Category Archives: Festivals

Fringe 2022: Just a few more!

I left my final weekend mostly open because I didn’t know if I’d have much energy and enthusiasm left, but I ended up wanting to fit in more shows I’d heard or read about. And I don’t regret it. All of these are now closed, of course, but some may have future runs at other festivals or elsewhere.

The Bender – Corine Demas’ three-hander about a grieving middle-aged woman (Demas) and her short-lived relationship with a much younger trans man (Kai Hall) she meets through a poetry-reading group (“Open hearts, open minds”). The third cast member, Steven Darnell, plays another poet, and amusingly also plays all the hookups the couple find on dating sites. I liked that the playwright didn’t aim for a conventional ending with any of the characters together. Acacia Hall.

The Truth – Adam Bailey is a Fringe-circuit regular, from Ontario. His fast-paced solo examined the concept of truth through anecdotes from his own life, from LGBTQ2S+ history, and from addiction-recovery research vs addiction-recovery ritual, among others, and it was entertaining to listen to.

A Grave Mistake – The physical-comedy duo A Little Bit Off, with Amica Hunter and David Cantor, first hit Edmonton with Beau & Aero a few years ago, which was great, so I knew it would be worth going to the Gateway Theatre in the heat to see them. Their closing performance started with David explaining that Amica was ill and unable to perform, but that with some adaptations, Carly Pokoradi from Juliet: A Revenge Comedy would be filling in on book to give us a segment of the play, and then any remaining time would be filled with some “variety show” by other Fringe artists. So although I didn’t get to see A Grave Mistake in its entirety, I got to see a couple of brilliant artists do a suprisingly-good pick-up performance, with its highlight being the physical business of the swindlers’ seance. I also got to see some other amusing excerpts, similar to Late Night Cabaret bits, from Keith Brown, Paul Strickland, Ingrid Hansen with Nayana Fielkov, and – I’m sorry, I can’t remember who else. I would definitely go to see A Grave Mistake again. Yet this experience was a classic illustration of the ephemeral pleasure of being one of the people in the “room where it happens” for live theatre. Gateway Theatre. (And a note that sweltering-heat notwithstanding, I love that this venue is still being used, and is back to being a lottery venue.)

Pressure – Amanda Samuelson’s three-hander had a progress showing or staged read or something at Nextfest in the spring, but I didn’t get to see it then. I didn’t make it up to the new Roxy Theatre to see it this week until the last day of the festival, but I’m very glad I did. It’s the best new drama I’ve seen this Fringe. Sydney Williams plays the central character Grace, struggling with depression, anxiety, feelings of being an imposter as a playwright and as an adult, and residual hurt from being abandoned by her father. Grace’s sometime-partner Ricky (Meegan Sweet) and Grace’s mother (Sue Huff) don’t always know how to support her, and have their own conflicting needs, but mean well and worry about her. It was refreshing to see the mother-daughter interactions being so nuanced, without the mother being a caricature of misunderstanding or a villain – her support was more than tuna noodle casseroles, and it was satisfying to see Grace managing to reach out to her mother for help. I liked the scene-framing of negative snarky horoscope projections, and I noticed the different underscoring and lighting for therapist conversations and for negative self-talk vs the real-time conversations on stage, but I was occasionally a little confused about the time lapses and flashbacks between scenes. Lorne Cardinal Theatre at the Roxy.

Absolute Magic – Keith Brown’s stage-magic show, sold out at the Backstage Theatre, was a great way to wrap up the festival. He makes very good use of multiple closeup cameras to make close-up magic with cards and other small props come alive for a full room. I was pretty close, and I still have no idea how any of it was done, and I loved it. The performer had smooth, natural, consensual interactions with many audience members, not just the ones close to the table but some from further back in the risers. I appreciated that his methods of identifying audience members to invite participation didn’t assume gender. I liked his stories, which came out of shows he’d done and people he’d met, things he’d learned during the pandemic, and so on. They didn’t feel glib and a couple of them truly inspired me. Backstage Theatre.

I also went to the year’s last edition of Late Night Cabaret, a festive and joyful celebration of the Fringe and the artists and community. The more times I attend LNC the more I like it. I feel welcomed and included, and I love getting to sit and experience good music – including the preshow – and a fast-moving sampler of Fringe entertainment with shared jokes and short encounters with different performers. I also like having the salient details about each artist’s show posted on the video screen.

