Why Should You Fringe?!

atlantic fringe begins tomorrow

Tomorrow the festivities kick off the 22nd Annual Atlantic Fringe Festival here in Halifax and until September 9th, in twelve venues throughout the Downtown, over fifty productions from both local and international artists will be performed for eager audiences. A friend of mine in Toronto refers to Fringe as “Theatre Christmas” and for the theatre community here, after a record breaking box office smash hit Festival last year, it certainly does seem like the happiest time of the year.

Yet, while Fringe Festivals certainly appeal to theatre artists and provide the perfect venue for them to see a wide array of work produced by their peers, often from across the city, country and continents, which is an invaluably rewarding experience, I believe that the Fringe Festival ultimately belongs to the public and gives them the greatest gift of exciting, dynamic, economic and assessable theatre, comedy and dance.

If you have never frequented a Fringe Theatre Festival before, I would like to address a few misconceptions that may have been keeping you away:

  1. The Fringe Festival is For Amateurs: While one of the greatest aspects of the Fringe Festival is that it is open for anyone who wants to apply, the reality is that the grand majority of the plays are produced by theatre artists, both professional and emerging. What is fantastic about Halifax’s theatre scene is that we have a very strong core of well-established independent theatre artists, which means that they choose to create their own work in the city’s smaller theatres rather than play the more commercial houses. Many have been honing their skills here for over a decade. Many of these artists are the driving force behind why this city has a Fringe Festival and the caliber of their shows is consistently excellent. If you would like to amp up your choices, you might want to visit my piece on Nova Scotia Theatre Artists That Everyone Should Know. A great many of them will be featured in the Fringe.
  2. All The Shows Are “Experimental” & Have Nudity, Profanity & Offensive Material: Another driving force behind the Fringe Festival is that it gives rise to many shows that an Artistic Director of a Regional Theatre would not touch with a ten-foot pole. Yet, the best part about the Fringe Festival is that it is a theatre buffet! With over 50 productions it is almost guaranteed that you will find one that fits your tastes. The shows are rated in the Fringe Guide with warnings of mature content, language and nudity so it is easy to pick and choose the type of theatre you are most interested in and comfortable with seeing! There is something there for everyone!
  3. I’d Rather Go to [Insert Name of Theatre Company Here] and See a “Sure-Thing”: The challenge of thinking this way is that theatre, like anything, is NEVER a “sure thing.” I think I can generalize and say that everyone who goes to the theatre with any frequency has had the disappointing experience of paying upwards of $50.00 for a show that they didn’t like or that wasn’t very good. In the last thirty years Fringe Festivals across Canada have given birth to some of its most exciting Theatre Companies, such as Teatro la Quindicina in Edmonton, which began in 1982, and whose regular season usually includes a show in the Fringe, and artists like Rob Salerno, who is bringing FUCKING STEPHEN HARPER to Fringe this year, who have dedicated most of their careers to touring their shows across the Fringe circuits. Many, like Chris Craddock or Sharron Matthews and our very own Jeremy Webb, have won awards, accolades and slots in other theatres’ seasons along the way. The Drowsy Chaperone, which ended up on Broadway, started in the Toronto Fringe after all. Quite often you come away from shows in the Fringe having seen a little gem for $8.00 that the rest of the public will see elsewhere for $45.00 in a few months. For these experiences and no ticket price over $10.00, the Atlantic Fringe is well worth the risk!

What I see happening a lot in the theatre, both in Halifax and elsewhere, is that when theatre patrons step out of their comfort zones and attend a show either in a Festival like Fringe or SuperNova, or they attend the Studio Series at Neptune for the first time, is that they not only find themselves impressed by a single show or performance, but they get introduced to a new theatre company or array of theatre artists. This is pure magic to me because it is like watching people stumble into a whole new world, a whole realm of theatre possibilities that they didn’t know existed! And it is really exciting! The reality is that the majority of the artists that you will see in the Fringe perform all year round, a great many of them have their own theatre companies and most of them are local. This means that if you like the show you see this week, chances are good that you won’t have to wait a whole year to see something else by the same, or similar, group of people. The Bus Stop, The Living Room, The North Street Church (along with Neptune’s Studio Theatre) bustle all year long with fantastic offerings from Halifax’s well-established and emerging Independent Theatre communities.

BUT DON’T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT! Check out what the Artists Have to Say for Themselves. I interviewed 34 of this year’s Fringe artists and asked them about their favourite moment in their show, their favourite part of Fringe and what other shows they would recommend. It’s all right here! CLICK!

It’s a great time to live here and to be here and I hope you will all join the festivities!

Happy Fringe, Everyone!

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