When I was little, I loved parades. Our town had two parades a year, one in June (Flag Day Parade) and one in December (Santa Claus Parade), as well as a parade of Scouts and Guides without any floats or give-aways. One year there was construction on the main road and the parade came right in front of our house! I loved everything about the parades, from the candy-cane giveaways to the bagpipe bands and uniformed dance troupes and the quarter-size milk delivery truck with a moo for a horn. Our family always arrived early at our watching spot on the sidewalk outside the Stoney Creek Dairy ice-cream bar and convenience store, right after the parade turned the corner.
The summer I was nine, I joined my first organized sport, a softball team. There were lots of exciting things about being on a team – wearing a uniform, getting to cheer and shake hands afterwards even when we lost, getting to ride in the back of a pickup truck to the away games in the country. And partway through June, our coach told us about another exciting opportunity. We were going to wear our uniforms and march in the parade with all the other softball teams. I was going to be in a parade. And the real parade, not just the one my Brownie pack marched in.
But after I ran home to tell my parents the thrilling news, I realised that if I was going to be in the parade, I wasn’t going to be able to watch the parade. No craning my neck watching for the next entry and trying to remember which floats or bands or baton-twirlers we hadn’t seen yet. No more competing with other kids for thrown candy and other freebies. No more deciding which band was my favourite and looking hard to see if any of them had women in them. I was going to miss out on all of that.
Mum and Dad said it was up to me, that I could skip marching if I wanted to, it wasn’t a requirement like going to softball practice. I discussed it with my coach, who didn’t really care and couldn’t see why I was torn up by the decision. But it felt like a huge symbolic choice, losing the magic and giving up my childhood forever, in order to be on the other side, and I wasn’t sure I was ready. Finally I decided on a compromise. I would join my team at the marshalling point in the high school field and march the first half of the parade, then drop out when I saw my family and watch the rest of it. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it was the best I could do, when I wasn’t able to let go of either experience.
I feel the same way right now about the Fringe Theatre festival. I’ve been an enthusiastic audience member at Edmonton Fringe for five previous festivals, from tentatively going to a few plays and the beer tent by myself the first week I lived in Edmonton, to seeing 35 performances last summer when I wasn’t working. And after last year’s Fringe I decided to keep some of that energy in my life by going to lots of local theatre year-round, which led to taking improv classes, volunteering at Rapid Fire Theatre shows, and starting this blog.
So the logical next step was to volunteer at the Fringe this year, or to get involved with putting on a show, or something like that – to become part of the Fringe instead of just a playgoer and donor. I signed up to work in the beer tent, and when I heard that some improv class friends were producing a show they’d written, I asked if they needed help and they needed a stage manager.
But when the festival programs came out, I started circling shows I wanted to see, and looking at what I could fit in along with my various commitments and a day job, and suddenly it was like the parade all over again. I want to be part of it, but I also want to be running from venue to venue with a fistful of tickets in my hand talking to other playgoers about what else I should see, just like I did last year. I want to help make the magic without losing the chance to experience it from the audience. I’m not nine years old any more, but I’m making the same choice now that I did then – the choice to do a little bit of everything. I’m not getting enough sleep, and I’m paying to park rather than taking my bicycle and using transit, but it’s been wonderful so far. It turns out that the Fringe is just as magical on the inside as it is from the audience. The volunteer experience is well-organized and inclusive. And helping to produce a show that makes people laugh is more rewarding than I thought it would be.
The 32nd Annual Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival runs until next Sunday August 25th, mostly in Old Strathcona but also at La Cité Francophone, downtown, and on Alberta Avenue. Tickets are available on site and on line. Notes and recommendations will follow soon.