Tag Archives: fringe2012

Five musicals at the Fringe

In 2012 I saw five musicals at the Fringe theatre festival.

Middleton a folk musical.  This was of uneven quality. The accompanying recorded music was sometimes amplified too loud to be able to hear the lyrics. It didn’t quite work for me and I’m not sure why not. There were some comic/heartwarming characters typical of a musical, there were some big issues and some funny bits, there was one very good song about being a victim of domestic violence, but I ended up restless and disappointed. Middleton is the town in the Annapolis Valley where I bought my brown apple-applique quilt on my bike trip.

Spring Awakening: a musical, and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson:  Both of these had large casts of local young people. Both of them had professional microphones and amplification used properly, and the music was by live small orchestras, all of which was an improvement over Middleton, which I saw the first  weekend of the festival.

Both of them had musical scores that I would call alt-rock or punk, which at first seemed bizarrely anachronistic in the period pieces, but then I realised that any other kind of “show tunes” would be equally anachronistic. And I liked the music a lot in both shows. Spring Awakening had more songs that I could see buying and listening to again though.

Both of them had extremely partisan crowds of young friends who were very responsive. In Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, there was a bunch of appropriate heckling from the back that I couldn’t tell if it was scripted or spontaneous.

If you look up Spring Awakening on Wikipedia, you can see that it was originally a scandalous stage play of the late 19th century, made into a Broadway musical about six years ago. I can see why it was scandalous, if it was anything near as explicit about sexual issues of adolescents and their consequences as the musical is. It was mostly not a happy story, and it couldn’t have been with integrity. I thought it was a good show well done, and I might buy some of the music, but I don’t really want to see it again.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson had a very different mood, that I don’t know how to describe. Way beyond tongue in cheek to making fun of everything. There were a few serious points, like the problems of direct democracy and the disconnect between a Washington elite and the needs of the frontier people, and it was clear that the main objection to Jackson that the scriptwriter and performers had was his role in the Trail of Tears and earlier ruin of Indian nations.

I’m curious about the economics of Fringe shows. I’m assuming that they only reason these two companies can afford to put on these large-cast shows is that the actors don’t need to make enough money to put food on the table etc, and that their producers might also be getting donations for costumes and stuff – and also, they must have a waiver or subsidy of royalties. Spring Awakening was done by a company of recent alumni from Strathcona High School, with a director and music-director who teach and run student theatre there. The production felt more polished and disciplined than Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.

Fiorello! – I missed this in the regular Fringe time, but it was an unofficial holdover at the Varscona Theatre. It’s a musical about Fiorello LaGuardia, the anti-corruption New York politician in the 1920s and 1930s. I enjoyed it. It had some cutesy-stereotype-y stuff but the pace was good. The number where he was campaigning on street corners in different neighbourhoods, in English in one verse, then in Italian in the next and in Yiddish after that, was great. Donovan Workun, a local improv guy, played the title role.

Reefer Madness – In the holdovers weekend I went back to the Westbury for Reefer Madness, the 1998 musical. I didn’t see any programs, but I was more caught up in it than for many other shows. It was really funny. Some of the music was catchy and some wasn’t my thing. There were 6 actors each playing 1-2 main characters and some other attributes and chorus. There was a hilarious blasphemous bit with Jesus in gold lamé shorts. I kept thinking about the similarities with Rocky Horror Picture Show – the innocent young couple subverted and seduced in a den of depravity, the didactic lecturer telling the story, the other characters in the reefer house and their interactions with the boss, etc. At one point the actor playing the didactic lecturer was then playing Franklin D Roosevelt, in a push wheelchair with a lap blanket, so that made me think even more of the guy in Rocky Horror. I guess Rocky Horror Picture Show (1977) was playing on the tropes of the original 1936 scare-tactics movie and others of that genre – but since I’d never seen it, I didn’t realise it until now.

One of the reviews, I think in the Vue, alluded to how the dramatic warnings about marijuana are now known to be so ridiculous that it’s easy to laugh at, but that it’s disturbing to be realising that if you substituted heroin or crack, they are or might be true. Which was creepy, for me too.

Fringe holdovers

Reluctant to let go of having fun at the Fringe festival and get on with the next things, I remembered that every year they pick a few shows to hold over in the bigger venues the weekend after the festival ends. Always before I’d been ready to move on to other pursuits, but this year I went through the lists of holdovers and bought four tickets.

