Coming to 2018 Edmonton Fringe

It’s been another wonderful year for seeing shows on the Fringe circuit. The number of high quality productions continues to expand.

So why am I writing recommendations for the Edmonton Fringe?

Reason one. For six years I’ve posted recommendations for the upcoming Edmonton Fringe via the #yegfringe hashtag, based on what I’ve seen at the Winnipeg Fringe, the Ottawa Fringe and Ottawa’s Undercurrents festival.  First on Facebook then five times on this blog. Last year there were 177 hits. I’ve already had more than one request for this year’s version. So there’s a demand.

Reason two. Once again we saw early sellouts at the Winnipeg and Ottawa Fringes. The first night of the Winnipeg Fringe we were locked out of three shows. A first! We saw a lot of shows sell out on the first or second performance. Advance ticket sales were way up from two years ago, even before they started. I expect that the same will be true for the Edmonton Fringe. Pick your shows early.

There are 227 shows scheduled in 46 venues at the Edmonton Fringe this year. I’m going to stick to shows that I’ve seen already; there will be lots of good shows outside this list. More about that below.

So here are shows that I’ve seen, that are coming to the Edmonton Fringe this year, and that I’m recommending. I’m going to attempt some sort of rough rank order, but, like reviewing, that order is subjective. (Many of the differences in my ranks are miniscule.) Your mileage may vary. Some shows are not for everybody, no matter what my recommendation. Read the reviews carefully.

There are 30 recommendations below. I don’t expect you’ll see them all. So read the descriptions and reviews and decide which appeal to you personally.

Jake’s Gift

Top of my list is Jake’s Gift. If you missed this at previous Edmonton Fringes, here’s your chance to see it. I saw Julia Mackey perform this in Ottawa in 2009 at the Canadian War Museum. She made war veterans weep. Mackey performed for the third time in Winnipeg at the 2013 Winnipeg Fringe and still sold out. If you haven’t seen Jake’s Gift, don’t miss it.

Josephine, a Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play

We’ve seen Josephine in two versions: last year at the Winnipeg Fringe and this year’s expanded version at the Ottawa Fringe. When the buzz hit the street in Winnipeg last year, many people couldn’t get tickets. This year, Josephine cleaned up at the Ottawa Fringe, winning the Outstanding Overall Production Award, the Volunteers Choice Award and a Best of Fest. Several performances sold out. The expanded version also sold out at this year’s Winnipeg Fringe.

Get your tickets early.

6 Guitars

Returning to the Edmonton Fringe, here’s another chance to catch this sellout show.

2013’s new kid at the Ottawa and Winnipeg Fringes, Chase Padgett, tied for Outstanding Solo Performance Award at the Ottawa Fringe Festival for his wonderful show, 6 Guitars. We saw the 60 minute version in Ottawa. We also saw the (even better) 90 minute version at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.

Here’s what Michelle Palansky of CBC Manitoba had to say about Padgett and the 90 minute version in her review: “Chase Padgett himself, who is clearly a superior type of alien being transported to Earth to deliver some fine Fringe fare. See this show.”

Many fringers still haven’t seen 6 Guitars. Lots of people have seen it multiple times. This will probably still be hot ticket item.

The War of 1812

Produced by Mike Delamont, starring Wes Borg, Morgan Cranny, Rod Peter Jr and Mike Delamont, this remount of the Three Dead Trolls Fringe hit is even more hilarious than the original. And you’ll never enter a Laura Secord shop again without thinking of Mike Delamont. And yes, they’ve kept this song from the original.

One Man Lord of the Rings

Charles Ross packed them in at the 2004 Winnipeg Fringe when we saw him portray the entire trilogy (slightly abridged) in one hour. He had to cancel one of his shows because Industrial Light & Magic flew him to Los Angeles to do a private performance of One Man Star Wars Trilogy for their staff. Here are his reviews. Pick one.

Fool Muun Komming!

The Outstanding Solo Performance Award at the Ottawa Fringe went to Sam Kruger for Fool Muun Komming! Buzz hit the street with Barb Popel’s early review for Apt613: “I’ve only seen this type of really creative, weird and wonderful play at a Fringe festival. And even there, it’s a rare thing to find.”

Kruger was up against stiff competition at this year’s Ottawa Fringe, including Ottawa’s Pierre Brault (Winnipeg audiences saw his show Five O’Clock Bells). Kruger’s award is well-deserved.

Macbeth Muet

This was a treat of the 2016 Ottawa Undercurrents Festival. It was SO much fun! I wrote in my review: “This is the silliest production of Macbeth I’ve ever seen. And it is well-crafted silliness.”

Let’s be clear. Although there were many chuckles in the audience on opening night, Macbeth Muet is more silliness than laugh out loud comedy. This is a light-hearted pastiche. Shakespeare would probably approve.

It’s not all yucks however. I saw it again in Winnipeg. When the Macduff family is slaughtered the room turned eerily quiet in horror.

Don’t just take my word for it. Randall King of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote: “This is a display of sheer theatrical invention, certainly a must-see on your fringe menu.”

If you missed this at last year’s Edmonton Fringe, you’ve got another chance.

A Canadian Bartender at Butlin’s

I missed this  T.J. Dawe show at the 2005 Winnipeg Fringe, but caught it at a near full house in a large venue at this year’s Winnipeg Fringe. Thank goodness I had a chance to correct that omission.

As Kevin Prokosh wrote in his Winnipeg Free Press review: “Thirteen years after its debut here, Canadian Bartender can still serve a stout theatrical brew.”

INTERSTELLAR ELDER: Badass Grandma in Space

Ingrid Hansen wowed Ottawa audiences with this one-person show and its stage-filling production values. Of all the Hansen shows I’ve seen, this is my favourite.

Kate Carmanico wrote in her review in Apt613: “An immersive experience led by an intelligent and fearless performer—Interstellar Elder is a Fringe masterpiece.”

Jesus Christ – The Lost Years

Let me say off the top that I loved this Monster Theatre production. This remount features Alex Gullason and Carly Pokoradi, two actresses from last year’s The Canada Show and I like this one better.

I’m not alone in that opinion. Lisa Campbell wrote: “Energy, intelligence and humour abound as these two gals throw their hearts and bodies into showing us what might have been during those lost years.”

Rocko and Nakota: Tales from the Land

As I wrote in my review for Apt613: “One of the joys of Fringing is discovering a compelling story told by a masterful storyteller. Such is the case of Rocko and Nakota: Tales From the Land, told by Josh Languedoc of Indigenized Indigenous Theatre from St. Albert, Alberta.”

Why? “Languedoc fills the entire ODD Box stage with his performance and characters.”

The CBC review crew’s Stephanie Cram called it “First Nations storytelling at its finest.”

Terms and Conditions

I took a flyer on this show because I saw the same company do a lovely show called Flight last year. I’m so glad I did.

I’ll let Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson of the Winnipeg Free Press do the talking for this fun show. He described it as a: “hilarious, incredibly acrobatic, 45-plus minute physical comedy” and wrote “once those characters’ bodies get moving, the acrobatics are spectacular. The action culminates with a fight scene featuring breathtaking gymnastics while retaining the quasi-madcap physical humour established at the outset.”

Magical Mystery Detour

Fringe veteran Gemma Wilcox returns with a 23-character one-woman show that won a Best of Fest at the Ottawa Fringe, most popular for its venue. Wilcox herself was on the short list for Capital Critics Circle Best Performer.

If you haven’t seen any of Wilcox’s multiple character shows, worry not. The Magical Mystery Detour stands on its own. A young woman, Sandra, is facing double-edged grief for a breakup with her lover and the death of her mother. But then a gift appears in the mail that send Sandra on a magical trip through southern England.

Patrick Langston (Ottawa Citizen) summarizes well: “it’s the trip itself and its unreal events, events to which she appears oblivious, that are so much fun: her car flirts, in a Scottish burr, with another car while stuck in a traffic jam; an annoying fly talks; a tree gets the hots for Sandra.”

In my review for Apartment 613, I wrote that Wilcox “changes shape from character to character with uncanny and rapid fluidity.”

Matthew Champ of On Stage Ottawa wrote: “this show is absolute magic”.

Nightmare on East Hastings

Bill Pats is back with a new story about his time as a property manager in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. As Livia Belcea of Apt613 wrote “Bill’s fascinating story is worth hearing, and will undoubtedly have you reflect on social and political issues we often tend to ignore.” With graphic details and adult language, this show is definitely for mature audiences.

Daddy’s Boy

Erik de Waal starts out on familiar territory with personal stories of his childhood experiences of Apartheid. But then he turns to a life and death story of his father that grips the audience.

Mary Agnes Welch of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote: “The last half has more heft – a gritty look at the imprisonment of a vital man in a broken body. Tiny, telling details of his father’s long last days make the final few moments of this show a gut-punch, especially for people familiar with illness. The lady beside me got out her Kleenex.”

Death – A Romantic Comedy

Rob Gee premiered this show at this year’s Winnipeg Fringe. After a rocky first performance, his second night was much stronger and a delight to attend.

I wasn’t the only one to think so. Bradley Sawatzky of CBC Manitoba wrote: “Rob Gee is a powerhouse of a storyteller. He’s smart, wicked funny, and makes it all look effortless which it most certainly is not. Did I mention he’s wicked funny? Gee weaves together seemingly unrelated tales of loss, love, and drinking into one amazing narrative.”

The Wilds

Wonderheads are back with a new show. Lara Rae of the Winnipeg Free Press asks: “how can the mask face not move and yet we “see” the character smile, “look” sad, depressed etc?”

Yes, I know how they make their solid masks change expression on stage. NO, I’m not going to tell you how. Figure it out for yourselves!

I’ll let Rae have the last word: “Get ready to happily laugh and ugly cry.”

2 Sherlock Holmes Mysteries

Fringe legends Kenneth Brown and John D. Huston present this family friendly pair of whodunnits.

As Alan Small of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote: “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson hardly need an introduction, and neither do the legendary fringe actors who portray them in this charming retelling of two of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous short stories.”

Blind to Happiness

is my favourite Tim C. Murphy show. Period. Dramaturged by T.J. Dawe and it shows. I enjoyed every minute.

But don’t take my word for it. Nick Bachusky of Apartment 613 peppered his review with pull quotes: “Do yourself a favour and buy tickets in advance for this performance.” “Murphy loves what he does and brings with him a perfected script.” “I can highly recommend this play and you will be lucky to see it for sure. Blind to Happiness is well worth every penny.”

