In 2005, IndyFringe Festival's inaugural season took the city by storm ... to put it mildly.
The expletive-filled titles and raunchy content of some shows caused concern for residents and even media outlets (which were unwilling to print several titles for fear of offending subscribers).
Many wondered how the multiday arts festival would fit into -- even affect -- Indiana's conservative nature, and the kind of crowds it would attract.
It seems Indianapolis isn't as conservative as we thought.
On Aug. 14, the IndyFringe Festival will celebrate its 10th anniversary with 64 performing groups presenting 384 shows (dance, drama, comedy, cabaret, music, magic and multimedia) in 11 days in eight venues along the Mass Ave Cultural District.
"The shock factor isn't what Fringe is about any more," says Pauline Moffat, executive director of IndyFringe. "It's now more about the artistry."
It's an artistry that is as varied as the performers that vie to present their works at IndyFringe, which has quickly become one of the most popular Fringe festivals in the county.
Where else can you, within the same day, watch a gut-wrenching drama that explores the anatomy of a school shooter Bang, Bang, You're Dead, laugh your way through a comedy based on the real-life shenanigans of the second annual Tour de France in 1904 The Great Bike Race, and be entertained by street performers and buskers while walking to your next performance venue?
"It's like a giant creative wave that you ride up and down Mass Ave.," says Moffat about the variety the festival offers each year. "It's now very generational. I see families come in together and go their separate ways to the shows they want to see.
"There's now a lot of leisure tourism as people from Indianapolis tell their friends and family to visit the city around Fringe, because the festival adds so much more to do during that time."
Writer, actor and director Zack Neiditch is in awe of IndyFringe, an unjuried arts festival.
"I just love the whole concept of Fringe, and how anybody can do anything," says Neiditch, who wrote The Great Bike Race after reading an article about the 1904 Tour de France and the hijinks that led to the disqualification of several cyclists by the end of the race.
But as an IndyFringe first-timer, Neiditch isn't really sure what to expect from audiences. What he does know, though, is that without IndyFringe, getting his show in front of a built-in audience would have been next to impossible.
Last year, IndyFringe attracted 18,000 patrons. This year, Moffat is predicting 20,000.
"For a first-timer like myself, it would have been much harder for me to put this (show) on," says Neiditch, an Indianapolis native and graduate of North Central High School who also works at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis.
"I think I'm more excited than nervous," he says. "I'm not looking for too much from this, I just really want to birth this baby. The show is a lot of fun, it has a great cast, and hopefully it will make audiences laugh and send them away smiling."
Unlike Neiditch, Callie Burk knows firsthand what to expect from IndyFringe.
Burk is in her fifth year with the festival and directs Bang, Bang, You're dead, which was written by William Mastrosimone, a Texas high school teacher, in 1999. The drama asks the question "what makes a shooter a shooter," and features a cast of mostly local high school and college actors.
Since the play was written, Burk says, sadly, 15 additional school shootings have been added to the show.
Burk says her participation in IndyFringe has helped to develop an audience for her company Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project, a performing arts initiative that presents shows that provoke social awareness, ethical courage and imagination.
Yet, she still marvels at the effect Fringe has on the writers, directors, producers and actors, as well as the local arts scene.
"The Fringe gave me the confidence that I can direct and mount and put on a show, and do it in five weeks," says Burk, a Perry Meridian High School graduate and faculty professor in the drama department at IUPUI. "It gives you the confidence that you're able to do this."
IndyFringe has not only infused new energy into the city's arts scene, Moffat says it has helped make Indianapolis a more attractive place for creative types to stay and return.
"At Fringe, you get to see so much of the talent that's here in the city and that's such a cool thing to see," says Neiditch, who left Indianapolis at 18 to study drama at Northern Illinois University.
After five years away, and with several stage credits to his name, Neiditch returned home and now has his first show at IndyFringe.
Burk, who left the city at age 17 to pursue her acting career and has a TV series and stage credits under her belt, also returned to Indianapolis and has found a home and a new audience, thanks to IndyFringe.
"The Fringe itself is an awesome way to introduce new artists and new audiences," says Burk, a graduate of Azusa Pacific University. "It's the (vehicle) to introduce people to theater, and I think people are really excited to see when something like this happens."
When the city of Indianapolis embraced the concept of IndyFringe, Mofftat says they wanted to build a creative community. It's a mission that has been accomplished.
"We've stayed true to our mission of supporting independent artists and helping them make a living in the art form (performers receive a percentage of the box office and, to date, have earned $850,000)," says Moffat.
"It's been a fantastic journey. I've seen new theater companies grow and prosper. And in its own little way, Fringe has helped that. It's a place where artists can reinvent themselves."
10th Annual IndyFringe Festival
What: An 11-day arts festival featuring dance, drama, comedy, cabaret, music, magic and multimedia performances, along with street performances and buskers.
When: Aug. 14-24.
Where: Eight venues along the Mass Ave. Cultural District.
Tickets: $15 adults, $12 seniors and students, $5 children younger than 12 (per show); $60 Fiver Pass (five tickets for the price of four).
How to choose an IndyFringe Festival show
With 64 performance groups, 384 productions and 8 stages, choosing which show to see might seem daunting. Don't fret. IndyFringe provides a wealth of information to help you choose.
Inside each IndyFringe program is a description of each show and other key information, including:
Genre: Form of art represented (dance, comedy, drama, cabaret, music, magic, multimedia).
Warnings: Age range (similar to the film industry ratings), language and content warnings.
Showtimes: Detailed days, times and location for each show.
Web: Website for performance groups.
Social media: The social media platforms for each show or performance groups.
Where to find IndyFringe programs: IndyFringe programs can be picked up at retail stores, bars and restaurants on Mass Ave.; at the IndyFringe Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair St.; at the Indianapolis Arts Garden; and in venues throughout Broad Ripple and Fountain Square.