Toward a Better Fringe!

mikaela dyke
One year ago I was charged with being “negative, judgmental, unprofessional and non-constructive” by an anonymous reader of a blog post that I wrote concerning the Atlantic Fringe Festival in my hometown of Halifax. A year ago I was concerned that Fringe Director, Ken Pinto’s, management of the festival was going to alienate visiting artists and dispirit those who live in Halifax who deserve to have a Fringe Festival that is well organized and an exciting and inspiring experience that artists, not only in Atlantic Canada, but across the country, are clamouring to be a part of. I cite the condemnation that was thrust upon me last year only to illustrate a point that I think is a monumental challenge for the theatre community in Halifax. There are those who are vehemently opposed to change. There are those who will lash out fiercely at any criticism, constructive or otherwise, no matter how true or how carefully considered, about the theatre in the city because these people believe that Halifax theatre is doing “the best it can” and it’s somehow disrespectful to dare to aspire for more. There are individuals in Halifax’s theatre community who are heroes. They work harder than most artists in the rest of this country, doing their absolute best to continually produce work of excellence and heart- pushing against tides of resistance that should not exist. These people are also crusaders for a better, stronger theatre community and they know that a small group of businesspeople, who isolate themselves from the artists and who have little knowledge of the artistic aspects of the theatre, not to mention the history and traditions of theatre in this city and this country, are continually encumbering the great potential for triumph for everyone else.
This year Newfoundland artist Mikaela Dyke encountered the exact same problems with Atlantic Fringe that I did last year, and when she went to speak to Ken Pinto in hopes that he would help resolve the challenges she was facing, she was treated rudely and then dismissed. I am embarrassed that this is happening in my city. I am embarrassed that Fringe Festival Circuit veterans from across the country give warning to first-time Fringe performers against coming to beautiful, vibrant, wonderful Halifax simply because Ken Pinto is mismanaging this Fringe. Mikaela wrote the following Open Letter to the Arts Patrons of Halifax, which has also appeared in The Coast, and was the source for this article by The Chronicle Herald.
An Open Letter to Halifax Arts Patrons
Dear Halifax,
I am a touring artist, who has felt nothing other than welcome and support in your beautiful and cultured city. Welcome and support from your artists and audiences, from the local businesses and the media. So it pains me very much to say that I would tell other touring artists that they would be best to avoid your Fringe Festival, and that I would not wish my experience with the current Atlantic Fringe Festival director on anyone.
I am from the East Coast myself, and love the other CAFF (Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals) festivals I have been a part of, so I jumped at a chance to bring my show to Halifax. I certainly hope that the patrons who were left waiting outside the box office for an hour and a half on Sunday past, and others who have shown up to shows only to discover that they were cancelled without any updates to the website, the 1-800 line, or even signs on the door won’t be upset with the artists themselves. We have no control over many of these variables and, in fact, pay a fee that is intended to cover things like box office and marketing. When I tried to ask the festival director why these things weren’t being taken care of, I was told that I was rude to ask, that my complaints were unimportant and that I didn’t matter. I am ashamed that this is the way the East Coast allows touring artists to be treated, and understand why other touring artists warned me strongly against participating in this Fringe.
Halifax, you have a vibrant and friendly arts culture, and your city and its Fringe deserve to attract national and international acts from all over, like the other festivals associated with CAFF. You need only compare your Fringe’s lineup to any other Fringe in the past couple of years to understand what you are missing out on. (Try Saskatoon, Victoria or Orlando for comparable city size, or length of time running.)This is a loss due largely to the unprofessionalism and rudeness of your festival director.
When the festival director told me that my complaints didn’t matter, he was correct in a way. My problems as an artist simply mean I won’t return, and will warn others against coming to the Fringe here, like others tried to warn me. It’s really you, the audience, who are being cheated out of the wonderful nature of Fringe everywhere else in the world, where you can see a little bit of something from everywhere. It breaks my heart to say that I have filed a formal complaint with CAFF recommending that they remove their affiliation with this festival, at least while the current festival director is involved. I suggest that if you want touring acts to return to your city, you send them a letter as well –
With love and regret,
Mikaela Dyke
My dear Halifax, I am proud of you. I am always quick to tell everyone I meet here in Toronto that Halifax is my home. Halifax, the people of Canada love you. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people, performers or otherwise, gushing about how much they love to visit beautiful Nova Scotia, how friendly, welcoming and genuine the people are, how delicious the food, how glorious the ocean. Actors have told me how much they relish the opportunity to work in Halifax. How much they love returning there, and of how much they adore the terrific, talented local performers they have met there. Nova Scotia is incredibly well represented here, with some of Toronto’s most celebrated and best loved theatre practitioners being ours. Last May at Scott Burke’s SuperNova Festival (a model for how theatre festivals should be run in Halifax!), I was so unbelievably delighted to have the opportunity to watch The National Theatre of the World fall in love with my city, and to say that the audiences there were some of the most intelligent and warm they had ever encountered.
Unfortunately, at the moment, within the world of Fringe, which is a powerful and lucrative system of Canadian Theatre, one that links the rest of the country together and champions indigenous work, Ken Pinto is representing us all, and he does not reflect our fair city, our ideals and standards of excellence, or our theatre community. This is within our control. We have to not let those resistant to change inhibit us, we have to stand up and be brave and to put pressure on the Board of Directors of the Atlantic Fringe Festival to say that not only do we want better than being the Festival that artists avoid, but we DESERVE better than that. YOU, the people of Halifax, whether you believe it or not, YOU deserve better than that. 

The Atlantic Fringe Festival Board of Directors is:

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