Uncensored, Unexpected, and Unforgettable. No, I’m not describing this year’s U.S. presidential election, although the election has certainly been all of these things. No, I’m talking about the Calgary Fringe Festival. This year’s festival runs from July 29th to August 6th and marks the 10th year of the Fringe in Calgary.
The Calgary Fringe is a wonderful, inclusive and inviting experience whether or not you’re an artist, a volunteer, or a member of the theatre going public. The Festival was founded by Blair Gallant, and the Calgary Fringe has become a part of the cultural fabric of the city, as well as a terrific addition to the theatre season providing Calgarians with the opportunity to see and experience local, national, and international artists. The festival continues to grow and evolve under the direction and care of the current Festival Director and Producer Michelle Gallant.
So, in celebration of the 10th year of the Calgary Fringe I bought a buddy pass. That gives me 10 tickets and the difficult task of selecting ten shows out of all the shows at this year’s festival. In order to help me choose I had a look at the line-up and read the show descriptions. Yes, a review will sway me. Yes, if I’ve seen the performer before and I liked him or her that influences my decision as well. And then there’s the word on the street. The buzz about a particular performer or show. Now days that buzz begins before the festival has even started through social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Check out the full festival schedule at the Calgary Fringe web site , and if you’re from out of town – most of these shows are touring and will be heading to other Fringe Festivals. That’s why I’ve included a list of Canadian and American Fringe Festivals at the bottom of this blog with links to each of them.
And now, in no particular order, here are the ten shows I’m going to see on opening weekend.
Description: “Timothy Mooney recklessly slices Shakespeare’s four-hour masterpiece to an inspiring and hilarious hour-long romp! No “melancholy Dane,” Mooney’s breakneck performance reveals Hamlet as a complex, dangerous cat-and-mouse, as two powerful players fight to the death over who gets to be king.”
My pick because: Hamlet in an hour – need I say more. I’d sworn off Hamlet. Do I really need to see another Hamlet? I mean it’s not like the play is going to end any different than it always has – everybody pretty much dies. And because I’m in the third act of my own life, I prefer to go see plays that I haven’t already seen – to put it bluntly, I’m running out of time. So why go see this show? Because it promises to be hilarious and I like hilarious. And the idea of a Hilarious Hamlet appeals to me. So I’m going.
- Playwright: Timothy Mooney , Director: Tim Mooney, Cast: Tim Mooney
- Rating: General Audience (10+, Audience Participation, Educational Topics, Solo Performance, Violence)
Description: “Simon is an escaped psychiatric patient. Millie is an exuberant six year old. Granny doesn’t stand a chance. The new show from comic, poet and ex-psychiatric nurse Rob Gee, creator of Fringe hits Fruitcake and SmartArse.
★★★★★ “Hilarious!” CBC
My pick because: I saw Fruitcake when Rob Gee brought that show to the Calgary Fringe a few years ago. Rob is a dynamic performer full of passion and energy talking about mental health in a way that makes the subject riveting, funny and insightful. And according to the CBC Icarus promises to be hilarious. I like hilarious. Did I mention that? So, I’m going.
- Playwright: Rob Gee, Director: Tara Gatherer, Cast: Rob Gee
- Rating: Restricted – Minors Not Allowed (Age 16+, Solo Performance, Adult Language)
By the way, check out Rob Gee’s web site. Rob’s web-site is professional, easy to navigate, and has all the information you need about his shows ready to download with the click of a mouse. Wow! If you’re an artist wanting to promote your work this is a great web site to check out on how to do it right.
Description: “Supernatural is a Magic Show that blends original and unique illusions that will keep you questioning the reality of things. You will encounter magic all the way from 52 cards to mind reading effects. Prepare yourself for a night full of wonder with this chance to experience a truly amazing and magical night, up close and personal with Camilo the Magician.”
My pick because: I saw Camilo Dominguez last year and loved his show. His magic is exceptional. Tricks that astound and delight and leave you going how the hell did he do that? A great family pick and if it’s anything like last year’s show it will be magical, funny, and mind bending.
- Playwright: Camilo Dominguez, Director: Camilo Dominguez, Cast: Camilo Dominguez
- Rating: General Audience (Age 10+, Audience Participation, Educational Topics, For/By Teens)
Description: “A delightful duet of original comedies! Witness an apocalyptic war zone become a slapstick extravaganza as three clown soldiers take cover in an abandoned trench. Then, our troupe revamps the raw Italian Street Theatre, Commedia dell’Arte, to tell the story of a young woman fighting a forced engagement arranged by her miserly father.”
