Beyond the Fringe

An enforced copyright on the word ‘fringe’ means that King’s annual theatre festival will run as the Infringement Festival this year. The new title was termed after a letter from the Atlantic Fringe Festival.

“We knew about the CAFF (Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals) having this trademark,” said Infringement Coordinator Karen Gross, “but we thought they wouldn’t care because we’re students.”

The CAFF’s regulation includes a limit on the number of fringe festivals within a certain vicinity. The Atlantic Fringe Festival, which has run for over 20 years, saturates that of Halifax and therefore makes the King’s fest illegitimate.

Work on the student-written play festival began in September 2011, and the organizers consistently called it the Fringe Festival. Then in December, after what Gross believed to be a sighting of their Facebook group by the director of the Atlantic Fringe Festival, the organizers received a “really rude email,” said producer Dave Etherington. The Facebook group was later removed for infringement.

“It is a little ironic because fringe festivals started in universities,” said Etherington, producer of the King’s Infringement Festival. “At King’s, the Fringe Festival has always been the Fringe Festival.”

It has been, for over a decade—with the exception of last year. Suspecting a violation of copyright, the organizers altered the spelling of F-R-I-N-G-E to F-R-Y-N-J-E, while retaining the pronunciation. “Students reacted loudly by saying they hated the name,” said Etherington of last year’s decision.

“They’re not doing anything sketchy, it’s completely legal,” said Gross of the Atlantic Fringe Festival’s letter. “If anything, we’re in the wrong.”

Yet the situation brings up questions about the ideological side of the issue.

“I would argue that ‘fringe’ is descriptive and shouldn’t be trademarked,” said Gross. “The point of a fringe festival is to be inclusive … rather than a brand name.”

“It is the idea of theatre on the fringe of professional theatre,” said Etherington.

Yet many find the name change of little consequence.

“The name shouldn’t be the most important thing,” said first-year student Sean Young.

“It doesn’t really matter to me what the title of the festival is,” agreed first-year Thoby King. “People go for the plays, not the name.”

Yet the King’s Theatrical Society is not afraid to divert the attention from the plays to the issue; this name change highlights a controversy about the commodification of art.

To address this, the KTS will hold a discussion panel, tentatively to be held to on Feb. 4, which should have student representation, a speaker from the teaching faculty of St. Mary’s University, and someone in the industry. It hopes to raise awareness of how the commodification of art affects people on different levels and the barriers it raises for study and teaching.

“It’s more for discussion about where people stand,” said Gross of the panel. “Really good open discussion on what the concerns are. It’s not a political protest or anything.”

“By making it copyright, to commercialize art,” said first-year student Jenna Waniek. “It takes away from the essence of what Fringe is supposed to be.”

Yet others find it a display of King’s usual ideological, pugnacious nature. “I just don’t see what their goal is,” said Young.

Regardless of whether the panel is an essential part of the festival, the focus is on the plays.

“I’m excited,” said Etherington. “It’s different from how we’ve done it before. Hopefully we can keep the momentum.”

Gross echoes his excitement despite the earlier setback: “Come out and see the shows!”

The King’s Infringement Festival runs from Jan. 30- Feb. 4