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Festival leaves 'em laughing

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Paid attendance at this year's Winnipeg Comedy Festival was virtually unchanged from last year, despite a schedule that had two fewer gala shows at the Pantages Playhouse Theatre.

The 2013 edition of the festival attracted 10,232 paying customers, compared with a total paid audience of 10,361 last spring, festival officials reported late Monday. The numbers prompted artistic director Al Rae to declare last week's event one of the most successful festivals to date.

"I'm very happy," Rae said Tuesday. "It's really easy to see how it happened, with the addition of the Metropolitan (Entertainment Centre), which is two-thirds the size of the Pantages. It's another venue that we're filling up, and I would add, excitedly, that I think we're filling it up with a whole new audience... I think it's a great thing for us to be developing a new audience to help us move into the second decade of the festival."

The Pantages Playhouse -- traditional home to the fest's taped-for-TV galas -- was the site of just three paid-ticket shows this year, compared with six shows last year (including the non-televised Best of the Fest). One of the TV-gala slots was sacrificed to allow comedian Jon Dore to do a festival-wandering mockumentary that will air on CBC along with this year's taped galas, and Friday's "super gala" amounted to two shows performed in front of a single audience.

Rae said he will meet with officials from both the Met and the Pantages Playhouse to discuss technical issues -- sound quality in the newly refurbished Met still needs to be improved, he said, and climate-control issues at the Playhouse continue to be a problem, as evidenced by the slow-cooker environment endured by audience members at the lengthy two-for-one Friday gala.

"It was built in 1912, and it's a challenge," he said. "It's very fickle when the weather is changing, in terms of what they can do to make the temperature comfortable... We've had challenges in that venue since Year 1; there's only so much we can do as a renter to influence that, but I am an audience member as well, and we are very attentive to anything that makes our audience members uncomfortable."

In terms of artistic highlights, Rae pointed to the taping of XM Radio's Anything Goes show at the Gas Station Arts Centre, the gay-themed Coming Out Swinging, the Jonathan Torrens-hosted High School Confidential gala on Saturday night and the well-attended Idle No More panel discussion on Sunday afternoon.

Asked if there were any disappointments in this year's event, Rae said Dore's mock-documentary concept -- which at times clearly tried the patience of audiences that were asked to serve up fake reactions to contrived bits -- was something very different from what had originally been promised.

"I don't think the experiment worked terribly well for our audience," he said. "I was expecting more standup performance that was enjoyable for its own sake, and I don't think that was fully delivered. I hope it makes a terrific TV show, but was the experiment successful for the festival? No, it was not." Twitter:@BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2013 C3


Updated on Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 8:39 AM CDT: adds fact box

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