Fringe performers who come to stay in Winnipeg for two weeks form certain impressions of River City -- from complimentary to downright embarrassing.
"People cut you off here!" says Jon Deline, a shocked San Francisco clown from The Good, the Bad and the Stupid show. "In San Francisco, people have been shot with a gun for cutting somebody off on the freeway." He's noticed we're not much interested in using turn signals, either. Deline's troop of five drives a big honkin' 1994 GMC Suburban -- "basically a big SUV." (Talk about a big target.)
But the people his troupe meets at the Fringe make up for it, says Deline -- like Maggie, the St. Vital woman who's boarding Deline and the troop of four entertainers in her home. "She's even giving us stuff out of her garden and offered us her broom when ours broke in the show." Plus, audiences are very responsive in Winnipeg, he says. "They're really a joy."
Shelby Bond, a Hollywood standup comedian who's opened for Sarah Silverman, has been to the Fringe in Winnipeg nine times. He's the guy hanging around Old Market Square who looks like Huck Finn and does The Poor Man's Guide to Being Rich. "I've been staying in The Roslyn in Osborne Village, walking and biking, and I've been harassed three times by the bridge and even chased."
(OK. That's embarrassing. This is an honoured guest in our city. My personal friend Miss Lonelyhearts says: "Whoever's doing that, stop it RIGHT NOW!")
Luckily, it hasn't kept Bond away from the Winnipeg festival. In fact, he came a few days early.
"I love being down here and watching the district open up in the mornings, and I really like all the old buildings here and the brick. We don't have brick in Hollywood because of the earthquakes."
The fit Californian says he's been out for eats in the city and digs the brand new Boon Burger in the east Exchange District and he enjoys grocery shopping at Mondragon, as he's a health-food enthusiast.
"Oh, I find people are very friendly here," says Bostonian Cameryn Moore of fringe show Power Play. "Although some of them look away, trying to pretend they're too sophisticated to notice I'm wearing a tutu, fishnets and cowboy boots." And Moore's rarely separated from her big red umbrella.
She fits right in with our driving style in the Wild West. In fact, Moore drove herself here from Boston in her bashed-in '91 Toyota Corolla. It has two big dents where a deer hit the car, so she police-taped the shape of a deer on one dent and has The Deerinator written on the other. It tends to attract attention around town. But she's staying in the North End, known by Winnipeggers to be a tough neighbourhood where a lot of macho trucks have flame decals shooting down their sides, so the Deerinator is barely getting a sideways glance there.
Angus and Matilda are the Circus Firemen buskers from Melbourne, Australia, who pretend to be brothers onstage. Could it be because they do acrobatics where they are upside down staring at each other's crotches? "Well yes, that's precisely the reason!" says Angus.
Matilda, whose real name is Idris, nods sagely. "Idris!" says Angus, "now there's a name to get you beat up at school!"
The duo are on the road five to six months a year doing festivals as well as cruise-ship contracts. They have seen half the world, so they're pretty blasé.
"A city is a city. You could be anywhere in the world downtown here," says Matilda, looking across King Street. But something did impress them. The 20-somethings went to a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises and marvelled at Canada's giant popcorn boxes. "And we thought ours were big back home!"
On the serious side, the guys admit to Winnipeg's Exchange and downtown being a bit scary when it's very late at night and take taxis instead of the bus to go home to their billet near Portage Avenue and Arlington Street.
As for Winnipeg audiences: "They're remarkably similar to Australians -- similar cultures, both colonized by the British, with the same sense of humour -- but we have accents so people are more courteous and willing to give us the time of day."