If you missed it at last year’s Edmonton Fringe, you now have a second chance.

Today, for Now

Warning: the Apocalypse can actually be very funny. But don’t take my word for it.

Kevin Prokosh of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote: “The Vancouver writing duo of Valerie Cotic and Jeff Leard have fun portraying an array of desperate people attempting to make the most of what little time is left.” He adds: “Cotic and Leard both display admirable commitment and versatility during their enjoyable 55 minutes on stage.”

OK, so it’s not War and Peace. But it is definitely fun.

jem rolls: I, Idiot

While a few audience members may recognize rolls’ performance poem, Clanger Man, the rest of the show is all new material. And it’s non-stop performance. Don’t blink or you may miss an important detail.

As Jennifer Cavanaugh wrote for Apt613: “With nothing on the stage and few light cues Rolls fully commands the space with his loud proclamations and exuberant movements moving from self-deprecating humour to wider observations with clever confidence and buffoonery.”

As an added bonus, catch rolls while he’s flyering for this show. At the Winnipeg Fringe he had two versions of his pitch. He called them the American version and the Canadian version. Ask for both. You’ll be glad you did.

African Folk Tales with Erik de Waal

Joff Schmidt of CBC Manitoba says it best about this kids favourite: “Erik de Waal has become a reliable Fringe mainstay with his delightful renditions of traditional folktales.” “for toddlers and elementary school-aged kids, de Waal is a reliable bet.”

Each year, de Waal has new tales for his young audience.

Field Zoology 101

I got advance notice of this show from Victoria Fringe doyenne Janis LaCouvée. Thank you, Janis.

Matt TenBruggencate of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote of Shawn O’Hara’s performance: “His delivery of set material as — a list of most dangerous/sexy animals, his quest for vengeance against a neighbourhood raccoon — is note-perfect, while his off-the-cuff responses to audience questions prove a first-rate comedic talent.”

Flute Loops

This is one of those “take a chance” shows that the Fringe circuit enables. Some will love it; some won’t. Either way Devon More seems to get the science right in this quirky tale of a Physics Ph.D. candidate who’s trying to work on her Theory of Everything thesis while volunteering as a roadie for her boy-friend’s band.

Reviewers have trouble putting their enthusiasm for this show into words. Michelle Palansky of CBC Manitoba does it best: “Calling all music/theoretical physics/theatre geeks! I know you’re out there! Now is your time, this is your play, I have found your queen.

Devon More is a fresh breath of Fringe weird, making quantum physics not only comprehensible but downright catchy.”

The ADHD Project

Having seen this show in Ottawa at 11PM, I think it’s a perfect late night show. (I LIKE late night shows.) That hour seems to draw just the people who appreciate this quirky kind of humour. But it’s also a family friendly show that would be good for teenagers at any hour. You decide.

Brenda Dunn of Apt613 wrote: ‘This is a heartwarming and genuinely funny show that takes an honest look at the impact of ADHD without coming off as too much of an after-school-special. If you know anyone who is currently, or has ever been “the weird awkward kid,” bring them to enjoy this little toast to the atypical.’

The Progressive Polygamists

If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed that a satire about polygamy at Bountiful could be so damned funny.

When this show played the 2012 Edmonton Fringe, Claire Theobald of the Edmonton Sun wrote: “Absolutely a show not to be missed, Progressive Polygamists will have you laughing so hard you will forget how much you are sweating.”

The Circus Firemen

Reviewers at Fringe Festivals ignore outdoor buskers and musicians. By the time the buzz found us, we had missed the Circus Firemen in 2014 at the Winnipeg Fringe. But they flyered us, and told us why we should see their show, on a train leaving Toronto last fall. So in 2015 I made time in my busy schedule to catch their outdoor act. They juggle flaming batons while balancing on straight ladders! And they’re funny! What more do you need to know? Don’t forget to put some money in their hats afterwards.

Big Wheel Show

I had a spare hour so I sat down at the outdoor stage at last year’s Winnipeg Fringe to check out Hannah Cryle’s acrobatic show involving a big steel wheel out in the open. Cryle starts out slowly to gain the confidence of her audience as she rolls among the crowd inside the heavy wheel. Then she recruits a couple of volunteers and the tricks become more and more impressive. Her finale is a real crowd-pleaser. Lots of people put folding money in her hat afterwards, myself included.

ReubenDotDotDot

This is one of the highest busker shows I’ve seen at any Fringe Festival. But Reuben performs his high pole act solo! He does recruit four strong volunteers to keep him aloft, but none of them have any training or experience with the act. Well worth folding money in the hat.

Tianna the Traveller

I caught the last part of this amazing escape artist’s show. I honestly didn’t think she could get out of the ropes, chains, locks, plastic ties and bands that surrounded her lithe body. I wasn’t the only doubting Thomas in the outdoor audience. Now I’m a believer. I was short on cash, but I threw everything I had into her busker’s hat at the end. Bring money.

Familiar performers are bringing brand new shows to the Edmonton Fringe that I haven’t had the opportunity to see. Don’t just stick to my above recommendations. Check out some new shows by A Little Bit Off, Colossal Productions, Die-Nasty, The Fourth Wall Ensemble, Guys in Disguise, Al LaFrance, Pop Goes the Opera, Randy Rutherford.

And Teatro La Quindicina is mounting a Lemoine premiere!

I saw 29 shows at the Ottawa Fringe this year, and 45 at this year’s Winnipeg Fringe. Consequently I haven’t seen all the shows touring this year’s Edmonton Fringe. Plus my tastes don’t necessarily match yours. So go see some shows that I haven’t recommended.

Happy Fringing!

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Coming to 2018 Winnipeg Fringe

Every year at least one of my friends and followers in Winnipeg asks for recommendations for the upcoming Winnipeg Fringe, based on what I’ve seen at the Ottawa Fringe. It’s already happened.

Last year I again posted my list on my blog. It had 327 hits. Given this demand, I’m repeating the exercise. My list is based on shows I’ve seen at the Ottawa Fringe, previous Winnipeg Fringes and the 2016 Edmonton Fringe.

There are 180 shows coming to the Winnipeg Fringe this year. I’m going to stick to shows that I’ve seen already (with a few exceptions); there will be lots of good shows outside this list. More about that later.

So here are shows that I’ve seen, that are coming to the Winnipeg Fringe this year, and that I’m recommending. I’m going to attempt some sort of rough rank order, but, like reviewing, that order is subjective. Frankly, many of these ranks are WAY too close to call. Your mileage may vary.

Also, some comparisons don’t strictly make sense. What does it mean to rank a family-friendly show versus a mature show? Which type do you want to see? I happen to like both kinds, but not everybody does.

Some shows are not for everybody, no matter what my recommendation. Some shows may push you beyond your boundaries. Read the quoted reviews carefully.

Josephine, a Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play

We’ve seen Josephine in two versions: last year at the Winnipeg Fringe and this year’s expanded version at the Ottawa Fringe. When the buzz hit the street in Winnipeg last year, many people couldn’t get tickets. This year, Josephine cleaned up at the Ottawa Fringe, winning the Outstanding Overall Production Award, the Volunteers Choice Award and a Best of Fest. Several performances sold out.

Get your tickets early.

6 Guitars

Returning to the Winnipeg Fringe, here’s another chance to catch this sellout show.

2013’s new kid at the Ottawa and Winnipeg Fringes, Chase Padgett, tied for Outstanding Solo Performance Award at the Ottawa Fringe Festival for his wonderful show, 6 Guitars. We saw the 60 minute version in Ottawa. We also saw the (even better) 90 minute version at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.

Here’s what Michelle Palansky of CBC Manitoba had to say about Padgett and the 90 minute version in her review: “Chase Padgett himself, who is clearly a superior type of alien being transported to Earth to deliver some fine Fringe fare. See this show.”

About 35,000 people go to the Winnipeg Fringe every year. Many of them haven’t seen 6 Guitars. Lots of people have seen it multiple times. This will probably still be hot ticket item.

Nashville Hurricane

Chase Padgett brings back his 2014 Winnipeg Fringe hit. Joff Schmidt of CBC Manitoba wrote: “Nashville Hurricane is a Fringe force of nature. Don’t let it pass you by.” If you missed it, now’s your chance. If you saw it and want to have Padgett blow you away again, don’t wait until the last minute.

Flight

Last year, Flight was our 7-year-old niece’s favourite. She’s learning gymnastics and loves seeing dance. This is a remarkably beautiful piece (based on The Little Prince) that we saw twice at last year’s Winnipeg Fringe.

Michelle Palansky of CBC Manitoba wrote: “Flight relies upon astonishing acrobatics and the willingness of the audience to imagine new worlds”.

Take kids, adults, and friends… to see Flight.

Fool Muun Komming!

The Outstanding Solo Performance Award at the Ottawa Fringe went to Sam Kruger for Fool Muun Komming! Buzz hit the street with Barb Popel’s early review for Apt613: “I’ve only seen this type of really creative, weird and wonderful play at a Fringe festival. And even there, it’s a rare thing to find.”

Kruger was up against stiff competition at this year’s Ottawa Fringe, including Ottawa’s Pierre Brault (Winnipeg audiences saw his show Five O’Clock Bells). Kruger’s award is well-deserved.

INTERSTELLAR ELDER: Badass Grandma in Space

Ingrid Hansen wowed Ottawa audiences with this one-person show and its stage-filling production values. Of all the Hansen shows I’ve seen, this is my favourite.

Kate Carmanico wrote in her review in Apt613: “An immersive experience led by an intelligent and fearless performer—Interstellar Elder is a Fringe masterpiece.”

The Elephant Girls

For years, I’ve attended shows at the Winnipeg Fringe and thought, “I wish my Ottawa Friends could see this.” Lately I’ve been seeing a few shows at the Ottawa Fringe and wished that my Winnipeg friends could see them. The Elephant Girls is one such show.

The Elephant Girls won the Outstanding Production Award at the 2015 Ottawa Fringe and the Capital Critics Circle Best Show Award. It sold out its entire run plus its Best of Fest performance. It was held over for two performances in July.

Kat Fournier of the Capital Critics Circle wrote: “Gritty, powerful and excellently crafted, The Elephant Girls is an astounding story that transports its audience to a bar in historic, inter-war London, England. Here at the Ottawa Fringe, we are fortunate to have seen the world premiere of a show that will undoubtedly become a great success.”

The Elephant Girls played the 2016 Winnipeg Fringe Festival to packed houses, and went on to the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s back again for all those people who missed it the first time.

