My long list of love, in honour of the 28th incarnation of the Edmonton International Fringe Festival that runs August 13-23, 2009.
- Online Ticketing: the public at large was in arms when online ticketing was introduced two years ago, particularly because beloved at-the-door sales were sacrificed in the process. Since then, door sales have returned to front of house and some have finally embraced the convenience of the online system. Not surprisingly, I am one of them, and have been since the beginning. Being a crazy planner, I have most of my line-up identified within days of the program’s release, so ordering tickets for me is just the final step. Though I know some prefer spontaneously choosing a show, it’s still hard to argue against a system that reduces on-site lineups and encourages on-line exploration prior to the festival.
- Line-side Flyering: in my first few years of attending the Fringe, it amazed me that artists came out from behind the curtain to corral patrons the old-fashioned way – by doling out flyers themselves. Up until then, I thought there was a grand line of demarcation separating theatregoers from those that graced the stage, but at the Fringe – everyone is on the same level. Beyond that – I remember reading a quote a long time ago that referred to flyering as the truest form of advertising – who better to promote a show than those starring in it?
- Chatting with Fellow Patrons: when all of Edmonton’s theatre-loving public converges in the same area, you can expect some good conversations about theatre. It may seem odd at first to chat up strangers, but knowing that everyone has the same love of theatre in common breaks down many perceived barriers. I love finding out from those lining up next to me what they’ve seen and what they’re looking forward to seeing – the best reviews and recommendations are from fellow patrons.
- The Plays: perhaps this one is too obvious, but the Edmonton Fringe needs your help to break the ticket plateau of 77,000+. While that number seems like a lot, and did help us earn and keep the title of the largest North American Fringe for many years, we have now been surpassed by Winnipeg, who amassed over 81,000 in ticket sales this year. Given the maximum you will pay for a ticket is $14 ($12 of which go directly to the artist), it is not only a steal for some of the best theatre to hit the streets, but also $6-$10 cheaper than comparable productions in the city throughout the year.
- Outdoor Shows: a big draw for many who attend the Fringe are the outdoor performances. I think they really help set the tone on the grounds, as their amplified enthusiasm travels for miles around the stages. With the multitude of food vendors surrounding the performers, there’s no excuse not to grab something to nibble on, settle down, and enjoy.
- KidsFringe: I have no children, nieces or nephews to speak of, but KidsFringe holds a special place in my heart because it was where my Fringe experience began as a volunteer. You would be hard pressed to find an area of the grounds that becomes as lively as Adventure Park (christened “Revolution Park” this year) so early on in the day. From face painting to reader’s theatre, it’s a place for kids and their caregivers alike to enjoy some free fun.
- The Food: did you think I wouldn’t get around to mentioning food? I won’t claim that any of the booths are unique to the Fringe (the ubiquitous mini doughnut, green onion cake and chicken bhoona vendors frequent the summer festival circuit), but every Fringe-goer has their outdoor standby – mine is Funky Pickle Pizza. It seems the festival organizers have acknowledged the current economic situation as there is actually a page of food coupons in the program. Score!
- The Vendors: though craft shows may be all the rage now, I still love to stroll the vendor-lined alleys for handmade treasures. Whether it be jewelry, fashions or keepsakes, there are always interesting booths to be explored at the Fringe.
- Old Strathcona: even as the boundaries of the Fringe expand (even further north than last year’s New City BYOV – this year, a venue on Alberta Avenue joins the fray), the heart of the festival will always be Old Strathcona. The area’s businesses – retail and restaurants – are as much a part of the Fringe as the stages are. The festival doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it’s always a delight when the shops offer special menus and sales in tandem with the Fringe.
- The Atmosphere: dodging crowds and buskers, overhearing snippets of reviews, resisting the temptation of deep-fried dough…there is something intangibly irresistible about just being on the grounds, immersed in the people, the smells, the sounds. There is a frenetic energy in the air and a palpable thirst for theatre. Can you feel it?
And although I listed ten different aspects to love, the truth is, the festival is a frenzy of it all rolled up into ten days. The Fringe is when Edmonton comes out to play.
See you at the Fringe!