GIVING BACK: So who were "the suits" on the Old Market Square patio Monday night, obviously coming straight from work? "We had our sponsor night," said fringe festival executive producer Chuck McEwen. "There were about 50 people on the grass patio near the mainstage, after seeing a show on their VIP passes." (Little Orange Man, Of Mice and Morro and Jasp, Jem Rolls and Minding Dad were some of the faves). Then they got to hear the Dirty Catfish Brass Band onstage. The party ended at 10 p.m., but the suits didn't want to go home. "Some stuck around for more drinks and more shows," says McEwen. "I think it's nice for sponsors to be right in the middle of the fringe, seeing the event they're supporting!" And good business.
ATTENDANCE: "Monday is a day off for some shows, so 116 of the 172 shows were playing, but we still had an attendance of 7,967 which is the fifth record day in a row," says McEwen. "We had 11 sellouts -- 10 per cent. That's pretty good." The goal for the 25th anniversary fringe is 100,000 tickets. As of Monday, they were at 46,500, up 6,500 from the previous year at the same point.
BILL PATS MYTH: Psst! The performer who announces the date of his suicide attempt at the beginning of dark comedy I Hate Bill Pats is actually happy -- now that he's finally in show biz. "I'm living the dream," the 40-year-old Pats, left, confesses in the beer tent. "It took me 25 years to get here." His famous uncle -- Winnipeg's legendary vaudevillian Al Simmons -- took him to a live show when he was 15. And right then, young Pats knew what he wanted more than anything -- to be onstage. But life got in the way and he ended up miserable and suicidal. Now he's going big with his show. He wants to tour the entire fringe next year through the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF). "They do it by lottery, but once you win it still costs about $500 to $800 per festival you want to be in. You need $4,000 to $5,000 for the tour." To support his stage career, Pats slings fancy hash at Stella's at the airport. "It's pretty good money," he says, smiling happily. And it supports his dream job.
HORSESHOES UP THE YIN-YANG: Carolann Valentino, left, from Burnt at the Steak, says she lost her soul when she abandoned her onstage dreams after being seduced by big management money at a multimillion-dollar American steakhouse. Her psychic Italian mama in Texas predicted, "You'll get big luck if you go back after your real dream." And it came true when she dumped the steakhhouse for comedy in New York City. The inside story? "I entered the CAFF lottery online the very last day. I had to ask my brother to front me $5,000, if I should win. He said yes, thinking it'd never happen!" A few days later she won. Getting back onstage in New York City in her 30s means she's now teaching seven dance classes a day ("Zumba, anyone?") to pay the rent and put food on the table in the Big Apple. But she's on the way up, and who can put a price on that?
FRINGING SOLO: Here's a hot tip from two fringers who have everyone talking to them at Old Market Square and in the show lineups: Wear a big conversation piece! Ryan Bjorkland, above, wears a large chicken on his head, with feet hanging down by his ears. The crazy hat sat in Toad Hall Toys for six years until he paid $45 for it. "I have worn it to the fringe for four years, and everybody talks to me." David Stubel carries a stuffed brown bear slung on one hip and people ask about it constantly. The bear's name is David Theodore Pilsener Bear and he sits in a chair beside him at the bar. "It's good way to order two beers at once!" Stubel adds, "Seriously, I support fringe culture with my bear. I buy two tickets for every show. If it's sold out, I give up my bear's seat, but the deal is that person agrees to hold him." Stubel is part of a trio of fringe friends called the Beer Drinking Christians. "I don't know about the Christian part of our name, but I can certainly vouch for the beer-drinking."