Until Next Year: The Village of the Fringed

The 31st annual Edmonton International Fringe Festival came to a close on Sunday, and it smashed records all the way through. After years of stalled ticket sales, something seems to have changed in the market for ticketed shows: 104,142 tickets were sold in 2011 and 112, 006 in 2012. Great weather is only one factor, so I’d be interested to know how the organizers come to understand these breakthroughs. But whatever the explanation, congrats to the Fringe for this amazing feat!

Fringe

Fringe alley

We headed back to the grounds on the weekend, and thankfully, the food was better on this occasion. The green onion cakes aren’t an annual tradition for us like they are for some other regulars, but we enjoyed them as a quick snack while waiting in line.

Green Onion Cakes

Green onion cakes

We also had a chance to dine at the Little Village Food Truck, tucked behind the beer garden by the tracks. Hopefully, if the Fringe reconfigures the food vendors next year, the trucks can be a little more prominent along the main strip!

Little Village Food Truck

Little Village Food Truck

Anyway, I really enjoyed the roasted lamb over potatoes – tasty, and remarkably easy to eat, and Mack liked his drunken pork sandwich.

Little Village Food Truck

Roasted lamb over potatoes

Little Village Food Truck

Drunken pork sandwich

This was the first year in quite some time that Mack and I missed out on getting a Frequent Fringer pass, but it probably worked out for the better because of time constraints. We did end up making it out to eight shows, however. Three stood out for us the most:

  • Medicine: TJ Dawe’s most personal play I have ever seen focused on his inner demons, and the journey he undertook to understand and exorcise them. As usual, Dawe wowed the crowd with his wit, rhythmic storytelling and the depth of his revelation. I was glad to see that it was held over!
  • The Popular Principles of Hypnosis: written and performed by two recent MacEwan Theatre grads, it may not have been the most polished show or even all that plausible, but it was one of the most earnestly performed, and utterly charming. I look forward to seeing Mathew Bittroff and Jayce Mckenzie at future Fringes!
  • Harold of Galactus: I wasn’t certain that the long and narrow BYOV at the Varscona would work, but the energy of Mark Meer and Chris Craddock carried through the room. It was amazing to see the improv masters build a complete superhero origin story inspired by an audience’s suggestion.

Of the eight shows we took in, we only received programs for three of the shows. Did others find that their productions were paperless as well? Perhaps that was a trend this year, or just a coincidence for us?

Also on the rise this year was the #yegfringe hash tag. It’ll be interesting to see if the Fringe embraces this in the future – I’d love to see a Twitter fall at the Arts Barns! I know the festival shies away from “sanctioning” reviews, but there is precedence – I remember the pre-renovated Arts Barns housing internet cafes (before smart phones became ubiquitous) encouraging patrons to post their reviews on online forums.

Fringe

Arts Barns

In all, it was a great Fringe! See you all next year!

First Impressions of The Village of the Fringed

Mack and I spent our Sunday at the Fringe. It was another scorcher, which meant many roving artists lucky enough to score an air-conditioned venue made sure to mention it in their elevator pitches.

Fringe Festival

Mack does his best village child impression

We took in three shows (the best of the bunch was Seven Ways to Die: A Love Story), but had plenty of time in between to explore the site to uncover what was new for this festival this year.

Fringe Festival

A packed McIntyre Park

Fringe Daily Discount Booth

I really like the idea of a discounted ticket booth – where tickets to a number of performances, posted daily, are offered at a discounted rate. Over the past few years, the Fringe has been targeting those who have never before attended a ticketed play. Between the “First time Fringer” sessions and now, the opportunity to pick up tickets for half price (given that cost might be a deterrent for some), I think the organizers are doing a wonderful job. I’ll be curious to see what the uptake on this booth is.

Fringe Festival

Daily Discount Booth (located near the train tracks)

New ETS policy

Something I am not a fan of, however, is the change to the ETS policy with regards to the festival. In the past, flashing one’s Fringe program was enough to grant two people a ride home after 6pm. Similarly, those with a “Fringe benefits” sticker (obtained with a donation at the gates) were granted the same privilege. We’re assuming that perhaps this service was abused, because the festival has now drastically changed the system. This year, in lieu of the program or sticker, after 4pm, patrons are required to exchange a printed voucher from the program at one of three on-site Information Services booths for one ticket.

