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ARTS

ARTS EDITOR : PAUL BLINOV PAUL@VUEWEEKLY.COM

COVER // FRINGE FESTIVAL

// Jill Stanton

E

dmonton’s Fringe Festival has had plenty of monikers since its beginnings in 1982. Some are classics, and some forgettable: names like “Frankenfringe” and “Home on the Fringe” stare out from threadbare T-shirts worn with pride by longtime Fringers, while it remains to be seen if this year’s 007-themed “From Fringe with Love”—which echoes 2007’s “Live and Let Fringe”—will join the pantheon of classics. Classic or not, there has perhaps been no more fitting a moniker than 2000’s “Cirque du Fringe” in the way it posits the Fringe as a travelling circus you can run away with. The parallels between the Fringe and a travelling circus are nearly endless: not only are there tents and gravity-defying feats, you’ve also got

junk food, bright lights and handbilling artists beckoning you into their shows like barkers outside a big top. Then there are the travelling performers themselves, the ones that hit the road, plying their trade from one side of Canada’s vast expanse to the other. Starting in Montréal in June, Fringe artists can move westward until they finish in Vancouver in mid-September. Adding a travelling dimension to a Fringe run makes it exponentially more difficult: thousands of people flock to the Fringe grounds each day to eat green onion cakes and walk away from street performers just before they pass the hat. Enticing people into venues is hard enough for a local whose friends and family are willing to help spread the word: for touring artists, it’s that much tougher.

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With no more than a few days to get posters up and handbills into hands, hustle is key. “In those first five days you’re on your feet talking to people, talking up your show, handbilling, trying to get people into your show—especially if you’re at an ‘away’ Fringe,” explains Christine Lesiak, co-artistic director of Edmonton’s Small Matters Productions who will tour a total of seven Fringe festivals this summer, bringing a new work to Edmonton called Ask Aggie—the Advice Diva. “Unless you’ve been there a lot of times, nobody knows you—you don’t have the home field advantage.”

of themselves, but for touring art- outweigh the challenges. ists you’ve got to go even smaller. As “I get to do what I love,” Horak sometime-Torontonian Bruce Horak, states unequivocally. “It’s an adventhe man behind Fringe hit This is Can- ture. My life is never boring.” cer, explains, his latest show Assassi“We love performing our work and nating Thomson— we want to perform our work,” which recounts the Thu, Aug 15 – Sun, Aug 25 Lesiak says. “It almysterious death Edmonton International lows us to do what of influential Cana- Fringe Festival we love and most dian painter Tom Various locations of the Fringes help Thomson while fringetheatre.ca bring you audience Horak paints the just by virtue of audience—is nearthe fact you’re part of this festival.” ly devoid of technical needs. Then there’s the camaraderie be“We develop the Fringe shows to be really versatile. We can pretty much tween artists, perhaps the Fringe take them into any venue and get touring circuit’s greatest benefit. With them up and running without having so many solo shows criss-crossing too much fuss or bother. This show the country, performers grow tightin particular there’s pretty much knit, meeting up in city after city and no tech: no sound cues, no lighting supporting each other from the highs cues—we kept it as simple as pos- of good reviews and packed houses sible,” he says. “If you can get it down through to the lows that go beyond to a performer with a very minimal a bad run. When Antony Hall of Edmonton’s set and technical elements it ultimately makes your Fringe experience Black Sheep Theatre was hit by a car and broke his leg at this year’s Ottawa that much easier.” “As an artist you have to be really Fringe, touring performers banded toadaptable to your space,” echoes Le- gether to fill the company’s slots with siak. “When we design a show, if we a variety show. All the proceeds went know we’re going to tour it, we know toward sending Hall home and helping to pay for the cost of his injury. it has to fit in a car.” “That stuff is heartwarming,” Lesiak That’s a lesson Edmonton’s Good Women Dance is learning as it tours says, “and I’ve seen it happen before.” “You don’t often find that in other for the first time. The company’s latest work, entitled Fracture requires fields where everybody’s in it for an elaborate set piece the foursome themselves,” Horak says. “But we support each other and look out for each has had to cart from city to city. “That’s actually been quite a pain,” other—it’s really a special thing.” That level of support would come as laughs company member Ainsley Hillyard. “We knew that we were taking no surprise to Hillyard, who has found [Fracture] on the road, but we didn’t her own Fringe “guardian angel” on the want to compromise the integrity of road—none other than spoken-word what we were producing just because artist and Fringe legend Jem Rolls. “I run into him everywhere I go— we knew that it had to travel.” It’s a decision she’d make again. “In a every 10 minutes. We’ve built this heartbeat,” she says. rapport and he always helps me “If the work was something we be- and always has advice for me,” she lieved in we’d bring three times the says. “Essentially we’re competing amount of set pieces we have right for the same audience, but he just now,” she says. “In the end you’re said, ‘I’ve been doing this for years touring your work and going outside and I’ve made some really stupid of Edmonton to show the world what mistakes so why should you have Edmonton is doing, so you don’t want to make them too?’ That’s a really beautiful sentiment. And everyto compromise on that at all.” one’s been like that. “That’s the sentiment between all While all that handbilling, postering and reimagining your show for dif- the Fringe artists—we’re not sharing ferent venues might seem like undue an audience, we’re sharing a festival.” hardships to undertake, for Fringe BRYAN BIRTLES performers the benefits of touring BRYAN@VUEWEEKLY.COM

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930: Fringe to Fringe  

Touring festival artists find camaraderie on the road