Living abroad inspired BorderLight International Theatre + Fringe Festival Acting Executive Director Dale Heinen to launch the European-style fest in Cleveland.
“I was exposed to festivals in Europe, and really wanted to bring that model here,” says Heinen, who co-founded Borderlight in 2015 with Jeffrey Pence.
Borderlight returns to venues around Cleveland this week, July 20–24, with the mission to present visionary international theater and build cross-cultural understanding. The first festival took place in 2019. A virtual Fringe Festival was held in 2021.
This year’s fest will feature several international productions, including works from Mexico, Germany, Israel and Australia. “Khuraki,” a play by and about Afghan refugees to be performed at the Old Stone Church, will also include a “culinary performance.”
Venues include Public Square, Playhouse Square, the Cleveland Public Library Eastman Reading Garden, the Hermit Club, Cibreo Privato, US Bank Plaza and Parnell’s Pub. Guests will have the chance to see more than 140 performances on at eight venues on 15 stages.
“We really looked to the Edinburgh model,” says Heinen, referring to the world’s most influential annual arts fest.
“There are many similarities between the two cities. Both are post-industrial steel towns, with similar populations. Edinburgh’s economic resurgence came through the arts.”
She also looked to festivals in Avignon and Vilnius for ideas.
Cleveland’s size and arts infrastructure also played a role in Heinen’s vision.
“We’re not New York or London, where there is so much cultural noise that a lot of festivals get lost.
“Cleveland was a natural for a fest like this. We have these remarkable theaters at Playhouse Square, and a really walkable footprint from Playhouse Square to Public Square. A lot of what happens at festivals happens outdoors, and downtown is a great place for that, too.”
Once the festival idea began to solidify, the idea of a Fringe Festival emerged.
“The Fringe Festival is artist-driven, so we put out a national call. The response was immediate.”
The Fringe Festival will include 37 shows, on subjects ranging from an exploration of white supremacy to Polynesian dance, breast cancer, table-top theater with dolls and drag burlesque.
The impact of the fest goes beyond artists and theater walls and even downtown, however.
“Festivals can be great economic generators for cities,” says Heinen, “as well as bringing in new ideas and cross-cultural exchange and creating a network for local artists to create with national artists.”
Many shows, including some international works, are free and take place outdoors. Most Fringe shows: $15 (single ticket); Binge-on-Fringe Pass: 4 for $55, or 8 for $100; Stand-Up Comedy: $23; and International: $30 — $45.
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