Fiorello! –  reviewed in the next post.

LOON – this non-speaking mask show had been well spoken of by reviewers and by my actor friend, and it played to a near-full house Thursday night at Westbury, the big auditorium in the Arts Barn. It’s still not my preferred genre but it was fun to watch. The program notes said that the company had benefited from a Kickstarter, so that was neat.

The Minor Keys – I hadn’t really been inclined to see it during the Fringe, and I just added it to my list of holdover shows in a sort of what-the-heck thought of filling up my Friday night. It was playing in the downstairs arts space of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in the neighbourhood just east of the railway tracks. I didn’t like it much. It was … it was the kind of show that’s like a staple of summer-theatre, just a set of not-too-nuanced funny characters revolving around each other. The setting was a run-down jazz club in the late 1960s. There wasn’t very much music in it. The actor playing the professor, Tom Edwards, sounded and looked really familiar but I don’t think I’ve seen any of the shows mentioned on his resume in the program. The actor playing the young accountant was Kendra Connor, whom I’d seen a few nights earlier as Marie in Fiorello! David Belke wrote it. With an intermission it was almost 2 hours long, which was draggy after the faster-paced shows of the Fringe.

Reefer Madness – also reviewed in the next post.

Holdover shows cost more – $18 with the Fringe capital fee. And in some ways it’s not as much fun, just showing up for one or two shows in an evening without a surrounding carnival; it’s more like an ordinary theatregoing experience. There are three shows playing tonight, for the last night of holdovers, but they’re all shows I’ve already seen. So I guess that’s it for me for Fringe 2012 – 31 performances during the festival and 4 afterwards, for a total of 35.

Last day of the Fringe

I remember feeling wistful after Folkfest this year too, that writing up the end of the weekend was like saying that now it was over and I needed to get to work.

Anyway, on the last day of Folkfest my plan to rendezvous with a perfomer to get another copy of last year’s CD turned into seeing four shows and being there right til the end. This meant that I’ve seen 31 performances.

The weather was good, shortsleeves weather but not too hot. I went to the main festival site to pick up my tickets, then back to Wunderbar to see Joel’s show again. But I was actually super early so I sat outside the A&W in the shade, talking to a family member on the phone and eating mini doughnuts. Then I got inside and had another great conversation with Craig the bartender (owner?) about ales. He says I need to check out Keg and Cork. I also talked to the merch guy (whom I’d met at some other shows) about intellectual property etc.

Divide – I actually liked Joel’s show even better the second time through, understanding the pacing and looking for how it flowed together.

Improv-a-palooza – this was another improv show at the Varscona Hotel. Jim Libby whom I’d seen in another show, Wes Borg from the Three Dead Trolls, and some other local improv guys built up an improbable ridiculous story involving Freud, a mother kidnapped in Mexico, a long-lost brother, a father who was an unsuccessful salesman, and some spontaneous musical numbers, by playing a board game to get premises for their story.

However, because of the unpredictable nature of improv combined with trying to finish the game, I got out of there 6 minutes late, giving me only 9 minutes to get by bike from the Varscona to Phabric (which is on 80 Avenue at about 101 St (down from the A&W.) I rode on Whyte Avenue and ran a turning light and boy when I read about the cyclist fatality this afternoon it hit even closer to home than usual. Anyway, I made it in time.

Apocalypse: a Period Piece – a charming original two-man show, both funny and poignant, with Chris Craddock and another guy being little boys in the cold-war era but also being various characters that the little boys pretended to be: their dad, Elvis, JFK, etc. It is held over and I recommend it and might be convinced to see it again.

Then I had a bit of time to spare before my last show. I paid one last visit to the beer tent, watched the festival grounds empty out some, watched artists give one last handbill-pitch, and ate a taco in a bag (taco makings added to a bag of Doritos).

A Wake – the venue of this show was the Southside Memorial Chapel, the funeral home just across the street from the gazebo park. The show itself was okay to well done, musings on death, grief, death ritual, and life, in dance and music and poetic fragments and a few dialogues. But the use of the space and the participation of the funeral home’s owners were just fabulous. I have written to the owners to thank them. I have not lived in Edmonton long enough to attend any funerals or visitations yet, but if it were up to me someday I would definitely do business with these people. After the scripted performance, they invited the audience to see an installation in one of the visitation rooms, and/or to come have refreshments in their reception room and talk to the performers and the owners, and having that kind of grounding and aftercare was probably valuable for a lot of the audience.

