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Setting the stage

Fringe festival manager does everything -- and anything -- to ensure the shows go on

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/7/2019 (463 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In Conversation: They are familiar faces at art shows, film screenings, theatre premières and music venues; but how well do you know the people responsible for upholding Winnipeg’s reputation as an artistic city? In this series, the Winnipeg Free Press sits down with those working in the city’s arts community to find out what inspires them in and out of the office.

 

Tori Popp feeds off the energy of the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival.

Tori Popp, interim manager of the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, doesn’t have a lot of time to see shows but she’s OK with that — she loves her job. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Tori Popp, interim manager of the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, doesn’t have a lot of time to see shows but she’s OK with that — she loves her job. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

The annual summer theatre festival brings tens of thousands of people to the city’s downtown and Exchange District, creating an atmosphere unique among festivals in the province.

"I like the vibrancy of all the people wandering around. You always get to see people you know, and it’s so great to hear volunteers and patrons talking about the shows they love — and then I get to find new things that I like, too. It’s exciting to hear what’s new and what everybody’s interested in," she says.

"I think that’s what got me into it and it became a passion from there."

Popp started out in the volunteer department eight years ago and worked her way through the organization while getting her bachelor of arts honours in theatre, stage management and production at the University of Winnipeg.

This past winter, the 26-year-old worked at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity as part of a stage management and production assistant practicum. She moved back home to Winnipeg in April to take the job as interim festival manager following the departure of Jennifer Cheslock.

Popp’s years at the festival have included a variety of roles and one fringe show credit as a cast member, even though she admits acting isn’t her first love.

"I did a Fringe show called Matt and Ben in 2013 or something. I played Ben Affleck. It was a great show," she says.

Rob Williams

So what exactly does your job entail?

Tori Popp

I deal a lot with performers, emailing back and forth and making sure they have everything they need. I get to have a hand in a lot of the new things we implement at the festival. Chuck (McEwen), the executive producer, and I will think of some new initiatives to bring into the fringe and I get to have a bit of a say in that.

Rob Williams

So what’s new this year?

Tori Popp

We didn’t do a lot that’s new this year just because I’m a little new this year. We have a vendor market curated by Luckygirl Pop Up on the two weekends this year, and we’ll have 22 new vendors every day of every weekend, so that’s the big new thing I’m excited about that.

Rob Williams

What is a part of your job people might not know about?

Tori Popp

During the festival I run around with a walkie talkie and make sure all the venues have got what they need, so front-of-house wise: have they got a table and some chairs and things like that. And I also organize the majority of our front-of-house staff, people who also run around and do many, many things at the festival — I co-ordinate their schedules. And I get to proof the program.

Rob Williams

That’s a big job.

Tori Popp

It is a big job, but sometimes things slip through the cracks, but everybody’s always happy when it comes out, so I get to take pride in that, too.

Rob Williams

What do you get out of your job? What do you enjoy about it?

Tori Popp

It connects me to theatre, but on the back end, I get to see artists and performers and stage managers and people find their passion in shows, whether they’ve written them or are starring in them or just feel passionate about it because their friend is doing it. So I get to see the joy that comes to them when their show gets produced because some of these plays may not get produced on major stages, but they get a chance to be seen by audiences all over the city as part of our festival.

Rob Williams

How many shows do you get to see during the festival?

Tori Popp

I try to see as many as I can. I think one year I saw 12, which is a lot for me. My goal this year is five or six. I’ll see if I can see any this year. It gets pretty busy with our schedules. Chuck and I don’t take many days off.

Rob Williams

When the shows are going on during the day, you’re not out seeing them?

Tori Popp

No. We’re the back end of things. We’re making sure the volunteer ticket-sellers and our staff have everything they need. We’re making sure our beer tent staff and our safety people are up on their jobs and know what’s going on with the festival, and we’re talking with patrons who might have questions or are interested in seeing some shows. We keep everything running, so I don’t get a lot of time to see shows, but I try to see as many as I can. If I had the time and wasn’t on shift, I would see all of them, I think.

 

Popp enjoys cycling in the city. She also loves to stop for a bite to eat at The Grove and Tre Visi. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Popp enjoys cycling in the city. She also loves to stop for a bite to eat at The Grove and Tre Visi. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

 

Rob Williams

You have seen a lot of shows over the years. Do any stick out as the best?

Tori Popp

One that I saw early on during my first fringe was one that actually came back last year, and I was very excited to see it again. It’s called Big Shot (by Montreal’s Jon Lachlan Stewart), that was a big fave of mine. And, of course, we have some that come every year that are exciting, like God is a Scottish Drag Queen and things like that, but I always look forward to seeing new works and new plays that come out from locals that may not be produced again on bigger stages.

