St Lou Fringe Festival: As American as the First Amendment

Matthew R. Kerns, executive director of St Lou Fringe

The first Fringe happened September 25, 1789.

A group of fearless visionaries wrote letters, assembled, spoke their truth and in the end adopted the document that we would learn about in 5th grade social studies class: The Bill of Rights.

The Fringe Festival story dates back to 1947, when eight theatre groups turned up uninvited to perform at the (then newly formed) Edinburgh International Festival, an initiative created to celebrate and enrich European cultural life in the wake of the Second World War.

The First Amendment states:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Not being part of the official program of the International Festival didn’t stop these performers, they went ahead and staged their shows just outside of the Festival anyway, prompting a journalist to coin the phrase – and our namesake – the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Since the dawn of this spontaneous artistic movement, millions have flocked to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to produce and to enjoy art of every genre.

The term "freedom of expression" is sometimes used synonymously, and includes any act of seeking, receiving, and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used.

"Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference" and "everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

I remember having to memorize the preamble of the constitution for Mrs Ruggeri’s Social Studies class. I remember being annoyed that I was jumping through a hoop having to regurgitate, like a parrot in a cage, something that meant nothing more to me than a checkmark in a grade book. I remember performing it in the front of the classroom along with the other 25 kids, one after the next. Butterflies in tummy, worried if Mrs. R would give me the stink eye if I lost my place or blanked.

Inspired by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Scotland, the Edmonton Fringe (the first in North America) offered 200 live performances in five theatre venues. It has since gone on to become the second largest fringe festival in the world, after Edinburgh.

I believe in the truths we hold self evident I learned that day in 5th grade, and I now spend my days writing letters, assembling and speaking my truth to further support the flourishing of arts and culture against the odds.

St Lou Fringe Festival is an immigrant. Our grandfather is Scottish and came from another country with hopes of giving voice to the voiceless. The fringe movement allows those who have no other place a to hang their artistic hat a home and with pride the festival fosters and celebrates the avant-garde, snowflakes, conservatives, democrats, republicans, independents, straight, gay, trans, gender non-conforming, and all races and ethnicities along with the burgeoning musicals, plays, solo performances, dances, poets, cabaret artists, puppeteers and the like of tomorrow.

MATTHEW R. KERNS, executive director, St Lou Fringe: A professional actor, educator, and motivational speaker, Matt is constantly spreading the news about our vibrant city and thriving arts community.

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