So, that wrapped up my Fringe 2022. I might see some holdovers later this week, but the last show laundry is done and it’s time to get caught up on the rest of life and start getting ready for Walterdale’s 2022-2023 season.

Highlights and improvements of the 2022 Fringe:

  • The expanded liquor-licensed area and the paperless-option ticketing systems introduced for last year’s small-scale festival worked great for this bigger event.
  • Same with the no-tickets single-transaction drinks ordering in the beer tents.
  • No paper handbills – I saw good and bad parts of this, but on balance I liked it.
  • Water dispensers around site
  • Community Care Team watching out for unhoused and vulnerable people who might be impacted by the festival
  • Ticket pricing displayed inclusive of the Fringe operations surcharge, so there are no surprises.

See you next year!

Starting the Fringe 2022

Crack in the Mirror – This Guys in Disguise show is set at a late-1970’s Women’s Group meeting in a suburban home. Strident divorcée Ruth (Jason Hardwick) shows up at Melanie’s (Trevor Schmidt) finger-foods and wine event with earnest brochures and speeches about Gloria Steinem, but both of them are disappointed when nobody else comes except for the older, naive, Ginger (Jake Tkaczyk). I once heard Trevor Schmidt speak at a script reading and he said in his writing, he favours choosing kindness when possible – that there’s still lots of scope for conflict and interesting stories with characters who don’t set out to be mean to each other. And I didn’t realize it at the time – I was laughing too hard – but Crack in the Mirror is a good example of that. Varscona Theatre.

Meatball Séance – John Michael of Chicago’s solo show is infused with so much manic awkward energy that the themes of loss at its heart didn’t bring it down. Lots of audience participation bits, always with an option to decline. Sue Paterson stage at Campus St-Jean.

Mules – Directed by Kevin Sutley and with a good cast of actors from U of A Augustana (that’s the campus in Camrose), I bought a ticket for this because of the playwrights, Beth Graham and Daniela Vlaskalic. It was dark, it was twistedly funny in parts, and it managed to evoke some really disturbing things without actually showing any of them directly. It is a longer play (90 minutes), but I was really engaged with what was going to happen with these characters, played by Miracle Mopera, Kyra Gusdal, and Frank Dion. Walterdale Theatre.

Late Night Cabaret – I don’t make it to this Fringe midnight event very often, because I usually need some sleep more than I need a variety show with an amazing house band (Zee Punterz), amusing hosts from Rapid Fire Theatre, and glimpses of many of the Fringe artists and phenomena that I hadn’t yet had time to catch up with. But in the scaled-down masked-up Fringe of 2021, I managed to score one ticket to the limited run of Late Night Cabaret and when I walked in to the Backstage Theatre that night, its perfect blend of nightclub energy and community acceptance was something I hadn’t known I’d been missing. Last night’s hosts were Joleen Ballendine and Joey Lucius of Rapid Fire and the guest performers included Ingrid Hansen (Epidermis Circus), Tymisha Harris (Josephine, Josie & Grace) and Rachel Comeau (Josie & Grace), and Johnnie Walker (The Heterosexuals). Backstage Theatre.

White Guy on Stage Talking – I am stage-managing this, an innocent operations production with Jake Tkaczyk and Meegan Sweet. Like Tkaczyk’s previous innocent operations work, it includes a series of images and explorations devised on a theme, many of them topically pointed, excessively silly, or just absurd, and never takes itself too seriously. It’s fun to show audiences the things the performers and other creative contributors have been building. Walterdale Theatre.

This year’s Fringe has kept some of the innovations we first saw last year. The option to do paperless ticketing, and the move to one-step sales in the beer tents instead of the old get tickets here, give tickets there ritual. The bigger liquor-licensed area covering the old South Beer Tent and the whole of McIntyre Park (Gazebo Park) which eliminates a lot of the crowding/bottlenecks. The “no handbills” rule was easy last year as reducing the interactions between artists and patrons on site felt appropriate, and it eliminated a lot of paper. This year I think it’s more of a challenge – performers do need to engage to sell their shows, and it’s probably harder when there’s no tidy way of taking a card to wrap up the conversation. I’ve seen performers wandering in costume and wearing billboards and T-shirts with their QR codes.

