Adapt, invent, thrive Annual summer theatre festival is back, crushing challenges with the very spirit of Fringe
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Eclectic, experimental and oddball performance art returns to centre stage this summer during the first live Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival in two years.
Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival
● July 13-24, various venues
● Tickets start at $12 per show and can be purchased online or at the door; Frequent Fringer passes are available at $76 for eight or $130 for 14 shows
Visit winnipegfringe.com for a free digital program
“It allows the creativity of the indie artists to shine,” executive producer Chuck McEwen says of the festival’s non-prescriptive format. “Fringers have to sort of take a chance with a lot of new work and artists they’ve never heard of and that’s what makes it unique in the performance world.”
This year’s pared-down roster — Fringe usually hosts upwards of 170 shows — is due to space constraints and artist availability. Several of the festival’s usual venues were undergoing construction and others, like the University of Winnipeg and Red River College, weren’t open to outside bookings owing to pandemic restrictions while the groundwork was being laid in January. While artists who were accepted into the 2020 festival have had their spot deferred until this year, travelling still presents a risk for out-of-town performers.
“A lot of our companies come from across Canada and around the world, and decided not to travel at all, regardless of their vaccination status,” McEwen says. “There’s so many challenges right now with flights and costs. And what happens if you get COVID? Do you have to cancel all your performances and lose all your revenue?”
Instead of running a full lottery to fill out the lineup, the festival promoted its BYOV (Bring Your Own Venue) option for artists who wanted to participate and could arrange their own performance space. The event is also making creative use of new locations.
“We have two new main venues at Portage Place,” festival manager Tori Popp says. “We’re using some of the old storefronts and turning them into theatres and making them really Fringey.”
As usual, Old Market Square in the Exchange District will be reserved for live music and buskers, while Kids Fringe activities have been moved to Stephen Juba Park along Waterfront Drive, “I think that’s going to be really great for all the kiddos to have a lot more space and grass to run around,” Popp says.
Also new this year is the option to buy tickets to every show ahead of time online — a development long in the making that has been fast-tracked amid the pandemic to avoid large crowds and lineups at venues. A free digital program is also available online.
While Fringe-goers won’t need to show proof of vaccination at the door, the festival encourages mask-use at indoor shows and requires that volunteers, staff and performers be fully vaccinated. The organization has recruited roughly 400 volunteers so far and is currently accepting applications to fill remaining positions.
“It’s been a little bit chaotic and hectic, but it’s much like riding a bike.” – Festival manager Tori Popp
Like many large summer events, the pandemic has thrown a wrench into this year’s planning. Still, it’s exciting to be back.
“It’s been a little bit chaotic and hectic, but it’s much like riding a bike,” Popp says. “We’re reminding ourselves of what we need to do and how to do our jobs and what we need to get done.”
Popp is looking forward to seeing the Exchange District teeming with people, “The spontaneity of Fringe is what I’m excited for and just the serendipitous interactions with folks that I haven’t seen in a while,” she says.
McEwen is also looking forward to the energy that comes with the jam-packed festival.
“I’m excited to see our audience members out rushing from venue to venue trying to see all their shows and chatting about the new companies they’ve just heard about,” he says. “And I’m sure the artists can’t wait to see crowds in front of them again, after working digitally for a couple of years.”
Visit winnipegfringe.com for show details and to purchase tickets.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.