My pick because: Clowns. Slapstick. Did I mention I like comedy? Did I mention I like physical comedy? One of the reasons I like the fringe is because I get a chance to see something other than a traditional play. And one of the types of plays I look for at the fringe are those that use physical theatre to tell their stories. Plus the idea of an apocalyptic war zone being a slapstick extravaganza sounds like fun. And you get not one but two comedies. That’s double the fun!!
- Playwright & Director: Ensemble Devised, Cast: Dustin Allen, Jared Mongeau, Brittny Rebhuhn, Patrick Stagaman, Linus Wiberg
- Rating: Mature Content (Age 14+, Awkward Topics, Caroonish Violence, Sexual Content, Adult Language, Gunshots)
Description: “Susan Jeremy revives her award winning 24-character tour de force about a Brooklyn substitute teacher who finds love and chaos in an elementary school. Jeremy effortlessly portrays all the characters from hip hop kids to embittered teachers to pushy parents. This fast-paced, hilarious show was featured at the first 2006 Calgary Fringe Festival and sold out daily even when the theater caught on fire!”
” Louder than Life and Twice as Funny”- The Globe and Mail”
“With a heavy dose of classic New York sarcastic humor, Susan Jeremy tackles heavy hitting topics disabilities in a stunning performance that had the audience doubled over in their seats.” Edmonton Sun
My pick because: A one person show with 24 characters. Okay this I gotta see. When this type of show works – it works brilliantly. Plus this show was at the very first Calgary Fringe and I’m feeling a sense of nostalgia for 2006 so it’s on my list. Also a show that has been around for a long time is one that’s resonating and continues to resonate with audiences and so it’s worth checking out. Plus it’s a love story and who doesn’t like a good love story?
- Playwright: Mary Fulham and Susan Jeremy, Director: Mary Fulham, Cast: Susan Jeremy
- Rating: General Audience (Age 12+, Educational Topics, Solo Performance)
Description: “Based on a TRUE story. Keara moved to Ireland. She fell in love. Then she became a stepmom…almost. A darkly comic tale about the ups and downs of becoming a stepmother. Multiple characters and a murder attempt round off this tumultuous and touching solo show.”
“ If this show isn’t already on your Fringe list, make room for it. Almost a Stepmom affected me more in one thirty minute act than some plays have in three” (The Marble Victoria)
“Keara Barnes has a stage presence like none I have ever seen” (The Marble Victoria)
“Proof that good things, including fringe plays, can come in small packages” (Janis La Couvee)
“Barnes is a very charismatic performer, a terrifically engaging storyteller” (Jo Ledingham)
My pick because: Because reviews matter. Yes, I picked this show based on the quote, “If this show isn’t already on your Fringe list, make room for it. Almost a Stepmom affected me more in one thirty minute act than some plays have in three.” That’s a play I want to see. Plus look at that publicity photo. Who wouldn’t want to know more about that stepmom.
And interestingly, after I’d already booked my ticket I received a message from Keara Barnes on twitter telling me about her show. Now I don’t know Keara but somehow she found my twitter account and knew that I tweet about the Calgary Fringe. So, I figure the Universe was speaking to me. That’s got to be a message from God I thought. I must see this show. It’s my destiny. And if this is indeed a message from God then I guess that means Keara Barnes is God. Which means God is a woman. Who knew? Anyway, it’s on my list.
- Playwright: Keara Barnes, Director: Michael David Stewart, Cast: Keara Barnes
- Rating: Mature Content (Age 14+, Solo Performance, Adult Language)
Description: Nine-time award winning duo, A Little Bit Off, presents Bella Culpa, – an off-beat slapstick comedy featuring two peculiar Edwardian servants, with a mess of metal buckets and a propensity for acrobatics. Like Downton Abbey Meets The Three Stooges.
“Best of Fest” Edmonton Fringe 2015
★★★★ ½ Saskatoon StarPhoenix
My pick because: Look at the publicity photo. You think that’s easy? I doubt it. The photo promises something exciting in terms of physical performance. Plus look at that concept: Downton Abbey Meets The Three Stooges. I loved Downton Abbey and I love The Three Stooges. How can I pass on two of the things I love?
And in terms of marketing this is a great example of a tag line. Tag lines should entice and promise and this tag line, or concept line if you prefer, does exactly that. I’m excited to see this show and that’s why it’s on my list.
- Playwright: A Little Bit Off, Director: A Little Bit Off, Cast: Amica Hunter, David Cantor
- Rating: General Audience (All Ages, Cartoonish Violence)
Description: STEP RIGHT UP! Learn how they make BLACK-EYED peas byPUNCHING green peas! Hear about SIAMESE TWINS who ain’t the same age! Paul Strickland’s One-Man Trailer-Park Fairy-Tale Comedy (with songs!)