Fringe Festival

Transit vouchers

For Mack and I (and I would imagine the majority of those who share programs between them), it means one of us still has to pay for transit fare. Shouldn’t we be encouraging alternative forms of transportation, not deterring their use? In a way, this also disadvantages BYOVs (which continue to flourish outside of the Old Strathcona neighbourhood), as patrons attending “off-site” shows are not able to exchange their voucher. The City may be promoting cycling to the Fringe this year, with sparkly new bike racks that take up parking real estate, but it does seem to be one step forward, two steps back.

Fringe Festival

New bicycle racks right on Whyte

Food Trucks

Food trucks really are taking over the city, given they are now infringing on our long-standing festivals! Little Village Food Truck is on-site for those looking to satisfy their mobile cuisine craving, as well as Bo Thai, who participated in our Truck Stop last year.

That said, I was disappointed with a pad thai ($7) I ordered on Sunday. After a long wait and curt service, I found the dish sorely lacking in tofu and egg.

Bo Thai

Pad Thai from Bo Thai

Mack fared better with his non-food truck fare from Zaika, back again this year. He ordered a butter chicken combo ($10), and though slightly pricier than my pick, it was well worth it, given the generous amount of tender chicken and the crispy samosa.

Zaika

Butter chicken from Zaika

As a whole, the food offerings seem to be down in number when compared with last year, but maybe that’s just our perception. Of course, there’s always the option of a meal at a neighbouring eatery, as we indulged in after our last Fringe show that evening.

The Next Act

Poutine from The Next Act (it was nice to be in the restaurant for a change, instead of in front of the truck!)

We’ll be back at the main grounds on Friday (I’m looking forward to seeing TJ Dawe’s Medicine, while Mack has his sights set on Magnetmonton), but we did get another hit of Fringe tonight at #YEGprov (playing at BYOV 13). It was a first: Mack’s first on-stage appearance at a Fringe performance!

#YEGprov

Mack’s cameo in the “Actor’s Nightmare” game

It was a fun show, and I especially enjoyed the exercise when the actors had to pick up on one another’s stories. Look for Brittney and Adam to guest star on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Happy Fringing!

Fringeopolis: A Banner Year!

The Fringe threw its biggest party in thirty years, and more people than ever before showed up! I’m ecstatic that the festival attracted its largest crowds this August, but more than that, finally blew past the 100,000 ticket barrier (selling a total of 104,142 tickets)! I’m sure some of this had to do with the stellar weather over the ten days, and its anniversary year, but it’s likely also connected to the proliferation of BYOVs (Bring Your Own Venues) across the city.

Fringeopolis

Several of the shows I took in this year were hosted at BYOVs, but only one that we visited was far-flung from the Old Strathcona stratosphere, at the Stanley Milner Library. Though I do enjoy immersing myself in the festivities of the Fringe grounds, on a weeknight when we only had enough time or energy to take in one show, I really appreciated being able to have dinner at home, walk to the venue, and walk back, without having to transcend the crowds. I had to wonder if those who live in Oliver or on Alberta Avenue felt the same way about their neighbourhood BYOVs. I know it’s a train of thought engendered as a result of where we live, but if this trend of BYOV expansion continues, it’d be neat to see BYOV “districts” spring up, so that patrons wouldn’t necessarily have to leave Old Strathcona for just one or two shows. If they could base an evening or a day in that area, perhaps it would be win-win for everyone.

Sustainival

Sustainival was a new to the Fringe this year, carnival rides powered by used vegetable oil. I’m a sucker for amusements, so I was looking forward to taking this part of the festival in as well. I wasn’t sure how successful it was, as there never seemed to be that many people in line. From his remarks, Sustainival CEO Joey Hundert seemed happy with the response (25,000 rides sold), so perhaps a steady stream was all that could be expected from a sideshow that was new to everyone.

Sustainival

Mack and I rode the Tornado and the Ferris wheel (of course), and we definitely appreciated the lack of line-ups. From up above, however, Sustainival definitely seemed like a world of its own, not yet integrated into the Fringe world.

The Food

I felt like we bought and ate more food on the grounds that we have in past years – and like the plays we watched, some meals were better than others. My favourite was again Zaika – the mango chicken ($10) provided a healthy portion that wasn’t overly spicy or sweet, and a samosa with a crisp-perfect texture.

Fringeopolis

Mango chicken with rice and a samosa

The Nomad Kitchen was a disappointment, after hearing many good things about it. Service was poor: Jill and I weren’t acknowledged for several minutes, and when we were finally able to order the North African grill ($12), I received an incomplete dish (it wasn’t dressed with bean spouts, cilantro, or their signature sauce).

