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Play on What’s new, what’s notable: Your guide to getting the best out of the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival

Artists and audience members alike are getting back into the swing of live performances during the triumphant return of the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival this week.

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Artists and audience members alike are getting back into the swing of live performances during the triumphant return of the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival this week.

Notes from the King of Fringe

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Longtime Free Press theatre reporter Randall King — who (mostly) retired from the gig last fall — has returned to lead the paper’s Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival review coverage this month. In addition to creating a viewing schedule for more than a dozen reviewers, editing copy and reviewing shows himself, King is also an avid fringe attendee.

With more than 30 years of fringing under his belt, we wanted to know how King approached the festival for business and pleasure.

Longtime Free Press theatre reporter Randall King — who (mostly) retired from the gig last fall — has returned to lead the paper’s Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival review coverage this month. In addition to creating a viewing schedule for more than a dozen reviewers, editing copy and reviewing shows himself, King is also an avid fringe attendee.

With more than 30 years of fringing under his belt, we wanted to know how King approached the festival for business and pleasure.

Eva Wasney: You’ve said fringe is your favourite time of year — what do you enjoy most about it?

Randall King: For me, the fringe is a beautiful, cosmic alignment of things I like. Strange, often subversive entertainment. Music. Meeting friends on the street by chance. The beer tents. Street food. Handbilling, which is an art form in itself. I generally love actors.

Also, while I can be a lazy person, I perversely like being busy.

EW: What are you looking forward to most about this year’s lineup?

RK: I like new, different experiences, and I’m looking forward to a parody show Thundercats at the Gas Station, combining Cats the Musical and the cheesy ‘80s TV series Thundercats. That’s just a hilarious premise. I plan to see Macabre Tales of Horror and Macabreness at the Warehouse, because horror is inherently fringe-y. But I also enjoy the comfort of something familiar and reliable, such as the Hunks shows at Wee Johnny’s, which I will always attend, even if I’m not reviewing it.

EW: Aside from live performances, what’s a fringe-specific experience you’ve been missing over the last two years?

RK: Seeing two or three shows at a time, and in daylight hours. It strikes me as very civilized, seeing shows in the daytime. I am a retiree, after all.

EW: Do you have any annual festival traditions?

RK: “Tradition” might be a little overblown. Getting an order of butter chicken at the India Palace kiosk and enjoying it with friends or family at the beer tent. It’s not so much a tradition as an inevitability.

EW: With nearly 200 shows some years, choosing what to see can be overwhelming. What are your recommendations for getting the most out of the schedule?

RK: Well, it’s closer to 115 shows this year, which should be more manageable. I would always suggest being adventurous and making sure to check out local acts that have a following, such as Hunks or Club Soda Improv. It’s good to support local quality shows.

EW: What’s your strategy for simply surviving fringe? Quality footwear? Snacks? Coffee? Regular stops at the beer garden?

RK: All those things, although the beer tent should be saved for last. And always have a go-to indoor washroom. Out of my own self-interest, I will not name choice locations.

EW: As a reviewer, how do you approach writing about fringe shows? How is it different than reviewing mainstream theatre?

RK: If fringe allows experimentation of its performers, it also allows some creative leeway to its reviewers. Mostly, you have to write fast. You generally get to take more time reviewing, say, a mainstage (Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre) show. For fringe shows, you have to condense a lot of reaction into a tiny bit of copy. It’s like switching gears from prose to poetry. In the case of a negative review: Slam poetry.

EW: Personally, what’s your favourite genre of show and why?

RK: I don’t really play favourites that way. I have pretty catholic tastes, which is essential for the gig.

EW: Do you have a favourite fringe show or moment from your years of attending?

RK: A few years back, I saw The Merkin Sisters, strange physical theatre involving two women sporting Cousin Itt hairstyles. It was so strange and dark and consistently funny and out of left field. I think that might have been the perfect fringe show.

With 113 shows and myriad Exchange District activities to navigate, the Free Press reached out to fringe volunteer co-ordinator Joseph Abetria for some tips on making the most of this year’s busy event.

Abetria is a costume designer by trade who has been organizing the fringe’s hundreds of volunteers for the last six years. His favourite part of the summer festival is the way it brings Winnipeg’s theatre scene together during the off-season.

“Working in the theatre industry, it’s just really lovely to see everyone together,” he says. “Especially in the summer, when all the big theatres are closed, except for Rainbow Stage and (Shakespeare in the Ruins).”

Even though Abetria spends most of the fringe troubleshooting volunteer schedules, he still makes time to see as many shows as he can. Keep reading for his advice on attending and an overview of some of the festival changes this year:

 

What to watch

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS For retired Free Press theatre writer Randall King, fringe season is his favourite time of year.