The gravel parking lot (formerly Farmers’ Market parking, rebranded a few years ago to Theatre District parking) has increased in price to almost $20 for a full day, which will change my strategies a bit. Lots of my favourite food vendors (the wood fired pizza, the grilled cheese people, Fat Frank’s, the spaghetti in a cone, and the green onion cakes) are back, along with Native Delights (bannock burgers!) and something I need to try based on recommendations, BF Korean Chicken. Some people are wearing masks – more indoors than out, more performers than guests. There has obviously been some festival planning to eliminate pinch-points and bottlenecks and other non-intentional crowding, which is helpful in many ways other than reducing covid transmission.

Happy Fringe!

An evening of celebrating the Fringe

Part of building and acknowledging a community is making and sharing art about that community. Fringe has always offered opportunities about that, and in recent years has been more intentional about expanding those opportunities to communities who haven’t always been recognized and celebrated in the same way – this year the venue pehonan is an exciting part of that intention.

But the Edmonton Fringe is itself a community. So of course there is art about the Fringe. The poster wall outside the Orange Hall is a lot shorter this year, but the sense of joyful celebration is extended by a complete set of posters commemorating every festival to date, with the imagery used that year for the program book and other publications. There’s an Instagram-ready set of brightly-coloured letters spelling out Fringe, in such a high-traffic area that it’s hard to take a picture without strangers in the way. (Unless, like me, you happen to be on site at 7:30 am.)

On Saturday, I went to three performances that were all celebrations of the Fringe culture. Gordon’s Big Bald Head: MasterThief Theatre is a long-running improv tradition, in which a small troupe of experienced performers uses the short description in the festival program to create their own version of another show. Their self-imposed rules include skipping over any sketch or improv show, since, according to Mark Meer, that would collapse the space-time continuum. (they might also skip music-based performances too.) The troupe members are currently Jacob Banigan, Mark Meer, and Ron Pederson. It’s easy to see that they know each other well and are having fun together, as they set each other up to do some preposterous stunts while building and resolving a complex plot.

With no printed program book this year, and a relatively small number of suitable shows to choose from, they chose to start from a big stack of program books from past years, using a pseudorandom selection process to choose one show. So the audience (close to or at the 60%capacity limit in the big Varscona theatre space) probably isn’t going to be familiar with the source material. But that didn’t seem to matter. On the night I attended, the inspiration was Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down, from a Toronto company in the 1994 Fringe. This allowed the performers another layer of comment/comedy about period customs and about what was okay to say in 1994 and not today. These are some of the best improvisers I have ever seen, and just fun to watch. Some of the remaining performances aren’t sold out. And no, I don’t know why it’s called Gordon’s Big Bald Head.

Die-Nasty is another long-running Edmonton improv troupe, this one in the soap-opera tradition of long convoluted character-driven stories. In a typical season, they have a 50-hour marathon show in the fall, then a series every Monday night all year, and every night of the Fringe there’s one episode of a story that unfolds at the Fringe. I don’t believe they’ve announced their 2021-2022 season plans yet, but the Die-Nasty at Fringe was just as I remembered. A collection of about 8 memorable characters – they have different guests added in each night – sweeps through a Fringe of beer tents, podcast reviews and mistaken slander, rehearsals and life-changing events, hints of romance and darker hints of murder. The night I saw it, the performers included Tom Edwards (a cowboy playwright trying to produce a musical cross between Oedipus and Best Little Whorehouse in Texas), Belinda Cornish as a famous actress, Hunter Cardinal trying to break away from his soccer-mad family to explore the arts, Stephanie Wolfe as a very strange psychotherapist, Mark Meer as a sort of Hunter S Thompson-esque podcaster, Wayne Jones, Jacob Banigan, and so on. The funniest moment was when one of Wolfe’s patients asked her a question about whether she can make people believe in a different reality or something like that, and she says “oh yes, I’ve been in charge of a whole province’s public health during a pandemic”.

Die-Nasty is sold out for tonight but seems to have some tickets available for tomorrow (Saturday Aug 21.)

The third tradition of performances celebrating the Fringe is Late Night Cabaret. In the Backstage theatre space as the last performance of the night, in a normal year it runs all through the week, filling the space with enthusiastic audience members who are still wide awake. An amazing house band, Ze Punters, with Audrey Ochoa the trombonist, entertains before and between the talk-show hosts and guests from various Fringe shows.

This year LNC has only four performances – on the Fridays and Saturdays of the Fringe. They all sold out quickly, but I was lucky enough to get a ticket for one of last weekend’s shows. The music and energy filled the space, but the limited admission meant that there was lots of space for safety and comfort (also short bar queues and no bathroom lineups). It was great to see familiar sets of eyes in the audience, and performance guests both familiar and new to me.