IMG_3829

North African grill with tofu

Mack was similarly disappointed by his banana crepe ($6) from Crepes-Mania. The crepe itself was good, but they used green bananas so hard and tasteless he had to pick them out.

Fringeopolis

Banana crepe

Mini doughnuts are an annual tradition for us, and did (hurrah!) hit the spot.

Mini Donuts

Mini doughnuts

Some of the best food at the Fringe ended up being at sit-down restaurants. We had time in between performances one night, and trekked over to Route 99 to revel in our usual order of poutine and pizza.

Route 99 PoutineRoute 99 Pizza

Poutine! Pizza!

On another day, we lunched in a gloriously quiet Packrat Louie – a little pricey for a lunch at the Fringe, but a good trade-off for solace.

Spicy HawaiianFish & Chips

Spicy Hawaiian flatbread and Halibut ‘n Chips

The Plays

For the first time in recent memory, the balance of the dozen plays I watched this year tipped on the poor end of the scale. Two in particular I really didn’t care for, while a few others rounded out the middle. As I’ve said in the past, however, that usually makes me appreciate the ones I did enjoy all that much more.

  • Eco-Confessional: Just before walking into Eco-Confessional, Jill was scanning the Journal review of the play which noted how awkward and unrehearsed Mark Leiren-Young was. As such, we braced ourselves for the worst, but were both pleasantly surprised. Sure, Leiren-Young was far from polished (referring to his script now and then, or re-treading lines), even leaning into clumsy (acknowledging coughs and other noises from the audience), but because he weaved in an explanation of why he was the unlikeliest of performers, it all became a little endearing. The message of this show, which illustrated why “perfect is the enemy of the good” in the green movement, really resonated with me, but Leiren-Young also delivered his story with such passion and heart that it was easy to get swept up in his cause.
  • The Slipknot: I look forward to TJ Dawe every year, and he rarely disappoints. The Slipknot was the play that “catapulted” Dawe to fame a decade ago, the one that I never had the chance to see…until this year. Though it didn’t have the depth of Totem Figures, the show was every bit as witty as I expected, with amusing social commentary and observations throughout his tale of dead-end employment. I am always amazed at Dawe’s fast-talking ways, and his masterful ability to weave and connect seemingly parallel stories.
  • Mothership Down: Marty Chan’s Mothership Down, a play about Alberta’s Conservative dynasty and Canada’s political system, was presented in the form of a TED Talk. It was a vehicle I’d never seen used before, and alongside it, PowerPoint that had a hilariously omniscient presence and often, wielded clever punch lines. Frenetic, but at times poignant, it was very much a well-balanced play, with a lot owed to actor Taylor Chadwick, who did a fantastic job. It also featured Mack’s favourite ending of all the shows we watched, involving a pie and a victim we did not at all anticipate.
  • Little Room: The Slip-Knot did for TJ Dawe what Little Room did for Jon Lachlan Stewart – a play that made him a “household name” at the Fringe. It was another play I didn’t see when it debuted seven years ago, so I made sure to seize the opportunity this year. Intense and challenging, the semi-autobiographical show demanded much of Lachlan Stewart, who played different several characters with ease, and with three benches, transformed the stage into everything from a playground to a shopping complex. It was a coming-of-age story, but told with such raw honesty that even now, days later, I’m still haunted by the turn of events.

As a whole, I had a great time at this year’s Fringe, and as always, can’t wait for the next installment. Congratulations to the organizers, artists and volunteers for such a successful festival. Here’s hoping for 30 more years to come!

We’ll Show You Ours: That’s a Wrap!

It’s not a secret that the Fringe is my favourite summer festival. The shows, the food, the buskers, the atmosphere – it’s a combination that rightly attracts an incredibly diverse crowd. I really admire what the Fringe is doing to try to build their audience from the ground up, tackling the age-old issue of those who wander the grounds, but never step inside a theatre. From their First Time Fringer discount program, to the variety of Fringe apps that were available this year (built by community members), I would hope that their efforts do translate into more tickets sold, or at the very least, a piqued curiosity that may lead to future ticket sales.