Big Shot

I saw Jon Lachlan Stewart’s Big Shot at the 2011 Winnipeg Fringe. I was blown away by the cinematography, or rather by the cinematic feel of the piece. I’m not the only one. Jill Wilson of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote: “Written and performed by the magnetic Jon Lachlan Stewart, the 75-minute Big Shot is a bravura work.”

If the name Jon Lachlan Stewart sounds familiar to you, he was half to the duo that presented the marvelous Macbeth Must at last year’s Winnipeg Fringe.

Rocko and Nakota: Tales from the Land

As I wrote in my review for Apt613: “One of the joys of Fringing is discovering a compelling story told by a masterful storyteller. Such is the case of Rocko and Nakota: Tales From the Land, told by Josh Languedoc of Indigenized Indigenous Theatre from St. Albert, Alberta.”

Why? “Languedoc fills the entire ODD Box stage with his performance and characters.”

Take kids and adults to this family friendly show.

War of 1812

Produced by Mike Delamont, starring Wes Borg, Morgan Cranny, Rod Peter Jr and Mike Delamont, this remount of the Three Dead Trolls Fringe hit promises to be as hilarious as the original. Don’t believe me? Check out this song from the original.

A Nightmare on East Hastings

Bill Pats is back with a new story about his time as a property manager in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. As Livia Belcea of Apt613 wrote “Bill’s fascinating story is worth hearing, and will undoubtedly have you reflect on social and political issues we often tend to ignore.” With graphic details and adult language, this show is definitely for mature audiences.

Shadows in Bloom

After the house lights came up, my wife turned to our friend and asked, “So how did you like the show?”

“Oh, Wow!!!”

Gemma Wilcox tends to have that effect on audience members.

Gemma Wilcox brings back her 2008 hit to the Winnipeg Fringe.

As Bill Bows of Variety wrote: “Wilcox moves easily through the nuances of London’s class-tinged dialects and accents, mixing vocal virtuosity with imaginative expressions and postures to herald each new personality”

jem rolls: I, Idiot

While a few audience members may recognize rolls’ performance poem, Clanger Man, the rest of the show is all new material. And it’s non-stop performance. Don’t blink or you may miss an important detail.

As Jennifer Cavanaugh wrote for Apt613: “With nothing on the stage and few light cues Rolls fully commands the space with his loud proclamations and exuberant movements moving from self-deprecating humour to wider observations with clever confidence and buffoonery.”

2 Ruby Knockers, 1 Jaded Dick: A Dirk Darrow Investigation

Since this is a prequel to Tim Motley’s Dirk Darrow NCSSI, you don’t have to have seen Motley’s previous Fringe show. This show is even more popular, having won a Patron’s Pick at the 2014 Winnipeg Fringe. As Pat St. Germain of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote: “Amazing card tricks, mind games and groaners galore add up to 60 minutes, or more, of pure entertainment”. Keep your pencils.

I saw 29 shows at the Ottawa Fringe this year, about 60 at the 2017 Winnipeg Fringe and 39 at the 2016 Edmonton Fringe. Consequently I haven’t seen all the shows touring to this year’s Winnipeg Fringe. Nor have I seen any of the local productions like Knavish Hedgehogs or Kiss the Giraffe. Or any of the latest improv, like The Crumbs and Outside Joke. So go see some shows that I haven’t recommended.

Happy Fringing!

Coming to 2017 Vancouver Fringe

It’s been another wonderful year for seeing shows on the Fringe circuit. The number of high quality productions continues to be amazing.

So why am I writing recommendations for the Vancouver Fringe?

Reason one. Three years ago I posted a set of recommendations on this blog. Similar lists this year were popular in Edmonton and Winnipeg. There were over 80 hits. This is about 15 times the number of friends I have in Vancouver. So there’s a demand.

Reason two. We’ve seen many sellouts at the Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa Fringes. Especially early sellouts. We’ve seen a lot more shows start to sell out on the first or second performance. Advance ticket sales at these Fringes were way up, even before they started. I expect that the same will be true for the Vancouver Fringe. Pick your shows early.

My list is based on shows I’ve seen at the Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa Fringes over the years. I’m posting it on my blog so it’s visible to all my Twitter followers as well as my Facebook friends.

There are over 100 shows coming to the Vancouver Fringe this year. I’m going to stick to shows that I’ve seen already; there will be lots of good shows outside this list. More about that below.

So here are shows that I’ve seen, that are coming to the Vancouver Fringe this year, and that I’m recommending. I’m going to attempt some sort of rough rank order, but, like reviewing, that order is subjective. Your mileage may vary. Some shows are not for everybody, no matter what my recommendation. Read the reviews carefully.

There are 12 recommendations below. You may not be able to see them all. So read the descriptions and reviews and decide which appeal to you personally.

A Soldier’s War

This Saskatoon production became a big hit in Winnipeg this summer. This moving drama had a big impact on Winnipeg’s normally staid reviewers. While they had praise for the entire production, one character in particular touched them deeply. Bradley Sawatzky wrote in his review: “the journey that Devin Wesnoski takes us on, showing us the cost of surviving, has me crying as I type this.” Similarly Melissa Martin wrote: “Devin Wesnoski’s portrayal of sheltered young Leslie is particularly haunting, even unforgettable.” Get your tickets early before word of mouth hits the street.

The Inventor of All Things

The Inventor of All Things is Ottawa’s favourite jem rolls show. It’s one of Winnipeg’s favourite jem rolls shows. He last performed this show at the Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver Fringes in 2015. Unfortunately, some people missed it then because jem rolls sold out. Fortunately for those people, he’s brought the show back to Vancouver, Winnipeg and Ottawa.

Two reasons for the sellouts: (1) The show appealed to audiences beyond jem rolls’ fan base. (2) Many audience members saw the show more than once.

In Ottawa, the show sold out again this year. Furthermore it won a Best of Fest award.

Executing Justice

Bill Pats has revised his 2014 hit show from the Winnipeg Fringe. We missed it then because we couldn’t get tickets by the time word of mouth got to us. Meghan Mast of CBC Manitoba wrote: “Pats plays different characters with conviction. You’ll forget the story is fictional.”

Pats performed Executing Justice at the Ottawa Fringe to acclaim. Amanda Dookie of Apartment 613 wrote: “In terms of the acting this was the best solo performance I’ve ever seen at the Ottawa Fringe Festival, in the several years that I have been reviewing plays.” The reviewing team at Apartment 613 gave Pats a Runner-up for Best Performance.

Riveting!

Almost a Stepmom

We almost missed this one at the Winnipeg Fringe. Don’t make the same mistake. See it early. If you like it, tell ALL your friends!

Keara Barnes plays four characters in this story of how she fell in love on a trip to Ireland and then… I’ll let Sarah Broadfoot of CBC Manitoba elaborate from her review: “Barnes has a remarkable physical and vocal presence on stage and she shifts easily between disparate characters, employing a spot-on Irish accent.”

Bring tissues.

Teaching Shakespeare

Did you miss this show when Keir Cutler brought it to the Vancouver Fringe in 2010 or 2004? You have another chance at a show with a LONG history of performances and positive reviews. Definitely a crowd pleaser.

Katie Nicholson of CBC Manitoba wrote in her review in 2014: “A seasoned performer, Cutler has precise and playful comic timing”

Bouncers

This show scared the bejesus out of me, before I even entered the theatre! The cast, dressed as the eponymous bouncers of the title, came out to “check out” the crowd lined up before the show. A more unsavoury set of characters I’d never met before (or perhaps since). I don’t know how many of the original cast are in this production, but the nefarious looking Jon Paterson has definitely returned.

In his review of the 2001 production at the Winnipeg Fringe, Randall King described the bouncers as “four hard lads of the title, charged with the responsibility of preventing trouble but equally disposed to causing it.” He also called the show “very, very cool” and “fast-paced, vibrant, and very funny”.

Swordplay: a Play of Swords

This new show is a mashup of The Princess Bride and 8-bit video games. The imagery has many low-res video effects. The emphasis is on unexpected twists and turns (like a video game). Definitely summer theatre. Randall King of the Winnipeg Free Press sums it up best: “Intricately staged, but with a freewheeling sense of fun”.

Lovely Lady Lump

Lana Schwarcz returns for the first time since her 2009 show Grandpa Sol and Grandma Rosie. Previously she took on the topic of aging. This time her show about cancer won the Outstanding Solo Award at last year’s Ottawa Fringe.

The Apartment 613 reviewer concluded: “True to her promise, she finishes with humour. But if her final material is so funny, why were two warm tears sliding down my cheeks when I stopped laughing to applaud?”

Shannon Sampert of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote “There are moments of great hilarity and moments that leave you sobbing,”

Everybody Dies in December

Nancy Kenny (Roller Derby Saved My Soul) is back with an entirely different one-woman show. Instead of a Buffy-wannabe, Kenny plays a third generation funeral director. Kenny played to very receptive audiences when we saw it at the Edmonton Fringe last year. In fact, the owners of a local funeral home saw it and loved it so much they handed out fliers during their Fringe tours. (Only in Edmonton do I know of funeral directors who conduct tours during the Fringe Festival.)

But don’t take my word for it. Steven Steels of Vue Weekly wrote: “Heartbreaking and captivating, Kenny’s performance is well-conceived down to the most minute of personal idiosyncrasies.”

5 Step Guide to Being German

Paco Erhard is an experienced stand-up comedian from Germany, who makes fun of Germans, Americans, the British, Canadians… to the delight of ‘Peggers who filled a 70-seat venue most nights at the 2015 Winnipeg Fringe. As Joff Schmidt wrote: ‘Erhard is a stand-up pro. He’s fast, his material is solid, and he connects easily with his audience. He certainly takes down the stereotype of the “humourless German.”’

Roller Coaster

By now, T.J. Dawe fans are used to the fact that his show titles often give only slight hints of his material. Yes, roller coasters are one of the disparate threads of this fast-paced monologue. But Decline of the American Empire has already been used as a title, so Roller Coaster it is.

I won’t spoil the show by listing the many topics that Dawe covers, but I’ll let Pat St. Germain of the Winnipeg Free Press have the final say: “As the title suggests, the story has its ups and downs, but hang on. In a contest between good and evil, Dawe’s heartfelt ace in the hole holds out hope for humanity.”

Szeretlek

This is the most family friendly show of the bunch. Definitely kid friendly. Adults seem to like it too. The night I went, the performers had the entire audience up on their feet learning a Hungarian folk dance. In staid old Ottawa!

