One of the things I do at the Fringe each year is watch for the little improvements that make things run more smoothly and more fairly. Like at Folkfest, another 30+ year tradition in Edmonton, the tweaks are small but always done to make things more fair, more convenient, and more fun. Last year one new thing was a spinning postcard rack in the Arts Barns lobby for artists to leave their handbills on display. It wasn’t designed ideally for that high-traffic activity, so the handbills often fell out of it, and festival director Murray Utas spent a lot of time picking up spilled handbills and sorting them to return to the rack. This year, the rack is back, but it has been rebuilt with Plexiglas shields to allow the postcards to be seen and not fall out. Little things like that.
This year the Playwrights Canada Press booth will be open all week, with staffing help from Concrete Theatre. And the beer tents take debit and credit including tap, which speeds things up for the ticket sellers and for the patrons. Little things, but little things that keep improving my favourite festival.
Marv ‘ n Berry Presents: Imagination is a sketch-comedy show performed by members of Rapid Fire Theatre, Nikki Hulowski, Quinn Contini, Mike Robertson, and Sam Stralak. It’s very funny and occasionally surreal/weird – not quite as odd/eerie as Gossamer Obsessions was though. Although I had heard many of their punchlines while sitting in on part of their tech rehearsal, I still laughed hard during the show, because good sketches are all about quickly conveying characters and situations which become funnier and funnier. Not sure what was my favourite – the suburban couple auditioning to be gangsters, the fishing-trip participant with safety concerns, the board-game store …
Mormonic, the Musical Sister Pratt, Sister Olsen, and Brother Bradshaw have turned the El Cortez basement into a meeting room to host an information session and potluck for people curious about the LDS church, complete with bad Power-Point and excellent songs. The touch of having the slides be skewed and distorted on the screen as in pre-digital-projector days delighted me with nostalgic detail. The script and lyrics were written by performers Amanda Neufeld and Jaimi Reese, and the music was composed by performer Daniel Belland, who plays the piano during the show but also sings and acts, which I have not seen him do before. It is cleverly funny watching the characters’ personalities become revealed and unravelled during their presentation, and the music is appealing and sometimes catchy.
Pompeii, LA This play by Declan Greene is produced by Cardiac Theatre, with Harley Morison (director) and Jessica Glover (stage manager). The familiar names on stage include Cody Porter, Elena Porter, James Hamilton, Nikki Hulowski, Morgan Grau, and Sam Stralak. It’s a drama about Hollywood life, switching between scenes to show the challenges and unhappinesses for various characters, from an aging Judy Garland to a former child star trying to succeed in a disaster movie (Pompeii, it’s a metaphor and not) and a make-up artist trying to live her dream.
Prophecy This is another take on Greek tragedy written by Jessy Ardern and directed by Corbin Kushneryk, the creative team behind last year’s award-winning Fall of the House of Atreus, a Cowboy Love Story. This one focuses on a smaller part of the stories, and on a few women characters: tormented Cassandra, gifted (under dub-con circumstances) to see the truth and cursed not to be believed, Hecuba the proper queen and the mother of Cassandra, Paris, and Hector, and Andromache the timid and modest wife of Hector. All characters are played by Carmen Niewenhuis, with clever smooth clues to character change in her costuming, voice, and posture. And this one is not a funny play, although some of the design and acting is inherently funny. It is disturbing and provocative and surprisingly topical, gory only in our imaginations, with content/trigger warnings offered in an envelope on the door rather than in a way that lessens the surprises for people who are willing to be surprised.
Shadowlands is a solo show written and performed by Savanna Harvey. I saw a reading of this script at NextFest in June, before the performer left on her CAFF-lottery tour of five Fringe festivals, so I was excited to see it properly staged. It’s told in alternating voices of several characters – maybe four, maybe five or six depending on how one counts. A different prop represents each character, as in the puppetry genre referred to as object theatre – only this show is performed in the dark, with each character being represented by a different kind of light. I don’t want to tell you much about it, because for me part of the fun of this kind of play is figuring out who/what each character is and how they are going to connect.
With Glowing Hearts: A Canadian Burlesque Revue is just what the subtitle promises, a revue-style burlesque show with each act based on a woman or women from Canadian history. The host is Ellen Chorley dressed as Famous Five activist Nellie McClung, and the panty zamboni (stagecrew) is Kiki Quinn dressed as a very cute beaver. I never know whether to refer to burlesque performers by their stage names or by the names I’ve seen them listed by in other genres, but in this case both are in the program so you can figure out who is who. Sweet Lady Night is a particularly strong singer, Scarlett Von Bomb is a great dancer, and Violette Coquette and LeTabby Lexington are experienced and talented burlesque performers. The costumes are fabulous, the choreography is fun, and … and it was not only educational but inspiring, acknowledging the flaws of the historical characters by today’s higher standards of intersectional feminism and challenging the audience to take action. The finale included a speech by Chorley that made me cry, and a Famous Five transition-to-the-present group dance number that had me clapping and cheering and fist-pumping.