Edmonton Fringe continues until Sunday early evening, August 22, in its small careful format. I’m very glad to be here – and it’s time to head to a show.

Liminality

Liminality is a solo performance by Dr. Steven Andrews, at the Grindstone Studio,a small well-appointed space underneath the Mill Creek Cafe (82 Avenue and 96 Street), entrance from 82nd Ave. (Same building as Sewing Machine Factory.) I last saw Steven Andrews in Kristine Nutting’s site-specific performance Devour Content Here in 2015.

I loved it and I don’t know why.

It’s a simple solo storytelling performance. I started to write that I hadn’t seen anything in this genre for ages, but then I realized that I’d seen quite a few solo shows online and in person since covid made close contacts and cohorts complicated – from We Had A Girl Before You, the last live indoor show I saw in 2020, to Woman Caught Unaware, which is playing at the Varscona Theatre this Fringe, and Deafy, Chris Dodd’s solo at the Backstage space. So why was this different?

Maybe what entranced me about Liminality was that it was so close to failing. The creator/performer was vulnerable, not just in telling anecdotes that purport to be about himself and his personal limitations and fears, but in performing them for paying audiences who might be expecting something more polished, funnier, or more conventionally structured with tidy connections that all fit together at the end. I kept doing the work of looking for the throughline and the callbacks. I found some but never was sure why some of the stories were included. There were a few important props and set pieces, and some sound and lighting cues helped reinforce the beats – possibly suggesting some insight or conclusion that might be drawn.

But like I said, I loved it. You might not.

Two more performances, Saturday and Sunday – and Liminality is also available online, pay what you will.

New local work from diverse perspectives

Edmonton Fringe is a great place to discover new work by local artists. The program (2021: the digital listings on the Fringe website) flags new work and indicates the hometown of the producing company (2021: they’re almost all local or nearby this year, with very few touring artists).

Yesterday I saw three new works by local artists, One Song, Chanzo, and Deafy. All of them were fictional narratives in various genres, and all of them benefited from the lived experiences of the creators.

One Song was advertised as a staged read or workshop performance of a new musical, but was significantly more polished than that description suggessts. Daniel Belland (composer and co-lyricist) played keyboard to accompany the four singer/actors, Jaimi Reese, Manny Agueriverre, Ceris Backstrom, and Josh Travnik. The actors carried scripts but moved through the story and knew the music well. The mood of the story reminded me a bit of Dear Evan Hansen – kind young people getting themselves into believable awkward difficulties, well-meaning adults on the sidelines being vulnerable themselves. Jaimi Reese is spot-on as the wise and feisty single mother to a young lesbian (Agueriverre) with an open door/ear for her daughter’s best friend (Travnik) – even before the song Not This I was thinking the mother probably had her own interesting story. Ceris Backstrom plays three of the mother’s friends, brought in (consensually) to provide some queer perspectives beyond the mother’s own expertise. Backstrom’s acting was good, distinguishing between music-nerd Paul in bow-tie, drag-queen Toast, and lesbian AIDS activist Jen. All of them provided some LGBTQ+ context and incidental education (the QR-code-accessed show program provided some footnotes for audience members curious about some of the details). Agueriverre and Travnik’s characters are about fourteen. Through them we explore some nuances of sexuality-coming-out decisions without the high-stakes consequences of bullying or romance, with a clear message of everyone getting to make their own choice of how/when to share this news. Calla Wright wrote the script and co-wrote the lyrics.

The melodies and accompaniment were interesting, melodic, and in a modern-musical-theatre vein. The duet between Reese and Agueriverre late in the show was particularly strong. I thought there was a bit too much info-dump from Backstrom’s characters, but at the same time I appreciated learning a bit more about LGBTQ+ musicians and activists.

Chanzo is a play written by local playwright, dramaturg, graduate student, and director Mukonzi Musyoki. The title character (David Shingai Madawo) returns from Canada to Kenya after his father’s death, without warning his sister (Onika Henry) that he’s bringing his white Canadian girlfriend Charlotte (Jasmine Hopfe) with him. Henry’s character Bezo speaks many of her lines in Swahili, but no translation is needed to see that she is furious with her brother and the situation and full of contempt for who she thinks Charlotte is. Predictable conflicts ensue and secrets come out. The characters were compelling and I longed for them to understand each other and come to a good resolution. Yet as a viewer I was also satisfied with the more ambiguous ending of the script. One thread of the plot was familiar from a scene written by Musyoki and performed by Madawo in the late-2020 roving theatre piece Here There Be Night.