Fringe 2010

Outdoor mainstage

Fringe 2010

The Fringe should be commended for their green initiatives this year – we watched as Green Team volunteers sorted through the trash for organic material to compost

Fringe 2010

Mack and I at the Parlour photo booth

I would be lying if I said this Fringe won’t be memorable for a reason entirely unrelated to the festival. That said, I haven’t overlooked the fabulous productions we were fortunate enough to catch during We’ll Show You Ours:

  • The Lime Tree Bower still lingers in my memory because it reminded me that the core of theatre is storytelling. Vincent Forcier, Jon Lachlan Stewart and Cody Porter were seamless in their delivery, fully embodying the characters, Irish accents unwavering. I was swept up by the vivid language, rich descriptions that nourished my imagination, transforming the immediate setting of a family-owned pub into a shadowy graveyard, a college auditorium, an inhospitable bar. It was also a great choice to have the characters subtly interact and respond to one another during each of their monologues – it added a laid-back air that made the production such a treat to watch. Moreover, I was happy to be finally be able to see the much-buzzed about Lachlan Stewart in action, who lived up to every expectation.
  • There is no one like TJ Dawe. If you haven’t yet watched this master at work, weaving personal experiences into relatable, thought-provoking anecdotes all while demonstrating his incredible skill with the rhythms of the English language – remember his name for next year. While I didn’t take to Lucky 9 as much as last year’s Totem Figures, it’s difficult not to enjoy Dawe, whatever the content.
  • The bar was set pretty darn high for BASH’d, with all of the accolades it has received, on top of the fact that the show had a successful off-Broadway run in New York two years ago. It cleared the bar with room to spare. I am still in awe of Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow – not only for their conviction and limitless energy (they barely stopped to breathe over the hour), but also for their ability to compellingly portray the heartbreaking tale of love and tragedy in a single hour.
  • We picked David Belke’s The Crimson Yak for its plot mention of Coca Cola (and by golly, they even referred to it as Mack has in the past, as “the nectar of the gods”), but it turned out to be a good choice for a host of other reasons. The songs were as hilarious as they were catchy (“Crimson yaa-aa-aa-k”), and Karyn Mott absolutely stole the show as the wide-eyed, fanatical Dhara.

The Fringe turns thirty next year. You can bet it will be a huge party, just as it should be. See you there!

Food at the Fringe!

We spent most of the weekend at the Fringe, which not only meant watching quite a number of shows, but also having the opportunity to sample food from several vendors, both on and off the Fringe site.

Green onion cakes

Green onion cakes are a perennial Fringe favourite

Chocolate Covered Bananas

A vendor dedicated entirely to chocolate covered bananas!

Deli Manjoo!

Deli Manjoo, small, custard-filled cakes were only found at Capital Ex…until now

We encountered Big City Cupcakes on Saturday just before entering the grounds. It turns out the Kelowna-based franchise is set to take Edmonton by storm, with a location in Kingsway Mall opening this week, another coming soon in City Centre downtown, and more in the works.

Big City Cupcakes

Big City Cupcakes

They pride themselves on using all natural ingredients, and never sell day-old cupcakes. They also offer gluten-free cupcakes on select days. At $4 a pop, they’re definitely charging more than their competitors, but then again, their cupcakes are about twice the size of those found at Whimsical or Flirt.

Big City Cupcakes

Chocolate Mounds and New York Chocolate Cheesecake flavours

The Chocolate Mounds (chocolate cupcake with a ganache centre topped with coconut butter cream, rolled in coconut and drizzled with ganache) was intensely sweet, but chocoholics would love it. Mack liked his Chocolate Cheesecake (chocolate cupcake baked in homemade cheesecake filling and topped with cream cheese icing), as it really did manage to capture cheesecake flavours in a mini-cake form. We were also lucky enough to be given the After Dinner Mint cupcake to try for free, and it ended up being my favourite of the three – the refreshing mint icing lightened the dense chocolate cake. As much as I love the occasional cupcake, I wonder if Edmonton can support several more cupcakeries – I guess time will tell.

Zaika is new to the Fringe this year, and though we didn’t try it yet, their sleek, monochromatic booth caught my eye. I also am intrigued by their menu, which deviates from the usual tandoori/butter chicken offerings of other Indian food booths (Jean Poutine blogged about it here).

Zaika

Zaika

Set up next to Zaika is Rustixx Wood Fired Pizza, which we first saw in Calgary a few weeks back at Fiestaval. Rustixx is a mobile food cart that offers wood-fired thin-crust pizza, not a small feat given they have to tow the oven around.

Rustixx

Rustixx’s wood-fired oven (it gets up to 900F!)

They make nine different pizzas, ranging in price from $10-15. We opted for the meat lovers ($13), featuring pepperoni, bacon and sausage.

