A Midsummer Night’s Fringe prepares to mystify and entertain for the 36th year
Fringe theatre festivals occur all over the world, and while it’s impolite to boast, ours is worth bragging about.
The Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival is the largest and longest running fringe festival in North America. Now in its 36th year, and with last year’s record breaking 850,000 visits and 122,000 tickets used, festival organizers are hoping that this year’s festival will be just as successful.
“It’s a place for not only you to take chances as an artist, but as an audience member,” says the festival’s artistic director, Murray Utas. “A lot of people will flock to the popular show, but I challenge you, and we have on our website a random show generator that will kick out a show. You can just, boom, buy a ticket. I always say to an audience, ‘you come on down, watch a live performance outside, toss a toonie into the hat, watch a singer songwriter, and then pick a show. Take a chance.’”
This year’s fringe boasts 220 shows and more than 1,600 performances. The festival features shows about astronauts, African folktales, aspergers, and Orwell’s Animal Farm, just to name a few without even leaving the letter A.
While the fringe has been a staple of Edmonton’s summer season, a few things have changed. This year features the return of the 50/50 draw, with the winner’s pot accumulated over the course of the entire festival and the winning ticket to be drawn on the final day. KidsFringe has also received an update, with regular hours extended until 8 p.m.
“The programming that’s set in that time is really, really cool,” says Utas. “We have Cree Pow Wow dancing that’s going to happen. We have a strong woman show, and then Rhythm Speaks is going to be performing as well. And there’s some incredible B-boys and break-dancers in our community, and these are the ones who’ll teach them a few moves on their own, which I think is awesome because it is. It’s really about engaging the youth at KidsFringe as well as entertaining them.”
This year’s theme, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Fringe,’ was chosen from a list of 900 candidates suggested by the public and whittled down into a more manageable 10 by festival organizers.
“I looked at magic as that connecting point,” says Utas. “There’s magic in that play, right? There’s fairies, there’s a hyperrealism, you know? You’re in the forest. So I went, ‘what is magic?’ There’s magic in summer, there’s magic in theatre, and there’s magic in gathering.”
In keeping with the theme, an illusionist will host the opening ceremonies.
Utas isn’t just an organizer. He performed a piece entitled The Narrows at his first Edmonton Fringe Festival in 1994 and has been involved with the festival in one capacity or another ever since. He says it’s a great opportunity to show talent to the industry and to give artists a stage to develop their craft.
“It’s the fertile ground to be experimental, to take a chance,” says Utas. “It’s very low risk, it’s not going to cost you. You know, you don’t have to rent a venue if you get into our lottery, you don’t have to pay a bunch of technicians to run your show and all of that. It’s a really great way to test out, and be a part, and take that first plunge into whatever might be your first experience.”
Whatever size of crowd descends upon Old Strathcona, Utas is confident that when the curtains finally rise on this year’s festival, they’ll be ready to once more captivate audiences.
“We can tell it’s coming right around the corner, and I think we’re ready,” says Utas. “We’re definitely excited. Things are piling up in here and people are on the move. That’s when you know it’s time. When people are always like back and forth, and back and forth. We’re at go time.”