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Elmwood residents open doors to performers

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Winnipeg Fringe Festival performers Brie Watson (left) and Erin Rodgers (right) of Toronto flank billet host Heather Madill in front of Madill's Elmwood home. The Toronto duo put on the sketch comedy production Water Wings during the festival.

PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON Enlarge Image

Winnipeg Fringe Festival performers Brie Watson (left) and Erin Rodgers (right) of Toronto flank billet host Heather Madill in front of Madill's Elmwood home. The Toronto duo put on the sketch comedy production Water Wings during the festival. Photo Store

Heather Madill wasn’t going to miss getting involved in a Winnipeg Fringe Festival play in some capacity.

The Kiss the Giraffe Productions artistic producer, who just moved into Elmwood, didn’t have any shows on the go for the 2013 festival. Instead, she decided to billet visiting artists for the first time.

Torontonians Erin Rodgers and Brie Watson, performing the sketch comedy show Water Wings, stayed with Madill and her daughter for the duration of the festival. It was the duo's first trip to the city.

"I was finally in a place this year that was reasonably close to the Fringe. I don’t have a lot of extra space, but what I’ve got, you’re welcome to share it," Madill said. "I’m not producing or performing this year, so it was a pleasure to feel like a small part of another production."

Madill has been on the other side of the coin, staying with billets in Thunder Bay and Saskatoon for Fringe Festivals, as well as during a choir trip to Eastern Canada that saw the group staying in new homes every night. She said that experience helped her prepare to welcome others into her place.

Rodgers said Madill’s decade of familiarity with the festival has been a boon for her and Watson, especially as they attempt to perform on a budget. The pair did their first shows at the Montreal Fringe Festival in June.

"Heather has been amazing about giving us advice, giving us places to go, places to poster, helping us out to get a sandwich board," Rodgers said. "She’s gone really above and beyond."

The duo picked up Winnipeg Transit passes to get around, as they are close to stops for the Route 11, which takes them to within a block of their venue at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

"And late night, if the billet stays home, she lets us take her car," Watson added, saying the generosity came in handy for the 11:15 p.m. show on Sun., July 21.

Just northeast of Madill, Ahti Tolvanen of Thunder Bay, Ont. has been settled into the home of Tammy Aime and her five daughters.

Tolvanen, who wrote and acts in the 11-person production Wealth Secrets, said the only previous Fringe Festival he’d performed at was in Hamilton, which didn’t have a billet program.

"The Winnipeg people are really fantastic," he said. "We couldn’t do this show if it wasn’t for the billeters.

"We have 11 members, and it’s prohibitive to put them up, even in a hostel."

Tolvanen said some members of Superior Anti-Theatre, which is producing Wealth Secrets, are young or unemployed, making the billeting necessary.    

Aime began billeting eight years ago after another billet could no longer host and steered some performers in her direction. Since turning her home into a self-described "hobo Hilton", she’s had performers from as far away as Japan and South Africa, and relishes the chance for her and her children to meet "new, creative people."

"It seems everybody who comes teaches them something, so I think my kids have a little bit more theatre skills than I do," said Aime, noting her children have had clowning lessons and have learned to make a didgeridoo. "Me? I just have someone to drink wine with."

Aime acknowledges she’s an unlikely host, given the family situation, but said she feels just fine opening her doors to these performers.

"Here’s a woman with five daughters living in the house and she lets a strange man in the house — it sounds scary, but it isn’t at all," Aime said. "The Fringe checks people out pretty good.

"And if any time I feel uncomfortable, I just make a phone call or send an email and it’s corrected."

Festival spokeswoman Teri Stevens said there are 120 performers billeted with 75 families, while another 30 performers stay in accommodations at Red River College.

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