★★★★★ – Edmonton Vue
★★★★★ – Winnipeg Free Press
On 2015’s TALES TOO TALL FOR TRAILERS:
★★★★★ – Edmonton Sun
My pick because: One of the stables of the fringe circuit are storytelling musicians. Often with a guitar. These story tellers combine music and drama and comedy and after looking at the description of this show and checking out Paul’s web site I said, “this I gotta see.” I mean who wouldn’t want to see a One-Man Trailer-Park Fairy-Tale Comedy – with songs!
- Playwright: Paul Strickland, Cast: Paul Strickland
- Rating: General Audience (Age 13+, Solo Performance)
Description: “How does your garden grow? Brandon Roberts and Gemma Waldon reunite after Orlando Fringe’s 2013 hit “The Boxer”to explore the ways of repairing a love gone wrong, without saying a word.”
My pick because: No words. Just physical action. It’s always nice in this day and age of constant chatter both in social media and on TV to see a show that tells it’s story without words. Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd would be proud. Can’t wait to see how the story is told.
- Playwright: PB&J Theatre Factory, Director: Brandon Roberts, Cast: Brandon Roberts, Gemma Waldon
- Rating: General Audience
Description: “Happiness TM is an explosive self-help seminar and product launch for anyone who’s ever wanted it all (and is willing to pay for it). Presented by the HPL spokespeople: James Lemon and Peter Barrel, who struggle with their own relentless pursuit of happiness.
★★★★★ – Winnipeg Free Press
★★★★★ – Production Ottawa
★★★★ – CBC Manitoba”
My pick because: I love the concept of a product launch for a Fringe Show. It’s clever and provides a terrific number of dramatic and comic possibilities. Plus the marketing for this show includes a web site that is all about Happiness TM products. There’s even a video that explains the companies history and previous product line. As the video tells us “HPL is dedicated to the advancement of the self help and improvement sciences with one goal in mind: Universal Happiness.” Who isn’t searching for happiness. I gotta see this show.
- Playwright: Cory Thibert, Tony Adams, Madeleine Boyes-Manseau, Director: Madeleine Boyes-Manseau, Cast: Tony Adams, Cory Thibert
- Rating: Mature Content (Age 14+, Violence, Adult Language)
That’s the ten shows I’m seeing this weekend. There are plenty of other shows to choose from including Banger Bingo, Improv Against Humanity, Flaps of Steel, The Calgary Fringe Late Night Cabaret, The Chronic Single’s Handbook, and Til Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIII among others. Go see one or go see ten. Fringes are fun and God knows we all could use a little more fun in our lives.
Now, in addition to the ten shows I’m seeing this weekend I’m planning on seeing at least two more shows next week: Enlightened Swinger and The Vagina Monologues.
Description: “From the producer who brought you past Fringe hits Dr. Horrible, Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical, Rocky Horror, and Vagina Monologues (★★★★1/2 Stars Edmonton Sun) comes the ENLIGHTENED SWINGER.
From deep within the hidden world of the swingers’ community comes one soul’s true life journey in search for meaning, connection, authenticity and the truth of our existence. Sometimes hilarious; sometimes touching this adult only, carnal cabaret is balls-deep with songs, dance, confessions and a healthy dose of adult humour …not to be missed!”
My pick because: You can’t go to the Fringe and not see at least one show dedicated to sex and all it’s comedic and dramatic complications and possibilities. And besides it’s been decades since I’ve seen Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice . Have you heard of this film? From 1969? Ha, ha, 69. I wonder if that was intentional? Anway the 60s brought in the sexual revolution and along with it Hollywood responded by making films that dealth with that sexual revolution. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is a look at two couples who end up in bed together and the consequences of those decisions. Of course, if the movie was made today, it would probably be: Bob & Ted & Carol & Alice.
And finally the older I get the more important it is to me that I try and live a healthy life and this show contains “a healthy dose of adult humour” so why wouldn’t I go?
- Playwright: Blair Gallant, Director: Blair Gallant and Michael Dean Dargie, Cast: Blair Gallant, Michael Dean Dargie, Susan Rowland
- Rating: Restricted – Minors Not Allowed (Age 18+, Awkward Topics, Sexual Content, Adult Language)
Description: ★★★★ ½ – Brilliantly cast – Bracing, wonderful and deeply funny performance will be an experience to remember. Playwright Eve Ensler interviewed 200 women about their most intimate stories. Why the show works so well – at the base are real stories from real people. Come and join the celebration!
