MY favourite place in Winnipeg is Old Market Square, especially when the fringe festival is on and it is alive with people. In fact, that also holds true for the jazz festival and the many other concert and performance events hosted in the Square. Any time the stage is in use, it is amazing to see the diversity in the crowds who gather to sit on the grass, picnic tables and surrounding areas to watch.
When I first came to Winnipeg 12 years ago, I was intrigued to see there was this central area for the arts. I loved the historic feeling in the Exchange overall and then to find out there has been a Market Square since 1889 was really amazing. I was also enamoured with the fact it used to be the centre of Winnipeg's early commercial trade and now it has become a centre for arts and cultural events.
Prior to moving to Winnipeg, I lived in Toronto for three years. One of the reasons I chose to come here was because Toronto's arts community felt too large, too competitive and often too commercial. My first summer in Winnipeg, I remember going to Old Market Square and really feeling a sense of community. To see how the area became a hub at certain times of the year really demonstrated the strong arts and cultural life Winnipeg had to offer me.
Since then I have directed several shows in the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, I have attended hundreds of shows in the festival and spent a great deal of time between these shows in the Square. I've also seen great concerts and amazing outdoor entertainment. There is truly nothing like stopping in at Mondragon between shows for some food that you can eat while watching the outdoor stage. Or being in the Exchange for rehearsal and popping out for lunch hour concerts in the summer.
I see Old Market Square as a meeting place for artists. I often run into other theatre artists and members of the Winnipeg Independent Theatre umbrella as well as some of our great regular audience members.
This past year during the fringe, as I sat eating veggie curry near the island of sandwich boards, within a 10-minute span I bumped in to one of my former playwriting students, several actors I had worked with, an out-of-town artist I knew from when I was completing my studies and a couple of Sarasvti Productions' regular volunteers. It was like old home week!
When we have visiting artists in town for FemFest, our annual festival of women playwrights, I always send them to check out Old Market Square. If it's warm they love to eat in the Square and then see the sights in the Exchange and if it's chilly, Kings Head Pub is right there for a quick drink.
Of course, the winter months aren't the best for being in the Square, but I always look forward to the summer and being able to relax and enjoy being at Old Market Square once again!
Hope McIntyre is Artistic Director of Sarasvti Productions, an independent theatre company in Winnipeg, and also freelances as a director, writes plays and teaches at the University of Winnipeg Department of Theatre and Film.