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Fringe benefits: Let the countdown to summer begin

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As a young Winnipeg actor, I've seen many of my peers move to Toronto with high hopes. I'll admit I may one day be swept into the arms of that temptress to the east, but I'll refuse to call it home. I'm afraid Winnipeg and its theatre community has my heart and always will, no matter where I end up.

I could list a multitude of places I love in this city. One of my favourites (second to my parents' house) is the Exchange District during its summer hosting duties of the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.

Throughout the year, the Exchange District is a hotbed of creative activity. An array of fashion, art, music, dance, theatre, film, food and drink permeates some of the finest and most unique architecture in all of Canada and I strongly urge you to check it out. But for me, the Exchange District really gets its wings during those two blissful weeks in July when it transforms into the hub of the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.

This theatre geek, (and lover of all things street-meat related), is in heaven. Seemingly overnight, spaces in and around the Exchange District, some you never knew existed, become makeshift stages with fancy lights, moderately comfortable chairs and a couple of circulating fans thrown in for good measure.

For approximately $10 a show, I get the chance to see innovative, original theatre from all around the world: theatre that otherwise may never see the light of day. It is theatre that, in my humble opinion, boasts some of the most impressive productions I have ever seen. Weeks in advance I meticulously plan out my fringe-viewing schedule in order to maximize the amount of shows I can take in. I rest up in anticipation of the late nights sharing libations and listening to live music at the beer tent or the King's Head Pub. I charge the battery on my camera so as to not miss a moment of happy theatre-goers highlighted against the Exchange's vintage backdrop, (or perhaps for the modernists, the "Cube"). Above all, I love how Old Market Square becomes a reunion place for our community. Many times I've headed there alone, confident I'll find a fellow actor and friend eager to have me join their table.

I've only had the pleasure of performing in the Fringe Festival once. It was being in the midst of it all that summer that really opened my eyes to how lucky Winnipeg is to have such an amazing downtown space to host this festival (not to mention countless other events). I hope one day soon to be on the other side again, creating a new piece of theatre, shamelessly promoting it in the Fringe grounds, exchanging passwords with other performers and knowing all the details about that "secret" cabaret. But then again, performing may impede on my viewing time.

Samantha Hill is a proud Winnipeg actor. Her next project is playing Jean Fordham in the RMTC Warehouse performance of August: Osage County, opening March 8. As winter seems to have finally arrived, she has officially begun her countdown to summer. Let her know if you ever need a Fringe buddy. She'd gladly accompany you, just as long as you buy her a smokie.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 15, 2012 A8

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