It was still daylight. My bike was still there. The vendors were taking down their booths. I rode my bike home and spent the rest of the evening chatting on line about the experience.

Sharing my Fringe

Yesterday a couple of friends from Calgary were in town, so we made a plan to meet for lunch and then figure out what to see at the Fringe. We had early lunch at Maki Maki (I convinced them that for the authentic try-anything Edmonton experience they needed an erotic roll). Then we got out the program and the Fest Finder app and the ticket-buying website, and I suddenly realised (and said) that trying to find one play to show people how cool Edmonton Fringe was, was harder than trying to pick a movie together on a date with someone you didn’t know very well yet. Fortunately, they didn’t have to rush right back to the family they were visiting, so we did the Fringe my way. That is, we wandered Whyte Avenue, comparison-tasted cupcakes from fuss and from the Fringe vendor (I still think fuss is the best, although the Fringe vendor had some creative icing flavours such as brightly coloured bubble gum), watched a juggler, organized our routes to use the nice indoor bathrooms in the Arts Barn at every opportunity, ate frozen chocolate bananas, and went to five plays.

After that, I wanted to stay around to go to the midnight cabaret show, and we had a couple of hours in between, so we had supper and nice decaf coffee at Famoso. So we said goodbye just before midnight and I got in line for the cabaret show where I was supposed to meet one of the performers to pick up a CD he was burning for me, but unfortunately the show was very very sold out. The first time I’d tried to buy a ticket at the door and it didn’t work! Ah well. While I was hanging around outside seeing whether tweeting the piano player would pull any strings (it didn’t), I also had a nice conversation with the artist of Charlie: a hockey story and told him my family’s version of some of the stories.

So I collected my bike where I had stashed it in the morning, and went home. I am not sure if I’ll go to any performances today, or whether I’ll get on with recovery and life.

Also, at one of the plays we met up with my actor friend (by design) and saved seats for him and his friends and he and I caught up a bit more on what we’d each seen since we last saw each other. So that was fun too.

The five plays:

The Lesson – the Ionesco play. Classic Theatre of the Absurd works well at the Fringe.

Scratch: The Revengeance – this two-person, many-character original comedy by local artists was hilarious. I’ve never seen any sketch-type comedy where things didn’t drag at all between jokes; it just zipped right along being funny on funny, and incidentally occasionally obscene.

Cockwhisperer – a one-woman show, mostly telling various stories related to her sexual history. It was interesting that she grew up in Hamilton and was about my age. And some of it was funny or moving. But the whole thing was a bit disappointing to me because it could have been a lot more sex-positive, especially given the title and writeup.

Fatboy – this was funny in a very weird way. All the characters were in whiteface makeup and were sort of exaggerated archetypes. We were trying to figure out what genre it reminded us of, and I thought it was like the pantomime, what with the judge and the yelling couple and so on. One of my companions said, only with a lot more bad language and violence. We then looked up the description and it said that it was reminiscent of a Punch and Judy show and of Ubu Roi, “an 1896 precursor of theatre of the absurd”. Random, and I mostly liked it.

Rocket Sugar Factory Improv – We went to an improv show because I hadn’t been to one yet this year. This one mostly went on a theme of “today in history”, they’d get people to call out a year, then they’d look up what events happened on that day’s date that year and act it out. The events included Galileo Galilei demonstrating his telescope, the first version of Linux, and Pulcheria becoming empress of the Byzantine Empire.

The festival ends today. I don’t know if I’ll go … but I still want to meet up with Joel to get that cd, so hmm.

Fringe and nothing else

I continue to do nothing but go to plays at the Fringe. The cold or whatever it is takes away more of my stamina, so I spent a couple of days doing pretty much nothing but sleep. And still, I think I’m up to 22 performances so far. I haven’t had enough discount beers to cover the cost of the cup, but I’m okay with that.

Anyway, here are some more shows I’ve seen.

Sexed – or maybe SexEd? My adjectives are all like adorable, wholesome, earnest, but I’m pretty sure the creators/performers thought they were being radical and on the edge. I said in a tweet that I thought they should go perform it on campuses, because it’s the kind of play that is well received in orientation week or sexual-awareness week or whatever. Anyway, they covered all the sexual issues contemporary young women are likely to encounter, and I didn’t disagree with any of their facts, and I laughed.

