As always, the unconventional and the quirky rule at the Fringe Festival.

There is a contemporary, bawdy twist on The Canterbury Tales, 101 Rules of Dating, a trip back in time to Over-the Rhine as a "resort," a story of forbidden puppet love, along with clowns, cabaret, dance and plenty of solo show musings.

Welcome to the eighth annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival, which runs through June 11.

Once again it is breaking rules with offbeat, experimental and thought-provoking performances. It's one of those cutting edge events that help remind the world (and the natives) that this may not be such a conservative place after all.

This year's Fringe Festival, beginning a two-week run May 31, features 35 productions at a dozen locations in Over-the-Rhine, from the neighborhood's small theaters to alternative venues in abandoned storefronts or even right on the sidewalks.

In eight years, the Cincinnati Fringe Festival has become an event that helps lay to rest Mark Twain's apocryphal jab about being in Cincinnati when the world ends, because everything happens here so much later. These days Twain would miss a lot, considering such an alternative festival can signal the future of art.

TAKING RISKS

With a mission to simply "provide opportunities and exposure to artists who are willing to take a risk," the Fringe Festival has built a reputation for the city as a place where creative, experimental theater is encouraged. The event now receives dozens of submissions from budding playwrights and performance artists based throughout the country.

It draws a small but significant number of out-of-town "arts tourists." And organizers say it now shares a growing audience with traditional Cincinnati theater patrons who subscribe to the Playhouse in the Park and the Broadway series, but are also comfortable "crossing the line" to the fringe.

"They find Fringe is the root of theater. It is stripped down, non-technical with very creative storytelling and strong performances," says Eric Vosmeier, producing artistic director for the Know Theatre and Cincinnati Fringe.

"Everything is in venues less than 100 seats and often just 50 seats. You get an up-close-and-personal feel. And it's just not actors who have memorized lines. Most of these pieces are created by the artists that you see performing in them."

This year productions are split almost evenly between local and out-of-town presenters coming from such cities as New York, Chicago, Washington, Toronto, Minneapolis and San Francisco. The lineup includes 13 plays, nine solo shows, two musicals, five dance pieces, a couple circus/cabaret shows, and an interactive OTR walking tour that imagines the year is 2081 and we go back in time to the good old days when Over-the-Rhine shined in 2011.

Ticket prices remain reasonable ranging from $12 per performance to a $60 six-show pass to an all-access pass at $200.

MAKING A MARK

When the festival began in 2004, Cincinnati was just one of a dozen U.S. cities with an alternative performance festival, taking the inspiration from the original 50-year-old Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. There are a couple dozen now, but Vosmeier notes, "There are a number of fairly large, well-cultured cities that don't have Fringe Festivals."

The event is often seen as a cultural bookend to the September Midpoint Music Festival that showcases 200 cutting edge bands. Arts boosters see such events as critical if the city wants any kind of "hip" or "cool" reputation to attract young professionals. As Fringe cofounder Jeff Syroney has put it: "A city open to risk, to taking a chance on something it's never tried before, is a city that honors and respects its creative capital."

www.cincyfringe.com; 513-300-5669