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A new arts festival showcases local, edgy ensembles with a little help from Willem Dafoe.

Willem Dafoe. Photo by iStock.

Willem Dafoe. Photo by iStock.

Appleton native Willem Dafoe is internationally known for his roles in blockbuster and critically acclaimed films, but don’t forget he got his start as a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee student and member of renowned experimental troupe Theatre X. So when that group’s co-founder and current Marquette University instructor John Schneider and a team of five others were putting together an eclectic Milwaukee-based arts festival, it’s not surprising that they sought out Dafoe for advice. They picked his brain about how they could create a multi-dimensional arts festival that would promote many genres in an accessible location. The result is the first-ever Milwaukee Fringe Festival.

“[Dafoe has] been contributing as much as he can from overseas,” says Eric Engelbart, producer of the festival.

The festival celebrates non-traditional and up-and-coming artists in theater, music, comedy, dance and visual art, and all participants share a connection to the city, as current or former residents.

“We wanted to give people opportunities to present their work, whether it was visual art or theater or music or dance,” adds Matt Kemple, the festival’s co-producer and founder of the Milwaukee Comedy Festival. Funded in part by state grants, the Fringe Festival will offer a larger, more mainstream audience than many of these artists have previously enjoyed. The organizers hope the event will become a fixture in Milwaukee. A successful fundraiser in the spring was just the start. “That gave us exposure in the community and showed we’re serious about trying to create something unique for the city,” Kemple says.

Where and when: Aug. 27 and 28. Pere Marquette Park, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, mkefringe.com.

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What to see: The Tontine Ensemble, an improv and contemporary chamber music quartet; Piles, a post-punk outfit; Quasimondo Physical Theatre’s The Nautical Tragedy of Dick III, another original from the experimental troupe; Catey Ott Dance Collective, a New York- and Milwaukee-centric group run by the dance veteran; Suemo: A Dance Experience, a new fusion dance company.

‘On the Fringe’ appears in the August issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find the August issue on newsstands beginning August 1, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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