Founded in 1988 by the Manitoba Theatre Centre with Larry Desrochers as the first Executive Producer, the festival has three key principles: 1. Festival is non-juried; 2. Artists have freedom to present whatever they want on stage; and 3. 100% of the box office goes directly to the artists. (though artists must pay a flat fee to enter)
In its first year ticket sales were 14,000 across nine days of performances. That figure was 26,000 in 1989 - year two of the festival. It climbed to 44,709 in 1999 and was over 60,000 in 2001.
Chuck McEwen, former director of the Toronto Fringe Festival, is the current executive producer, and has been in charge since 2008. The festival's venues are centred in Winnipeg's historic Exchange District with the Old Market Square serving as the outdoor stage location. But as the festival has grown there are venues outside that district but still close to Winnipeg's downtown.
The Winnipeg Fringe Festival is modelled on the Edmonton Fringe Festival and provides several venues for performing companies, but some companies arrange their own venues, which is more like what occurs at the Edinburgh Fringe festival. Regardless, all venues have paid technicians and volunteer ticket sellers and ushers.
The performing companies at the festival are both local and from across Canada and around the world. For example, the 2005 festival featured performers from France, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and South Africa as well as across Canada and the United States.
Paid attendance briefly set a record high for North America in 2009 with 81,565 tickets sold, surpassing the then previous record of 77,700 set at the 2006 Edmonton Fringe. However, the Edmonton Fringe festival currently holds the North American record for 2011 with 104,142 tickets sold.
The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre cancelled the 2020 Winnipeg Fringe Festival as a safety precaution in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 festival was scheduled to take place from July 15 to 26. RMTC considered rescheduling the event to late Summer or Fall but ultimately decided to cancel the physical event. Instead, the RMTC offered free online programming from July 14 to 17 beginning at 7PM nightly. The online festival featured local, national, and international programming including performances from Mike Delamont, Frances Koncan, the Coldhearts, Outside Joke, and Anjali Sandhu. Online festival programming was streamed on YouTube and Facebook.
The festival has a different theme each year. The theme in 2015 was "We're all <blank> here," where the blank was filled in variously. On the program, it was "mad," but on the website for Volunteers it was "friends." In 2014, "We like when you watch" was the theme. The Big Top was the theme in 2010, and other previous themes have been the F word, meaning "fringe," and James Bond. In 2012 there was no theme, as that was the 25th anniversary edition of the festival.
Attendance and ticket revenue
Harry S. Rintoul Memorial Award
The Harry S. Rintoul Memorial Award was established by the Manitoba Association of Playwrights to recognize the best play written by a Manitoban and performed at the festival. The award was named in memory of Harry Rintoul, a noted playwright from Winnipeg who died in 2002.
List of laureates
- 2002: Kevin Klassen, Aftertaste
- 2003: Joseph Aragon, The Unlikely Sainthood of Madeline McKay
- 2004: Daniel Thau-Eleff, Three Ring Circus: Israel, the Palestinians and My Jewish Identity
- 2005: Jason Neufeld, The Rise and Fall of Bloody Redemption
- 2006: Stefanie Wiens, Max and Mirabelle
- 2007: Ross McMillan, The Ingrates
- 2008: Daniel Thau-Eleff, Remember the Night
- 2009: Joseph Aragon, Bloodless: The Trial of Burke and Hare
- 2010: Muriel Hogue, Scar Tissue
- 2011: Jessy Ardern and Ariel Levine, Sigurd the Dragonslayer
- 2012: Scott Douglas, The Touring Test
- 2013: Jessy Ardern and Ariel Levine, The Hound of Ulster
- 2014: Bill Pats, Executing Justice
- 2015: Sydney Hayduk and Justin Otto, Manic Pixie Dream Girl
- 2016: Frances Koncan, zahgidiwin/love
- 2017: Wren Brian, Anomie
- 2018: Walk & Talk Theatre Company, The Ballad of Johnny Boy
- 2019: Connor Joseph, Cuinn Joseph, and Jacob Herd, The Cause
- 2022: Sarah Flynn, Whatever Happens After?
- Manitoba Theatre Centre: 50 Years by Roger Currie and Rory Runnells, published by Studio Publications, 2007.
- "About Us/ Contact Us | the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival". Archived from the original on 2013-03-13. Retrieved 2013-02-08.
- Prokosh, Kevin (18 July 2012). "Jul 2012: 'The festival that could'". Winnipeg Free Press.
- Melissa Martin, "We asked ... Chuck McEwen", Winnipeg Free Press, 20 July 2008.
- "The Fringe Factory cranks out record attendance!", 27 July 2009.
- Thompson, Sam (April 16, 2020). "2020 Winnipeg Fringe Festival cancelled due to coronavirus pandemic". Global News. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
- Small, Alan (16 April 2020). "Fringe latest festival forced to exit stage left". Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
- Maharaj-Poliah, Shaylyn (13 July 2020). "Winnipeg's annual summer theatre festival will go on". The Manitoban. Retrieved 14 July 2020.
- King, Randall (10 July 2020). "Theatre-deprived Fringers to get online festival fix". Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved 14 July 2020.
- Prokosh, Kevin (13 July 2011). "Jul 2011: Building a bigger big top". Winnipeg Free Press.
- King, Randall (31 July 2019). "Attendance numbers down at fringe festival". Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
- "FESTIVAL BREAKS BOX OFFICE REVENUE RECORD IN 31ST YEAR". Winnipeg Fringe Festival. 30 July 2018. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
- "FESTIVAL MARKS 30TH ANNIVERSARY WITH SECOND-BEST ATTENDANCE". Winnipeg Fringe Festival. 31 July 2017. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
- "Winnipeg Fringe Festival breaks attendance records". CBC News. 28 July 2015. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
- "Harry S. Rintoul Award". Manitoba Association of Playwrights. Retrieved 1 December 2019.