Two fringe festivals bring organized chaos to Atlanta theater this June

Instead of competing, Lavender Fest and the Atlanta Fringe Festival have promoted one another to make June Atlanta’s season of fringe

Fringe festivals combine to bring organized chaos to Atlanta theater
The Atlanta Fringe Festival started in 2012 and has since expanded to 20 shows in 1 week.

Photograph courtesy of the Atlanta Fringe Festival

One of Ty Autry’s first encounters with fringe theater was as a performer on the international stage. He traveled to the 2019 International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival to debut a one-person show based on his life, A Southern Fairytale: The Story of a Gay Christian Growing Up in the Deep South. The performance, limited to one hour, took the Dublin audience on a magical journey through Georgia, with Autry’s protagonist thwarting a wizard who wields the power of conversion therapy and a dragon that breathes the fire of fear. “I was so nervous to step in front of that audience, but they were so giving and wanted my story,” Autry, a native of Thomasville, says.

Fringe theater is performed without production or weeks of rehearsal, and mostly lives as a single festival run. The idea began with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1947, created as an alternative showcase for nontraditional acts passed over by the city’s premier theater festival. The one-off nature creates a theatrical pressure cooker, with an audience there for organic, weird, and wonderful performances that typically last just an hour.

Five years after Dublin, Autry debuts as the director of a new fringe festival in Atlanta. Lavender Fest will showcase nine performances by queer artists from June 19 to 23 at Out Front Theatre, where Autry is a member of the Artistic Advisory Council. “I wanted a space that can support queer works and also educate a Southern audience,” he says. “The fringe format is perfect because these aren’t full productions, which brings forth stories you would never hear before and you’ll likely never hear again.”

Lavender Fest joins a busy June schedule for fringe in Atlanta. The Atlanta Fringe Festival runs June 3 to 9, with 20 different shows at 7 venues. Instead of competing, the fringe festivals have promoted one another to make June Atlanta’s season of fringe. “It feels like we’re getting a best friend,” says Diana Brown, cofounder of the Atlanta Fringe Festival, which began in 2012. “Lavender Fest has this amazing platform to bring queer artists to the stage, and I can’t wait to go.”

Brown started the Atlanta Fringe Festival without having seen a fringe festival herself. She had heard about the concept from friends, and they were able to set up performances in small theaters around Atlanta. The first fringe show she saw was her opening night. A group called Performance Gallery did scat poetry to show how syllables came together to make language. The show, titled Fricative, guided the audience through otherworldly settings, such as aliens meeting to decipher words like table. “It was so bizarre that I actually cried in my seat,” Brown says. “The show was exactly the weird [stuff] I wanted—nowhere else in Atlanta had something like this.”

Every year, Brown pulls names of applicants from a hat to fill the lineup. The result is a wide variety of shows, from clowns and puppetry to tragic comedies and dramatic storytelling. This year, the festival will use theaters like 7 Stages and Limelight, in addition to unique spaces such as Wrecking Bar Brewpub and East Atlanta Kids Club.

For Lavender Fest, Out Front will host four nights of four shows each. Autry chose performances to represent each facet of the queer community, with comedies, musicals, drag, and more. “There’s a slice of the rainbow for everyone,” Autry says. “I know Lavender will be a deeply personal space because that is what fringe is—the artist trusting the audience with their story, and the audience trusting the artist to tell a story that will range the expanse of the human experience.”

This article appears in our June 2024 issue.