Rustixx

Meat lovers pizza

Our experience with Vince and Colleen’s wood-fired oven this summer led us to believe that the Rustixx pizza would have a similarly crispy crust (our preference), but it didn’t. It was chewy; the kind of crust that invites eaters to fold it over like a sandwich (something Famoso advised in its early days). Not unpleasant, but not what I was expecting either. The toppings were great though – subtly tangy sauce, fair amount of cheese, and particularly delectable sausage.

On Sunday, we had some time to kill between shows, so wandered away for the day’s eats.

Fat Franks

Fat Franks is never a bad choice

I’d been meaning to check out Cha Island Tea Co. (10332 81 Avenue) for a while, and finally had the time and proximity to do so.

Cha Island Tea Co.

Cha Island Tea Co.

Facing south on 81 Avenue, Cha was a quiet (air-conditioned) refuge from the Fringe bustle, making it a great stop in between shows. With the bright walls, natural light, and reggae music, I felt like I had stepped off the street and into a soothing retreat.

Cha Island Tea Co.

In addition to drinks and light fare, they also sell loose leaf teas

Given the name of the place, I knew I should have ordered tea, but for whatever reason, felt more like an iced coffee ($3.75) that day. It was all right, but a bit watered down. Mack’s green apple iced tea ($3.75), on the other hand, was something that will have me coming back. The sweet and tangy flavours were balanced perfectly, and really, both drinks were very generously sized (in plastic-sealed cups often associated with bubble tea).

Cha Island Tea Co.

Green apple iced tea and iced coffee

I’m hoping to sample more Fringe food this weekend before the festival wraps up! Do you have any favourites so far?

Stage a Revolution: Day 11

Our last day at this year’s Fringe was short and sweet – two plays nearly back-to-back, which, given that the skies threatened rain all day, meant that the prospect of getting drenched waiting in line was somewhat lessened.

We started the afternoon off at a new Fringe venue – The Laugh Shop – to see The Art of Being a Bastard. Set-up cabaret style not unlike the Yardbird Suite (which I similarly don’t like), the hodgepodge of chairs and tables wasn’t an ideal theatre. The play, one of two written by Matt Alden this year, was another very contemporary look at life, this time out of the lens of three shy twenty-somethings who wished they had more luck with the ladies. It was an enjoyable hour, though it did take a while to get going. The three actors kept up with the fast-paced production very well, juggling multiple characters and visibly sweating after a few of the frantic side-scenes (Mack in particular enjoyed the rap number, while I loved the Saturday Night Fever nod). It was another light, fun play that I imagine was written specifically for the Fringe, but of the two I watched in this category, Space was better.

Our last play this year was David Belke’s A Final Whimsy. Watching Belke’s yearly offering (this year marked his twentieth festival) has become a tradition for me. Whimsy focused on two sisters rehearsing a song for their father’s upcoming wedding, and needing to hash out some of the mysteries surrounding their mother’s departure from their young lives. Although the church setting was appropriate given the context of the play, the echoing acoustics made the dialogue hard to follow sometimes, particularly when the conversations were heated. That said, the vaulted ceilings worked for the musical portions of the show, with Andrea House’s rendition of “All I Have to Do is Dream” being the delightful standout. In all, it was a sweet story about family and what people will do to protect each other from painful truths.

Because the shows I wanted to see all scheduled themselves so well this year I didn’t end up spending that many days on the grounds. For that reason, it felt like I could have seen twice as many productions as I did. Of course, although the Fringe ended today, there are still opportunities to catch several popular shows that have been held over – check out the schedule here.

Thanks for a great Fringe! I am looking forward to next year already.

Stage a Revolution: Day 7

The food at the Fringe has been disappointing so far this year – Funky Pickle’s booth is nowhere to be seen, and the vendors we have visited on site have not been very good. Mack’s mini doughnuts were a little sad, and sweet potato fries from The Punky Potato only resembled its namesake in colour.

As a result, we’ve been hitting up Whyte Ave for sustenance – Fat Franks, and on Wednesday, the take-out window at Origin India. We both had a butter chicken wrap ($8.95, including a can of pop). The naan is, dare I say, the best in the city, and contained within was some rice, red peppers, and saucy butter chicken. Mack was impressed with the ingenious bag it was contained in, to help avoid sauce-on-clothes contact. I wished for some fresh herbs, and maybe some more prominent onion goodness, but as a whole the wrap made for a pretty good quick meal.

