Virtual Fringe a challenge
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/07/2020 (1056 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Making a fringe show is hard, but making a fringe show entirely online because the world is in the middle of a pandemic and unable to gather in large groups is harder.
Thankfully, plenty of performers are up for the challenge of taking the art of live performance to the next level, because the hottest club in town right now is the internet and its accelerated emergence as new kind of performance venue presents a mix of hurdles and opportunities.
7 p.m.: Devon More or Less presented by Devon More Music
7:30 p.m.: Rocko and Nakota: Tales From the Land — An Excerpt by Josh Languedoc
8 p.m.: Today, Tonight! presented by Joseph-Herd Productions
8:30 p.m.: The Schleps & Camp COVID presented by One Trunk Theatre
8:45 p.m.: Virtual Fringe Fantasy presented by Mind of a Snail Puppet Co.
9:15 p.m.: Old Man Dad Rock presented by Cory Wojcik and The Good Show
This year, the theatrical event that brings thousands of folks to the Exchange District each year has had to move online, presenting Virtually Yours, #Wpg Fringe in place of the 10-day Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. The nightly streaming presentation of comedy, drama, improv, sketch and music performances wraps up tonight with a show that gets underway at 7 p.m. (Watch it at www.facebook.com/WinnipegFringe or www.youtube.com/user/WinnipegFringe.)
The Free Press sat down with members of a couple of local improv troupes to see what it takes to make a fringe show in the age of COVID-19.
One of the most celebrated aspects of live performance is that you are present with other people for a shared experience, but during a livestream, that connection changes for both audience and the performer.
“Not being able to hear and see your audience is really tough,” says Chadd Henderson, a member of the musical improv troupe Outside Joke. “You feed off of the audience’s energy so much.”
“It’s pretty tough for the style of show we do,” agrees ImproVision troupe member Alan MacKenzie, who performs with longtime comedic partners George McRobb and Ed Cuddy. “Anyone who does any kind of comedy will tell you it’s tough to do without hearing laughter.”
Henderson says it is also easier to read the audience when they are physically present.
“If you get the impression the audience isn’t on board with where the show is heading, you can change it,” he says, “but that’s not possible digitally. There’s definitely the feeling of a disconnect.”
One way they are navigating that disconnected sensation is through the live comments section available on most livestream platforms.
“We have a screen right in front of us where we can read comments that come in and see everyone’s likes, loves and emojis,” says MacKenzie. “It isn’t quite the same as having a loud, raucous crowd right in front of us, but we still look forward to it.”
Style and form
For Outside Joke, the limitations of the streaming program StreamYard — and the internet’s general tendency to lag at the most inappropriate times — presented some challenges.
Mourning the loss of Fringe 2020 — and missing the highlights, lowlights and culinary delights
In a better, brighter, COVID-free world, the Winnipeg Fringe Festival would have started Wednesday, July 15.
It was not to be. Like a lot of Winnipeggers deprived of reliable activities, I’m feeling the absence of those 12 days keenly.
It’s habit, for one thing. As an entertainment reporter, I’ve been attending the annual theatre fest for the better part of 30 years.
I must add: It was never a task. Even when I was covering film, fringe season has always been my favourite time of year.
“Figuring out how to have live music playing along with us and trying to sing together without being able to hear each other was a challenge,” Henderson says of the group’s format, which includes songs made up on the spot. “We quickly realized it needs to be more of a back and forth and less layering of speaking, singing and music.”
“The biggest challenge has been finding what could work in a virtual format,” MacKenzie says. “We had to focus on games that weren’t physically active. Anything story-based worked, as did guessing games.”
Format challenges aside, going digital has the impact of making live performance accessible on a broader scale. With the obstacles of money and distance removed, performances can now be created and watched by more people than ever before.
“During our Zoom shows, we had people tune in from Florida; Washington, D.C.; Scotland and across Canada,” MacKenzie says.
For Henderson, learning a new framework for how to broaden the scope and reach of a performance has been a positive.
“I will always prefer performing live, but new doors have definitely been opened,” he says.
What Virtually Yours proves is that the internet is a viable performance space, one that comes with its own set of expectations, rituals and possibilities. But Henderson and MacKenzie agree that nothing will ever replace the excitement of live performance or the ambience of the real-life Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival.
“To be honest, I never would have gotten into theatre if it wasn’t for fringe,” says MacKenzie, who also works as an actor and director. “It’s sometimes tough to get audiences out to independent theatre the rest of the year, but they embrace it at fringe time because it’s part of this amazing event that feels so alive.”
“I’ll miss the atmosphere most,” says Henderson. “It’s such a fun vibe that transforms the Exchange for two weeks.
“A virtual fringe is definitely better than no fringe,” adds MacKenzie.
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Frances Koncan (she/her) is a writer, theatre director, and failed musician of mixed Anishinaabe and Slovene descent. Originally from Couchiching First Nation, she is now based in Treaty 1 Territory right here in Winnipeg, Manitoba.