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First Advisor

David Magidson


This dissertation examines the rise and development of the fringe festival in America from an historical and an organizational perspective and attempts to answer the following fundamental question: how is the fringe festival evolving in the United States since its inception in 1991 to 2002? This dissertation places the American fringe festival in an historical context and analyzes the development of the festival model from the point of view of organizational lifecycle theory. Chapter one lays out the scope and nature of the proposed research question and introduces such basic concepts as the festival organizational model. Examined through the lens of nonprofit lifecycle theory as postulated by Susan Kenny Stevens in Nonprofit Lifecycles, this dissertation traces the development of the American fringe festival through seven distinct stages: idea, start-up, growth, maturity, decline, turnaround, and terminal. It also includes a brief history of the fringe festival from its European origins, through the development of the Canadian circuit, and leading up to its emergence in America. Chapter two looks at how and why the fringe festival began in this country and discusses the early stage development of the four original American festivals (Seattle, Orlando, San Francisco and Minneapolis). Chapter three addresses the later developmental stages and attempts to discover the reasons behind the festivals' avoidance of the mature stage, thought by lifecycle theorists as pinnacle. The American fringe festivals have chosen either to remain at a grassroots level to more accurately reflect the alternative theatre communities they serve, or, by separating administrative and artistic functions, have allowed their administration to reach a more mature level, while their productions retain a certain "roughness," deemed essential to fringe. Chapter four explores the evolving nature of the American festival in light of structural and philosophical changes implemented by the Philadelphia and New York festivals which challenge the very definition of "fringe." The final chapter, Chapter five, examines the broader implications of the American fringe festival and explores newer business and organizational theories that shed new light on the innovative fringe model.

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