What: 2013 Boulder International Fringe Festival
When: Wednesday, Sept. 18-Sunday, Sept. 29
Where: "Fringe Central" at Agora at the Riverside, 1724 Broadway, The Dairy Center for the Arts, Wesley Chapel and four other venues
Tickets: From free to $15. Available at Boulderfringe.com or at venues within 30 minutes of show times
Info: 303-803-5643 or boulderfringe.com
No offense intended -- and none, surely, taken -- but it takes a certain kind of place to host a dyed-in-the-wool "fringe festival." Paducah, Ky.? No. Rock Springs, Wyo.? Probably not any time soon. Colorado Springs? Need we ask?
A willingness to embrace the weird, the original, the outer edges of "independent" art is a prerequisite. Which, of course, makes Boulder an ideal venue.
One need look no further than 2013 Boulder International Fringe Festival performer Martin Dockery's piece, "The Bike Trip," to understand that these things might not play in your average buttoned-up city. In this case, the "trip" is arguably more important than the bicycle. As a starting point, Dockery explores his own attempt to re-create Swiss researcher Albert Hoffman's crazy commute home after discovering the psychotropic properties of ergot.
"I want to portray the story of LSD, told by me, just a regular guy, and how it's like a little key to help us unlock new ways of seeing the world," says Dockery, who makes a living traveling the fringe circuit but is coming to Boulder for the first time. "Acid and I have been great friends."
When you're at the BIFF -- not to be confused with the Boulder International Film Festival, held in the winter -- you know you're not in Kansas any more. Totally.
This year's ninth annual festival offers a couple of major changes along with about 300 events, including music, dance, theater, film, talk shows, workshops and parties.
First is a one-month push in timing, from its traditional August run to Sept. 18-29. "We've gotten a lot of comments over the years from people who attend and sponsors that (August) was an awkward time of year," says David Ortolano, executive director of the festival.
The University of Colorado wasn't yet in session, harried families were just returning from vacation and getting youngsters ready for school and wandering entertainers were often focused on bigger festivals in Edmonton, Alberta, New York City and Edinburgh, Scotland.
"We heard from a lot of traveling artists that this works better for them. They are saying, 'Great! Now I can finally come to the (Boulder) festival,' " Ortolano says.
This year's festival also will feature "Fringe Central" at the brand-new Agora at the Riverside next to Boulder Creek near the intersection of Broadway and Arapahoe Avenue. Although performances will take place at seven venues, most will be held at the Agora, a recently opened mixed-use space that triples as a high-end restaurant, co-working space and performance venue.
"We're putting 200 events in there over 12 days, each with 100 people or maybe more, and everyone can hang out and drink and eat," Ortolano says.
Last year's festival tried the hub approach at the defunct Folsom Street coffeehouse, but it was somewhat off the beaten track.
"Agora is the perfect location. Right downtown, right by the bandshell" in Boulder's Central Park, Ortolano says.
But, of course, wherever they take place, it's the performances that count, and this year has a packed schedule, from newcomers to old favorites.
Dockery and his acting partner, Vanessa Quesnelle, for instance, will also perform a surreal play, "The Pit," about a couple going through the motions in a tired marriage who suddenly find a bottomless chasm has opened in their living room.
Boulder's Square Product Theatre is back for a sixth consecutive year, this time with crowd favorite Kelsie Huff in "Bruiser," a comic tale anchored to experiences that will be shared by many under-40 audience members. The play is a series of three short solo pieces about the experiences of a girl in 1980s middle America -- Girl Scouts; being dropped off by parents to spend all day at the roller rink; and producing "Jesus Christ Superstar" at church camp with a gay kid who shares her passion for musical theater.
"This is what it was like to grow up American in a very particular time period. It's very funny, but also, these are the things that are hard about growing up in a certain landscape," says Emily Harrison, producing artistic director and co-founder of Square Product.
The show will feature touchstones for that bygone era, as will the front of the house: Twinkies, Skittles, roller skates, Slip 'N Slide and more. "Kelsie talks a lot about eating Skittles," Harrison says. "And her grandma drove a Hostess truck."
Gemma Wilcox, who splits her time between London and Boulder, will perform a 10th-anniversary run of her show "The Honeymoon Is Officially Over," winner of the festival's "Pick of the Fringe" award in 2005 and 2007. Bulgaria-born Margarita Blush, one of the nation's few academics focused on puppet theater, will bring "The Crane Wife," which made its debut at the Boulder Public Library in 2011.
"This is one of the favorite folk tales in Japan," says Blush, who lived in Boulder until taking a job this year as a professor of performance and directing at the University of Connecticut, home of the nation's only extensive puppet theater. Her version of the tale is based heavily on that of storyteller Odds Bodkin.
As always, there will be non-performance events, including an opening-night celebration with an all-you-can-eat buffet, daily late-night talk shows, a story slam modeled after New York's "The MOTH: True Stories Told Live," panels and more. "The Boulder Fringe Festival is one of those events that really brings the community together," Blush says. "I find great value in a community of artists coming together to exchange ideas and innovations, pushing the envelope in non-traditional ways. I love participating in it. It's accessible, fun, thought-provoking and risque, all in one."