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Immigration-Focused Plays Among Wide-Ranging Works At This Year’s St. Lou Fringe Festival

Playwright Shannon Geier (at left) is headlining the 2019 St. Lou Fringe Festival with her play "Check In." Matthew Kerns is the executive director of the festival.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

To describe the St. Lou Fringe Festival as a theater event is something of a misnomer. There are plenty of actors, playwrights and other theater professsionals involved in the annual six-day-long extravaganza that gets underway this Tuesday. But there are also poets, dancers, performance artists, sculptors, burlesque performers and improv acts.

This year’s offerings also run the gamut with pieces by established and experienced playwrights as well as emerging artists and previously untested work. That’s by design, according to organizer Matthew Kerns.

“The idea of a fringe festival is that it is uncensored and unjuried,” the executive director of the festival told St. Louis on the Air host Sarah Fenske on Monday’s show. “We offer opportunity where opportunity is not given anywhere else in this region. So if you have a piece of work that you are passionate about that is very experimental, we are the place for that to be done.”

Festivalgoers will also discover works that speak to current events and societal issues, including playwright Shannon Geier’s local headline act “Check In.”

“We’re looking at immigration and how it affects one specific family in the United States,” Geier said of her play, adding that her company, which is named the “because why not? theatre company,” tends to perform works that get people thinking and talking about what they see. “Check In” is one of those.

“Certainly with what’s going on in our country right now,” Geier said, “we feel like theater is a wonderful way to address that.”

Kerns noted that Geier has had a play in Fringe Fest for four years running.

“Every year Shannon brings a different play to the table, and every year that play is successful because it’s on the pulse of what’s happening, it’s very timely, and it’s always really well written,” Kerns said. “So it made sense that she would be the headline act this year.”

Not every piece of work in the spotlight at St. Lou Fringe Festival is always so “successful,” he acknowledged.

“There are definitely works in progress – things that are not done – but that’s part of it,” Kerns explained. “To me, Fringe is always a garden. And so we’re giving you this empty plot of land to plant a seed and water it and watch it grow and give it sunlight, and we’re finding these works at all stages.”

Aside from headline acts and some invited artists, the festival lineup is the result of a random lottery, which is “one of the most important things about our organization,” Kerns said.

“We pull them out of a fishbowl, and the stage is theirs to do [what they want],” Kerns said.

Listen to the full conversation:

Related Event
What: St. Lou Fringe Festival
When: Tuesday, Aug. 13, through Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019
Where: Various venues in Grand Center and beyond (see individual show titles for more information)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Alexis Moore. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.