The inaugural New Orleans Fringe Festival kicked off this past Thursday and already, before it's even closed down, it is a runaway success. With dozens of shows in nearly a dozen venues, the areas of Faubourg Marigny and Bywater have been blessed with fair weather and huge crowds at small houses that have been packed with eager theatregoers and aficionados of dance. The success of the New Orleans Fringe Festival in only its first year has got to be due to the diligence of its creators Kristen Evans and Dennis Monn. Monn is the artistic director, while Evans is the executive director. The two have assembled a Cracker Jack staff of mostly volunteers and patterned it after other successful Fringe festivals, the granddaddy of all located in Edinburgh, Scotland, where Fringe began in 1947. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is known for dozens of street venues with performers putting on well-done original pieces or street performers doing their own eclectic thing. In any event the concept of a Fringe festival has spread like wildfire across the country. The New York Fringe Festival, for example, has garnered for itself quite a reputation for engaging and sometimes experimental theatre and there are several past entries at the New York Fringe that appear at this year's New Orleans Fringe Festival. This first festival has provided quite a number of quite reputable productions, each running about an hour in length. The price of pre-purchased tickets from the festival tent is only $5.00 each, but everyone has to purchase a $3.00 Fringe pin with any ticket purchase, so the cost is really $8.00. Tickets purchased at each venue cost $7.00, but the cost of a Fringe pin puts that up to $10.00. I must confess that I had not expected the large number of interested and attentive crowds that have attended all the shows. Some of the shows I caught on Saturday were "Galveston," a story about an old curmudgeon who considers himself "the greatest lover on the island" and his erstwhile 15-year-old "son" and best friend, whom he sends off to drown his girlfriend at her request so that she can be resuscitated and thus reborn. "Baby Boom" was a dark comedy that depicted a couple who find a machine gun in a baby basket left at their doorstop and who decide to raise it as their very own child. "The Last Castrato" was another dark comedy about a man born without genitals who loses it. The last show on my card Saturday was "Stripped," directed by Francine Segal and starring herself and Diana Shortes as Baroness Pontalba and Jennifer Pagan as an unnamed Latino who has come to the United States to better herself. It was a packed house for a show that started at 10:00 p.m., which is absolutely incredible when one thinks about it. It's great to see audiences enjoying themselves, but even better to see the talented ensemble that is New Orleans theatre showcased in so many different venues. Good luck to the Fringe and I can't wait to see what goodies they bring tomorrow and on into next year.