STAND back! Those crazy people you see literally running through Old Market Square are "extreme Fringers" — people who see up to 50 plays at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival in 12 days or less.
Some are armed with four or five Frequent Fringer (10 shows for $79) packets or buddy passes (14 shows between two people for $109). Others are just crazy folk who love the rush of competing for tickets at the door and hanging out in the ticket line for show gossip.
"Once we hit 30 shows, we will be drooling, snaky, twitching!" says CKUW radio show host Ron Robinson, who’d just gotten off the air and was meeting his wife, Carol McKibbon, for a series of shows. The festival runs noon to midnight until July 29.
Robinson compares extreme Fringing to a drug addiction.
"The first year we dabbled, but by the next year, Carol and I were hooked." Now the couple starts at Christmas, buying Fringe passes as gifts. "Carol gave me a buddy pass this Christmas. You can just feel the summer in it," he says, rubbing his fingers together. "It vibrates in your hand." Carol rolls her eyes
What’s the big appeal? "It’s a critical mass — plays, food, chat, shop, stroll. It’s magic," says Robinson. While he savours the excitement, McKibbon has a method for getting the most out of the Fringe Festival.
"First, I mark off the times I’m not available. Then I mark the real possibilities." Only then does she read the little blurbs about ones she can see. The couple collects all the newspaper pullouts from the previous year to check out reviews of returning shows.
Trucker Darryl Harkness, who never went to plays before he got dragged to the Fringe in 1995, will see 40 to 50 in the 12 days of this festival. "I didn’t know what to expect at the first one 13 years ago, but when I walked out I was just awed."
He says his tastes have changed over the years. "Now I like some of the serious shows. I don’t care for the improvs anymore because I’ve seen so many, but I find the musicals are always good."
The Fringe experience turned Harkness on to theatre of all kinds in Winnipeg, opening up his world. Now he can be found at theatre venues such as the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, Prairie Theatre Exchange and Celebrations all year.
And he has advice for people who might be curious, but don’t have anyone to accompany them. "Just go by yourself.
Everyone has different tastes."
Aldo Furlan, 47, a nursery school teacher and a Fringe enthusiast of 12 years standing, often flies solo by choice. "You meet people in the lineups and start talking and you see the same people year after year. He suggests newbies see guaranteed comedy successes. "I tell them to start by seeing Crumbs, Improvision and Hot Thespian Action."
Furlan loves the Fringe because "you see a lot of concentrated talent from around the world." And he doesn’t care if a show looks like a risk. "A lot of it is a gamble, but at eight to 10 bucks a show, it’s worth it." Furlan says he’s tried to take friends with him, "but then you have to deal with, ‘Oh I don’t feel like seeing this one or that one.’ " For the last seven years, he’s been a volunteer, so he has had to cut back from seeing more than 40 shows per year.
"This year I’ll get to about 20, I hope."
His best advice for people who’ve never been to the Fringe? "Go on your own. You’ll meet buddies there."
You never know what will happen out there in Fringe World.
"It’s like that first cigarette on the playground," laughs Robinson, drifting off to yet another strange and unique Fringe Fest show. "By the next year you’re hooked and going to everything. Then it’s all a haze, just a haze."
Maureen can be found jammed up against the ice-cold air conditioning at multiple Fringe Fest shows this week.