Deafy is a solo show written and performed by Chris Dodd, directed by Ashley Wright, with choreography by Ainsley Hillyard. It’s told in a mix of spoken English, ASL, and supertitles/captions. The character Nathan Jesper, on an informational speaking tour about being Deaf, decides to abandon his usual lecture script and tell stories about communication. Many of the stories are amusing anecdotes about how he and his friends get by in a hearing-centric world – the one about his friends helping him take his drivers’-license road test is particularly funny while still disappointing me with how unhelpful the bureaucracy is. The stories gradually begin to focus on his search for belonging, in a world where he is too deaf or in a group where he is not Deaf enough, as the choreography, music (Dave Clarke), and arguments with the unseen captioner escalate to express his increasing distress. As with the Swahili in Chanzo, I didn’t feel I was missing too much because I don’t understand ASL.

Brilliant Women on Stage

Two of the plays I saw early in Fringe 2021 featured familiar women on stage in sympathetic nuanced portrayals of women in their middle years. Both, unsurprisingly, were directed by Trevor Schmidt.

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Woman Caught Unaware, by Annie Fox, is a solo performance by Davina Stewart. The art history professor is in her office, planning to head home to her partner, when a student appears outside of office hours. I enjoyed the the confident academic’s wry observations on student behaviour and the changing expectations for faculty members as the student seems reluctant to confide about a problem, and the professor runs through the recent advice on what to do about cyberbullying and other issues. (I was reminded of Professor Kate Fansler in Amanda Cross’s mystery novels.)

But the student has come to tell – and show – her instructor that it’s actually Professor Conté’s nude image that’s being shared on-line, with harsh comments about her aging body. And while the narrator tries to ignore it, she discovers “allies” all around her, each responding in well-intentioned but self-centred ways to adopt a cause. A protest! A petition! A nude calendar!

We get to see why the professor anticipates the sanctuary of home, in brief affectionate images of her partner Gail (“I’m like a pin, she’s like a pincushion”), their cottage, their garden, the savoury aroma of Gail’s beef bourguignon on the stove (“we’re pescatarian in public, but …”). And she eventually addresses the issue directly (this is me resisting the full-frontal metaphors), in ways that left me satisfied about an articulate older woman taking back power. I loved watching and listening to Davina Stewart in this role.

Woman Caught Unaware has performances Monday through Sunday at the Varscona Theatre with some tickets available for each.

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Destination Wedding is a Whizgiggling Productions work, written and directed by Trevor Schmidt, and performed by Cheryl Jamieson, Kristin Johnston, and Michelle Todd.

Three women meet up after many years, having all been invited to be attendants at an old friend’s destination wedding in a tropical resort location that Honey (Jamieson) insists they not name. Johnston’s Marlene is an artist seated with powerful stillness in black. Todd’s Britt is a lesbian, a successful businesswoman, and the one who slips naturally into curbing the worst of Honey’s impulses (“No, you can’t go get your hair braided on the beach / wear a bride’s tribe t-shirt, that’s appropriative”) her affect suggesting that she does this all day long and she doesn’t expect Honey to learn.

With the three fascinating characters, this premise would be enough to make an entertaining Fringe show – as if the mother’s-friends-chorus in Mamma Mia were distinct interesting people. But it turns into a darker, more ambiguous, story. Various details were mentioned – the kinds of breadcrumbs that a less subtle narrative would explain as Clues. At one point I noticed that the painted backdrop of a resort veranda scene now seemed to have a dark sky and a stormy sea, which I guess was some magic of lighting design (also Schmidt).

While the three are waiting for their old friend the bride to show up, they meet some other significant characters, providing opportunity for these three talented actors to demonstrate their skill distinguishing multiple roles, and for the audience to be even more entertained and diverted from what was turning into a central mystery. I particularly liked Johnston’s Amy, the bride’s daughter, all eye-rolling and vocal fry.

The hints weren’t all tidily wrapped up into clues and exposition, but left in a delicious suspension. I wished I’d gone with a friend to have fun figuring those things out afterwards. Maybe I should go back. But if I do, I better buy a ticket soon, since some of the remaining seven performances are already sold out.

