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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.