Hardly on the fringes at all

I thought the folk festival was a Winnipeg thing and now I am finding that the fringe festival is just as much of one.

Watching fringe shows is making me want to be in one. I’m adding that to the list of things to do before the end.

The downtown gets filled with people and a few streets are shut off for the 12 days of the festival. They come from all walks of life, indie kids with piercings and black T-shirts and seniors from the suburbs in khakis and polos. There’s colour, all kinds of street food, street performers, live music… There are 150 shows to choose from and this makes for endless subjects of conversation. Did you like that one? What did you think of…?

Both the CBC and the Winnipeg Free Press review every single one of those 150 plays. (I regret not asking to be a reviewer.) So going to see a play is not a shot in the dark. I haven’t seen many fringe shows in Ottawa but the few that I did see, I have to say, I didn’t really enjoy. I think I could run into the same problem in Winnipeg, if it weren’t for these handy reviews. Only a few of the shows get five stars, and I can home in on them.

Again, I am finding that everyone in Winnipeg knows everyone. Even I am starting to bump into people I know.

Numbers are on track at the moment to make the Winnipeg fringe the biggest Canada according to the CBC. According to a colleague of mine who I spoke to today, that would make it the second-largest in the world (after Edinburgh). In Ottawa, the fringe festival really felt like it was on the fringe of mainstream entertainment. Here, it’s like the city becomes the festival while it’s on.

I started off with a show called Killing Nellie. Two folk singers, also husband and wife, try to get through a set but they keep having spats.

She speaks mainly her native Norwegian. He’s Australian.

He’s low-key and sardonic. She’s high-energy and always wants to keep pretending that the show is going perfectly, raging at her husband and then putting on a smile and nodding at the audience as if to say, yes, that’s exactly what we meant to do. Many of the songs feature tales of bloody murder, sometimes with the murder being carried out by one half of the couple against the other. The husband at one point takes a voodoo doll and magically tortures his wife. She gets back at him by dragging him off stage and beating him. It’s dark but it’s also light. Humour and the lovely voices of the two singers are foils to their anger.

I have to admit when they sang a song called something like “That’s what happens when the train goes off the rail” that consisted entirely of them repeating that sentence over and over again for about 4 minutes, I felt like I wanted to leave the theater. But by the end of the show I was completely drawn in by the strange, angry chemistry between the couple, that was funny and touching rather than disturbing.

I would give it 3 1/2 stars..

Next show was called So You Think You Can Be a Music Theater Idol. It was a parody of American Idol, but it was so much more. Each character was hilarious in their own way.

Claw is an angry Buddhist who tries to calm down by tapping a triangle, but this doesn’t always work and she ends up clobbering one or two of the other contestants.

Original song and dance numbers and lots of game show music is mixed with video footage of all the contestants being confined to a kind of reality TV house.

Besides the memorable Claw, there’s a girl who just wants to love everyone, a hyper sexualized Japanese exchange student, a guy confused over his sexuality, and several more. There is a host who could challenge Ryan Seacrest for his job and three judges who are comedic gems.

The mixture of comic genius and genuinely good singing and dancing is a knockout. Five stars.

Yesterday I saw Princess Dee: the Princess Diana Story Retold, a serious tale that puts the princess in a housing project and plays up the bulimia, and Sound and Fury’s “Doc Faustus,” a comedic retelling of the doctor who sells his soul. The Princess Diana story was a bit too slow although the actress (it’s a one-woman show) was excellent. Three stars.

But Doc Faustus was a high-energy romp. Three middle-aged guys who have clearly been doing the fringe circuit for a long time (they’re from Los Angeles) place this familiar story in Texas and eliminate most of the original text. They mainly poke fun at themselves and throw in a few songs. It’s a mix of what I think was improv and a very carefully planned out script. It’s raunchy and slapstick and sometimes I zoned out but overall I have to tip my hat to these guys.

Non-stop wordplay includes a confusion of clitoris with thesaurus. Faustus summons up the devil with a kazoo and then learns how to time travel by twirling a hula hoop around his arm while reciting a S-themed tongue twister that quickly becomes a slur of “shits.” Four stars.

Here are some numbers, republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 13, 2011 D1:
Canadian Fringe Festival Circuit

2010 indoor attendance leaders:

Edmonton: 92,747

Winnipeg: 86,717

Toronto: 54,029

Vancouver: 31,261

Montreal: 17,3000



3 thoughts on “Hardly on the fringes at all

  1. I wrote somewhat of a parody of Survivor and those types of reality TV shows when I was in high school. It’s interesting to know that a project like that could be brought to the Fringe. Good to know. Maybe we can work together on a Fringe project sometime Will. It’s on my list too!

    • Thanks so much Brie! You should mount that project.
      It would be great to work together on a fringe project!
      Thanks for the rec about your prof’s show — I’d already bought my ten tickets for fringe this year so decided to pass, but it’s cool to know he’s out here!
      Hope your summer’s going well!

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