Schedule planning might be the most daunting part of fringe. With more than 100 indoor shows taking place across 24 venues over the next 12 days, the festival’s very detailed program is key to figuring out what to watch. Physical program books can be purchased for $5 at Manitoba Liquor Marts, McNally Robinson Booksellers or the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (RMTC) box office. A free digital version is also available at winnipegfringe.com.

“What I love about the program, there’s an insert in the middle that has the schedule of the whole festival,” Abetria says. “So you can look at a day at a quick glance and be like, ‘Oh, there’s a show happening in this venue at this time.’ And it’s easy to plan your day that way.”

The program also has audience classifications and warnings, which can make it easier to figure out which shows are kid-friendly or recommended for adults only.

All the Free Press’s reviews will published online and in the paper by this Sunday. The fringe has also created an online portal for patron-submitted reviews this year. Visit winnipegfringereviews.com for submission rules.

Free music and street performances take place in Old Market Square over the lunch hour and from 8 p.m. to midnight daily. Don’t forget to take cash to tip the performers when the hat gets passed at the end of the show.

 

How to buy tickets

Theatre performers dish on restarting their fringe engines after a long hiatus

Posted:

It only feels like it’s been forever.

In fact, we’ve just missed out on two live, in-person editions of the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. As we return to something that looks like a normal fringe, consider the artists who were deprived of their main source of work: performing at fringe festivals here and around the world.

We reached out to a number of veterans — and some relative newbies — to answer some questions about what it’s been like for artists to cool their creative jets for two years and then return to live performance.

The cast list includes:

Read full story

The Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival has gone digital this year: all tickets for every show can now be purchased ahead of time online. This new service is designed to streamline the ticketing process and help audience members avoid the disappointment of showing up to a performance that’s already sold out. Bring your confirmation email to the venue to claim your ticket ahead of showtime.

Tickets will still be available for purchase at the door, but are limited to four per person and must be purchased with cash. There are ATMs set up in Old Market Square.

In-person sales start 30 minutes before the first performance of the day and 15 minutes after the start of the previous show. Individual tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for people 25 and younger and $6 for children 12 and under — tickets for certain performances (highlighted in the program book) are available at a discounted rate of $12 for two passes. Frequent Fringer passes are available at the RMTC box office.

 

What to bring

Even though most shows are indoors, Abetria recommends dressing for the weather.

“I remember there was one festival where there was a full rainstorm and people were looking for ponchos,” he says with a chuckle. “We can only give out as many ponchos as (we have).”

It’s also a good idea to wear comfortable shoes and take a water bottle — there are water refill stations in Old Market Square.

Patrons aren’t required to show proof of vaccination at the door, but some performers are requiring that audience members wear a mask during their shows. The festival is also strongly recommending mask use for indoor shows.

 

Where to eat and drink

Old Market Square is the hub for eating and drinking during the festival. There will be 11 food vendors onsite selling everything from wood-fired pizza and butter chicken to hotdogs and mini-doughnuts.

For the first time, the square will also be fully licensed during the festival, meaning fringers aren’t limited to imbibing in the beer tent. Visitors are welcome to enjoy a beer, wine or cooler anywhere inside the fence that has been set up around the grounds.

Those looking for a sit-down meal and beverage can also stop by one of the many permanent restaurants or bars in the Exchange District.

 

How to get around

Since many of the venues are within walking distance of each other, it’s possible to fringe without a vehicle.

“Even for volunteers, we tell them not to take their cars because parking is so expensive, and it’s also hard to find,” Abetria says. “We recommend people actually take the bus or bike downtown.”

Cyclists can park their bike at the supervised lock-up station located in front of the Pantages Playhouse Theatre at the corner of Market Avenue and Main Street.

Venues are in the Exchange District, St. Boniface, downtown, The Forks and Osborne Village, so take heed of the location when booking back-to-back shows and give yourself enough time to get from one place to another.

 

What else is new

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Samantha Tschetter, Carla Dayholos and Marcy Tschetter study a fringe program, an imperative tool to plan your day.

Kids Fringe has moved to a new location this year. Families can head over to Stephen Juba Park between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays and from 12 to 6 p.m. on weekends for crafts, lawn games, face painting, balloons, performance workshops and reading circles. Indoor Kids Venue shows will take place at Manitoba Theatre for Young People at The Forks.

 

eva.wasney@winnipegfreepress.com

Twitter: @evawasney

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Milla closes her eyes as Circus Firemen perform at the fringe in 2018.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Chris Without the Hat performs at the fringe in 2018. Old Market Square will welcome street performers once again starting Wednesday as part of the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES You never know what to expect at the fringe: Joanna and Orlando Braun with their daughter Willow are surprised by the Causin’ a Commotion Chinese lion.
Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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Updated on Friday, July 15, 2022 9:33 AM CDT: Adds link

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