From the Fringe — 40 shows, 120 performers and six venues over six days in Grass Valley |

From the Fringe — 40 shows, 120 performers and six venues over six days in Grass Valley

The Nugget Fringe Festival showcases 40 acts taking place across several venues in downtown Grass Valley from Jan. 18-28.
Photo by Joshua K. Jackson on Unsplash |


WHAT: Nugget Fringe Theater Festival

WHERE: Various Downtown Grass Valley venues: The Center for the Arts, Off Center Stage, The Holbrooke, Unitarian Universalists Community of the Mountains, and 151 Union Square

WHEN: Jan. 18-28.

TICKETS: Festival buttons $3 and required for all performances and parties; tickets for each performance sold separately at the venue or online at Prices vary.

INFO: For more information on venues, times, and ticket pricing visit the website at

It’s not uncommon for folks who see advertisements for the upcoming Nugget Fringe Festival to share one main question: what is a fringe festival? For the answer, one would be wise to look to Nugget Fringe Festival Producing Artistic Director Scott Ewing.

According to Ewing, a fringe festival is “a collection of lively artists from all over the world converging in one place to give the audience permission to take a risk. It’s a time to say ‘yes’ to richer, broader, deeper experience than is normally on offer.”

Offering music, magic, improv, stand-up, burlesque and more, the whole concept of a fringe festival began with a group of artists who were, essentially, tired of being told that there was no place for their art. Ewing recently recalled the beginning of the fringe festival movement.

“In 1947, in Edinburgh, Scotland, they decided to do an international theatre festival,” Ewing said, “and invite prestigious theater companies from all over the world. And the locals said ‘Hey wait a minute — we have plenty of theater here, we want to be involved.’ And the [organizers] said ‘no.’”

“So the local theater people said, ‘We’re gonna start our own festival on the fringes of the regular festival,’” Ewing said.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

“Every act that we bring in from out of town stands on the shoulders of the local acts,” Ewing said. “And so we need for the local artists to recognize that this is a valuable asset for them so that they continue to want to support it and be in it.”

“I’m the Producing Artistic Director for Quest Theaterworks, however a fringe festival is by definition uncurated, so I’m not bringing my artistic direction to the festival, because I can’t,” Ewing said. “That’s what makes Fringe Festival so wonderful, is that there is no gate keeper to say yes or no. Except we do reserve the right to refuse something if we think’s it’s inappropriate for our community.”

To Fringe, or not to Fringe?

This year’s festival lineup is lengthy, with 40 different shows and 120 performances. All venues are located in Grass Valley, within walking distance to each other, making it easier for audiences to see as many different shows as they desire.

The selections are as varied as the performers, offering audiences a glimpse into a world they might not otherwise know or visit.

For example, audiences can be transported back to the 1980s via “Keeping Up With The Jorgensens,” a one-man play detailing the lengths a boy will go to in order to visit “The Happiest Place On Earth.” “Keeping Up” is the Best of Fringe Winner from the 2017 San Francisco Fringe Festival.

“Return To The Scene Of The Crime” takes a decidedly more serious turn, with solo theater artist David Kleinberg’s account of returning to Vietnam to the site where his platoon (all but himself) lost their lives. His journey, though difficult, has a surprise ending.

For a true yet humorous account of what it is like for a first generation East Indian woman who rebels against what it expected of her, festival attendees can check out the 60-minute review “Sari, Not Sorry.”

Humorist Lisa Rothman takes on sanctimonious parent-volunteers in “Trolls In Yoga Pants,” an exaggerated retelling of her decision to raise her children in Oakland instead of her upper-crust hometown in Marin.

“My First Miracle,” promises “an insider’s look at bipolar mood disorder” following creator Bennet Caffee’s struggle with manic depression. Vowing that he will “be on his meds,” Caffee invites the community to see and hear what life is like for him following his diagnosis.

On the decision to stick to venues all within Grass Valley, Ewing said, “We’re bringing some economic vitality to the downtown corridor. Our goal is to broaden the experience of the audience, so that they are more willing in the future to take a chance not only at the Nugget Fringe Festival, but in the broader theater community as well.”

Putting it all together

Ewing is by no means alone in his quest to produce the Nugget Fringe Festival each year. He works with a year-round volunteer committee of seven people, with that number expanding to close to 60 come festival time. The volunteers are all on the non-artistic side; the performers themselves can total between 100 and 200.

“It’s a privilege to be on a team that is willing to put this together so that artists can thrive,” Ewing said of his team.

“I want people to know that this is the place where they can have a really rich theatrical experience, where they’re going to see things that aren’t on offer throughout the year,” he said. “I want them to know that we are giving a leg up to local artists, who may not be able to do this on their own, and bringing in international stars from the broader international fringe movement right here to our local venues.”

He shared that the Nugget Fringe Festival is currently the largest rural fringe festival in North America, and they hope to stay that way.

“What turns me on about being able to be a part of providing a platform for artists is the fact that we can fill in the blanks between the art and the realization of the art,” said Ewing. “[It] has the power to transform what happens in this town.”

Jennifer Nobles is a freelance writer for The Union and can be contacted at

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