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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Celebrating 70 years: how the Fringe became a global movement

The Vancouver Fringe Festival joins fringe festivals around the world in marking World Fringe Day on July 11

Today, the Vancouver Fringe Festival joins hundreds of festivals around the world to celebrate seventy years of Fringe.

A movement sweeping across the globe, the inaugural World Fringe Day highlights the collective power of the Fringe, by providing innovation on stage.

Now a Scottish grandpa, the first Fringe Festival was born in 1947 in Edinburgh, Scotland when eight groups were refused entry into the newly formed Edinburgh International Festival. Deciding to perform regardless, the groups ended up playing on the “fringe” of the festival.

From a single act of defiance, the Fringe phenomena has grown to become a worldwide model, now reaching as far as China, South Africa, and Canada.

“From humble beginnings … the Fringe movement has developed into a global network of festivals over the last 70 years, with Fringes now taking place on every continent except Antarctica,” says Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society.

Heading into its 33rd year itself, the first Vancouver Fringe Festival was held in 1985, featuring 220 performances across seven venues in Mount Pleasant.

The inaugural year saw 4,000 people attend with just 25 volunteers. Its humble beginnings meant the opening ceremonies took place in the parking lot of an IGA, complete with face painting and a sock hop.

Moot and Smoot at the 1992 Vancouver Fringe Festival
Mump and Smoot at the 1992 Vancouver Fringe Festival

“It was a very dynamic time. There were a lot of people doing things in different spaces. A lot of people were doing new work,” says Joanna Maratta, Fringe Festival founder and former executive director.

By contrast, today’s Vancouver Fringe Festival now presents nearly 100 shows across some twenty venues, with 40,000 attendees and 500 volunteers.

Building on its brand, the Vancouver Fringe Festival eventually moved to the diversity of Commercial Drive and then to Granville Island, where it is currently located.

As the second oldest festival of its kind in Canada, its growth in popularity has meant the Vancouver Fringe Festival has also become a focal point for Vancouver’s theatre community.

“Fringe has become synonymous with authenticity and independent art and we want to keep it that way to ensure that Fringe Festivals are accessible platforms for all artists and audiences,” says executive director David Jordan.

Today’s Fringe continues to contribute to the theatre community with many emerging artists performing for the first time at the festival. Operating on a platform of “theatre for everyone”, it has meant shows remain un-juried and uncensored, with the mainstage line-up picked literally from a hat.

On July 11, the Vancouver Fringe Festival will celebrate World Fringe Day by sharing videos from the Fringe community throughout the day.

Local organizers are inviting everyone to join in on the fun by sharing their Fringe love on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using the hashtags #WorldFringeDay, #Fringe70 and #VanFringe. The Vancouver Fringe Festival will join the online celebration by retweeting and liking what is shared.

For more information on World Fringe Day visit

The 2017 Vancouver Fringe Festival takes place September 7-17. Visit for more information.

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