Brie McFarlane of New Ottawa Critics wrote: ‘Definitely in the running for “Most Adorable Show” at the 2017 Ottawa Fringe Festival, Szeretlek: A Hungarian Love Story will satisfy your sweet tooth.’

Julia Bueneman of Apartment 613 wrote: “I really enjoyed this show – it’s family-friendly, funny (I laughed out loud several times) and adorable.”

I saw 28 shows at the Ottawa Fringe this year, 54 at this year’s Winnipeg Fringe, and 39 shows at last year’s Edmonton Fringe. Consequently I haven’t seen all the shows touring this year’s Vancouver Fringe. Plus my tastes don’t necessarily match yours. So go see some shows that I haven’t recommended.

Happy Fringing!

Coming to 2017 Edmonton Fringe

It’s been another wonderful year for seeing shows on the Fringe circuit. The number of high quality productions continues to expand.

So why am I writing recommendations for the Edmonton Fringe?

Reason one. For five years I’ve posted recommendations for the upcoming Edmonton Fringe via the #yegfringe hashtag, based on what I’ve seen at the Winnipeg Fringe and Ottawa Fringe.  First on Facebook then four times on this blog. Two years ago there were 371 hits. So there’s a demand. (Last year we didn’t go to the Winnipeg Fringe, so I had fewer recommendations, resulting in less traffic.)

Reason two. Once again we saw early sellouts at the Winnipeg and Ottawa Fringes. We saw a lot of shows sell out on the first or second performance. Advance ticket sales were way up from two years ago, even before they started. I expect that the same will be true for the Edmonton Fringe. Pick your shows early.

My list is based on shows I’ve seen at the Ottawa and Winnipeg Fringes this and previous years. It’s also based on shows I’ve seen at the Montreal Fringe and Ottawa’s Undercurrents Festival in previous years. I’m posting it on my blog so it’s visible to all my Twitter followers as well as my Facebook friends.

There are over 220 shows scheduled in 42 venues at the Edmonton Fringe this year. I’m going to stick to shows that I’ve seen already; there will be lots of good shows outside this list. More about that below.

So here are shows that I’ve seen, that are coming to the Edmonton Fringe this year, and that I’m recommending. I’m going to attempt some sort of rough rank order, but, like reviewing, that order is subjective. (Many of the differences in my ranks are miniscule.) Your mileage may vary. Some shows are not for everybody, no matter what my recommendation. Read the reviews carefully.

There are 29 recommendations below. I don’t expect you’ll see them all. So read the descriptions and reviews and decide which appeal to you personally.

Prophecy

From the people who brought you the Sterling Award winning The Fall of the House of Atreus, Impossible Mongoose brings you Jessie Ardern’s new play, Prophecy. Based on the myth of Cassandra, Prophecy explores the Trojan War from female perspectives.

Barry Sawatzky of CBC Manitoba says “Jessy Ardern is a powerhouse of a writer. The previous winner of two Harry Rintoul Awards, her writing keeps getting stronger.” His conclusion? “The writing, the direction, the performance – this show delivers it all.”

CBC Manitoba chose Prophecy as one of its top 10 picks for the Winnipeg Fringe closing weekend.

A Soldier’s War

This Saskatoon production became a big hit in Winnipeg this summer. This moving drama had a big impact on Winnipeg’s normally staid reviewers. While they had praise for the entire production, one character in particular touched them deeply. Bradley Sawatzky wrote in his review: “the journey that Devin Wesnoski takes us on, showing us the cost of surviving, has me crying as I type this.” Similarly Melissa Martin wrote: “Devin Wesnoski’s portrayal of sheltered young Leslie is particularly haunting, even unforgettable.” Get your tickets early before word of mouth hits the street.

The Inventor of All Things

The Inventor of All Things is Ottawa’s favourite jem rolls show. It’s one of Winnipeg’s favourite jem rolls shows. He last performed this show at the Ottawa, Winnipeg and Edmonton Fringes in 2015. Unfortunately, some people missed it then because jem rolls sold out. Fortunately for those people, he’s brought the show back to Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa.

Two reasons for the sellouts: (1) The show appealed to audiences beyond jem rolls’ fan base. (2) Many audience members saw the show more than once.

The Ottawa version was 60 minutes. It sold out again this year. Furthermore it won a Best of Fest award.

The Edmonton version is 75 minutes.

Executing Justice

Bill Pats has revised his 2014 hit show from the Winnipeg Fringe. We missed it then because we couldn’t get tickets by the time word of mouth got to us. Meghan Mast of CBC Manitoba wrote: “Pats plays different characters with conviction. You’ll forget the story is fictional.”

Pats performed Executing Justice at the Ottawa Fringe to acclaim. Amanda Dookie of Apartment 613 wrote: “In terms of the acting this was the best solo performance I’ve ever seen at the Ottawa Fringe Festival, in the several years that I have been reviewing plays.” The reviewing team at Apartment 613 gave Pats a Runner-up for Best Performance.

Riveting!

Fruit Flies Like a Banana: World Tour

Flyering works. Greg Jukes of The Fourth Wall Ensemble flyered us early at the Winnipeg Fringe and convinced us to see their show. We saw it twice, bringing our 6 and 8 year old nieces the second time. I think this show is such a wonderful introduction for children to music that I pitched it in person to Roman Borys, the Artistic Director of Ottawa’s Chamberfest.

They play Chopin’s Minute Waltz while interweaving on stage on hoverboards! They play Astor Piazzola while dancing a tango de trois! Bring children. If they’re enthusiastic, the kids will have a chance to determine the order of the show.

Jill Wilson of the Winnipeg Free Press called this show “a one-hour trip around the globe, from French Canada to Tuva, in this madcap mashup of music, dance and theatre.”

Watch Out Wildkat

Toronto’s Sex T-Rex blew Winnipeg audiences away in 2015 with this cinematically inspired production. It’s no accident that this story about WildKat MacReady seeking revenge for her father’s death resembles the storyline of the film Cat Ballou.

Rosie Fernandez review for CBC Manitoba is a cornucopia of pull-quotes: “W.O.W is an appropriate acronym for Watch Out WildKat!” “This play is a fast-moving, high-energy, side-splitting romp that grabs you and takes you on a galloping ride through the Wild West.” “A stellar cast, imaginative choreography, and non-stop laughs make this show is a must-see – so giddy-on up.”

Forget Me Not

Rob Gee’s second in his psychiatric nursing trilogy is one of his best shows. Lots of sellouts at the 2013 Winnipeg Fringe Festival, resulting in a Patrons’ Pick. The performance poetry is there, but now it serves a plot with an arc: a murder mystery set in an Alzheimer’s ward. One of the detectives has incipient Alzheimer’s, and he knows it. A humourous, clever, and highly sympathetic look at a condition that some of us will face in our future.

Forget Me Not is by turns sad and funny, and just plain fun. This one-man triumph is equal parts mystery, comedy, storytelling, social commentary — and 100 per cent entertaining.” – Janice Sawka, Winnipeg Free Press. “the best way to draw attention to an issue is make it as funny -and heartbreaking – as hell.” – Sara Tate, CBC Manitoba.

Weaksauce

Sam S. Mullins brings back to the Edmonton Fringe his 2013 show with the worst title of that year: Weaksauce. We saw it at the Montreal Fringe. Here’s my Apartment 613 review. Parents should bring their teenage sons. Young men should bring a date. Young ladies swoon. As CBC Manitoba put it, “Show most likely to leave you pantsless: Weaksauce.” – “So appealing that when the lights went up I was surprised to see I was still

dressed – I was sure he had charmed the pants right off of me.”

The Pre-History of Moses P

Moses P has just been elected as an MP and he moves to Cape Town with his wife to take up his duties. Then he discovers a cache of photographs in their newly purchased house and his world unravels. As Wendy King of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote in her review: “South African storyteller Erik De Waal deftly spins out a moving 60-minute tale that details not just the social injustices, but the arbitrary and intimate cruelties of the country’s apartheid system.”

I missed De Waal’s performance in 2011 at the Winnipeg Fringe. I’m so glad I got a chance to see it this time. It’s new to the Edmonton Fringe.

Letters to West 113th

Very early at the Winnipeg Fringe an enthusiastic young woman flyered us about Jeff Newman’s mentalist show. We went early in the run and confirmed that her enthusiasm was well founded. Several of his mentalist tricks still have me scratching my head. Or as CBC Manitoba reviewer Joff Schmidt wrote: ‘there are plenty of moments in this entertaining magic show that will leave you asking, “How did he know that?”’ We were at the same show as Schmidt and left asking the same question. As Schmidt concluded: “it’s a magically intriguing fringe experience.”

What Newman didn’t know was the identity of the woman who flyered us. For good reason: she was a patron who had seen Newman’s opening night show. She loved the show so much that she grabbed a deck of Newman’s flyers and went out to sell his show to anyone who would listen! Now THAT’S word of mouth!

Macbeth Muet

This was a treat of the 2016 Ottawa Undercurrents Festival. It was SO much fun! I wrote in my review: “This is the silliest production of Macbeth I’ve ever seen. And it is well-crafted silliness.”

Let’s be clear. Although there were many chuckles in the audience on opening night, Macbeth Muet is more silliness than laugh out loud comedy. This is a light-hearted pastiche. Shakespeare would probably approve.

It’s not all yucks however. I saw it again in Winnipeg. When the Macduff family is slaughtered the room turned eerily quiet in horror.

Don’t just take my word for it. Randall King of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote: “This is a display of sheer theatrical invention, certainly a must-see on your fringe menu.”

Harold of Galactus: the Improvised Comic Book

Strictly speaking I haven’t seen this year’s show, but then neither has anyone else. Because it’s improvised, duh! But I did see Mark Meer and Chris Craddock work their improv magic last year. Impressive! I hear they’ve added a new member to the team: improv artist Jacob Banigan will be doing live animation.

Hockey Night at the Puck and Pickle Pub

We saw this show early in its premiere run at the 2013 Winnipeg Fringe. Ryan Gladstone and Jon Paterson were trying (successfully) to throw each other off their lines. Their stumbles and recoveries were as funny as the script. In spite of the rocky performance, as John Sadoway of CBC Manitoba wrote: “It was hilarious.” But he did suggest waiting for them to settle into the script.

It’s a fast madcap script that apparently took some time to gel on the Fringe circuit. However, by the time of the Vancouver Fringe, Lois Patterson of Plank Magazine wrote: “The timing of the piece is impeccable. You do feel like you are in a nail-biting, continually exciting game.”

