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Winnipeg Fringe Festival

Fringe plays produce intense friendships

Those involved with theatre will know the sense of family that develops between cast members during rehearsals and performances. When a show is over, saying goodbye to castmates is like saying goodbye to childhood friends after high school graduation.

When a play revolves around a group of strangers coming together as friends, that feeling is twice as intense.

Liz Whitbread and Kristen Einarson of Little Red.

Liz Whitbread and Kristen Einarson of Little Red.

Emma Stefanchuk  and Wes Rambo star in Godspell.

Emma Stefanchuk and Wes Rambo star in Godspell.

Emma Stefanchuk and Wes Rambo are two actors in the fringe's version of Godspell, the well-known Broadway musical that revolves around traditional Christian teachings. In the play, the characters, apart from Jesus, Judas and John the Baptist, are named after their actors, so Stefanchuk's character is Emma, and Rambo's is Wes.

Both Stefanchuk and Rambo agree the way the cast has come together as friends mirrors the way the play unfolds. In the beginning, they formed little groups with prior acquaintances to talk to and eat lunch with, but by the end, they were all eating together.

"We came in a little tentative, not knowing each other, and by the end we were this community," Rambo says.

That process helped them develop their characters, and explore how they all could relate to each other, Stefanchuk says.

"We're able to take maybe a little joke we had in the rehearsal space, and carry that into the performances," she says.

-- -- --

Away from the stage, maybe one of the best-kept open secrets are the parties fringe performers have after a day of performances.

Liz Whitbread and Kristen Einarson are both fringe veterans, having spent more than half a decade at fringe shows. This year they're back with a play called Little Red. Because the Winnipeg theatre community is so tight-knit, they say, it's easy to find friends to go party with.

"You walk into the beer tent after a show, you know at least half a dozen people," Whitbread says.

The community is also very inclusive, she adds, so performers from other cities or countries are always welcome.

It's not uncommon for these events to go to 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. Last year, the cast and crew of Hamlet threw a secret underground party at their venue, which was a BYOV (Bring Your Own Venue), so it could be used however they wanted.

"They told their cast, 'OK, invite who you want, keep it small, make sure they're cool.' So you went down into this basement, and they had games, they had a bar, and it was mostly performers there," Whitbread says.

Staying up every night and getting up the next morning can be taxing, but Einarson says the performers find the energy they need the next day from the crowds they perform for.

"I can be exhausted and get four hours of sleep, but when you get a good audience, you forget about it entirely," she says.

Thursday was another strong night for attendance at the festival, Chuck McEwen, executive producer, said. Indoor ticketed attendance was 6,972, and five of the 110 shows were sold out. ã

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 19, 2014 A25

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