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Happy Birthday, Baby 

Tucson Fringe Festival Turns 5 and we’re all invited to the party

When a kid reaches the ripe old age of five, you bet there's gonna be a big party with cake and clowns.

When a funky arts group providing a place for off-center, unpredictable and sometimes just flat out weird experimental theater turns five, you can bet there will also be a big party with cake and clowns.

The Tucson Fringe Festival turns five this year. That's not bad for the who-knows-what's-gonna-happen group, which seems to have established a firm footing in the landscape of the Tucson arts scene.

Their birthday party happens Saturday, Aug. 29, and you all are invited.

In case you aren't exactly sure what it is we'll be celebrating, here's a short primer. Fringe Festivals have a very particular identity. They are intended to provide an opportunity for artists (often by their own definition) to showcase their work. The artists have to pay a fee to enter, and that varies depending on the particular festival, but there are no juried selections. You pay, you play. The festivals have been around for several decades in other countries, but are just now catching on here.

"It's a place for artists to experiment," says Catfish Baruni, who has not only dipped his toe in the Tucson Fringe version more than once, but has just returned from participating in the San Diego International Fringe Festival.

Baruni said that Yassi (Jahanmir, who along with Sara Habib are co-founders of the Tucson Fringe) said, "I want to produce William the Snowman and take it to San Diego. My initial response was, you're crazy. But then I said, let's go for it." William the Snowman is Baruni's creation that he performed in the 2013 Tucson Fringe.

So they initiated an Indiegogo campaign to raise some funds.

They did pretty well. Their goal was $2,500, to cover entry fees, venue insurance, travel money, lodging, props, promotional stuff. Indiegogo, unlike Kickstarter, gives you your funds even if you don't reach your goal. They raised about $1,700, plus another $200 at a benefit performance. The performers get all of the box office receipts from their festival performances, which can help cover the costs not covered by the funds that were raised, and if there is anything left, it goes to the performer. For the SDIFF, which was held July 23- August 7, all acts (Catfish thought there were around 80) were performed five times each.

When I spoke with him earlier in the summer, he said his fantasy was having excellent audiences at all five shows, and that it might lead to something else, even if "it's just maintaining momentum to work on another show."

So?

Well, it wasn't exactly all Catfish dreamed of, but it was definitely a learning experience, particularly in the vagaries of parking in a big city as a Tucson boy.

Beyond that, he says he learned that he's "more a performer than he thought-or wanted-to be."

As for Jahanmir, she says her goal in assisting Baruni was to learn more of what it was like to be a performer in such a festival, which would ultimately help her with running the Tucson version.

So, there will be five candles on the cake. I asked Jahanmir what each of those might represent as reasons to celebrate this milestone for the Tucson Fringe.

The first, she said, meant that "we have provided artists low-cost, low-risk opportunities to perform whatever they want." The second represents the fact that "we have provided audiences opportunities to be exposed to different types of performance that they may not get elsewhere." The third candle means "we've helped establish that there is a thriving arts scene downtown," and the fourth represents that "the shows are awesome— we see a lot of diversity and really cool experimentation."

And candle number five? "We are seeing more and more people interested in participating, as performers and as audience. There is more and more buzz about us, and we can see that the interest is growing."

The Tucson festival will be in January, and applications for would-be performers will be accepted between September 1 and October 15. You can check out the group's website for information.

Attendance at the birthday party is free, but donations are encouraged. There will also be a silent auction and a raffle wheel, as well as brief performances throughout the evening.

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