworks performed original works during the festival.  Music took place in the central location of Pere Marquette Park during MKE Fringe. An eclectic lineup of alternative rock, electronic, hip hop and folk music performed over the course of the 2 days. Visual artists created an artistic and interactive atmosphere. Attendees watched projects come together throughout the festival grounds over the course of the two days, as well as participate in interactive art exhibits put together by some of Milwaukee’s most innovative visual artists. From classical to modern dance, MKE Fringe featured over 20 dance performers putting on original work outdoors and indoors. The festival was enhanced by the presence of performance artists roving through the space and interacting with the crowd.

The first ever MKE Fringe Fest was presented under the direction of renowned television and film actor Willem Dafoe, John Schneider (Theatre Professor at Marquette University), Eric Engelbart (Event Coordinator), Matt Kemple (Milwaukee Comedy Festival), Karen Raymond and Katie Rhyme (Dance Revolution Milwaukee), and Brian Rott (Quasimondo Physical Theatre). The festival is produced under Nice Plays, Inc a 501c3 nonprofit organization.

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