We loved the rough cut version. We saw the polished version this year at the Winnipeg Fringe. We loved it even more. We brought relatives. They loved it even more than we did.

The Canada Show

In 2001, Monster Theatre brought The Canada Show to the Winnipeg Fringe. According to co-author Ryan Gladstone, “The morning after watching the show, our billet in Winnipeg made us waffles for breakfast, and when we were all together and fed, she got out a notepad and started giving us notes.”

They must have paid attention, because in 2002, Monster Theatre brought The Canada Show to the Ottawa Fringe:  The entire history of Canada in one hour (minus the boring bits).  Their premise was that Canadian history could be interesting, provided that you skipped the parts that made people yawn.

It was a sensation. Sold out houses and five-star reviews across the Fringe circuit.

Now Monster Theatre has updated and remounted the show with a new cast. They had sellouts in a big venue at the Winnipeg Fringe. Go early before the crowds hit.

Blind to Happiness

is my favourite Tim C. Murphy show. Period. Dramaturged by T.J. Dawe and it shows. I enjoyed every minute.

But don’t take my word for it. Nick Bachusky of Apartment 613 peppered his review with pull quotes: “Do yourself a favour and buy tickets in advance for this performance.” “Murphy loves what he does and brings with him a perfected script.” “I can highly recommend this play and you will be lucky to see it for sure. Blind to Happiness is well worth every penny.”

Wooster Sauce

In 2008, Patrick Langston of the Ottawa Citizen called John D. Huston’s Wooster Sauce “a ‘must-see’ at the Fringe”. The Ottawa Fringe that is.

Huston plays all the characters, including the eponymous Bertie Wooster and his ever practical butler, Jeeves.

We saw this show again in Winnipeg this year. Huston’s performance is impeccable.

Huston performed Wooster Sauce at the Edmonton Fringe in 2008. High time for a remount.

Swordplay: a Play of Swords

If Watch out Wildkat! leaves you wanting more from Sex T-Rex, they’re offering a double bill at the Edmonton Fringe. This new show is a mashup of The Princess Bride and 8-bit video games. The imagery is less cinematic than W.O.W! and more low-res video effects. There’s less emphasis on plot and more on unexpected twists and turns (like a video game). Randall King of the Winnipeg Free Press sums it up best: “Intricately staged, but with a freewheeling sense of fun”.

Olive Copperbottom

Penny Ashton follows up on the success of her Jane Austen sendup Promise and Promiscuity, with a mashup of Charles Dickens.

Randall King of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote: “No fringe performer is quite as adept as New Zealand’s Penny Ashton when it comes to blending high and low comedy.” He calls the show “a frothy margarita of theatrical fun, with a pronounced tequila kick.”

Michelle Palansky of CBC Manitoba says “Ashton is a one-woman-show wonder.” and “Olive Copperbottom is a delicious slice of Victoriana with something to please every palate.”

6 Quick Dick Tricks

Tim Motley is back with his signature film noir character Dirk Darrow. We saw this show at last year’s Edmonton Fringe. My wife loved it so much, she saw it again at this year’s Ottawa Fringe. Ottawa audiences loved it too, resulting in a Best of Fest.

What’s the attraction? David Currie of Apartment 613 wrote: “Having the opportunity to watch six incredible acts of illusion in one hour is certainly worth the cost of admission.” Yup!

Motley was performing in a relatively small space last year, so many people probably missed him. Consider yourself lucky to get another chance.

Lovely Lady Lump

Lana Schwarcz returns for the first time since her 2009 show Grandpa Sol and Grandma Rosie. Previously she took on the topic of aging. This time her show about cancer won the Outstanding Solo Award at last year’s Ottawa Fringe.

The Apartment 613 reviewer concluded: “True to her promise, she finishes with humour. But if her final material is so funny, why were two warm tears sliding down my cheeks when I stopped laughing to applaud?”

Shannon Sampert of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote “There are moments of great hilarity and moments that leave you sobbing,”

African Folktales with Erik de Waal

Joff Schmidt of CBC Manitoba says it best about this kids favourite: “Erik de Waal has become a reliable Fringe mainstay with his delightful renditions of traditional folktales.” “for toddlers and elementary school-aged kids, de Waal is a reliable bet.”

Each year, de Waal has new tales for his young audience.

73 Seconds

For a while this was a sleeper at this year’s Winnipeg Fringe. We went to see it because the same company produced No Belles in 2015. We liked the background stories of these remarkable people who are known only for the Challenger Shuttle disaster. Then we kept running into people who said “Have you seen 73 Seconds yet? I loved that show.”

It turns out that Mary Agnes Welch agreed with them. In her Winnipeg Free Press review she wrote: “It makes for a tight, absorbing hour.” and “evolves neatly into a poignant meditation on our connection to history,”

Circus Firemen

Reviewers at Fringe Festivals ignore outdoor buskers and musicians. By the time the buzz found us, we had missed the Circus Firemen in 2014 at the Winnipeg Fringe. But they flyered us, and told us why we should see their show, on a train leaving Toronto last fall. So in 2015 I made time in my busy schedule to catch their outdoor act. They juggle flaming batons while balancing on straight ladders! And they’re funny! What more do you need to know? Don’t forget to put some money in their hats afterwards.

Big Wheel Show

I had a spare hour so I sat down at the outdoor stage at this year’s Winnipeg Fringe to check out Hannah Cryle’s acrobatic show involving a big steel wheel out in the open. Cryle starts out slowly to gain the confidence of her audience as she rolls among the crowd inside the heavy wheel. Then she recruits a couple of volunteers and the tricks become more and more impressive. Her finale is a real crowd-pleaser. Lots of people put folding money in her hat afterwards, myself included.

Szeretlek

This is the most family friendly show of the bunch. Definitely kid friendly. Adults seem to like it too. The night I went, the performers had the entire audience up on their feet learning a Hungarian folk dance. In staid old Ottawa!

Brie McFarlane of New Ottawa Critics wrote: ‘Definitely in the running for “Most Adorable Show” at the 2017 Ottawa Fringe Festival, Szeretlek: A Hungarian Love Story will satisfy your sweet tooth.’

Julia Bueneman of Apartment 613 wrote: “I really enjoyed this show – it’s family-friendly, funny (I laughed out loud several times) and adorable.”

C-

From the Fringe program, you might be fooled into thinking that C- is just another millennial’s story about being a few years out of university. In fact, storyteller Eric Jaffe covers a few decades with insights gained from the school of hard knocks.

In Ottawa, audiences seemed to fall into two camps. Geeks (engineers, computer programmers, mathematicians) liked the show. Folks from the Arts, especially theatre, were much less enthusiastic. Be forewarned.

As Vanessa Turpin of Apartment 613 wrote: “Jaffe is an excellent storyteller. On stage he is relaxed, captivating, and commands the audience’s attention with ease. Many laughs were to be had from his effortless jokes and relatable storyline about how perspectives change as you age.”

Aspergers; a Tale of a Social Misfit

High functioning individuals with Aspergers can do very well in Mathematics and Science … but stand-up comedy? It turns out the answer is yes. For example:

When Adam Schwartz was 12, his mother told him he was autistic.

“At the time I was like, ‘Sweet!’ ” he says. “So I tried my hand at painting, but that didn’t take. Pottery didn’t work out so well, either.” Winnipeg Free Press

Schwartz has been performing stand-up comedy for 7 years. We saw him at the 2013 Winnipeg Fringe.

We saw his show because Andrew Friesen (CBC Manitoba) wrote: “Schwartz’s experiences with Asperger’s prove to be a surprisingly deep well of comedy.” We took a chance on Schwartz. You can too.

Reuben Dot Dot Dot

This is one of the highest busker shows I’ve seen at any Fringe Festival. But Reuben performs his high pole act solo! He does recruit four strong volunteers to keep him aloft, but none of them have any training or experience with the act. Well worth folding money in the hat.

Undead Newlyweds

This is a zombie show unlike any other I’ve ever seen. This busking couple in wedding clothes work with fire in extremely close proximity. They have a fire extinguisher nearby, but those flames come awfully close to the gauzy material of the Bride’s wedding dress. Remembering this show still sends shivers up my spine.

Familiar performers are bringing brand new shows to the Edmonton Fringe that I haven’t had the opportunity to see. Don’t just stick to my above recommendations. Check out some new shows by A Little Bit Off, Keith H. Brown, Colossal Productions, Dead Rabbits Theatre, Die-Nasty, Guys in Disguise, Ingrid Hansen, Al LaFrance, Tim Mooney, Chase Padgett, Pop Goes the Opera, Randy Rutherford and Gemma Wilcox.

And Teatro La Quindicina is remounting The Exquisite Hour which premiered at the Edmonton Fringe in 2002.

I saw 28 shows at the Ottawa Fringe this year, 54 at this year’s Winnipeg Fringe, and 39 shows at last year’s Edmonton Fringe. Consequently I haven’t seen all the shows touring this year’s Edmonton Fringe. Plus my tastes don’t necessarily match yours. So go see some shows that I haven’t recommended.

Happy Fringing!

Coming to 2017 Winnipeg Fringe

Every year at least one of my friends and followers in Winnipeg asks for recommendations for the upcoming Winnipeg Fringe, based on what I’ve seen at the Ottawa Fringe. It’s already happened.

Last year I again posted my list on my blog. It had 195 hits. Given this moderate demand, I’m repeating the exercise. My list is based on shows I’ve seen at the Ottawa Fringe, last year’s Edmonton Fringe, the 2013 Montreal Fringe and previous Winnipeg Fringes.

There are 190 shows coming to the Winnipeg Fringe this year. I’m going to stick to shows that I’ve seen already (with a few exceptions); there will be lots of good shows outside this list. More about that later.

So here are shows that I’ve seen, that are coming to the Winnipeg Fringe this year, and that I’m recommending. I’m going to attempt some sort of rough rank order, but, like reviewing, that order is subjective. Frankly, many of these ranks are too close to call. Your mileage may vary.

Also, some comparisons don’t strictly make sense. What does it mean to rank a family-friendly show versus a mature show? Which type do you want to see? I happen to like both kinds, but not everybody does.

Some shows are not for everybody, no matter what my recommendation. Some shows may push you beyond your boundaries. Read the quoted reviews carefully.

6 Guitars

Returning to the Winnipeg Fringe, here’s another chance to catch this sellout show.

