Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fringe benefits

Andrew Vineberg volunteered at this annual theatre festival and all he got was these awesome T-shirts

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Pop into any Value Village outlet in Winnipeg and chances are you'll trip over a few of those gawdawful, salmon-coloured polo tops that volunteers were required to wear during the 1999 Pan Am Games. (On the day we visited, we spotted two XLs priced to move at $2.99 each.)

More difficult to track down, however, is any manner of garb associated with the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. That despite the fact that during the fringe's 24-year run, thousands of commemorative clothing items have been distributed to volunteers who, every July, peddle tickets, seat theatre-goers and direct thirsty types to the beer tent.

"It's been my experience that 'our' people tend to hoard their stuff," says Chuck McEwen, executive producer of the 12-day event, on now until July 24. "There are a lot of fringe fans out there who've been with us since Year 1. That old tee or ball cap is almost like a badge of honour to them, in that it says, 'I've been around since the beginning, too.'" (The annual program is another fringe must-have, McEwen says. Every summer, McEwen's staff mails programs to expat Winnipeggers across North America who have no intention of taking in a show, but don't want to have holes in their collections.)

In summation, what McEwen is telling us is that anybody who wants to collect vintage fringe apparel is shirt-out-of-luck, right? Wrong.

Four years ago, Andrew Vineberg was a first-time volunteer and performer at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. One night after getting home from acting in a media satire called In Other News, Vineberg, then 13, received a present from his mother, Patricia.

"My mom had already been a volunteer at the Fringe, so she was good friends with a guy named Jim, who was her team leader," says Vineberg, who graduated from Oak Park High School this past June. "Jim told her they had all these old fringe shirts at 'hospo' (that's 17-year-old speak for the Manitoba Theatre Centre offices on Market Avenue) that they'd been hanging onto, but didn't know what to do with.

"He asked my mom if I might want a few, and she ended up coming home with more than a dozen shirts from a bunch of different years."

This week, when Vineberg isn't busy volunteering his time or appearing in the show Oh! Tannenbaum! at Venue 1, he'll be parading around the Exchange District sporting one of his 19 souvenirs from bygone festivals, such as 2004's bone-chilling Night of the Living Fringe, 2001's Fringe Survivor ("Outwit, outplay, outlast, outfringe") or 2000's 007-Fringe.

"I wear them year-round, but obviously more so now," says Vineberg, who this day has opted for a somewhat snug white T-shirt he received in 2008 for volunteering for the Sin City-themed Viva Las Fringe. "I like wearing items from my collection because it makes me feel like I'm part of things. That and they remind everyone who sees them what an important part of Winnipeg the fringe has become."

As to value, well, nobody's exactly asking Vineberg to sell him the shirt off his back just yet. But Vineberg, who turns 18 on the last Friday of the festival, does have some "artsy friends... hipster kids" who would kill for old theatre-festival shirts, he says. (As to that B-day, yes, Vineberg is planning to celebrate in the beer tent where, no, he has never, ever, set foot before, he assures us.)

"Maybe 20 years from now, after I've collected every single fringe shirt there is, I might consider selling (my collection) for millions of dollars," says Vineberg, who will study film and English at the University of Winnipeg in September. "But then again, who knows? The fringe has become such a part of me. Between performing and volunteering, it's given me so much, both emotionally and clothes-wise."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 16, 2011 E1

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