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STL Fringe Fest sees uptick in sales for hyperlocal, inclusive stage performances

"Humans of St. Louis, The Stage Play" was adapted from the book and storytelling project by Lindy Drew.
Robert Crowe
St. Louis Fringe Festival
"Humans of St. Louis, The Stage Play" was adapted from the book and storytelling project by Lindy Drew.

Regional live theater venues across the country are struggling to bounce back since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down productions for nearly two years.

STL Fringe Festival weathered the disruption, and for this year’s festival organizers are seeing an uptick in sales and original, local storytelling. The festival began Tuesday and will continue through Sunday.

St. Louis-based burlesque performer and show producer Sara Howard, also known as Dizzy Tunt, is a first-time STL Fringe Fest participant, but she is not new to the stage. She and co-producer and fellow performer Chi Chi Buxom are bringing their all plus-size burlesque revue “Bawdy Positivity” to the festival.

Sara Howard performs burlesque as Dizzy Tunt and is the co-producer of "Bawdy Positivity"
Miya Norfleet
St. Louis Public Radio
Sara Howard performs burlesque as Dizzy Tunt and is the co-producer of "Bawdy Positivity."

“Bawdy Positivity” sits at the fringe, Howard said, because of its focus and celebration of larger physiques in an artform that typically spotlights smaller frames.

“There's a lot of different body types in burlesque, but you don't always see fat performers onstage,” Howard said. “There's been a huge movement in burlesque of all plus-size burlesque festivals, and all plus-size burlesque shows. It's really been a movement I've seen growing in the burlesque community in the last year or so.”

“Bawdy Positivity” features six plus-size performers with acts covering traditional burlesque as well as “nerdlesque” and “draglesque,” including an act inspired by the classic video game franchise Super Mario Bros.

“A lot of people [think of] Dita Von Teese, which is a style of burlesque, but it's not the only thing about burlesque,” Howard said. “It can be funny [and] it can be sexy. It's more queer, more feminist and has more variety than people might think.”

STL Fringe Fest has brought stage performances from independent artists for 12 years. This year’s festival has sold more tickets than in 2022, but Matthew Kerns, St. Lou Fringe’s president and artistic director, told St. Louis on the Air that he’s more interested in the art than the revenue — especially after COVID-19 restrictions shut down theaters.

“[This year] we are fully back into theaters and there are more patrons than ever. We have had record patronage this year, the ticket sales are through the roof,” he said. “We're so thrilled because our mission is to get our audiences connected to our independent artists and have their work be seen.”

Lindy Drew is the lead storyteller and co-founder of Humans of St. Louis.
Miya Norfleet
St. Louis Public Radio
Lindy Drew is the lead storyteller and co-founder of Humans of St. Louis.

Lindy Drew, co-founder and lead storyteller of Humans of St. Louis, has taken her photography and storytelling project from social media, to a self-published book and now to the festival stage. Drew said that the collaboration with writer and director Joe Hanrahan started a few months ago when Hanrahan admitted that he had not heard of Drew’s project or book, but after seeing a copy at a library, he saw a possible stage play.

“I don't have any experience with theater, [so] we met up, and [Hanrahan] gave me such a great vibe. I decided, let's do it, because part of publishing the book is figuring out, ‘What are people going to do with it?’” Drew said. “We had this really creative idea. He wrote the original script from stories that he had highlighted, and I came in and tweaked some things. We had two rehearsals. Yesterday was opening night, and they crushed it.”

Though St. Lou Fringe is all about putting indie acts outside of the mainstream onstage and collaboration among different cities to support artists across the nation, Kerns champions keeping many of the festival’s acts local.

“What makes me most proud is that we tell stories that are grassroots first,” he said. “We always look to our hometown to tell the stories of our friends, our neighbors, and our community. That makes us truly St. Lou Fringe.”

For more on the variety of acts at this year’s STL Fringe Fest and St Lou Fringe’s methodology on censorship onstage, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast by clicking the play button below.

STL Fringe Fest sees uptick in sales for hyper local, inclusive stage performances

Related Event
What: STL Fringe Fest
When: Aug. 16-20
Where: Various locations. Visit stlfringe.org for information and tickets.

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 produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production intern. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Miya is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."