2013’s new kid at the Ottawa and Winnipeg Fringes, Chase Padgett, tied for Outstanding Solo Performance Award at the Ottawa Fringe Festival for his wonderful show, 6 Guitars. We saw the 60 minute version in Ottawa. We also saw the (even better) 90 minute version at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.

Here’s what Michelle Palansky of CBC Manitoba had to say about Padgett and the 90 minute version in her review: “Chase Padgett himself, who is clearly a superior type of alien being transported to Earth to deliver some fine Fringe fare. See this show.”

About 35,000 people go to the Winnipeg Fringe every year. Many of them haven’t seen 6 Guitars. Lots of people have seen it multiple times. This will probably still be hot ticket item.

Padre X

Marc Moir’s portrayal of Chaplain John Weir Foote was one of the big hits of the 2010 and 2011 Winnipeg Fringes. Little wonder. Janice Sawka of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote that Moir “captures his audience’s attention with a deceptive ease, and holds it for all 90 minutes.”

The Winnipeg Fringe audience was a lot smaller in 2011. Word of mouth will get out fast for this one. Get your tickets early.

The Honeymoon Period Is Officially Over

Gemma Wilcox has been called a “shape shifter supreme” for her performance in this multi-character one woman show. With the huge expansion of the Fringe circuit audience over the past decade, there are lots of people who haven’t seen this remarkable performance. She’s received accolades all over the Fringe circuit. Go and see why.

The Inventor of All Things

The Inventor of All Things is Ottawa’s favourite jem rolls show. It’s one of Winnipeg’s favourite jem rolls shows. He last performed this show at the Ottawa and Winnipeg Fringes in 2015. Unfortunately, some people missed it then because jem rolls sold out. Fortunately for those people, he’s brought the show back to Ottawa and Winnipeg.

Two reasons for the sellouts: (1) The show appealed to audiences beyond jem rolls’ fan base. (2) Many audience members saw the show more than once.

The Ottawa version was 60 minutes. It sold out again this year. Furthermore it won a Best of Fest award.

The Winnipeg version is 75 minutes. Expect sellouts.

The Canada Show

In 2001, Monster Theatre brought The Canada Show to the Winnipeg Fringe. According to co-author Ryan Gladstone, “The morning after watching the show, our billet in Winnipeg made us waffles for breakfast, and when we were all together and fed, she got out a notepad and started giving us notes.”

They must have paid attention, because in 2002, Monster Theatre brought The Canada Show to the Ottawa Fringe:  The entire history of Canada in one hour (minus the boring bits).  Their premise was that Canadian history could be interesting, provided that you skipped the parts that made people yawn.

It was a sensation. Sold out houses and five-star reviews across the Fringe circuit.

Now Monster Theatre has remounted the show with a new cast. Go early before the crowds hit.

Executing Justice

Bill Pats has revised his 2014 hit show from the Winnipeg Fringe. We missed it then because we couldn’t get tickets by the time word of mouth got to us. Meghan Mast of CBC Manitoba wrote: “Pats plays different characters with conviction. You’ll forget the story is fictional.”

Pats performed Executing Justice at the Ottawa Fringe to acclaim. Amanda Dookie of Apartment 613 wrote: “In terms of the acting this was the best solo performance I’ve ever seen at the Ottawa Fringe Festival, in the several years that I have been reviewing plays.” The reviewing team at Apartment 613 gave Pats a Runner-up for Best Performance.

Riveting!

Forget Me Not

Rob Gee’s second in his psychiatric nursing trilogy is one of his best shows. Lots of sellouts at the 2013 Winnipeg Fringe Festival, resulting in a Patrons’ Pick. The performance poetry is there, but now it serves a plot with an arc: a murder mystery set in an Alzheimer’s ward. One of the detectives has incipient Alzheimer’s, and he knows it. A humourous, clever, and highly sympathetic look at a condition that some of us will face in our future.

Forget Me Not is by turns sad and funny, and just plain fun. This one-man triumph is equal parts mystery, comedy, storytelling, social commentary — and 100 per cent entertaining.” – Janice Sawka, Winnipeg Free Press. “the best way to draw attention to an issue is make it as funny -and heartbreaking – as hell.” – Sara Tate, CBC Manitoba.

Wanderlust

Martin Dockery brings back his show that sold out at the 2012 Ottawa Fringe. Patrick Langston of the Ottawa Citizen wrote that Dockery is “a firebrand performer who mixes physicality with a sparkling sense of narrative and self-deprecation.” Allan Mackey of OnStage Ottawa wrote that Dockery is “a storyteller with the ability and the stories to keep you enthralled for a full 70 minutes.”

Weaksauce

Sam S. Mullins brings back to the Winnipeg Fringe his 2013 show with the worst title of that year: Weaksauce. We saw it at the Montreal Fringe. Here’s my Apartment 613 review. Parents should bring their teenage sons. Young men should bring a date. Young ladies swoon. As CBC Manitoba put it, Show most likely to leave you pantsless: Weaksauce – “So appealing that when the lights went up I was surprised to see I was still

dressed – I was sure he had charmed the pants right off of me.”

The Crumbs

Every show that I’ve seen The Crumbs do has been completely different. Long form improv that is fresh every time I see it. One year I saw them do a show at 4AM that was as good as anything I’ve ever seen them do. I usually reserve recommendations for shows that I’ve seen before. But the show you see from them will be different from any show I’ve seen. It’s high time I recommended these masters of improv.

Wooster Sauce

In 2008, Patrick Langston of the Ottawa Citizen called John D. Huston’s Wooster Sauce “a ‘must-see’ at the Fringe”. The Ottawa Fringe that is.

Huston plays all the characters, including the eponymous Bertie Wooster and his ever practical butler, Jeeves.

Huston performed Wooster Sauce at the Winnipeg Fringe in 2004. High time for a remount.

Hotter than Potter

Kaj Hasselriis of CBC Manitoba called Kieth H. Brown “hotter than Potter” in his review of Brown’s previous show. Brown decided that it would make a good title for his all new show. (It’s so new he made significant changes after opening night at the Ottawa Fringe.) He generated lots of word of mouth during his run, and sold out his last show.

Ian Huffam of New Ottawa Critics wrote: “with Hotter than Potter he keeps up the gold standard that those who have seen him perform before have come to expect.”

I will add that there were several teenagers in the audience when we saw the show. They loved the show, particularly the way Brown had a volunteer dispose of a playing card which later reappeared on stage. (No spoilers!)

6 Quick Dick Tricks

Tim Motley is back with his signature film noir character Dirk Darrow in an all new show. We saw it at last year’s Edmonton Fringe. My wife loved it so much, she saw it again at this year’s Ottawa Fringe. Ottawa audiences loved it too, resulting in a Best of Fest.

What’s the attraction? David Currie of Apartment 613 wrote: “Having the opportunity to watch six incredible acts of illusion in one hour is certainly worth the cost of admission.” Yup!

Roller Derby Saved My Soul

This is the little show that could. Nancy Kenny has performed RDSMS over 100 times! Audiences just keep coming back for more.

There’s been a lot of buzz about this show around the country. It sold out most performances and won a Patron’s Pick at the 2014 Winnipeg Fringe. The show received a nomination for Live / Best One Person Show in the 2014 Canadian Comedy Awards. CBC Canada Writes put it on its 2014 Fringe Must List. It won a 2011 Prix Rideau Award for Outstanding Fringe Production.

In her review, Alvina Ruprecht of Ottawa’s Capital Critics Circle called Nancy Kenny “an excellent comic actress who knows how to work her face,  control her emotions,  seize all the  the right moments and discipline her whole body.   Her  level of professionalism is obvious.  This is a feel good funny show with serious undertones Go see it.”

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen this show.

Macbeth Muet

This was a treat of the 2016 Ottawa Undercurrents Festival. It was SO much fun! I wrote in my review: “This is the silliest production of Macbeth I’ve ever seen. And it is well-crafted silliness.”

Let’s be clear. Although there were many chuckles in the audience on opening night, Macbeth Muet is more silliness than laugh out loud comedy. This is a light-hearted pastiche. Shakespeare would probably approve.

Angels & Aliens

This lovely two-hander from Jeff Leard (Zach Zultana) and Sydney Hayduk (Village Ax) charmed David Currie of Apartment 613 who wrote: “The play is so well built and the jokes that make it work so well that it is hard to imagine something not being forgiven. This is a touching and sensitive play that perfectly balances dark, sexual, and biting humour with whimsy.”

Hayduk and Leard charmed us too. Let them charm you.

2 For Tea

Don’t look for James and Jamesy to solve the problems of the world with exploratory discussion of redeeming social value. This is cotton-candy summer entertainment. Delightfully so.

Dana Ewachow of Mooney on Theatre captured it well here: “2 For Tea is a play that really understands how to please an audience. The play entertains with physical whimsy, delightful props, and general silliness.”

2 For Tea sold out Son of Warehouse when it first played the Winnipeg Fringe. It sold out and won Best of Fest in the large Academic Hall at the Ottawa Fringe last year. It’s at PTE Mainstage again this year, so it may be possible to get seats.

High Tea

If you like(d) 2 For Tea, then check out this entertaining sequel whose expanded scope requires the participation of the entire audience. This time, Jamesy’s imagination floods the stage to epic proportions.

This was a sellout at the 2014 Winnipeg Fringe. It was a sellout at this year’s Ottawa Fringe where it won a Best of Fest. Get your tickets early. As Kevin Prokosh of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote: “Their characterization is so nuanced, the choreography so precise, they don’t have to do much to be entertaining.”

Outside Joke

Every musical improv from these talented people is different. So, no I haven’t seen the show you’re about to see. But I have seen this troupe enough to recommend them when they’re at critical mass.

By the by, the members of OJ choose to do improv. That doesn’t mean they can’t perform in plays. For instance, this past year Andrea del Campo impressed us in the joint RMTC/NAC production of Brad Fraser’s Kill Me Now. I’ve lost track of the number of plays I’ve seen RobYn Slade in. So much talent on one stage.

Lovely Lady Lump

Lana Schwarcz returns with the show she performed at last year’s Winnipeg and Ottawa Fringes. Her show about cancer won the Outstanding Solo Award at last year’s Ottawa Fringe.

Shannon Sampert of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote: “There are moments of great hilarity and moments that leave you sobbing, but the 75 minutes is definitely time well spent”.

The Apartment 613 reviewer concluded: “True to her promise, she finishes with humour. But if her final material is so funny, why were two warm tears sliding down my cheeks when I stopped laughing to applaud?”

