The Average Joe’s Guide to the 2014 Zootown Fringe Festival


This weekend you’re going to be the curator of your own performance art festival. You may not have realized it before, but up until now someone else has been, for very practical reasons, deciding what you are going to enjoy. Every festival, concert lineup, theater season, and event you’ve been to has been organized in a way to bring you what someone else assumes you’re going to like.

More often than not they get it right and you enjoy yourself, but what about the performances that aren’t there? The art that doesn’t fit the theme or structure of the event? Did you know how much you’ve been missing out on this whole time?

Fringe 1That’s why the Zootown Fringe Festival is such an exciting event. It is completely unjuried and uncensored. Anyone with a performance or art instillation can fill out an application and do whatever they want.

This amount of freedom can be a bit overwhelming. It may even make you a little nervous about what you’ll see. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s going to be a gamble. But that’s part of the excitement. Artists need freedom like fish need water and that’s exactly what the Fringe provides. Without the worry of rejection looming over their heads, artists are able to create truly unique works.

Nothing costs more than $12 and most events are free. You don’t really have much to lose, but so much to gain. So roll the dice with me this weekend, and to get you started here is.

The Average Joe’s Guide to the Zootown Fringe Festival

If you find yourself at home in the absurd, if you’re idea of a perfect afternoon is crafting ten foot tall puppets, if you know more performance artists than most people know Beatles songs, then this article isn’t for you. You can stop reading and get out the door, because the festival is happening right now. Go to everything.

For the rest of you, here are a couple of highlights of the festival that shouldn’t be missed.


Fringe 2This event doesn’t need a lot of explanation. It’s just the ideal experience of a summer afternoon. The neighbors of South Fourth Street have graciously opened their lawns and porches to you and a long list of great local musicians. It’s really simple: bands will be playing music on people’s porches up and down the block. Every hour is a new band at a new house. It’s all free. Grab a lawn chair, grab your friends, and be respectful of these people’s lawns.

The Details: TONIGHT! August 14: 4 to 11 pm; South 4th Street West: Follow the crowd and the music to find the right house.

Mystery Mark

Mystery Mark is “the cartoon exorcism of Clay, a man with a frozen face, who is being haunted by his favorite childhood television show”. This is also a great way to introduce yourself to the world of absurdist theater and multi-media instillation art. Local artists Josh Wagner and Theo Ellsworth conceived this work and brought it to life with the help of several artists and community members. They have crafted enormous masks and puppets to create a beautifully surreal experience for their audience.

The thing to keep in mind, if you are an Average Joe, is that this is not a play in the way that you are thinking of. This is a theatrical project, an art instillation, and performance art. Although many elements are the same (actors, costumes, props, etc) what is important to remember is that the aims are different. Think of it like this: Theater is like a novel, Performance Art is like a poem. Novels can certainly hold poetic language, just as poetry can tell stories, but the purpose of each is different.

Don’t work too hard trying to “make sense” of the piece. It’s not even something you’re meant to watch in order from beginning to end. Allow yourself to feel the emotions it evokes and draw your own interpretations later – as you would with certain poetry or works of visual art.

The Details: August 14, 15: 7 to 8 pmAugust 16: 9:30 to 10:30 pm; Downtown Dance Collective: 121 W. Main St.

Not From Here

Fringe 3Over 100 works of art have travelled from Spokane to Missoula for this exhibition featuring eight very talented artists.The sheer size of the exhibit is enough to impress, but the quality of the work and the wide diversity of styles, mediums, messages, and disciplines can be overwhelming. The exhibit, curated by Spokane artist and critic Jennifer LaRue, moves from the sublime to surreal to subversive. Stunning landscape photography hangs beside bold, grotesque depictions of a corrupt and deeply flawed society, which moves to sharp, clever paintings rich with symbolism and satire. In the middle of the warehouse stand bronze giants, beautifully sculpted works rich with the same eyes-wide-open approach each artist has taken to visually describe the world they inhabit.

If you’re experience with art has mostly been serene and beautiful landscapes and soothing abstract works, you may need to prepare yourself for the other side of art. Art is great at expressing beauty, but it is important because it can carry with it powerful messages that incite visceral reactions and – we hope – the beginnings of a discussion on the issues we face as a society. Because of that a number of paintings being exhibitied are graphic, grotesque, and contain powerful and often offensive images. The intention is not to shock and disgust, but to shake you out of complacity and get you thinking.

The Details: August 13 – 17: Open at 11 am; The Hive: 800 S. Third St. W.

Get a glimpse of the full schedule. No performance costs more than $12 and most of them are free to the public.

To get the full story on the Zootown Fringe Festival visit the Missoula Cultural Council’s blog.


Matt Anglen HeadshotMatt Anglen is a prodigal Missoulian who has returned to the valley after a brief stint as a starving artist in the Windy City. He is currently the Program Director for the Missoula Cultural Council and lives with his wife and son at the base of Mount Jumbo.