Both these shows are also available for online viewing.

How DO you solve a problem like Maria? Straight Edge Theatre has a new answer

In this surreal time of isolation, fakenews and fakeshows, the Straight Edge Theatre team is bringing to the Fringe that Never Was another of their brilliant and uncomfortable musical productions in Nun F*cks Given.  Or they would be if the Fringe that Never Was, was.  With book and lyrics by Steve Allred and Seth Gilfillian, composition and music direction by Daniel Belland, this premiere is gonna be something.  Not quite sure what  – director Bethany Hughes must be under the seal of the confessional – but the team that dressed the splash-zone audience in PPE for Evil Dead and forced their ensemble to sing while working out on spin bikes in Cult Cycle is bound to have something unique in their robes.   The creative team includes Bethany Hughes (director and choreographer), Chance Heck (fight director), and Jordan Campion, the stage manager who keeps them all in Holy Order.   Straight Edge has booked many amazing performers you haven’t seen on stage in months.  Casting the divine Sue Goberdhan as God was an inspired choice.  Jaimi Reese gives a standup performance as Father Long Johnson. The rest of the cast includes

  • Mother Superior – Seth Gilfillian
  • Mother Inferior – Steve  Allred
  • Mother Posterior – Lilith Fair/Zachary Parsons-Lozinski
  • Mother Anterior – Matthew Lindholm
  • Choir Mistress – Amanda Neufeld
  • Altar Boys turned zombies – Geoff Ryzuk, Mark Sinongco, Anthony Hurst, Josh Travnik
  • The Dancing Monks who become possessed – Daniella Fernandez, Ruth Wong – Miller, Larissa Pohoreski , Alyssa Joy, Aly Horne, Kendra Humphreys, Brittany Hinse and Bella King

After I had read this far in the promo materials, I must confess that I was actually sorry The Fringe That Never Was is not actually having real performances, because I want to see this show!   The plot teaser provides even more tease.  “After the breakdown of the nearby nuclear power plant, the nuns at a local nunnery start to realize that they have developed new abilities. The timing of these superpowers could not have come at a better time, as the clergy at the next door Catholic monastery have all been possessed by the spirits of dead saints turned evil. They must use their new powers to protect the city from the possessed monks and stop the source of the leak before their mutation leads to inevitable spontaneous combustion. Packed with nonsense, nun chucks and nun puns. So so so many puns. ”

Want to see it?  Out of luck.  Want to support the Edmonton Fringe and pay tribute to the work of Straight Edge Theatre?    Click here. Want to make a habit of it?  Keep clicking on the Fringe website and find more shows that don’t exist that you’d buy tickets to if you could.  Taken a vow of poverty?  Share the links.  Devout followers, novices, and skeptics alike should make a pilgrimage to Nun F*cks Given.

Fringe 2017 – the last weekend

A Beautiful View – Perry Gratton directed Nikki Hulowski and Samantha Jeffreys in this Daniel MacIvor script, a lovely celebration of a hard-to-label relationship between two women. “You have to be very organized to be bisexual”, the one explains to herself/the audience while deciding not to follow up on an unexpected sexual encounter.   There are a lot of segments where a character speaks facing the audience – sometimes they are alternating in a conversation with each other as retold to the audience.  I don’t know how much of that is in MacIvor’s script, but I think I remember a lot of it in a play Gratton directed several years ago at Fringe, Letters to Laura.  The ending was … well, there was enough foreshadowing that the not-entirely-explicit awful/sad ending must have actually happened.  But I wish it hadn’t, since I really liked both characters.  They were quite different from each other, but there were things I identified with in both of them.  (A Beautiful View has one holdover performance on Thursday.)

Late Night Cabaret – Late Night Cabaret is an Edmonton Fringe tradition.  It happens at midnight, every night of the Fringe except the last Sunday when things wrap up early.  I only went to it once this year, but it wasn’t hard to pick up on the ongoing jokes and routines.  Hosts Amy Shostak and Julian Faid have guests from other shows every night as well as the very talented house band Ze Punterz.  The Backstage Theatre sells out with happy artists, volunteers, and dedicated fringegoers extending their evening and building community.  It runs about an hour and a half with an intermission, and I think maybe the bar stays open during the show.  Some people go to it every night.

