Act I: The People's Theater (2009-2011)
In 2009 a small group of theater enthusiasts decided Key West was ready for something new. They envisioned a theater "of the people by the people" and so they called it The People's Theater of Key West. The collective became a 501 (c)(3) under the leadership of Connie Hurst, Tammy Shanley, Chris Tittle, and Judy Hadley.
The group produced The Night of January 16 in the Parish Hall at St Paul's Episcopal Church. The community response was so supportive that they formed an improvisation troupe called Mission Improvable and performed regularly at the Bottlecap Lounge. They held workshops, readings, and staged two more productions (At Last Light and Apocalyptic Butterflies).
In 2011, the group decided they needed a more centralized structure and a strong fundraiser. They approached local playwright Monnie King. Monnie reorganized and rebranded the organization: Fringe Theater Key West.
Act II: Fringe Theater (2011-2016)
Monnie served as the Producing Artistic Director while her husband, Peter, served as the Board President. Together they created a fiscally sound theater company that specialized in immersion theater. They nurtured dedicated volunteers, patrons, and audience members, and soon Fringe was an integral part of Key West’s theater community.
“Expect the un-Expected” became Fringe's celebrated motto and performances were staged throughout the town including the Old Firehouse Museum, the Custom House, the Gardens Hotel, Mel Fisher Museum Garret, and St Paul’s Episcopal Church.
(Right) Monnie and Peter King with Judy Hadley, Tammy Shanley, and Janet Bengel. May 2016.
But it was Monnie's passion for original scripts that really set Fringe apart. She was passionate to see Key West's history turned into plays like Bum Farto, Marion Stevens, and Conch Republic - The Musical. She also worked with Judy Hadley and Tammy Shanley to create Fringe's wildly popular Shakespeare in Schools education program.
At the end of the 2016 season, the Kings retired from Fringe. Janet Bengel was elected as President, and the board invited nonprofit executive and stage director Dr Rebecca Tomlinson to become Fringe Theater’s Managing Artistic Director.
ACT II: 2016-Present
Rebecca and Janet Bengel shared a vision for Fringe's next stage. They added more main stage productions and extended the main stage season. They created outreach programs for adults and added more educational programs for students. They saw Fringe as "the point of entry" for new actors, playwrights, directors, and technicians. New faces at Fringe would soon be seen on stages throughout the island! Inclusive theater became a major theme for Fringe, and Fringe's reputation grew as Key West's community-focused theater.
When COVID closed the world in March 2020, Fringe invited creatives to submit selfie-monologues each week to keep everyone developing new ideas and new works. When COVID derailed the 2021 season, Fringe went online producing and co-presenting four videos of original works to keep staff, crew, and actors working. Most importantly, Fringe found its new home in the Key West Armory -- a flexible and secure space from which Fringe has presented some of its best work yet!
What's ahead ? More great theater. Fringe will continue to present unique theater that enriches, educates, and entertains audiences. Stay tuned for more details from the unstoppable Fringe!
Fringe Theater's Managing Artistic Director Rebecca Tomlinson and Fringe's Board President Janet Bengel. Jan 2019.