Rob Williams

Do any stand out as being terrible?

Tori Popp

Not really. There’s something for everyone. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a terrible fringe show. I’m sure some would say otherwise, but no, I think there’s something for everyone, and you can even learn something from a show that you didn’t enjoy. You still learn something about yourself or theatre that you didn’t know before.

Rob Williams

Do you have a favourite go-to food truck at the festival?

Tori Popp

You can’t say no to some butter chicken from India Palace, so I think that’s probably my fave. We often get buckets of mini-doughnuts and bring them back for the staff upstairs just to trade them around and use them as betting chips.

Rob Williams

How about at home? Do you have a go-to meal? What is your masterpiece in the kitchen?

Tori Popp

Anything with cheese. I make a really good Instant Pot macaroni and cheese, which is not something that you would think you could make in an Instant Pot, but it’s pretty good. It’s great for leftovers too because you can make it really quick and eat it for days.

Rob Williams

If you have a free Saturday in Winnipeg, how would you spend it?

Tori Popp

My perfect Saturday would be to wake up late, if I can manage to sleep in, maybe go for a walk down Corydon, it’s near where I live, and go to a park, maybe sit around in nature, read a book, and go out for dinner because we have some great restaurants.

Rob Williams

Where would you go for dinner?

Tori Popp

Near our place is The Grove, which is great; Tre Visi, if you ever want some gnocchi — that’s one of my faves. Then in the Exchange, one of my favourite places is Corrientes. I like the empanadas.

Rob Williams

You said you like to read, what’s the last good book you read?

Tori Popp

I’ve been reading a lot of crime fiction, so one of the ones I read recently was called Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell. That one was pretty good. It was pretty suspenseful. I made my mom read it. Right now I’m reading a sort of memoir type of true crime book: I listen to this podcast called My Favourite Murder and the creators of that podcast (Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark) wrote a book called Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered.

Rob Williams

Do you listen to a lot of podcasts?

Tori Popp

Yeah, that’s the majority of what I listen to.

Rob Williams

What are some of your favourites?

Tori Popp

Definitely My Favourite Murder, which I think is tough for some people to get into. It’s a true crime podcast done by two female comedians (Kilgariff and Hardstark), and you think that comedy and true crime don’t really go well together, but for those of us who are anxious types, sometimes laughing is the best way to get over something, so yeah, it does.

I listen to Futility Closet (hosted by Greg and Sharon Ross), which is this great podcast about things that have happened in history, sort of forgotten stories you wouldn’t know about, and at the end of every episode they have a lateral thinking puzzle, which are these crazy puzzles that are mind bending to try to make you think in different ways. They are fascinating. One of them will say the puzzle and the other one will try and solve it, so you get to try and solve it along with them.

Rob Williams

Have you seen any good movies lately?

Tori Popp

I’ve seen two good movies recently. I saw the Beatles one, Yesterday, which was great, and Rocketman, about Elton John, that’s another great one. That’s been stuck in my head.

Rob Williams

Where was the last place you travelled?

Tori Popp

Technically that would have been Banff, if you can call that travelling. I lived there, but that’s the last place I’ve been, and before that even, that probably was the last place I have been over the past few years. I’ve been down to the States and stuff, but I’m a Manitoba prairie girl. I like to travel, but I like my home.

 

Popp always looks forward to seeing new works and new plays that come out from locals that may not be produced again on bigger stages. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Popp always looks forward to seeing new works and new plays that come out from locals that may not be produced again on bigger stages. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

 

Rob Williams

What are some of your favourite things to do in the summer in Manitoba?

Tori Popp

I like to cycle, so I ride my bike a lot. Fringe really takes up a lot of my summertime, but I like festivals in general. If I can, I get out to folk fest and Folklorama, and get out to the lake every once in a while or head to a beach if I can when I have a day off and try not to get sunburned, which I already have.

Rob Williams

What are some of your favourite places in Manitoba outside of Winnipeg?

Tori Popp

I have a lot of family that live in the Neepawa and Brandon area, so it’s always nice to go visit them and get out of the city. Birds Hill park is great too if I get out of town. And Grand Beach.

The Winnipeg Fringe Festival is on now until July 28 at 31 venues, mostly centred in the Exchange District and downtown, with satellite venues in St. Boniface, the West End, The Forks and Osborne Village.

rob.williams@freepress.mb.ca

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