The Circus Firemen

Ever since these charming buskers flyered us for their show while they were boarding a train leaving Toronto, I’ve repeatedly gone out of my way to see their outdoor show at the Winnipeg Fringe. They always impress me.  They always put a smile on my face. I always drop some folding money in their hat. You should too.

Hockey Night at the Puck and Pickle Pub

We saw this show early in its premiere run at the 2013 Winnipeg Fringe. Ryan Gladstone and Jon Paterson were trying (successfully) to throw each other off their lines. Their stumbles and recoveries were as funny as the script. In spite of the rocky performance, as John Sadoway of CBC Manitoba wrote: “It was hilarious.” But he did suggest waiting for them to settle into the script.

It’s a fast madcap script that apparently took some time to gel on the Fringe circuit. However, by the time of the Vancouver Fringe, Lois Patterson of Plank Magazine wrote: “The timing of the piece is impeccable. You do feel like you are in a nail-biting, continually exciting game.”

We loved the rough cut version. Guess we’d better see the polished version.

Shakespeare Crackpot

Keir Cutler is back with last year’s show that raises the intellectual bar for the Fringe circuit. He’s quoting Mark Twain, Freud, Einstein and George Bernard Shaw. Yes there are laughs, but there’s serious content as well.

Barbara Popel of Apartment 613 put it best, writing: “If you’re up for an entertaining talk that encourages critical thinking, then Shakespeare Crackpot is your cup of tea. Even if you’re a Bardolator.”

Szeretlek

This is the most family friendly show of the bunch. Definitely kid friendly. Adults seem to like it too. The night I went, the performers had the entire audience up on their feet learning a Hungarian folk dance. In staid old Ottawa!

Brie McFarlane of New Ottawa Critics wrote: ‘Definitely in the running for “Most Adorable Show” at the 2017 Ottawa Fringe Festival, Szeretlek: A Hungarian Love Story will satisfy your sweet tooth.’

Julia Bueneman of Apartment 613 wrote: “I really enjoyed this show – it’s family-friendly, funny (I laughed out loud several times) and adorable.”

I saw 26 shows at the Ottawa Fringe this year, 39 at last year’s Edmonton Fringe and about 55 at the 2015 Winnipeg Fringe. Consequently I haven’t seen all the shows touring to this year’s Winnipeg Fringe. Nor have I seen any of the local productions like Knavish Hedgehogs or Kiss the Giraffe. So go see some shows that I haven’t recommended.

Happy Fringing!

Coming to 2016 Vancouver Fringe

It’s been another wonderful year for seeing shows on the Fringe circuit. The number of high quality productions continues to be amazing.

So why am I writing recommendations for the Vancouver Fringe?

Reason one. Two years ago I posted a set of recommendations on this blog. Similar lists this year were popular in Edmonton and Winnipeg. There were over 50 hits. This is about ten times the number of friends I have in Vancouver. So there’s a demand.

Reason two. We’ve seen many sellouts at the Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa Fringes. Especially early sellouts. We’ve seen a lot more shows start to sell out on the first or second performance. Advance ticket sales at these Fringes were way up, even before they started. I expect that the same will be true for the Vancouver Fringe. Pick your shows early.

Reason three. This year we attended the Edmonton Fringe (but not the Winnipeg Fringe). So I have some picks from that fringe this time around.

My list is based on shows I’ve seen at the Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa Fringes over the years. I’m posting it on my blog so it’s visible to all my Twitter followers as well as my Facebook friends.

There are over 100 shows coming to the Vancouver Fringe this year. I’m going to stick to shows that I’ve seen already; there will be lots of good shows outside this list. More about that below.

So here are shows that I’ve seen, that are coming to the Vancouver Fringe this year, and that I’m recommending. I’m going to attempt some sort of rough rank order, but, like reviewing, that order is subjective. Your mileage may vary. Some shows are not for everybody, no matter what my recommendation. Read the reviews carefully.

There are thirteen recommendations below. You may not be able to see them all. So read the descriptions and reviews and decide which appeal to you personally.

Butt Kapinski

This was one of my personal favourites of the 2015 Winnipeg Fringe. It’s one of the wildest, most unpredictable shows I’ve ever seen on the Fringe circuit. The entire audience participates in this show. No seat is safe. Particularly for men.

Michelle Palansky of CBC Manitoba captures this very well here: “It takes an incredible amount of talent and training to bring a disparate group of audience members together to create the film noir experience that is Butt Kapinski, and Deanna Fleysher pulls it off with courage, style and humour.”

Not for the stage shy.

Love is a Battlefield

The Concrete Drops (Martin Dockery and Vanessa Quesnelle) are back with another two-hander following their success with Moonlight after Midnight. Once again it is hard to describe the play without giving away spoilers. Allow time afterwards to discuss this show with others who have seen it. We know two theories of what actually happened. You may think of others.

Patrick Langston of the Ottawa Citizen called this show a “gripping production”.

We’ve seen this show twice, first at the Ottawa Fringe, and then at the Edmonton Fringe. The Concrete Drops have made improvements to the script that tighten up the tension.

Best Picture

Another Patron’s Pick at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, Best Picture combines the talents of Fringe veterans Tara Travis, Jon Paterson and Kurt Fitzpatrick. It’s a treat for film fans to see how many Academy Award winners they can spot in an hour. As John Sadoway of CBC Manitoba wrote: “Best Picture offers a madcap romp through all 86 Academy Award winning films”. Every summer needs cotton candy. This is a cotton candy show.

Jamie Portman of the Capital Critics Circle called Best Picture “A Treat for Oscar Buffs”. Every summer needs cotton candy. This is a cotton candy show.

Best Picture had several sellouts at the Ottawa Fringe.

GET LOST jem rolls

Last year, performance poet Jem Rolls stepped out of his comfort zone and changed genres from poetry to storytelling with The Inventor of All Things, which had sellouts across the Fringe circuit. This time he combines storytelling and performance poetry.

Apartment 613 sent two reviewers to see GET LOST. Julia Bueneman called it “An absolute must-see.” The other reviewer wrote: “GET LOST will be a different show every night. Are you up to the challenge?”

Are you?

Bella Culpa

This is the latest offering from Portland company A Little Bit Off who delighted audiences on the Fringe circuit last year with the family friendly Beau and Aero. Last year we saw them perform in a small venue early in their run at the Winnipeg Fringe. This year we saw them with a packed audience in a large venue at the Edmonton Fringe. Once again the show is family friendly. (The little girl behind us giggled so loudly that the entire audience heard her.)

Matt McLaren of Showbill summarized why you should see this show: “Picture the best possible mash-up of Downton Abbey, Marcel Marceau and the Looney Toons.”

2 For Tea

Don’t look for James and Jamesy to solve the problems of the world with exploratory discussion of redeeming social value. This is cotton-candy summer entertainment. Delightfully so.

Dana Ewachow of Mooney on Theatre captured it well here: “2 For Tea is a play that really understands how to please an audience. The play entertains with physical whimsy, delightful props, and general silliness.”

2 For Tea sold out Son of Warehouse when it first played the Winnipeg Fringe. It sold out and won Best of Fest in the large Academic Hall at the Ottawa Fringe this year.

The Jupiter Rebellion: A Zach Zultana Adventure

With only his voice, his body, a chair and a bar stool, Jeff Leard paints all the mental images of this science fiction epic, complete with camera movements. A treat to behold. As Barbara Popel of Apartment 613 wrote: “He had the opening night audience eating out of his hand within 5 minutes. Much hilarity ensued!”

While the title of the show has been improved, Popel’s recommendation still stands: “If you have a modicum of imagination and if you love a good story, put” The Jupiter Rebellion: A Zach Zultana Adventure ‘on your “must see” list.’

Til Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIII

If you’ve seen Tara Travis in Best Picture you know that she handles multiple characters adroitly and with aplomb. Now you have another opportunity to see what Travis can do when she kicks Patterson and Fitzpatrick off the stage.

With seven characters, there’s quite a bit of exposition at the beginning. Then the show gets into gear. As Joff Schmidt wrote:

‘But once it gets going, Gladstone and Travis deliver plenty of laughs, a fresh take on history, and a “you go girl” ending that feels like it finally gives a proper voice to Henry’s wives.

Travis’ outstanding performance makes it worth hearing what they have to say.’

War and Peace

Monster Theatre once again condenses a huge story into a mere 60 minutes. This was one of our pleasant surprises of this year’s Edmonton Fringe. Ryan Gladstone connected with the audience to make us care about so many characters from Tolstoy’s epic novel. How?

Shereen Zink of Vue Weekly put it best: “If you think that a one-man show about one of history’s longest novels would be dull, you’d be wrong. Ryan Gladstone not only tells the story of War and Peace within an hour, he also manages to fit in mini-history lessons of Napoleon, the Russian naming structure, the background of the author, and more.”

An hour well and delightfully spent.

Smut Slam

Cameryn Moore (Phone Whore, slut (r)evolution) brings a different kind of experience to the Fringe circuit. If you’re familiar with poetry slams or story slams, then this is an erotic take on the slam experience. Moore acts as the emcee to an open mic session of erotic storytelling. Tellers are limited to 5 minutes (strictly enforced) to tell tales of personal sex experiences. Moore warms up the room by starting with one of her own tales.

The topic seems to bring out the best in, and the best of storytellers. Why? As Moore told Ottawa’s Apartment 613: “People are shy. But once I tell a story or one of my judges tells a story, when they see that I don’t mean Penthouse letters, I mean actual stories. People see that ‘Oh, I’ve had an experience that I want to tell about.’”

Get your tickets early. Smut Slam often sells out.

2 Ruby Knockers, 1 Jaded Dick: A Dirk Darrow Investigation

This show was so popular on the Fringe circuit in 2014 that Tim Motley has decided to bring it back. It sold out at last year’s Winnipeg Fringe.

Since this is a prequel to Tim Motley’s Dirk Darrow NCSSI, you don’t have to have seen Motley’s previous Fringe show. Ruby Knockers is even more popular, having won a Patron’s Pick at last year’s Winnipeg Fringe. As Pat St. Germain of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote: “Amazing card tricks, mind games and groaners galore add up to 60 minutes, or more, of pure entertainment”. Keep your pencils for use during the show.

V. R. Dunne

I’ve seen Howard Petrick’s (Breaking Rank, Never Own Anything You Have to Paint or Feed) latest show twice – once at the world premiere at the Ottawa Fringe and then at the Edmonton Fringe. Petrick hit his stride with this show by the time he performed in Edmonton.