Cages – This was a solo storytelling show by an interesting man probably in his early 60s. His topics ranged from having been a member of the Vermont legislature to having supported his nonagenarian mother as she committed suicide with help of the Final Exit Network.

A Bronte Burlesque – I’d never been to a burlesque show before, and I’m not sure this quite counted because it had a plot, rather than being a vaudeville/variety type show. As you might imagine, there was a lot of artistic unhappiness while scampering around in frilly undies. And Branwell kept his pants on. One side benefit of the Fringe is that it gives me an excuse to look around inside various local establishments which get used as venues, and this one was in New City Legion, which turns out to be a poorly-lit basement bar underneath Hudson’s or maybe under the yarn store, I lost track.

Big in Germany – Apparently they’re heading back to Toronto to have a run at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. It should do well there because although it’s light, it’s full of jokes about growing up in Downsview in the 1980s. It’s about a couple of guys trying to be rockstars, but it doesn’t really have much music in it.

Vernus Says SURPRISE – This was another recommendation by the aspiring actor I met in line last weekend. There was one actor, playing a cheerful frail confused old man, playing against a soundscape of perfect sound effects and occasional conversation. The audience was so caught up in his difficulties that people kept sighing and gasping and saying awwww and o no! The performer’s speech to the audience afterwards was just as charming as the play.

Dead Wrong
– This was a total change of mood. It was a solo-artist recounting of a fictionalised situation where an assault victim’s memory and a less-than-ideal suspect identification process led to a wrongful conviction. Compelling.

Spring Awakening: the musical – reviewed in a later post

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson – also reviewed in a later post

Grey Matter – My actor friend recommended it, and then a woman in the beer tent offered me a ticket she couldn’t use, so I went. Flashback, flashforward, flashlights, electrical crackles and hisses, all probably a metaphor for dementia.

Excessive Fringe

I didn’t do much else this weekend except hang around at the Fringe Festival going to shows. And sleep. I think I’m getting a cold.  Anyway, here are more shows that I’ve seen. I probably should have bought two frequent-fringer passes (20 shows) instead of the one 10-show pass.

Sexual Perversity in Chicago – This was a sold-out opening show. I had never seen this David Mamet play before, although I had seen the movie “about last night” long ago. Some of the language and attitudes seemed too outdated to be credible, although unfortunately not enough of them. The actors were all good, Jamie Cavanagh, Sereana Malani, Richard Lam, and the fourth whose name I need to look up (edit:  Patricia Cerra). In the lineup beforehand and before the play started, I enjoyed talking to an interesting young theatre student from a small town.

Pushed – I picked this one on the spot because it fit my schedule between the two other shows I already had tickets for. It was both funnier and much much darker than I expected.

Middleton a folk musical – Notes on this one are in a later post with other musicals.

7 Ways to Die: a Love Story – on a recommendation from a friend, I got completely caught up in this wordless masked story. It was like the darker version of Fools for Love – again two characters in different apartments in the same building interact, but in this one it seems that one of them keeps trying to kill herself and the other one keeps trying to stop her.  Alexander Forsyth and Keltie Brown were the creators/performers.

Divide – I was looking forward to this because I liked the song cycle that the artist (Joel Crichton) had written for last year’s festival, and besides because I like having interesting beer at Wunderbar. This was a performance piece that was a mix of storytelling, invoking his dead heroes Jack Layton and Vaclav Havel, imagining dystopic futures with his granddaughter and son in them, looping and beatbox and hiphop, and singing. It worked surprisingly well.

Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hansom Cab Killer – Three actors played an awful lot of characters. I giggled frequently. It was full of doubles ententres but I think that for kids who know Sherlock Holmes and who don’t mind not getting some of the jokes or parents who don’t mind that they do get them, kids would like it too. I liked one of the main plot premises but I won’t mention it and spoil a friend who’s planning to see it later in the week.

Essay – this play about gender politics in an academic setting was written by young Canadian playwright Hannah Moskovitch. I sort of squirmed uncomfortably all the way through it because the characters were so familiar. The venue was the upstairs of the Wee Book Inn.

Significant Me – a one-woman show with props and occasional audience participation, the sequel to last year’s ONEymoon, by Christel Bartelse, with a manic pace and a lot of amusing asides and stage business. I’m not sure the plot hung together quite as well as last year’s; more of it just seemed like excuses to stick in other funny parts, but I didn’t mind.

