For some people their yearly stampede moment happens when the fall fashion magazines arrive. For me, it is the day the Edmonton International Fringe program is released.
I got my copy yesterday (thanks, Mack!), and everything about it – the smell, the texture, the weight – infuses me with anticipatory glee for ten days of glorious theatre.
Mack just contributed a piece to Edmonton Stories centering around his discovery of live theatre in the city. It got me thinking about my own history with Edmonton’s theatre scene, which happens to be tied very closely with the Fringe Festival.
Back in high school, I was offered free tickets to a show by Marty Chan called The Bone House. Never being one to turn down anything complimentary, I accepted, and headed down to the Arts Barns for my first theatre experience. Centered around the hunt for a serial killer, The Bone House blew me away. The chills I felt were real, enhanced by the intimacy of the venue and the script’s dexterous ability to exploit the audience’s imagination. I couldn’t believe live theatre could be so exhilarating.
Actor Chris Fassbender was a standout in that play, so it was natural that when his name appeared in the cast for a Fringe show the following summer, I wanted to see it. That same year, I decided to volunteer for the Festival – it seemed like a great deal, the trade-off of time for Fringe dollars that could be redeemed for show tickets. Well, there wasn’t a better way to get to know what would soon become my favourite festival of the year – I volunteered for the next five Fringes. My fellow volunteers were fantastic, and I gained an appreciation for the festival as a whole as I worked through several teams over the years, including KidsFringe, Information, and Front of House.
I did stop volunteering a few years into stepping full-time into the workforce; it was easier to find the time when I was a student in high school and university. What didn’t stop, however, was my presence in Old Strathcona in mid-August, a time I look forward to every year.
Let’s not overlook the shows – my first Fringe show, Esther’s Hands, included a deafening gun shot, which left an indelible impression of tools available on stage to heighten tension. Or how about Stewart Lemoine’s Cocktails at Pam’s, for which I dragged a poor friend of mine to wait in line for nearly three hours, only to be faced with joke after joke involving 70s references that we did not understand. A year later, I gave Lemoine a second chance (Shocker’s Delight!), and by golly, I fell in love. I’m a Teatro la Quindicina subscriber now. And I will always remember Nighthawk Rules, the first Fringe play I took two of my good friends to – and believe me, they will never forget it either.
This year’s theme is Stage a Revolution – Executive Director Julian Mayne wanted to draw attention to the relative affordability of the Fringe when compared with some of the other festivals in the city, and is encouraging all Edmontonians to embrace live theatre by taking in at least one show. Though festival attendance numbers have been good (with the street performers, craft and food vendors, and vibrant atmosphere attracting crowds), our ticket sales have levelled off and seemingly reached a plateau at around 77,000. The Winnipeg Fringe, which has always been second to ours, just broke the North American Fringe ticket record this year, selling 81,565 tickets.
So for those new to the Fringe – I encourage you to explore the shows on the website (a program is handy, but I understand paying $6 for the guide isn’t economical for those seeing just one or two plays). A few to watch for:
- TJ Dawe, the Vancouver-based master verbal performer will perform one of his latest works Totem Figures. I saw him last year in Maxim & Cosmo. His “protégé” Chris Gibbs is also back with The Further Adventures of Antoine Feval – Mack loved his show The Power of Ignorance.
- David Belke has supplied a new work to each of the last twenty Fringes, and they are usually crowd favourites. This year, it is A Final Whimsy, alongside a remount of his past hit The Maltese Bodkin.
- The Varscona, again a BYOV (Bring Your Own Venue) this year, is ripe with local talent – I’ll definitely be at the new Teatro show The Oculist’s Holiday, but am also looking forward to Space and Skirmishes.
- Ken Brown’s Spiral Dive epic, Episode One and Episode Two, are guaranteed hits, and Trevor Schmidt’s Mockingbird Close also looks intriguing.
Of course, the fun of the Fringe is to pick based on instinct. Recommendations are a place to start, but taking a chance on something different is what the Fringe is all about.
And on a side note, The Bone House – where my love of theatre began – is returning to an Edmonton stage in the fall – it will run at the TransAlta Arts Barns October 22 – November 8, 2009.
See you at the Fringe!
The 28th Edmonton International Fringe Festival runs August 13 – 23.