Consistently dwindling turnouts to the city’s summer celebrations are giving ironic hope to Fringe Festival organizers.

Staging a Revolution is both the theme and challenge posed to Edmontonians for the Fringe Festival’s 28th run. The festival is the oldest and biggest of its kind in North America, and organizers are hoping its stamina will usurp the new recession-era standard for Festival City crowds.

“Most other events are costly,” said festival executive director Julian Mayne. “It’s rampant — people are holding on to their money and have less disposable income.”

Though all 1,200 shows come at a cost, Mayne said, tickets are between $5 and $12 each.

Cost-cutting perks like free wireless Internet at the Old Strathcona site, free ETS bus rides home and two free stages running day to night are attractive incentives organizers say lure people to the festival each year.

“I don’t think we could make it any more affordable,” Mayne said. “Most performers actually lose money on these shows,” he added.

Ticket and program sales began yesterday, coinciding with Mayne’s personal challenge to Edmonton — to keep the Fringe No. 1 on this side of the globe.

Pricier summer festivals have largely held steady in attendance, or gone down. This year’s Capital Ex was visited by about 30,000 fewer patrons. The Rexall Edmonton Indy wrapped up last weekend, though attendance is being kept secret. Free festivals like the Street Performers and The Works both rose slightly from 2008.

“We see it as a positive sign. We’re cheap, sometimes free, and easily accessible,” Mayne said.
Around half-a-million people are expected for the Edmonton International Fringe Festival, which runs from Aug. 13 to 23.