It’s been a banner year for seeing shows on the Fringe circuit. The number of high quality productions has been amazing. Especially notable has been the writing: so many good scripts this year. We’re used to seeing lots of good performers at Fringe Festivals, but usually wish for better scripts. This year our wish has been fulfilled… and then some.
So why am I writing recommendations for the Edmonton Fringe?
Reason one. Last year one of my friends in Calgary asked for recommendations for the upcoming Edmonton Fringe, based on what I’d seen at the Winnipeg Fringe and Ottawa Fringe. I posted a note on Facebook. Then followers on Twitter wanted to know the same thing. So I tweeted a link to that note, using the #yegfringe hashtag. Then more people from Edmonton followed me. So there’s a demand.
Reason two. We’ve seen more sellouts at the Winnipeg Fringe and the Ottawa Fringe than ever before. Especially early sellouts. We’ve seen a lot more shows start to sell out on the first or second performance. Advance ticket sales at both Fringes were way up, even before they started. I expect that the same will be true for the Edmonton Fringe. Pick your shows early.
This year, I’m making a pre-emptive strike. I’m writing this early. My list is based on shows I’ve seen at the Winnipeg Fringe, the Ottawa Fringe, the Montreal Fringe and The Canadian War Museum. 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 200 shows coming to 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. Your mileage may vary. Some shows are not for everybody, no matter what my recommendation. Read the reviews carefully.
Top of my list is Jake’s Gift. If you missed this at the 2008 Edmonton Fringe, 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 this year’s Winnipeg Fringe and still sold out. If you haven’t seen Jake’s Gift, don’t miss it.
Grim and Fischer
Wonderheads are bringing back Grim and Fischer, which was a huge hit at the 2011 Winnipeg Fringe. We saw it twice. Barb cried both times. We saw it again this year. It’s still magical. If you missed it the last time, GO SEE IT EARLY. It was a Patrons’ Pick in Winnipeg this year. Wonderheads have a wonderful trailer here.
Bruce Horak of Monster Theatre, who brought the astounding This is Cancer to last year’s Winnipeg Fringe, has a very different kind of show this year: Assassinating Thomson. Horak won an Outstanding Concept Award at the Ottawa Fringe. Here’s Alvina Ruprecht’s very warm review. “Very special indeed.” Horak also has one of the best posters I’ve seen on the Fringe circuit in years: poster (needs Twitter?). It’s rare that I see a poster that makes me want to see a show. If I hadn’t seen it already, this poster would put Assassinating Thomson on my wanna see list. CBC Manitoba gave Horak Outstanding Performance (Male) for it and ticket sales made it a Patrons’ Pick.
This marvelous script won a Dora award and a Chalmers award a few years ago. It shows a radio commercial announcer at the top of his game… when things start to go wrong. Lots of sellouts at the Winnipeg Fringe, where it was a Patrons’ Pick, and the Calgary Fringe. CBC Manitoba picked it as the Outstanding Drama of the Winnipeg Fringe. Here’s their 5 star review.
This folk musical dramedy from Theatre Howl in Saskatoon had so many sellouts at the Ottawa Fringe that we had to see it at the Winnipeg Fringe.
CBC Manitoba said “Theatre Howl have one of the best shows at the festival on their hands.” The Winnipeg Free Press said “the ambitious 75-minute musical is loaded with impressive songs and presentational flourishes that exceed expectations of a fringe show”. Get tickets early.
Be a Man
RibbitRePublic is remounting Be a Man this year. We saw the original in 2002 at the Ottawa Fringe Festival. The first performance this year with an all new cast got a highly quotable review from Apartment 613. “Be A Man is actually the show most Fringe shows wish they were.” Then one of the actors, Antony Hall, was hit by a car and the rest of the run in Ottawa was cancelled. We were going to attend the second performance. Instead we attended this remount in Winnipeg where it was hugely popular. Still a high energy show as in 2002, but with timely updates. And it still tugs the heart strings.
Countries Shaped Like Stars
This crowd pleasing little fantasy has filled theatres in Ottawa, Albuquerque, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Montreal, Regina and Whitehorse. Winner of three Prix Rideau Awards including Outstanding New Creation and Outstanding Fringe Show. Get your tickets early before the reviews hit the streets. You may not be able to get in afterwards.
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.
Forget Me Not
Rob Gee’s second in his psychiatric nursing trilogy is his best show yet. Lots of sellouts at the 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.
Promise and Promiscuity
This show was a triumph for Penny Ashton at the Winnipeg Fringe. Her combination of Jane Austen plot with her own double entendres brought big audiences from day one. The popular show won a Festival Patrons’ Pick award as well as CBC Manitoba’s Outstanding Out-of-Town Production.
Sam S. Mullins, who brought Tinfoil Dinosaur to last year’s Winnipeg Fringe has a new show with the worst title of the 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. He’s also had a lovely review from The Charlebois Post. 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.”
