Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Acting badly

By double-dipping into the fringe lottery system, it seems some companies aren't playing fair

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THE fringe festival rule is explicit: Each company is allowed one entry into the annual lottery which determines the participants of the Winnipeg theatre party.

So why are we seeing the same performers in two and even three fringe shows?

The four English actresses playing in The Importance of Being Earnest can also be seen in Lysistrata. In one, they belong to the Manchester Central Theatre Company, while in the other, they make up Eyewitness Theatre Company from Manchester.

Vancouver actor Darren Boquist appears in solo show Virtual Solitaire, with his girlfriend in The Secret Love Life of Ophelia and with his buddy in Entrepreneurs: A Hillbilly Comedy (substituting for A History of Hair).

Even locally, the mail brings two identical envelopes with publicity material for different shows, yet it is clear they came from the same person. Even the same type of paper clip is attached in the same place.

Clearly troupes are so anxious to get into the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival that they are increasing the chances of winning a spot via the lottery with multiple applications.

If one gets picked, good. If two are pulled, even better. Three, what luck!

Has fest executive producer Chuck McEwen noticed the blatant double-dipping?

"It is an issue," says McEwen, the main cog in this years's Fringe Factory. "We do our best to create a system that is fair and equitable. No matter how many rules we create, people will work around them."

In theory, fringe applicants throw their hat in the ring every December by submitting a company moniker along with a primary contact name. At that point it is impossible to identify any subterfuge. Then at the February lottery, about 120 names are drawn and each is assured a spot in the schedule.

That means 50-100 acts are shut out, although a few might make it into the festival off the waiting list if some winning companies cancel. Lottery losers can take the BYOV (Bring Your Own Venue) route and rent their own stage in the city and present as many shows as they can afford.

It's only as the July event approaches that McEwen can begin to spot the hanky-panky. Does everyone obey the rules?

"I will take the fifth (not to incriminate himself) on that one," says McEwen. "We only find out that these are the same companies way down the road."

For every company guilty of a double-up, another stays home. Is the economic downturn plaguing the Western world forcing needy theatre artists to cut ethical corners?

"It's not fair," says Gemma Wilcox, the one-time London actress appearing in 52 Pick Up. "I can empathize that people desperately want to get into these festivals, especially touring companies. It can be a big drag on time and finances if you have a huge gap in your tour."

Surely, a few double-ups can't hurt anyone?

"I heard of one case this year where someone got into a festival, decided not to do a show and wanted to sell their space to another company for more money than they paid,"

says Aussie fringe veteran Jonno Katz, the star of The Accident. "But the company would not pay more than the application fee. That is a big danger. If that goes on then people may end up scalping festival slots."

It could happen at festivals like in Winnipeg, where a good show can be lucrative.

Organizational heavy-handedness is anathema to fringe festivals, which by nature are egalitarian, anything-goes events. But wherever there is money to be made, abuses will occur. The situation calls for more than an abundance of good faith.



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 23, 2009 D5

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