My pick because: It’s at the same venue as Enlightened Swinger so why not? Both shows are in a new performing space called INKubator Theatre down at Eau Claire Market and if I’m seeing one why not see both. Besides, I’ve never seen The Vagina Monologues. I’ve read them. I did see a show inspired by The Vagina Monologues called Cocktales II here in Calgary many, many, many years ago at the Pumphouse Theatre. Yes it was a sequel. No I didn’t see the original. Anyway, I’m curious to see the monologues performed. Plays aren’t meant to be read they’re meant to be performed and I want to see how The Vagina Monologues work as a performance piece.
- Playwright: Eve Ensler, Director: Blair Gallant, Cast: Jennifer MacLean, Felicia Esposito, Lisa Madill, Calla Mitchell, Phoebe Arcilla and Liza Bennett
- Rating: Mature Content (Age 14+, Sexual Content, Adult Language)
So, if you go to the fringe and you see a good show – a show you love: Tweet about it. Mention it on Facebook. Use your Instagram. Share your recommendations with friends and family and your extended social network. It’s a tough gig being an independent artist so when you see a show that made you laugh or cry spread the word because helping to spread the word can have a real impact on a performers income.
- For full show information, performance dates, times, and tickets check out the The Calgary Fringe Festival
List of North American Fringe Festivals
You know, if theatre is going to thrive and survive then it needs to attract a more ethnically diverse audience and encourage the creation and presentation of work from other cultures. I think the Fringe circuit can play a significant role in helping to achieve those goals. The flexibility of format and the openness and hunger for different kinds of stories and storytelling techniques make Fringe Festivals a great place for experimentation and new work. As you can probably tell from the shows I’ve listed above that the fringe lacks a certain amount of diversity. But that’s okay. This is where we are not where we’re going. I would hope that by the time the Calgary Fringe celebrates it’s twentieth anniversary festival line-ups across the country will provide a more diverse line-up and a better reflection of the Canadian Mosaic.
In the meantime, here’s a list of North American Fringe Festivals that you can check out should you be in the neighbourhood. You can also check out the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals web site where you’ll find info about the CAFF and links to all the festivals listed below.
North American Fringe Festivals with 2016 Dates
FRIGID New York Fringe – February 15 to March 6, 2016 – New York City
Windsor Fringe – May 5 to 15, 2016 – Windsor, Ontario
Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival – May 18 to 30, 2016 – Orlando, Florida
Festival St-Ambroise Fringe de Montréal – May 30 to June 19, 2016 – Montréal Québec
London Fringe Theatre Festival – May 31 to June 11, 2016 – London, Ontario
Ottawa Fringe Festival – June 15 to 26, 2016 – Ottawa, Ontario
PortFringe – June 18 to 26, 2016 – Portland, Maine
San Diego International Fringe Festival – June 23 to July 3, 2016 – San Diego, California
The Toronto Fringe Festival – June 29 to July 10, 2016 – Toronto, Canada
Regina International Fringe Theatre Festival – July 6 to 10, 2016 – Regina Saskatchewan
Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival – July 13 to 24, 2016 – Winnipeg, Manitoba
Hamilton Fringe Festival – July 14 to 24, 2016 – Hamilton, Ontario
PotashCorp Fringe Theatre Festival – July 28 to August 6, 2016 – Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Calgary Fringe Festival – July 29 to August 6, 2016 – Calgary, Alberta
Great Salt Lake Fringe – July 29 to August 6, 2016 – Great Salt Lake, Utah
Island Fringe Festival (PEI) – August 4 to 7, 2016 – Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
ON THE EDGE fringe festival – August 9 to 13, 2016 – North Bay, Ontario
Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival – August 11 to 21, 2016 – Edmonton, AB
Nanaimo Fringe Festival – August 11 to 21, 2016 – Nanaimo, British Columbia
Zootown Fringe – August 16 to August 21, 2016 – Missoula, Montana
Fundy Fringe Festival – August 16 to 21, 2016 – Saint John, New Brunswick
Boulder International Fringe Festival – August 17 to 28, 2016 – Boulder, Colorado
Indianapolis Fringe Theatre Festival – August 18 to 28, 2016 – Indianapolis, Indiana
Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival – August 24 to September 4, 2016 – Victoria, B.C.
Atlantic Fringe Festival – September 1 to 11, 2016 – Halifax, Nova Scotia
Vancouver Fringe Festival – September 8 to 18, 2016 – Vancouver, British Columbia
San Francisco Fringe Festival – September 9 to 24, 2016 – San Francisco, California
Lethbridge Fringe – September 15 to 18, 2016 – Lethbridge Alberta
Guelph Fringe – October 13 to 16, 2016 – Guelph, Ontario
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