We’ve all heard the facts and figures about the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. North America’s oldest and largest. 1,600 performances of 211 different productions. Performers from every corner of the globe and hundreds of thousands of attendees every year.
Like many thousands of Edmontonians I was brought up going to the Fringe. Unlike many Edmontonians I was brought up by a fanatic with an enthusiasm for the festival so ferocious it leaps into obsessive.
What this meant for our family was that every year, summer plans revolved around 10 days in August. For as long as I can remember my dad would book his vacation for the entirety of the festival and every morning we’d head to Old Strathcona bright and early to beat the crowds. After securing prime parking he went to work fitting in four to five plays a day.
It became apparent quite quickly that no one could keep pace with his appetite for all things Fringe. What does one do when faced with this lack of organization and commitment from friends and family? Develop spreadsheets. Colour-coded schedules based on which plays he was seeing and with whom. Estimates of time it would take to walk between venues. Notes scribbled on Fringe programs that would inevitably crumble to dust by the end of the month from extreme usage and referencing. After 33 years the pace hasn’t slowed.
The reason for this bit of family history is to share a few tips from the perspective of a Fringe fanatic on taking your Fringing experience to the next level. Here are five quick ones that might prove useful to those thinking of moving from the “casual Fringer” to the “I-wish-there-were-more-than-24-hours-in –a-day Fringer”.
1) We live in the fantastical age of the world wide interweb. Take a read through reviews of plays that have made their way across the Canadian Fringe circuit and cross-reference with what’s coming to Edmonton. A heads-up on four and five star plays before they even get here is a good start. The Winnipeg Free Press and Saskatoon StarPhoenix have great Fringe review sections.
2) Get familiar with the directors, writers and companies that deliver hits year after year. Stewart Lemoine, David Belke, TJ Dawe and Plain Jane Theatre are just a few favourites you can count on to deliver the goods and most likely sell out their runs. It’s never a bad idea to pre-purchase tickets before the festival even starts.
3) If you’re still in doubt about what to see, track down one of Edmonton’s superstars of improv. Mark Meer, Donovan Workun and many others make up the internationally renowned community that has blossomed in Edmonton. Look for shows like Gordon’s Big Bald Head or the improvised soap opera Die-Nasty.
4) Be social – face to face social. There is no better way to track down inside information than a casual conversation in the lineup or in the beer gardens with a fellow Fringer who has just seen a masterpiece (or a stinker). Fringers are famously open to a chat.
If spreadsheets and research aren’t your thing and you’re happy with taking in free outdoor shows, eating green onion cakes, and drinking beer in the sun, who am I to say you’re doing it wrong. But even if you’ve never been to a play in your life why not take the plunge, buy a ticket, and see a show. In my opinion, it’s tough to find a better way to spend $12.