October 16, 2017

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All the world's a stage for fringing family

Volunteers love theatre and return year after year

JUSTIN SAMANSKI-LANGILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Patrick and Kathleen Armstrong have been volunteering at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival since 2006. The Armstrong’s children, Sadie and Beckett, join their parents on their shifts.</p>

JUSTIN SAMANSKI-LANGILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Patrick and Kathleen Armstrong have been volunteering at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival since 2006. The Armstrong’s children, Sadie and Beckett, join their parents on their shifts.

A play at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival gave Patrick and Kathleen Armstrong the idea for their son’s name.

In 2009, the Armstrongs attended a performance of Like Father, Like Son? Sorry by British comedian Chris Gibbs. In the hour-long production, Gibbs explored becoming a father for the first time.

Kathleen was pregnant at the time and she and Patrick were having trouble picking a name. That changed when the Armstrongs heard Gibbs’ son’s name: Beckett.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘That’s it,’” Kathleen recalls.

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A play at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival gave Patrick and Kathleen Armstrong the idea for their son’s name.

In 2009, the Armstrongs attended a performance of Like Father, Like Son? Sorry by British comedian Chris Gibbs. In the hour-long production, Gibbs explored becoming a father for the first time.

Kathleen was pregnant at the time and she and Patrick were having trouble picking a name. That changed when the Armstrongs heard Gibbs’ son’s name: Beckett.

"We looked at each other and said, ‘That’s it,’" Kathleen recalls.

Patrick and Kathleen are two of the more than 800 volunteers who are helping run this year’s festival, which started Wednesday.

The Armstrongs began volunteering at the festival in 2006. During the first few years, they helped sell raffle tickets. In recent years, the couple has worked selling tickets at the venues.

For Patrick, an elementary school physical education teacher, and Kathleen, a homemaker, seeing shows and volunteering at the fringe is their vacation.

"I love being at the fringe festival," Kathleen says. "We’re there all day, every day pretty much. It’s just a good place to be."

Patrick agrees, adding it feels good to give back to the festival by volunteering.

"We enjoy going to it so much that volunteering is a way to help the festival as well," he says. "And it gives to a sense of community as well. You get to know the people, including the actors who are in the shows every year. That’s kind of neat."

The Armstrongs have been avid fringers since attending their first festival in 2005. Kathleen, who is a fan of horror movies, was inspired to attend that year because the theme was, Night of the Living Fringe.

"We went to go see one play, and we’ve been hooked since then," Kathleen says. "I’ve always loved the theatre. I don’t know if I went to a lot (before 2005), but I do now."

For Patrick, part of the festival’s appeal is the element of discovery.

"It’s fairly inexpensive, and each show is 45 minutes to an hour long," he says. "It’s kind of nice to be able to jump around and try different things. Sometimes you get surprised."

Attending plays and volunteering at the festival have become a family affair for the Armstrongs.

Their daughter Sadie, 10, and son Beckett, 7, tag along when Patrick and Kathleen are working a shift. Sadie even helps out.

It’s a fringe tradition for volunteers to decorate their festival T-shirts, and there’s a contest to decide who has the best T-shirt.

Last year, Sadie’s Andy Warhol-inspired T-shirt artwork won.

"She’s been talking about that all year, and how she’s going to win this year," Kathleen says, adding that Sadie is taking acting lessons in hopes of one day becoming a fringe performer herself.

The Armstrongs are looking forward to this year’s festival.

"A lot of the volunteers are the same" year after year, Kathleen says. "It’s almost like a family."

If you know a special volunteer, please contact aaron.epp@gmail.com.

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