Peter ‘n Chris Explore Their Bodies
True confession time: I am not a Peter ‘n Chris fan. (I know. Sue me!) Neither is my wife, Barb. BUT! We really like their new show Peter ‘n Chris Explore Their Bodies. So does The Charlebois Post who have published warmly receptive reviews from Montreal here and Toronto here. So does Mooney on Theatre: review. For Peter ‘n Chris fans, this is their best show yet. For people who are not Peter ‘n Chris fans, this is a wonderfully inventive, exquisitely executed comedic romp. CBC Manitoba called them the Outstanding Comedy Duo.
The Show Must Go On
Performing for children is particularly demanding. You have to be good to keep their attention. No wonder this show about performing for children (but not a show for children) is so good! Jeff Leard got 4 star reviews from the Winnipeg Free Press and CBC Manitoba. He received an Honourable Mention from the Capital Critics Circle at the Ottawa Fringe.
If that’s not enough to convince you, here’s Stephen Hunt from his 5 star review in the Calgary Herald:
“Leard knows how to own the room better than most solo performers, and his writing is tremendous. He has the actor’s ability to fully commit to whatever he’s trying to sell, and the writer’s ability to detach from that all-in to provide a little context and perspective to the insanity of the events unfolding around him.
The Show Must Go On is a gem.”
Til Death: the Six Wives of Henry VIII
Tara Travis has packed theatres at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival for two years running with this one-woman six female character show. I’d have paid more attention to British History in school if Travis had been teaching it. Here’s the Winnipeg Free Press 5 star review. CBC Manitoba gave Tara Travis Outstanding Performance (Female) for her one woman show.
This is a little show that could.
RiderGirl has stirred up #RiderNation in Winnipeg, Regina, Ottawa, Hamilton, Estevan and Calgary. Calgary’s show was held over an extra night. Saskatchewan Roughriders fans flock to this show wherever it plays, wearing green. Word of mouth has preceded it to each new city or town that it plays. The Roughriders quarterbacks coach, Khari Jones, booked a private performance for his team’s players. And included Regina Mayor Michael Fougere.
CBC’s The National sent reporter Bonnie Allen to Estevan to report on the phenomenon. See the video.
But it isn’t just Riders fans who love this show. In Winnipeg, Bombers fans turned up in blue and gold (there’s a special price for audience members wearing CFL gear). The Bombers sent two mascots to the premiere. Each new location draws more critical acclaim and testimonials. A Christian radio station in Winnipeg gave the show a 4 1/2 star review in spite of over 30 instances of strong language. (Hey, it’s football.)
“This play is not just for football fans.” (Nicole Williams review at Hamilton Fringe.) You don’t have to be a CFL fan or a football fan to like RiderGirl. Even people who hate football love this feel good story of seeking passion and accomplishment in your job in the face of adversity.
Plus there’s a tailgate party two hours before the show. What more could you want?
Hot Thespian Action
Our billeters in Winnipeg regaled us about this act. (Word of mouth works.) They were right. You’ll never be able to look at a woman’s purse the same way again. This Winnipeg sketch comedy act has had sellouts in Winnipeg and Saskatoon. In Winnipeg, advance tickets sold out days ahead for the last half of the run. Fresh, innovative and very funny. We waited hours to get tickets. Book your tickets in advance.
Chris Gibbs is back with his dry deadpan humour that draws crowds of fans, and fans to be. Gibbs has been known to sell out every show from the first performance based on word of mouth alone. I’ve seen it happen at both the Winnipeg and Ottawa Fringes. Advance tickets advisable.
Don’t let Travis Bernhardt’s unassuming manner fool you. His gentle approach to magic has surprised and awed audiences at the Winnipeg Fringe for three years. Bernhardt had both adults and kids in audiences exclaiming “How did he do that?” at the Winnipeg and Saskatoon Fringes this year. This video recorded at the Saskatoon Fringe gives a taste that reviews can’t convey.
Roller Derby Saved My Soul
Another little show that could. RDSMS has received critical and popular acclaim in Ottawa (Prix Rideau Award, Jury Honourable Mention, Best in Fest), Hamilton (Best in Venue) and Montreal (Gazette Review). It also played the Swift Current Summer Chautauqua by invitation.
For instance, Alvina Ruprecht of Ottawa’s Capital Critics Circle wrote a glowing review that is typical of critical reaction: “What we see essentially then, is 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.”
You don’t have to like Roller Derby to enjoy this charming theatrical comedy.
You don’t have to like theatre to enjoy this kick ass story that has had roller derby players and fans laughing heartily and cheering loudly wherever it’s played. See what all the fuss is about.
Hip Bang! Improv
Improv can be hit or miss. Especially long form improv which has to run with one audience suggestion for the entire show. When we saw this bright duo at the Montreal Fringe, they were brilliant and the small audience loved them. They’d dig themselves into plot holes that seemed inescapable, and then promptly dig themselves out again. Judging from reviews, Twitter buzz and sellouts at the Toronto and Winnipeg Fringes, this pair of young improvisers hit much more often than they miss.