Butter Chicken Wrap from Origin India

Having taken the day off, I started off day 7 of the Fringe solo. My first show that day was Unsolicited Mail, portrayed as a love story between a listless man who mails spam for a living and an anonymous phone sex operator. Between the two main actors, Fiona Morris’s low-key, laid-back emotion felt far more genuine; Fred Krysko’s frantic, climactic breakdown seemed forced and over-the-top. And though the message of resounding loneliness in a world dominated by sensational stories and personal distance was relatable ( a world where Krysko’s character worked alongside another person for three years but did not get to know one another), something just didn’t click.

Thankfully, my day would get better – Space, a Panties Production featuring Jocelyn Ahlf (one of my favourites), Belinda Cornish and Mark Meer was light, fun fare that hit the spot. About a trio of women sent to explore the possibility of other life in the galaxy, there were a multitude of hilarious one-liners and the perfect role for Meer to once again steal the show. He played an android with human aspirations not unlike his character in Salon of the Talking Turk, with a mechanical laugh that almost always set the audience off (“my fleshy colleagues”, heh). Kristen Padayas, who I had seen but didn’t stand out in The Addelpated Nixie, was actually quite well-cast, and revelled in her role of the naive crew member. See Space if you’re looking for a non-committal, but entertaining show.

I met up with Mack for our final production of the day – Totem Figures by the one-of-a-kind TJ Dawe. I typically avoid one-person shows because they are so hit-or-miss, but Dawe is the one exception to that rule. On Wednesday, he didn’t disappoint. Totem Figures is Dawe’s bio, a play about the influential figures and myths in his life where he ponders the question – “who would be on your personal Mt. Rushmore?” Artfully written, seemingly unrelated anecdotes were woven together to form a rich tapestry of learning and experience. As always, his delivery – demonstrative of his expertise in manipulating the rhythms of the English language – swathes the audience in that magical feeling only achieved when watching someone very good at their craft. I do hope he returns to next year’s Fringe.

Two more plays to go!

Stage a Revolution: Day 3

Our first day at the 2009 Fringe involved two plays, a lot of nibbles, and the obligatory grounds exploration.

I was particularly interested to see Revolution Square, billed in the program as a multi-use area and internet cafe. What it is in actuality is a beer tent that substitutes coffee for beer, with four computers set-up with internet access. It’s a nice family-friendly idea that provides an expansive seating section, but we’ll have to wait and see if it is utilized.

The food vendors seem to be more spread out this year, with some booths actually set-up in the typically retail-only area in front of Fringe volunteer headquarters. In addition, I’m disappointed that the “Fringe midway” is gone – I wonder if poor attendance was to blame for its demise? Lastly, I’m sad to see that complimentary copies of the Edmonton Journal are not available on the grounds this year (they also eliminated this perk at the Heritage and Folk Festivals). We were told by an information booth volunteer that the Journal said that they could “no longer afford” to offer free papers. I can say that Fringe attendees are typically rabid for reviews, and people gravitated towards the papers that were readily available on site. I wonder if this change will result in a change in how people select their shows – from choosing based on star rating to choosing based on content?

Our first show of the day was Teatro la Quindicina’s The Oculist’s Holiday. The premise of vacation hijinx reminded us of A Rocky Night for His Nibs, but the tone of this play eventually changed from one of lighthearted fun to introspection and tragedy. I have to say that the pacing threw me off (Jeff Haslam’s purposeful stumbles took a while to get used to), but Barbara Gates Wilson’s almost regal presence helped stabilize the somewhat unpredictable turn of events. The end of the play has been resonating with me even now, hours later, and without giving anything away, was a reminder to embrace opportunity.

Later that afternoon, we took in LoveHateKill, also at the Varscona Theatre. Five separate playlets by five different authors ruminated on some variation of love, hate, and kill, which was a fun interpretive exercise. My favourite, in both plot and acting was “A Love Story” by Trina Davies, exquisitely brought to life by Shannon Blanchet, who is rapidly becoming an actress to watch (she was great in Teatro’s Evelyn Strange, and also starred this past season in Catalyst’s Nevermore). The playlet recounted a woman’s experience of falling in love with an accused killer, and her efforts to be with him. The rest were somewhat interesting (for example, “Social Sundays” highlighted a sadistically creative games night between couples), but not particularly notable. Mack loved the random interlude of the “Jai Ho” Slumdog Millionaire Bollywood dance.

We’ll be back on the grounds tomorrow – looking forward to it!

Ten Things to Love About the Fringe

My long list of love, in honour of the 28th incarnation of the Edmonton International Fringe Festival that runs August 13-23, 2009.

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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!

I Heart the Fringe

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:

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.