Uncensored, raw and full of surprises: that is the Fringe experience. For the uninitiated, a Fringe Festival (when adhering to the appropriate set of guidelines) is a theatre festival unlike any other. Our own Fringe manifests itself as a primarily indoor set of theatrical experiences that temporarily transform Inglewood from a quaint, charming, and relatively quiet neighbourhood into a thriving hub of creativity, where the next adventure is only a few doors down and expectations are challenged constantly.
Having only begun in 2006, Calgary’s Fringe Festival is still in its adolescence when compared to the institution that is neighbouring city Edmonton’s 30-year-old Fringe. However, one can argue that this has allowed Calgary’s version to more effectively maintain the true spirit of Fringe. While larger festivals have taken on a tone of spectacle rather than focusing on the theatre component, Calgary’s Fringe seeks to grow while staying true to Fringe roots.
“We always have that inevitable comparison to Edmonton, but the big thing that I want to create in terms of growth for the Calgary Fringe is that I want to be able to generate the excitement for our uncensored theatre. I want to be able to create a theatre corridor with little pockets of entertainment. I think it will create such a great vibe,” Calgary Fringe Festival director/producer Michele Gallant explains. There’s good news: the model is working. “Every year our Fringe keeps growing by at least 13-15 percent,” Gallant says, a figure of which a city that has a reputation for apathy towards the arts can be proud. She adds that, “Fringe is here to stay, it’s not going anywhere.”
The main factor that distinguishes Fringe from other festivals is the fact that while traditional theatre festivals accept artist submissions on a juried basis, a Fringe instead operates on a lottery system. This means that any artist operating in any theatrical genre is eligible for acceptance to the festival. Gallant notes that “the biggest challenge [the festival faces,] though it gets better as years go on, is educating the public as to exactly what a Fringe is, and explaining to them what uncensored means. A lot of people when they hear uncensored think, ‘Oh, it’s all adults-only, risqué, no-kids-can-attend type of stuff.’ ” Instead, as Gallant explains, “uncensored means that we don’t censor the artists’ work. They get to perform whatever they like, however they like, onstage in whatever genre or form speaks to them.” This gives theatrical artists the opportunity to perform their works unencumbered by the challenges of a traditional theatrical run: censorship, financial limitations, ferocious competition, and the lack of returns for the artists. In the case of Fringe, artists set their own ticket prices between 10 and 15 dollars per audience member and, but for a meagre $1.50-per-head surcharge, they keep what they earn.
Calgary’s increasingly warm reception to the festival is a testament to the true passion this city has for the arts. Gallant describes the attitude of Calgary Fringe-goers as having grown tremendously since the festival’s inception. She maintains that the community has embraced a philosophy that says, “we don’t want the traditional. We want something a little bit edgy. We want something that’s a little bit out there – be it a family show,or a risqué show, we don’t care, but make us think.” As with all of the city’s festivals, it’s the community that really makes things work. Speaking fondly of one particular duo of festival-goers, Gallant mentions that “there’s this one old couple — bless them, they’re so cute — they’re the first people outside our information booth first thing in the morning, and as soon as our tent opens they buy a 20-pack. Their goal every year is to see as many Fringe shows as they can — if possible, all of them. They’ve been doing this since we opened in 2006. I don’t know what I’ll do if I ever don’t see them in line.” This kind of mutual adoration between the Fringe and its patrons has cemented its role as an essential part of the Calgary theatre community.
So just what does the Calgary Fringe have to offer its patrons both returning and new alike this year? “There always seems to be a trend in the type of acts and for whatever reason, this year it seems to be a lot of physical theatre! Last year was improv, and the year before was musicals — I think of it like a potluck supper,” Gallant laughs. She elaborates by explaining that, like a potluck, you always seem to end up with several similar yet distinct dishes. The end result? A veritable buffet of theatrical flavours.
Returning artist Cameryn Moore will be presenting her tertiary effort in a series of provocative, sexually-charged performances after the success of Phone Whore and slut (r)evolution on the Fringe circuit. Entitled power | play (choose your own adventure), gifted raconteur Moore takes audiences on a journey into the nature of sexuality. Another returnee is Rob Salerno, creator of last year’s hilarious Fucking Stephen Harper, with his new work, Big in Germany. A dramatic comedy, Salerno’s latest work tells the story of Alex and Bruce, a duo with rockstar status in Germany but absolutely no recognition in Canada. Determined to elevate to new heights of fame, a scheme is hatched and hijinks ensue. Other returning artists include Chase Padgett of 2011′s 6 Guitars with The Bro Show, as well as Bob Brader and team of Spitting in the Face of the Devil with Preparation Hex.
Other notable inclusions are Sandrine Lafond, a Cirque Du Soleil performer, in LITTLE LADY, a darkly comedic and hauntingly beautiful portrayal of the obsession with image; Burnt Thicket Theatre’s She Has a Name, a disturbing and thought-provoking look at the trafficking of underaged prostitutes; Carolann Valentino’s Burnt at the Steak, a multi-medium comedy detailing her tales of managing an NYC multi-million dollar steakhouse; Charlie: A Hockey Story by Jim Sands, chronicling the NHL career of his uncle Charlie during the ’30s and ’40s; and not to mention, of course, a few dozen other tantalizing performances. Treat yourself to the Fringe experience: there’s something for everyone.
The 2012 Calgary Fringe Festival runs in Inglewood from August 3rd to 11th. For more information on artists, shows, venues, and schedules, visit http://www.calgaryfringe.ca
By Brianna Turner