Multiple Organism – This piece by Vancouver’s Mind of a Snail troupe (Chloe Ziner and Jessica Gabriel) was the most original and creative work I saw at this year’s Fringe, and I liked it a lot.  It made extensive use of unusual projection techniques.  Some of it was a little gross, but not gratuitously so.

Rivercity: The musical  – Rebecca Merkley wrote and directed this new musical which seems to be an homage to the Archie-comics characters without quite borrowing their names.   It’s full of amusing quick-changes for double&triple-cast actors, silly puns, and cartoon-inspired sound effects (especially the wind-up-and-dash running starts of red-headed Andrews (Molly MacKinnon), which sounded like the Road Runner or something).  In between, though, there were some touching and serious solos for various characters, particularly for the viewpoint character Bee (Vanessa Wilson) and for the Jughead-like Jonesy (Josh Travnik, also multiply-cast in Evil Dead).   The cast of four (Kristin Johnston plays Reggie and the principal among others) covers too many characters to count.  Live music is provided by Scott Shpeley and Chris Weibe, wearing Josie-and-the-Pussycats-style cat-ears. 

Tempting – Erin Pettifor and Franco Correa are a psychic and a sceptic in Ashleigh Hicks’ new script.  When the audience enters the Westbury Theatre auditorium, the large stage has been made into a cozy cluttered studio-space for psychic Alaura (Pettifor).  She is puttering about doing yoga poses in a disjointed distracted way and making tea.  At first it is not clear why Adam is dropping in before business hours, and it is also not clear why Alaura is so immediately adversarial.  Those things do become clear – Adam’s girlfriend Constance is a client, and Adam wants Alaura to recant the advice (or prediction, or support) she gave Constance in a decision Adam doesn’t like.   The problem as described is interesting – Constance is dying and in pain and wants to pursue medically-assisted death, which Alaura supports and Adam doesn’t.  But I don’t really feel compassionate for either of the characters on stage, as I find out more about their motivations and connections to Constance, and I found the ending unsatisfying. 


I think I saw 28 performances this Fringe (one a repeat) and I might see a couple more at holdovers this week.

Super powers of various kinds

Another little change at this year’s Fringe festival is that an artist pass or volunteer pass works as an ETS transit pass.  It used to be that artists and volunteers could request a separate transit pass.  I had the impression that they had a limited number of passes, so I usually didn’t get one, and it was a nuisance to carry around one more thing.  This way’s great – I’ve taken the bus several times for short journeys instead of driving or walking.  On the other hand, the festival also used to have a bus-ticket perq for ordinary festival-goers, and it seems they don’t have that any more.


Yesterday’s short bus trip down Whyte Avenue to 101 Street and then a short walk in the neighbourhood that might be called CPR Irvine or part of Ritchie or just “behind the A and W” brought me to Concrete Theatre’s Playhouse performance space for The Superhero Who Loved Me, a new play by Chris Craddock, directed by Wayne Paquette and starring Kristi Hansen and April Banigan.  At first I thought, this is great, it’s just like the comic-book superhero tales that are my usual cinema fare.  And about halfway through, I thought, they’ve already had more character development and logical plot points than most superhero movies.   Hansen is the secret-agent/superhero isolated by the requirement for secrecy and Banigan the old classmate looking for friends after her divorce, and when they meet again things get steamy pretty fast.  They have all the superhero/mundane mixed-relationship troubles you might expect, and I cared about them.  Staging was simple, painted rehearsal-boxes and a few props, and the obligatory show-you-the-world flying scene was acted out with Barbie dolls.  Two more performances this weekend, and then held over at the venue next weekend.

Another short trip away from the Fringe grounds brought me to the Garneau Theatre for fresh popcorn and the midnight showing of Mo’ Manada, the Boylesque T.O. sequel to O Manada from a couple of years ago.  This year’s revue was hosted by Justin Trudeau (Morgan Norwich) and Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau (Johnnie Walker), and featured four talented men from Boylesque T.O. as well as stage-kitten (costumed stage-crew and occasional performer) Shagina Twain.  The hosts were just as entertaining as the dancers, and the midnight crowd was very enthusiastic.  One more show today.


The official Fringe holdover series in the Westbury Theatre was announced yesterday.  Tickets are available from the Fringe box office / website now for Prophecy, My Love Lies Frozen in the Ice, Legoland, and Drunk Girl.

