by Sammy Kanter
|Mural Outside of the Know Theatre|
Last night, I was working the box office for the Cincinnati Fringe Festival in Over-the-Rhine when an old friend walked by. We hugged and smiled with joy over the surprise meeting.
“What are you up to?” she asked.
“I moved to New York City,” I said, “I’m bartending at a Broadway theatre and trying to find full-time work. How about you?”
“I’m still here,” she said. “…Still haven’t gotten out. I live here in Over-the-Rhine, which is pretty cool. But I’ll get out one of these days.”
As we parted ways, what she said bothered and frustrated me. Why do people feel like they need to escape from this town?
Granted, I did “get out.” I moved to New York City last October, after growing up and spending two years post-college here. When I moved, however, I wasn’t doing it to “get out.” I was moving to have a new adventure and be in a city I have always dreamed of living in.
Still, as the leaves started to bud, signaling the beginning of the spring of 2012, I couldn’t help but think of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival. I was the Associate Producer of the festival for the past two years, plus I had been involved for the three years prior. I knew I had to come back and be a part of this festival.
The Cincinnati Fringe Festival is a symbol for all that is great about this city. It is a truly unique Cincinnati experience that proves there are some things no other cities but Cincinnati can provide. The festival is about creating strong a community, exchanging ideas and helping speed along the revitalization of the urban center of Cincinnati.
Cincinnati has long been a city full of tight-knit, supportive communities. You see familiar faces everywhere you go. Not only that, but Cincinnati also presents opportunities to create your own community or make a difference in an existing community. I was reminded of just how special these communities can be when I walked into the Fringe Festival CityBeat Kickoff party at Know Theatre last Tuesday. At the packed bar, everyone had a cheerful, friendly face; among the crowd I counted friends, former coworkers and fellow theater lovers. The Fringe Festival community is but one example of many communities all over town. Each offers a different opportunity to make its members feel loved and a part of something greater. This trait, more than anything else, is what I miss about Cincinnati.
At a typical Fringe Festival show, there is nothing typical. Subject matter and format can literally be anything you could imagine. If you wanted to stand naked and scream on stage for 30 minutes, you could. Because this is a platform for any idea, the work is more accessible than art presented in a more traditional way. The low ticket price ($12) also lends itself to a broader and more diverse range of people attending the festival. We’re all brought together to be challenged and entertained in a unique way.
After an evening of anywhere from nine to 20 shows, a couple hundred people pack into the Underground Bar at Know Theatre of Cincinnati, Fringe headquarters. Each night, the bar serves as a meeting place where patrons discuss their favorite performances of the night and try to place the ideas presented within the context of our society. Many new ideas, collaborations and opinions are often hatched at these nightly after-parties; the energy at the bar each night is unrivaled.
Lastly, the festival brings hundreds of audience members down to Over-the-Rhine. After returning from New York this past year, I was floored by the rapid pace of new businesses and urban life in this neighborhood. The Fringe likes to use “found spaces,” or non-traditional venues, for shows. These have consisted of coffee shops, vacant storefronts and old nightclubs. The past few years, it has been harder and harder to find vacant spaces, as more storefronts are popping up each year. All these new businesses combined with the mural painting on Know Theatre each year, the bike rack installed last year on Jackson and the people walking to their shows in costume add to the cultural flavor of this neighborhood. And it takes on an added flair during the festival.
Community, new ideas and urban renewal are three factors this town has perfected, especially in recent years. I believe if you’re going to live here, you should embrace all of these things and carry this pride in your body wherever you go.
While I am in New York City to stay for the time being, I use every opportunity I get to tell people another city worth visiting exists in the U.S., even if I am someone that “got out.” I moved away, but left part of my heart here. Thanks to the Fringe Festival, and the friendly faces I run into at the bagel shop or the grocery store, I feel welcome no matter where I live. For as long as I live in another city, even if it’s for the rest of my life, I know a part of me will be here.
At the end of the conversation, I said to my friend, “If you ever do ‘get out,’ make sure to keep part of yourself here. This is not a city to run from.”