Start of the Fringe 2012

The Fringe Theatre Festival got started last night. I’ve seen five plays, I have tickets to five more, and I have a long list in my program book of more I’d be interested in seeing. Maybe I should have signed up to volunteer, and earned some free tickets, but I still don’t have unlimited energy and can’t always predict — and it looks like lots of the volunteer jobs are outdoors in the sun.

There are a couple of neat new things at this year’s festival, and one old thing I took advantage of for the first time today.
– At the beer tents, you can buy a glow-in-the-dark souvenir cup, put your name on it with a Sharpie, get a dollar off every beer, and have it rinsed out to carry it home. Also, it feels nicer to drink from than the flimsy biodegradable-plastic cups.
– There’s a same-day-discount booth now. Artists can choose to have some same-day tickets for their shows sold at half price. (It doesn’t work out to half the total cost, because you still pay the $2.50 facility surcharge.) Today there was a list of maybe 20 performances on sale, and I found something I was interested in that fit in the gap in my schedule.
– Also, because I came from another appointment I wasn’t travelling by bicycle today, so I used the voucher in the program for a free bus ride home. It turns out that they just hand you an ordinary bus ticket, so maybe I will go get a bus ticket on future nights even if I do have the bicycle. I have to say, it felt very weird to walk away and get on a bus; I kept feeling like I was forgetting my bike on site.

The shows I’ve seen so far:

More Power to Your Knitting, Nell – this was a one-woman show that the artist was promoting on Ravelry, inviting people to knit at the show. It was a sort of sketch framework about a woman hired to do a radio show motivating patriotic knitters during World War II, and mostly an excuse for the artist to sing authentic WWI and WWII songs about knitting. She has a great voice, and is also doing another show at Fringe about Edith Piaf. There were only about 3 of us in the opening-night audience who had brought our knitting, and she handed out knitting projects to a few more people who knew what to do with them (including the man in front of me). Then every now and then she would put us on the spot with questions in the play. I’m never very sure how funny or original to be in a situation like that; not that I’m naturally all that quick, but I always worry about stealing the show when it seems like my role is to be good-natured about being made fun of. I did get in one funny line that made the rest of the audience laugh.

Charlie: A Hockey Story – mostly a storytelling performance, this one was more moving than I’d expected. I really wish I could learn to do that kind of storytelling. I’m not really interested in the kind that’s like telling long jokes, or the kind that my internet/Irish-Week friend Yvonne Healy does which is like traditional recounting of legends – just, I have lots of memories that I like to recount, and I’d like to know how to recount them in a way that would have an audience on the edge of their seats for an hour. Anyway, he had us rapt with stories that I mostly already knew the public parts of because they were important to my father and I’ve read them – the stories of the Leafs in ’33 and ’34, the longest playoff game ever and the Eddie Shore – Ace Bailey collision, injury, and aftermath. The artist’s uncle was one of the players on that Leafs team. It made me want to write to my brothers to check my memory of our own very small personal connection to those stories (I think that it was Joe Primeau Jr and some other possibly famous guy who ran the Mississauga team, and I think that King Clancy once came to a game and maybe Dad got him to sign a hockey card or was just struck dumb with magic.) The story was also about the artist’s relationship with his father, and about Shakespearean imagery. I really liked it.

Fools for Love – one of the two actors in this clown show is Christine Lesiak, a friend-of-a-friend whom I think I have met at Folkfest and/or at a party. I don’t always like the kind of exaggerated physical comedy done by clowns, but these actors were fun to watch and good at what they did.

This is Still Not a Play – three modern dance pieces in a very small venue, local company Good Women Dance Collective. I didn’t get a program, so I missed the titles of the pieces and that might have added something. But I liked it. The first one played with cell phones and video-calling and the idea of being there and not-there. The second one was more lyrical and there was probably some symbolism that I missed. The third one was about mirrors and echoes.

Geography Club – twelve young actors in an adaptation of a 2003 young-adult novel about GLBT high school students. I haven’t read the novel. Turning a novel into a 1-hour show made for a lot of very short scenes, which I found a bit jarring. I could see it working better as a novel or a movie (which is apparently in the works). I enjoyed it though. I can’t decide what I think about the fact that the apparently-transgender character was just there, never identifying zir sexuality or gender identity or aspiring to romantic relationships like the other teenage characters. I wanted to hear more from/about that character because a kid who is always reading rather than making eye contact but who interjects thoughtful points in discussions seemed interesting.