Other independent venues make their own arrangements for holdovers.  Varscona Theatre will be doing one more performance of No Exit and several for An Exquisite Hour.  Holy Trinity is holding over Urinetown.  Concrete/Playhouse is adding two performances of The Superhero Who Loved Me (ticketing info not available yet).

And there’s two days left to see plays, eat mini donuts and green onion cakes, watch buskers, and hang out with other people who are passionate about theatre, until we’re back to ordinary life (which for me is more of the same, but at a slower pace and with more sleep.)

More performance genres at Fringe 2017

Note:  I don’t know why the caption isn’t showing up on my photo.  That’s Bethany Hughes from Evil Dead talking to the audience members seated in the Splash Zone. 

 

Animal Farm Treatment – I have never studied, read, or seen any version of George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, but as with Sartre’s No Exit, I had a general idea of the theme and I knew one line.  During Animal Farm Treatment, a solo show by creator/performer Alice Nelson from Calgary, I wondered how it would appear to an audience member who didn’t know the expected outcome from the original cynical parable.  The playbill said that she has a study guide to accompany her show for high school audiences.  The performer skilfully switched among several speaking characters, using different physicalities and speech patterns as well as clues of having the characters refer to each other by name, and she used a few simple props to move the story forwards.  I knew that the experiment in democracy would not end well, but I kept hoping it would.  Two more shows, Friday 2:45 and Saturday 11:30 pm.

Evil Dead – Amanda Neufeld directed this lively, funny, gory musical, which is playing at L’Unitheatre.  Bethany Hughes stage managed, and in the picture above is reassuring the audience members in the Splash Zone.  Music is a four-piece instrumental group under the direction of Daniel Belland (also seen in Mormonic at this festival).  The narrative moves quickly through the tropes of horror fiction, the college students each with his or her own incentives to vacation at a lonely cabin (Matthew Lindholm, Jaimi Reese, Nadine Veroba, Stephen Allred, Josh Travnik), the eerie woods with limited access, the intrepid explorer returning from Egypt to finish her father’s work (Neufeld), the source of local knowledge Reliable Jake (Travnik), and the demons (uncredited here because that would give away some plot).  It’s very funny, and the songs are great. The action moves quickly and it’s over in 90 minutes as advertised.  Some tickets are available for tonight’s late show.

Puck Bunnies – This is another cleverly-scripted and poignant drag comedy in the spirit of Flora and Fawna’s Field Trip with Fleurette, from Guys in Disguise.  Darrin Hagen, Trevor Schmidt, and Jason Hardwick play the girlfriends of junior/minor-league hockey hopefuls, sharing support, gossip, and relationship troubles while in the bleachers for an intra-squad scrimmage.   Tammy, Tanya, and Tina are more than silly caricatures (although I have to say that the costumes are spot-on perfect), each with her own struggles.  The dramatic-irony part (where the audience knows something a character doesn’t realize) is great.  The gentle insertion of a more feminist awareness into a culture of “support the boys at all costs”, by Hardwick’s Tina, is credible and satisfying.  I last paid attention to this culture in the mid-90s, I found it disturbing and necessary to be reminded that, despite the pussyhat, some things have not changed.   Shows Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons.

You Fucking Earned It – At last year’s inaugural Edmonton Clown Festival (now renamed Play the Fool, and running Sept 28-Oct 1 2017), in a panel discussion Deanna Fleischer (aka Butt Kapinski) pointed out that traditional bouffon was criticizing the king in front of the king, and she challenged performers using bouffon techniques to ask themselves “Is the king in the room?”  There are two key points in this.  One is to punch up – make fun of the powerful instead of the powerless.  The other is that if it’s good bouffon serving its purpose, nobody in the audience should feel comfortable and safe.  At the start of the performance of You Fucking Earned It (a Naked Empire Bouffon work featuring Cara McLendon and Sabrina Wenske, directed by Nathaniel Justiniano whom you might recall from You Killed Hamlet), I wondered whether the piece would succeed at the second point for an Edmonton audience, but it definitely did.  One more show, 2:45 today (Friday).

The show I’ve been working on, How I Lost One Pound, the Musical, also has one more show this festival, at 6:30 pm today in the Rutherford Room at the Varscona Hotel.  We are not sold out at the box office and I will have some tickets available at the door as well.  I’d love to show more people this quirky funny low-key narrative about a woman at mid-life.   Lesley Carlberg’s show will also be playing at Vancouver Fringe and at Guelph Fringe in October, if you miss it here.