Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fringe tops attendance record

Theatre festival already squashed it Saturday night

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Tragedy, comedy and food trucks, oh my! The 25th annual Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival wrapped up its silver anniversary yesterday with another year of record-breaking attendance.

Although final numbers weren't available at press time last night, Teri Stevens, publicist for the fringe, said indoor attendance had already reached 94,612 Saturday night, squashing the record from 2011: 87,851.

Though the number was still far from Edmonton's indoor attendance last year, 104,142, fringe producer Chuck McEwen is optimistic.

"We're so close. We're going to have to have another great day today. But the crowds have been just great despite how hot it's been," McEwen said. "It would help if we had a half a million more people to compete. That's a big difference in your basic audience to draw from, so we're really doing amazingly if you consider that. Winnipeggers love their festivals, and we are so grateful."

From the 17-person cast of the musical Bare to TJ Dawe's one-man tour-de-force performance in Medicine, the fest served up 172 indoor shows and more than 100 outdoor acts over 12 days of humid, humorous, moving and memorable theatre.

But the Winnipeg fringe is more than just the numbers.

For Greg Walker, who is celebrating 25 years as a festival volunteer, it's a chance to see exciting theatre among friends.

"I love everything about the fringe. I love the variety of shows that you can see and the fact that from one show to the next, you can see something that's completely different. The whole community of it, the volunteers, the people who attend, the staff are all great. I look forward to it year in and year out," Walker said.

In the blistering temperatures, which averaged about 30 C over the 12 days of the fest, street vendors of food, jewelry and knick-knacks spent hours under the hot sun trying to sell their goods.

"I don't know how I deal with the heat. I just do it," said Allen Mironuk, owner of the Sidewalk Sizzler, a food booth that's been serving up falafel, burgers and fries at the fringe for 12 years.

Mironuk said during the festival, he'll spend about eight hours a day cooking over a hot grill.

"If Mother Nature behaves, business is good. Out here, we get a collection of everybody, from affluent to street people, and they commingle for 12 days with very few problems, which is interesting considering all the issues we have in the city. But during the fringe, we have all these people together, and I think it says a lot for the city that they can get along."

The Winnipeg fringe also welcomes international visitors. Cameryn Moore has come to the Winnipeg fringe from Boston for three consecutive years.

Moore said she is part of a group of travelling performers who do the North American fringe circuit.

"I like the intense dedication to seeing shows that the Winnipeg audience generally has. Sometimes in places like Montreal, you get people going to like one or two shows, maybe. Here, there are so many people who are like almost keeping notches on their bedposts. They're like 'I'm going to see 20 this year, I'm going to see 30 this year,' and they're really committed to gorging on them," said Moore, who wrote and starred in the one-woman sex comedy power play (choose your own adventure). "I think a lot of us out-of-towners just really respond to how friendly and enthusiastic the Winnipeg crowd is. I get lonely touring, but you're always meeting new friends here."

Numbers, heat and anniversaries aside, McEwen said this year's festival was a success.

"I always say that when the fringe is on in the Exchange District, it really seems like a real community, with a real vibrancy with a breath of life into the area. For me, it was that opening Wednesday, and I looked out of my office window from MTC and it's noon and there are people everywhere. That's a wonderful thing," he said.

katherine.dow@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 30, 2012 B1

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