The Calgary Fringe is upon us once again with 36 shows taking over 10 venues in Inglewood.
“We love Calgary. We love the way the festival is run,” says New York–based Bob Brader, who was at last year’s Fringe with Spitting in the Face of the Devil and returns this year with Preparation Hex, which he describes as “a story of meeting the woman of my dreams inter-spliced with the story of a debilitating hemorrhoid I had.” (Go figure.)
The festival’s artistic director, Michele Gallant, says there aren’t many changes in store at this year’s Fringe excepting, of course, a brand new lineup of shows and the addition of two venues — the Calgary Folk Music Festival’s Festival Hall, and Stash Needle Art Lounge, a small space that will be home to Charlie: A Hockey Story, in which performer Jim Sands will share the story of his uncle who played in the NHL several decades ago.
The mainstage Fringe lineup is the result of a lottery draw — each year potential participants submit applications to have their productions included, and the lucky entries are then selected at random — though 40 per cent of available lottery spots are reserved for local acts, 30 per cent for national applicants, and the remaining 30 per cent for international offerings.
“We do have the biggest weighting on our local acts, because Calgary has such a vibrant and growing arts scene, and we want to give a little extra attention and focus on our local artists in celebration of that,” says Gallant.
This year, a trend has emerged from the lineup in the number of shows using physical theatre techniques, such as The Ballad of Herbie Cox, which, incidentally, is the only show at this year’s Fringe from outside of North America.
“They’re two professional dancers from Melbourne, Australia, who basically tell the true story about their lives... through dance, music and physical theatre,” says Gallant.
Similarly, California’s Azanza Productions uses dance, clown and even circus techniques to explore the differences between feminine and masculine views of humanity in Aerial Allusions.
Sandrine Lafond, who hails from Las Vegas, and who has worked as a performer with Cirque du Soleil and as a dancer for Celine Dion, also uses physical theatre and clowning to produce a physically poetic look at society’s “obsession with image” in Little Lady.
Gallant says another inadvertent theme that has emerged at this year’s Fringe is of solo performers offering monologues, such as Vancouver’s Sam Mullins with Tinfoil Dinosaur.
Despite its whimsical title, the show is not geared towards children. “It’s a comic look at the worst nine months of my life,” says Mullins.
The titular creature, a freelance storyteller for CBC’s Definitely Not the Opera, experiences a “strange redemption” that changes his life after a patron asked him to produce a tinfoil dinosaur while he was waiting tables at a restaurant.
Still relatively new to the Fringe circuit (he made his debut last year in Winnipeg), Mullins says he is looking forward to being at the Calgary Fringe for the first time.
“I was first on the waiting list for Calgary, and this is the one festival I really, really wanted to get in,” he says.
He describes the Calgary Fringe as a “boutique festival” — unlike the much larger Toronto and Winnipeg Fringes — something he says he appreciates.
“You get to know everyone in a Fringe that is smaller.... And a part of me likes that there is less competition,” he admits, describing the larger festivals as “overwhelming.”
Another solo performer on the Calgary Fringe bill is John Hefner with his titillatingly titled The Hefner Monologues, a story of “First love. First heartbreak. First visit to the Playboy Mansion.”
MANY HAPPY RETURNS
In addition to Brader, there are some other familiar faces returning this year.
Oregon’s Wonderheads are back with Loon, a “most peculiar love story” involving a man and the moon. Last year, the duo — who don larger-than-life masks and don’t employ any dialogue — won Best of Fest honours for Grim and Fischer.
The creator of Fucking Stephen Harper, Rob Salerno, returns this year with Big In Germany, a show about two rock stars who hit the big time in Germany (surprise!) and come home to Canada to try and make it here.
Classical guitarist Colin Godbout is also back with a new guitar show called 2 to Django, as is Chase Padgett, star of last year’s Six Guitars. This year, he also has his brother in tow for The Bro Show.
Cameryn Moore, of Phone Whore and slut (r) evolution fame, re-emerges with another R-rated special called power | play (choose your own adventure), which the Fringe’s promotional literature calls a “storytelling journey into sex itself.”
Another R-rated show this year is called Bad Girls, by Calgary-based Glamorgan Productions. This quartet of “wicked” women will perform a series of one-act plays featuring “mirth, mystery, mayhem and murder” about bad girls who “don’t cry, they just get even.”
There are three other 18-plus shows on the bill, two of which take place in Lolita’s Lounge: Does This Turn You On?, a comic look at sexual fetish, and Push in Case of Emergency, about two strangers who find themselves stuck in an elevator and start uncovering truths about one another.
How to Not Get Laid at Artpoint Gallery, the other adult show at this year’s Fringe, is about, well, how to not get laid.
INTO THE UNKNOWN
“When I talk to people about the Fringe, who have never been to a Fringe before, I say, ‘Take a leap of faith and try something that you have never experienced before,” says Gallant. “Most shows... only take an hour out of your life. Tickets are going to be $10 to $15, so it’s really, really affordable.”
Also, the majority of the ticket price — save for a $1.50 surcharge per ticket to help pay for the Fringe box office and online ticketing system — goes directly to the artist.
As such, both Brader and Mullins say they can actually profit as Fringe artists.
“It’s a great way to make money in the summer,” says Brader, adding that he often drives to various festivals from his New York home in order to save on airfare.
“I made as much doing the Montreal and Toronto Fringes this year as I would have made if I had stayed in Vancouver waiting tables all summer,” Mullins says.
“It’s really important when looking for a place to perform that the festival offers billeting,” Brader adds, noting that having to pay for hotels cuts too deeply into potential profits. In Calgary, volunteers open their homes to artists, providing a free place to stay.
But money is certainly not the only reason Brader continues performing at various Fringe festivals each year.
“There is a real sense of community being part of a Fringe festival,” he says.
One place where Calgary audience members can partake of some of that “community” is at the late-night comedy cabaret, hosted by The Improv Guild, which closes down the Fringe every evening at Lantern Church Fellowship Hall.
There are actually several improv and sketch-comedy acts on the bill, including Calgary’s Jamie Northan and Lindsay Mullan who will present Truth or Dare? at Loose Moose Theatre. The audience advisory warns of potential “nudity,” so expect plenty of “daring” to take place during this improvised version of the classic party game.
Vancouver’s Peter ’n Chris — who garnered a Best Comedy nomination at the Just for Laughs Festival — will present Peter ’n Chris and the Hungry Heart Motel, a sketch-comedy piece in which the titular motel’s manager is a murderer.
From New York, Carolann Valentino combines sketch comedy, song and dance in Burnt at the Steak — her tale of managing a multimillion-dollar steakhouse in New York City.
Despite all the comedy at this year’s Fringe, there are still some serious offerings, though they are fewer and farther between than in previous years.
For those looking for dramatic fare, Gallant suggests She Has a Name, a play about human trafficking in Thailand. The show is currently on tour across Canada.
Hideout, about a young man who finds himself fleeing zombies, is another of the dramatic pieces at this year’s Fringe. It is by Calgary playwright Andrew Torry.
Other plays of note include this year’s Calgary Region One-Act Play Festival winner, The Hoodwink, about one woman’s strategy to make it as a hip-hop artist on her own terms; Guys in Disguise Classic: The Silver Anniversary Edition, a comic cabaret show featuring two female impersonators; and The Three L’s, a Calgary-based show featuring a cast of mixed-ability performers.