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Three Utah producers teamed up last year to launch a theater company, Sackerson, at the first Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival.

This year, Sackerson has doubled down, returning to the Fringe with two unusual productions. One show is performed in a box for one patron at a time, "The Worst Thing I've Ever Done." The troupe also is presenting a regional premiere of a scripted two-person absurdist comedy, "An Oak Tree," in which during every performance Barrett Ogden's The Hypnotist will be joined by a new actor playing Father, none of whom have seen the script or heard the story.

"The reason we launched at the Fringe was the cost of entry was very low to reach a bigger audience," says Sackerson producer Dave Mortensen. "We thought it was a great opportunity to reach a lot of people who are there to take a chance on new types of art."

Welcome to the second year of the Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival, which has doubled in size, boasting a lineup of 50 companies that will perform 250 shows over two weekends, says communications director Dannielle Moriondo, 22, a Westminster College graduate in her second year of promoting the festival. Nearly 2,500 people attended last year's four-day event.

Fringe opens with performances and a dance party Friday, July 29, at 9 p.m. — complete with a nude photography shoot by Utah photographer Bruce Aoki (inside the Fringe Factory) that was a popular draw last year. On the festival's website, organizers are quick to qualify the shoot this way: "Don't worry. It's tasteful." Performances continue Saturday and Sunday, and next week, Wednesday-Sunday, Aug. 3-7. The idea is to inspire companies to generate word-of-mouth based on early performances in order to draw larger audiences for shows the second weekend.

This year's Fringe will take place in the same two main venues — in and around the Fringe Factory, the old DI building at 2234 Highland Drive, and at Westminster College's Jewett Center for the Performing Arts, 1250 E. 1700 South, Salt Lake City.

Admission to the festival costs $5 and scores festivalgoers a Fringe temporary tattoo, with proceeds earmarked for the festival's $42,000 operating budget (which includes sound and lighting equipment and renting the city-owned DI building). Show tickets are $10 (plus fees), and all ticket proceeds are earmarked for performers. Last year, the festival raised $16,500 in ticket sales, with an average payout of $550 per company.

"We take a tally at the door and we try to be transparent, so [companies] know right away what they're going to make," says Michael Vought, head of the theater department at Westminster and the Fringe's executive director.

"Most fringe festivals make their money from selling alcohol, but we have to figure other things out," Vought says. "In the future, we're probably going to need to."

Beyond the ticketed shows, there will be performances on Sugarmont Plaza and a free children's show at Sprague Library. Fringe tattoo-wearers can score discounts at local Sugar House businesses and view Visual Fringe art exhibits in venue lobbies. "Last year we were trying so hard to get artists to come," Moriondo says. "This year, we had a wait list."

For organizers, just about everything feels different the second time around. "For one thing, we have an idea of what we're doing this year," says Vought, who oversees an army of festival volunteers, most of whom are Westminster students or former students. "Seriously, last year when we jumped into this, we were over our heads."

The Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival draws upon the model of the granddaddy Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which launched in 1947 when eight uninvited theater companies performed outside the established Edinburgh International Festival. Those performances sparked similar festivals all over the world.

Organizers don't curate the work at fringe festivals, which is part of the charm, that sense of "no promises and no guarantees," Vought says. Content is billed as ranging from "squeaky-clean to risqué," as the festival aims to showcase "affordable, unadjudicated, unrestricted and original works."

For Vought and his colleague and wife, Nina, attending Fringe festivals around the country caused them to fall in love with the model, which encourages shoestring productions and experimental work, similar to the way indie film festivals disrupted studio-produced and distributed movies. The Voughts appreciated the close proximity of audiences to performers. "It's a wonderful approach to theater," he says. "I get so tired of theater being accused of being so stuffy. And sometimes, quite frankly, it is."

For local dancers and actors and writers, Fringe offers a chance to have their work seen.

Jared and Tiffany Greathouse, founders of Salt Lake City's 5-year-old Hive Theatre, enjoyed the way last year's Fringe brought together so many kinds of artists. This year, they're returning to the Fringe as performers to launch an original work, "Waiting for the World to End." It's also an absurdist comedy, but one that features two rabbits, Twinkie and Snowball, who have survived a nuclear war.

"The play's really about loneliness and how we adapt and deal with loneliness," Jared Greathouse says.

Utah playwright Bryan Stubbles used the festival as a chance to reunite with actors who had performed his work previously. "I wanted to work with them again and the Fringe was coming up, so I wrote a play with them in mind."

Stubbles' play, "The Noose," is set in 1950s Salt Lake City under police chief W. Cleon Skousen and explores the department's racial and homophobic policies. To pair with the crime thriller, he also wrote a comedic short, "Brine Shrimp Gangsters," that will be included in a national collection of 10-minute plays to be published next year.

Another dose of Utah history will be represented by "Midwife," a story about prominent pioneer-era midwife Patty Bartlett Sessions told by her great-great-great-granddaughter Patty Christiena Willis, with music by Mary Lou Prince.

And "Red Lake," produced by the Deseret Experimental Opera Company, seems to have a particularly fitting setting. It's a musical work about three campers lost in a storm on Antelope Island. "This opera blends music, dance and poetry to form snapshots of our lake's unique and undervalued landscape," promoters say on the company's website about the work composed by Stuart Wheeler, choreographer Emma Wilson and librettist Luke Swenson.

Then there's the description of "Resolved," a premiere by a group of Westminster students who launched their Company of Cohorts at last year's festival and went on to perform at the San Diego International Fringe Festival, where they earned an Outstanding Ensemble award. The new piece is billed as a story about two friends who are throwing a party, with theatergoers invited as guests.

Utah theater producer and actor Jared Larkin, who is on the Westminster College theater faculty, is reviving "Innovation," which he premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2008 to standing ovations and which was performed in 2010 as a fundraiser for Huntsman Cancer Foundation.

"It's about 90 minutes long, follows the lives of two best friends, their trials and successes, sorrows and joys, told physically with minimal props, and doesn't contain one word. It is hilarious. It is heartbreaking. It is human. It is me," Larkin wrote in a Facebook post promoting the show.

But Fringe festivals are about more then just the scheduled shows, and impromptu performances are likely to break out on the streets and around the theaters. "With the Fringe, you never know what's going to happen," Moriondo says. —

Doing the Fringe

The second edition of the Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival launches Friday, July 29, and continues through the weekend and Wednesday-Sunday, Aug. 3-7.

Where • Shows are at the old Deseret Industries building, labeled the Fringe Factory, at 2234 Highland Drive, and the Westminster College Jewett Center for the Performing Arts, 1250 E. 1700 South, Salt Lake City.

Bring Your Own Venue locations • Outside the Fringe Factory on Sugarmont Plaza and Fairmont Park

Also • Kids Fringe, Sprague Library, 2131 S. 1100 East, Salt Lake City; free

Bring Your Own Venue • Sugarmont Plaza and Fairmont Park, 1040 E. Sugarmont Drive, Salt Lake City

Admission • $5; show tickets $10 (plus fees); with ticket packs and date packs available

Tickets • or venue box offices

Calendar •

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