Tom Murray of the Edmonton Journal captures the importance of this show here: “Dunne … rose to the occasion as a leader in the bitter, hard-fought labour wars that eventually changed the city into a union town and had repercussions all through the country.”

And how! The Minneapolis truck drivers’ strike of 1934 won workers in the USA the right to organize.

Murray concludes: “it’s not just the forgotten history that makes V.R. Dunne so engrossing — it’s the urgent, timely message that the man brings.”

Charlatan

This is magician Travis Bernhardt’s latest show, where he demonstrates the techniques by which so-called psychics ply their trade. How does he do? Well, Max D’Ambrosio of Showbill wrote that Charlatan is “in the running for the most edifying and unsettling experience of this Fringe.”

I saw only 39 shows at this year’s Edmonton Fringe, about 55 at last year’s Winnipeg Fringe, and 31 at this year’s Ottawa Fringe. Consequently I haven’t seen all the shows touring to the Vancouver Fringe. Nor have I seen any of the local productions. So go see some shows that I haven’t recommended.

Happy Fringing!

Coming to 2016 Edmonton Fringe

It’s been another wonderful year for seeing shows on the Fringe circuit. The number of high quality productions continues to be expand.

So why am I writing recommendations for the Edmonton Fringe?

Reason one. For four years I’ve posted recommendations for the upcoming Edmonton Fringe via the #yegfringe hashtag, based on what I’ve seen at the Winnipeg Fringe and Ottawa Fringe.  First on Facebook then three times on this blog. Last year there were 371 hits. So there’s a demand.

Reason two. Once again we saw early sellouts at the Ottawa Fringe. We saw a lot of shows sell out on the first or second performance. Advance ticket sales were way up from two years ago, even before they started. I expect that the same will be true for the Edmonton Fringe. Pick your shows early.

Now for some bad news and some good news. The bad news is that this year we didn’t go to the Winnipeg Fringe. Therefore my list is going to be about half as long as previous years. The good news is that we’re coming to the Edmonton Fringe instead. Performers have told us for years that we should try the Edmonton Fringe. This year we have an opportunity in the form of a billet, so we’re going to be Edmonton Fringe virgins!

My list is based on shows I’ve seen at the Ottawa Fringe this and previous years, and at the Winnipeg Fringe last and previous years. I’m posting it on my blog so it’s visible to all my Twitter followers as well as my Facebook friends.

There are over 1500 performances of 213 shows scheduled at 44 venues at the Edmonton Fringe this year. I’m going to stick to shows that I’ve seen already; there will be lots of good shows outside this list. More about that below.

So here are shows that I’ve seen, that are coming to the Edmonton Fringe this year, and that I’m recommending. I’m going to attempt some sort of rough rank order, but, like reviewing, that order is subjective. (Many of the differences in my ranks are miniscule.) Your mileage may vary. Some shows are not for everybody, no matter what my recommendation. Read the reviews carefully.

There are 15 recommendations below. I don’t expect you’ll see them all. So read the descriptions and reviews and decide which appeal to you personally.

Nashville Hurricane

Chase Padgett brings his 2014 Winnipeg Fringe hit. Joff Schmidt of CBC Manitoba wrote: “Nashville Hurricane is a Fringe force of nature. Don’t let it pass you by.” Padgett brought it to Winnipeg again this year, where it generated the most Twitter traffic on the #wpgfringe hashtag.

Anatolia Speaks

This sleeper about a Bosnian immigrant in Edmonton starts out slowly, then worms its way into your heart … and doesn’t let go. Written and directed by Ken Brown (Spiral Dive). As Randall King of the Winnipeg Free Press puts it: “Candice Fiorentino really delivers the goods, delineating a character arc that takes her from a cute comic figure to a tragic heroine in breathtakingly subtle increments.”

Three Men in a Boat

This theatrical version of Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat was a popular and critical success at last year’s Ottawa Fringe. The show sold out three times during its run. It received two awards: Outstanding Ensemble and Runner-Up for Capital Critics Circle Best Show.

Here’s a sample of the critical response. Capital Critics Circle: “a funny, fast-paced, witty comedy and a true artistic experience”. Apartment 613: “truly theatre at its best”. On Stage Ottawa: “absurdly delightful, through and through”.

Then in Winnipeg, the show received glowing reviews and more sellouts. Shawna Dempsey of CBC Manitoba wrote, “The buffoonery is pure delight and the 60 minutes flew by. I dare you to not enjoy this show! Good silly fun, flawlessly executed.”

Kind Hearts and Coronets

John D. Huston brought this three hander to the Winnipeg Fringe in 2006 and promptly got a five star review. The show sold out the rest of its run.

Alison Boyce and Brian D. Webb played the leads, and Huston played all the other parts. This year Alex Forsyth, Julia Seymour are the leads and Huston is once again relegated to all the costume changes.

Personally this is one of my favourite John D. Huston shows.

Love is a Battlefield

The Concrete Drops (Martin Dockery and Vanessa Quesnelle) are back with another two-hander following their success with Moonlight after Midnight. Once again it is hard to describe the play without giving away spoilers. Allow time afterwards to discuss this show with others who have seen it. We know three theories of what actually happened. You may think of others.

Patrick Langston of the Ottawa Citizen called this show a “gripping production”.

High Tea

Don’t look for James and Jamesy to solve the problems of the world with exploratory discussion of redeeming social value. This is cotton-candy summer entertainment. Delightfully so.

This was a sellout at the 2014 Winnipeg Fringe, so get your tickets early. As Kevin Prokosh of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote: “Their characterization is so nuanced, the choreography so precise, they don’t have to do much to be entertaining.”.

Best Picture

A Patron’s Pick at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival and Best of Fest at the Ottawa Fringe, Best Picture combined the talents of Fringe veterans Tara Travis, Jon Paterson and Kurt Fitzpatrick. It’s a challenge for film fans to see how many Academy Award winners they can spot in an hour.

Jamie Portman of the Capital Critics Circle called Best Picture “A Treat for Oscar Buffs”. Every summer needs cotton candy. This is a cotton candy show.

Best Picture had several sellouts at the Ottawa Fringe.

GET LOST jem rolls

Last year, performance poet Jem Rolls stepped out of his comfort zone and changed genres from poetry to storytelling with The Inventor of All Things, which had sellouts across the Fringe circuit. This time he combines storytelling and performance poetry.

Apartment 613 sent two reviewers to see GET LOST. Julia Bueneman called it “An absolute must-see.” The other reviewer wrote: “GET LOST will be a different show every night. Are you up to the challenge?”

Are you?

Red Wine, French Toast & The Best Sex You’ve Ever Had

This was a lovely surprise from Toy Guns Dance Theatre’s first appearance at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. As Joff Schmidt of CBC Manitoba wrote: ‘If you worry that dance theatre takes itself too seriously, that you won’t “get it,” or that it can’t make you laugh, this is the show for you. It’s funny, it’s sassy, and it’s also impressive physical work.’

The Jupiter Rebellion: A Zach Zultana Adventure

With only his voice, his body, a chair and a bar stool, Jeff Leard paints all the mental images of this science fiction epic, complete with camera movements. A treat to behold. As Barbara Popel of Apartment 613 wrote: “He had the opening night audience eating out of his hand within 5 minutes. Much hilarity ensued!”

While the title of the show has been improved, Popel’s recommendation still stands: “If you have a modicum of imagination and if you love a good story, put” The Jupiter Rebellion: A Zach Zultana Adventure ‘on your “must see” list.’

Til Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIII

If you’ve seen Tara Travis in Best Picture you know that she handles multiple characters adroitly and with aplomb. Now you have another opportunity to see what Travis can do when she kicks Patterson and Fitzpatrick off the stage.

With seven characters, there’s quite a bit of exposition at the beginning. Then the show gets into gear. As Joff Schmidt wrote:

‘But once it gets going, Gladstone and Travis deliver plenty of laughs, a fresh take on history, and a “you go girl” ending that feels like it finally gives a proper voice to Henry’s wives.

Travis’ outstanding performance makes it worth hearing what they have to say.’

Shakespeare Crackpot

Keir Cutler is back with a new show that raises the intellectual bar for the Fringe circuit. He’s quoting Mark Twain, Freud, Einstein and George Bernard Shaw. Yes there are laughs, but there’s serious content as well.

Barbara Popel of Apartment 613 put it best, writing: “If you’re up for an entertaining talk that encourages critical thinking, then Shakespeare Crackpot is your cup of tea. Even if you’re a Bardolator.”

Cutler got very good reviews at the Winnipeg Fringe as well. For instance Kelly Stifora of CBC Manitoba wrote: “Cutler’s intelligence is beatific—you’ll want to believe everything he says, though he is begging you not to.”

Little Orange Man

This was a hit of the 2012 Ottawa Fringe that got lots of word of mouth early in the run. Tickets soon became very hard to get. Here’s an example of why. Allan Mackay of On Stage Ottawa called it: “one of my top theatre experiences ever”. Ever so charming.

Everybody Dies in December

Nancy Kenny previously wowed the Fringe circuit with her high energy show Roller Derby Saved My Soul. As you might expect with a title that says Everybody Dies, this show about a mortician is darker.

As Devan Mar of Apartment 613 wrote: “While not as high energy as Roller Derby, Everybody Dies In December is another excellent show that will likely become a fan favourite.”

Everybody Dies premiered in an intimate space at the London Fringe and in a large venue at the Ottawa Fringe. Red River College in Winnipeg was the right size space for the eye contact that Kenny maintains in the show. The show had sellouts in Winnipeg.

Note: some of the mortuary details may be a bit much for the squeamish amongst us.

5 Step Guide to Being German

Paco Erhard is an experienced stand-up comedian from Germany, who makes fun of Germans, Americans, the British, Canadians… to the delight of ‘Peggers who filled a 70-seat venue most nights at last year’s Winnipeg Fringe. As Joff Schmidt wrote: ‘Erhard is a stand-up pro. He’s fast, his material is solid, and he connects easily with his audience. He certainly takes down the stereotype of the “humourless German.”’

I saw 31 shows at the Ottawa Fringe this year, and about 55 at last year’s Winnipeg Fringe. Consequently I haven’t seen all the shows touring to this year’s Edmonton Fringe. Nor have I seen any of the local companies. Plus my tastes don’t necessarily match yours. So go see some shows that I haven’t recommended.

Happy Fringing!