Arts & Life
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This article was published 16/7/2016 (1531 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In the first days of the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, when the Exchange District blooms with costumes and laughter, odd thoughts can pop into your head.
Thoughts such as: this is what a perfect society could look like, where creativity rules and human stories spread. It's a place where hard work alone is enough to get folks ahead, making it the closest thing to a true meritocracy most of us will witness. Nearly two decades of fringing has taught me this much: regardless of experience, performers who bring the best stuff tend to find their audience.
So perhaps there is also something there about love, the kind that binds artists to attendees and to their craft. Underneath the brief show descriptions in the festival program, you can also find it in the most typical sense. For instance, the theme for this year's festival is play. The old saying states that a couple that plays together, stays together. On that note, meet Richard Maritzer and Ingrid Garner.
They are both fringe performers, though their shows hail from totally different genres. Maritzer is co-founder and one-third of Sound and Fury, gonzo purveyors of bawdy comedy and veterans of 12 Winnipeg fringes. Garner's acclaimed one-woman drama, Eleanor's Story, traces the true story of her grandmother's childhood in wartime Berlin. They're both performing at Venue 24 at the West End Cultural Centre; that's where the similarities end.
Performing drew them together, though not quite like this. In 2012, Sound and Fury was touring its madcap Shakespearian mash-up Hamlet and Juliet at a Renaissance Faire in southern California; Maritzer was hauling a prop balcony across the sprawling site. He set it down for a minute, just to take a break. As any savvy performer would, he saw a chance to promote his upcoming performance.
So Maritzer popped his head through the prop, and started talking to passersby. That's when Garner showed up. "I said, 'Good lady, come hither and kiss me through the chink in this wall,'" Maritzer recalled, chatting over libations at the King's Head on Wednesday night. "Like a gazelle, she bounded over and planted one on my mouth. Then I was speechless. I said, 'We're doing a show in half an hour. Come see it."
That chance meeting grew into a love; that love would soon propel Garner to create her own fringe show. After all, the bustling festival circuit life doesn't make it easy for a budding relationship to thrive. When they first started dating, Maritzer was splitting time among fringes in Australia, Edinburgh and Winnipeg. Garner missed him when he was on tour. Maritzer's reponse? "Write a show so you can come too."
At home in Fullerton, Calif. — a short drive from Disneyland — Garner was intrigued. She was soon to complete her own theatre education, but the cutthroat world of Los Angeles auditions left her feeling cold. Besides, she'd dipped her toes into the fringe life when she joined Maritzer in Winnipeg in 2013. The exuberant social scene was intimidating to the shy playwright, but the creative freedom had her transfixed.
"I loved it," Garner said. "Seeing all these shows, and it's mostly one-person shows and often very personal material, and it's people doing exactly the art they want to do. There's something very intimate about it."
Here's something odd: despite the surging fringe festival movement in parts of Canada, Australia and Europe, the format has a low profile in the United States. They don't teach much about the fringe circuit in colleges, Maritzer said. Which is strange, considering it's not only one of the best places for original theatre performers to make a living, but it's also one of the most creatively liberating.
One taste, that was all Garner needed. With Martizer's urging, she set about writing her grandmother's story for the stage. She debuted the show in community theatre in 2014, and jumped headlong into the fringe circuit last year. The show was a hit with critics, and was named Best of Fest in Edmonton in 2015. Now, Garner is exploring options to take it off-Broadway.
"He's really given me this incredible life," Garner said. "I wouldn't have known about it, and now it's my favourite part of my life."
It's a colourful life for a couple on the road. Between festivals in Australia they took a jaunt up to Bali, where they found themselves dinner guests in a neighbourhood populated by the world's rich and famous. (On one side of the mansion they visited was Mick Jagger's tropical retreat; on the other, David Bowie's.) On another occasion, Garner was assaulted by a passerby while promoting her show in Edmonton.
They wouldn't trade it, though.
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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