We (and her parents) took our 4 year old niece to see opera singer Melanie Gall’s first childrens’ show (directed by Erik de Waal). Before the show started, we asked her parents if she would want to meet the performer after the show. We needn’t have asked. Our niece was the first of seven children to go on stage for audience participation with Gall’s puppet mouse. Gall had the children singing Mozart on stage. Multiple times. Each time displaying a different emotion. As well, Gall had the audience singing scales, opera tunes, and “helping out” with the high notes of an aria. Lovely show for kids (and their parents). CBC Manitoba dubbed it Outstanding Kids Show.
African Folk Tales
Each year, Erik de Waal brings new folk tales for the enjoyment of kids and parents alike. His rapport with kids is almost instantaneous and seems effortless. The past two years the final tale of each show has carried a warning. Last year our 3 year old niece loved the show, but the last story scared her daddy, so she had to sit with him. This year a reviewer in Saskatoon had the same experience with her 3 year old son. Daddies be warned. This show sold out quickly in its run at the Winnipeg Fringe. It became a Patrons’ Pick. Get your tickets early.
Never Own Anything You Have to Paint or Feed
Howard Petrick (Breaking Rank!) turns his fine storytelling skills to history they didn’t teach you in school. His experience riding the rails and meeting former union organizers prepares him for his future of resisting the Vietnam War. “Some tales are funny, some are poignant and a few are so tall they block out the sun.” – Pat St. Germain, Winnipeg Free Press. “This is a train ride well worth hopping aboard.” Sara Tate, CBC Manitoba. Winnipeg audiences responded with a Patrons’ Pick.
Reviewers at Fringe Festivals ignore outdoor buskers and musicians. By the time the buzz found us, we had missed the Circus Firemen last year 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 this year 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.
This Prison, Or He Came Through the Floor
This quirky show exceeded our expectations after we picked it to fill an empty time slot. Rosie Fernandez of CBC Manitoba captured its essence as “Part philosophical contemplation and part physical comedy, this is a thoroughly enjoyable play.” The allegories of this short 45-minute play had us chatting for hours afterwards.
Returning after last year’s The Adversary, Andrew Bailey explores teenage angst in his confessional monologue with fresh existential and spiritual insights of surprising depth. The last line nailed me to my seat. Here’s CBC Manitoba’s 4 star review. The audience found plenty to laugh at…
and plenty to think about afterwards.
Hockey Night at the Puck and Pickle Pub
How can a show so underprepared, and so under-rehearsed be so very, very funny? Answer: Jon Paterson and Ryan Gladstone. Maybe by Edmonton this zany duo will be off book. Maybe they won’t need their cheat sheet. Maybe pigs will fly. Regardless, they will still be hilarious.
Tales from the Twilight
Bring a date; hold hands in the dark; pretend it’s Halloween. Erik de Waal’s ghostly stories left us wanting more for next year. Master storytelling of familiar and unfamiliar tales. Sometimes old school is still the way to do it.
Battle of the Bastards
Rosie Fernandez of CBC Manitoba nailed it in her review: “I never knew King Lear could be so funny.” Well, actually not the whole play; just Edmund, Edgar and their father the Earl of Gloucester. You don’t need to know the whole play to have a lot of fun in a short time.
Ask Aggie – The Advice Diva
We were going to give Ask Aggie – The Advice Diva a pass, but then Christine Lesiak gave us her pitch in answer to our question “Why do we want to see your show?” It took some probing, but she definitely convinced us. (“Flyering” works.) Now frankly the best part of the show, IMHO, is the improvised answers that Lesiak’s character gives to audience members’ written questions that they prepare before the show. Therefore, the quality of the show depends on the quality of the questions. So bring GOOD questions. Aggie’s answer to Barb’s question brought explosive laughter from the audience. Here’s The Charlebois Post’s review from a night of good questions.
A surprisingly fresh, updated take on Arthur Schnitzler’s Reigen (aka La Ronde), transposed from its 1920s performances in Berlin and Vienna to 21st century America. Sold out most of its run at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.
Here Lies Henry
Henry lies. All the time. But it takes Daniel MacIvor to make an entertaining script out of such a premise. And Murray Farnell to bring energy and spark to the role. From Andrew Friesen’s review for CBC Manitoba: “Actor Murray Farnell brings the titular character of Henry to life with energy and enthusiasm that is breathtaking.”
I saw only 56 shows at the Winnipeg Fringe, 29 at the Ottawa Fringe and 7 at the Montreal Fringe this year. So I haven’t seen all the shows touring to the Edmonton Fringe. Nor have I seen any of the local productions, like Teatro la Quindicina, Guys in Disguise, Die-Nasty, The Bomb-itty of Errors. And some touring performers are trying out new shows, like Chase Padgett’s Nashville Hurricane or Gemma Wilcox’s Magical Mystery Detour. So go see some shows that I haven’t recommended.
© Brian M. Carroll, 2013