After quite some time, I decided to make this page in order to talk about my experiences with the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. The Fringe, for the uninitiated, is a type of theatre festival held annually in several cities across Canada and around the world. The concept originated in Edinburgh, Scotland, after plays on the "fringe" of another theatre festival proved to be more popular than the festival itself.
Now a twelve-day-long event in Winnipeg, you can always find what you're looking for in the way of performance at the Fringe, whether it's modern dance, serious drama, sketch comedy, improv, or virtually any other kind of performance offering you can think of. The first time I attended was in 1993...and to be honest, it all started because of an accident.
I had a pen pal (who is still my friend today) named Lisa Lucas, and I had promised her some pictures in the summer of 1993. She was set to move from one town to another, and I remembered the date for this move being the end of July. As such, I dropped by this event I'd vaguely heard of called the Fringe Festival just to finish off a roll of film somewhere.
I was instantly hooked. From the moment I saw everything being offered before me, I felt like I was home...I checked out outdoor performances, saw all the plays I could afford, and I even did an impromptu performance in the show pictured above, No Smoking in the House of Friends, after half its cast failed to show up. In many ways, this happenstance visit to the Fringe opened up a whole new world of theatre for me...
Of course, the ironic part of all this is that Lisa wasn't actually moving, as it turns out, until the end of August.
The next year, I jumped at the chance to volunteer and take part in the whole affair. I had virtually no theatre experience at that point, but I liked being associated with the Fringe in some way (especially since volunteering meant I could see some shows for free). For those first couple of years, at least, I spent a lot of my volunteer shifts ushering--which meant seeing even more shows for free, something I've never had a problem with. I was still learning my way around, though, especially since my visit in 1993 had only been for the last weekend of the festival, but with each passing year, the Fringe would draw me inexorably further into its influence...
After a while, I started developing a taste for the kinds of shows I preferred to see at the Fringe, and--though there will always be a place for serious theatre at the Fringe and in my heart--sometimes going to the the Fringe Festival means discovering shows like, well, The S-Files, by Winnipeg company Hamster On Fire Productions, whose first "episode" was in 1996.
I was also beginning to have my own nascent ideas of the sort of Fringe show I would want to put on myself, but I had other priorities at this time...
...because I had just come back from my first visit to Australia while this Fringe was on--and in fact, I missed half of the festival because of my trip. I was in a good mood, though, as you can see, and I was still able to volunteer, so all was well.
One other discovery from 1996 that has continued to pay dividends in future years was The Conspiracy Network, a most nigranthian local theatre troupe that is still innovating the Fringe with their often experimental performances.
The Winnipeg Fringe Festival celebrated its tenth anniversary in 1997, and by this point it was right up there with my other chief cultural interests, especially in terms of influence on my own life. Amongst the shows which I really liked at the 1997 Fringe were Virtual Solitaire, a cyberpunk play by Dawson Nichols, who is pictured at left; the nigranthian Tit for Tat or BoyCotting Cocktail Favours, by The Conspiracy Network; and a group on the outdoor stage, The Backscratch Brothers (who have since broken up, unfortunately). Yes, I even saw the second "episode" of The S-Files.
1997 also marked the debut of one particular Fringe tradition of mine: Nudity Day, on which I will only attend shows with nudity warnings printed in the festival's program book. What started as a lark actually took on deeper meaning over the years, as I considered what it really meant to be able to expose oneself in such a way onstage...
As always, the Fringe continued to be quite the experience for me, but in 1998, I had a particularly memorable time at what had become a ten-day-long theatre festival.
I can hardly begin to list all of the highlights of this Fringe, but some particular standouts include FourPlay (pictured at left), by New York's Azzizz Theatre; "and the band played on," an incredibly moving and powerful play by former high school classmate (and future Toronto screen actor) Mike Realba; SHAKEN not STIRRED or the great dry hump, as nigranthian as expected from The Conspiracy Network; The Boys Own Jedi Handbook, a tribute to Star Wars fandom by Burning Night Sky from Calgary; God: An Unauthorized Biography by The Wombats, a comedy group that does both improvised and scripted material; Angels in Death's Kitchen by Ottawa's Cozen F/X Theatre Company; and The Big Stupid Improv Show, as unplanned as it sounds by about twenty different theatre troupes. (For those keeping track, this was also the year I caught the third and final "episode" of The S-Files..)
Mind you, I'm holding back here.
My involvement with the Fringe (and with Cool Theatre People at my Uni) meant that I was getting to know more and more people involved with various shows--people like Jason Neufeld, pictured at right. Having said that, I also met a lot of fellow volunteers and plenty of performers besides the ones I already knew. Again, there are too many to adequately list here, but the ones who left the greatest impression on me were Libid Zyla, from the aforementioned Angels (whom I found to be a very cool woman), and Neca Zarvos of Irmãs do Tempo, from São Paulo, Brasil, whose show I was unfortunately unable to attend. All this had cemented my desire to put together a Fringe show of my own--I was a writer, after all. I urged everyone to stay tuned for developments in that area.
Unfortunately, I have to be honest and say that I didn't enjoy the Fringe quite as much in 1999 as I had during the previous banner year of Fringing. This is partly because it was held earlier in July that year (to accommodate the Pan-American Games, taking place later that month), and partly because I had more responsibilities as a House Manager (a position first created in 1999), leaving me with less time to actually attend performances. Nevertheless, the Fringe was quite the experience for me (as usual), and I met a lot of fellow volunteers and plenty of performers once again, including Marie Beesley and Kami Desilets of Babes With Broadswords, pictured at left with Libid Zyla. As it did last year, the Fringe continued to draw me into the idea of my own show...
More to come, covering Fringes from 2000 through 2003...
As you can see, every year of the Fringe has been fantastic for me, and I highly recommend attending...
If there's a Fringe in your city, go! You won't regret it.Smack Dab