Visual artist Ann Sabbah and business consultant Nancy Larned share a deep love for Denver and Colorado as third-generation natives, with a specific focus on the arts community and an eye toward live performance. Looking for a niche to fill in our town, they zeroed in on fringe theater, the unvetted, indie arm of performance, where creativity runs wild and anything goes on a small-scale stage: monologues, one-acts, comedy shticks and other indescribable work. The result is the first annual Denver Fringe Festival, which turned to a virtual format in the time of COVID-19 and begins streaming on June 25.
Why does Denver need a fringe festival? Boulder has one just up the road. Learn all about it as this dynamic duo explain themselves by answering the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Ann Sabbah and Nancy Larned: It’s incredibly inspiring to make connections with performing artists doing innovative things. That’s the best thing about the Denver Fringe Festival: Each year holds infinite possibility. Just in this first year, we attracted a huge variety of work: original theater, musical theater, solo performance, improv, comedy, dance, circus arts, physical theater, puppetry and interactive performance. And with our initial outreach, we heard from artists throughout the state and all over the country, even from Canada. The beauty of the fringe-festival concept is that it attracts artists doing original and daring work, so it’s always new and interesting.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
Three creative geniuses from different time periods. Picture having beers with Aristophanes, Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams. Or Michaelangelo, Picasso and Georgia O’Keeffe. Galileo, Einstein and Stephen Hawking. Right now we’d invite James Baldwin, Audre Lorde and Alicia Garza, because there’s so much work to be done.
What makes you think Denver is ready for its own fringe festival?
Most major cities in North America and cities in many different countries have fringe festivals. Denver is growing rapidly, and the arts scene is constantly evolving. Performance innovations continue to emerge, from pop-up theater events to rotating micro-theater or large-scale immersive theater. A recent NEA study ranked Denver first among U.S. cities in attendance rates for both performing arts. RiNo and the surrounding neighborhoods are accessible by light rail, pedestrian-friendly and filled with potential creative venues that are perfect for fringe performance. We have gotten a very positive response from everyone we’ve talked with in RiNo and have already established great partnerships with potential venues. And judging by the outpouring of applications our first year, local artists are also ready for Denver to have its own fringe festival.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Funding. Making more grants available to independent artists and small organizations doing innovative projects. And space. We need more community-based shared spaces for performance. A great example of this is the RiNo ArtPark being developed by RiNo Art District in partnership with the City of Denver, which will have a multi-purpose building for community use as well as performance.
Denver (or Colorado), love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
We both have deep roots in Denver and Colorado, and it’s hard to imagine calling any place else “home.” The idea of making a lasting contribution to the Denver arts scene comes out of that strong connection to place.
What’s your dream project?
This is it! In addition to providing a platform for a ton of amazing performance art, running the Denver Fringe Festival is an opportunity to collaborate with other like-minded organizations and build relationships within the community. Plus, we believe everyone benefits from exposure to the arts, and that annual festivals help build community. We hope the Denver Fringe can contribute to this by making the arts accessible to many people, providing an outlet for new artistic voices and bringing people together year after year to experience thought-provoking live performance.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
We have tremendous respect for all the performers, theaters, arts organizations, playwrights, filmmakers and artists who are merging art with public discourse. We need art and performance to challenge our ways of thinking, bridge the gaps between us, provide insight and healing and promote unity. Among so many who are doing this are Curious Theatre Company and Local Theater Company.
What's on your agenda now and in the coming year?
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We would like to produce additional arts programming throughout the year and are working on some ideas for collaboration. Hopefully next summer we will be able to hold the Denver Fringe Festival live and in person, but we can also imagine a hybrid festival combining both in-person and virtual performance.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
With the blow to the arts industries and performance restrictions due to the pandemic, we’ll see a lot of innovation to push the boundaries of theater-making: immersive performance that is not tied to a specific physical space, the use of non-traditional performance space, or live/virtual hybrid performance. Recent examples include the Catamounts’ FEED: Culture (virtual), Control Group Productions’ planned in-person/in-car performance experience Cavalcade (unfortunately canceled) and Handsome Little Devils' "Project Joy Bomb” art-based activations.
The first annual Denver Fringe Festival runs online from June 25 through June 28 by livestream performance and/or streaming videos. Admission per show is $10 ($9 of every ticket fee goes directly to the performers). Learn more, see the complete schedule and purchase tickets at the Denver Fringe Festival website.