Edmonton Fringe Festival celebrates 35 years of edgy theatre

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The 35th annual Edmonton International Fringe Festival kicks off tomorrow for an 11-day run and for me this event is a time of reflection.

I attended the first Fringe Festival in Old Strathcona where it launched with five shows mounted in five different venues. Curious to see this new festival of edgy fringe shows that didn’t fit in mainstream theatre, I completed an evening shift at the Edmonton Sun and grabbed a cab just in time for a midnight show.

I don’t remember the show I saw. What sticks is the memory of a large number of people strolling through the streets at midnight joking and laughing – at that time a rare sight on the darkened 83 Avenue.

Later I heard attendance hit 1,200, a small but acceptable number for a first time unheard of event. But word spread quickly, and its popularity jumped by leaps and bounds as it doubled every year for the next decade.

Today the festival, the largest in North America, draws 750,000 visitors. This year 213 shows will play out in 45 venues, a vast expansion from the original 25 shows in five venues.

“It’s really put Edmonton on the map, not only from the festival point of view, but it’s an international tourist draw. People come to it because it’s the largest in North America,” said artistic director Murray Utas.

At its birth, festival entries were largely theatrical productions. In recent years, improv and burlesque have expanded the standard repertoire of clowning, comedy, drama and musical theatre to performance art, puppetry, satire and storytelling.

“I’m seeing more disciplines in the festival. I’m seeing more dance. I’m seeing more magic. There’s even some poetry this year. Everyone wants to get in on the action,” Utas said.

Most tickets are $12 to $13 and the family friendly KidsFringe (toddlers to tweens) is free.

Program guides are $10 and are available at Chapters, Second Cup Coffee Co. and Mac’s Convenience Stores.

This year’s lineup of shows comes from across Canada, the United States, Britain and Australia.

Below is a list of more than 40 performing artists from St. Albert and Morinville that are contributing to the Fringe.

• A graduate of St. Albert Catholic High and the Citadel Young Acting Company, Alexandra Dawkins stars in Narcissist or Pretty Boys Who Play Alone at Recess, a dance theatre spectacle about a journey of self-discovery.

• Playing to his strengths St. Albert Children’s Theatre (SACT) alumnus Josh Languedoc tackles Jesus Master Builder – A Divine Comedy, a satire on the son of God’s lack of carpentry skills.

• St. Albert’s prolific actor/writer Matt Alden joins an intrepid crew of Rapid Fire improvisers as they boldly trek through space in Red Shirt Diaries.

• Zipping back into the golden era of Greece, former St. Albert resident Catherine Wenschlag joins the chorus of Epic Tragedy for a date night between Medea and Oedipus.

• In Feather Fall there’s a celestial battle raging between demons and angels during the War of 1812, and Paul Kane actress Sophie Healey stretches her wings in this romantic love story surrounded by malevolent forces.

• Josh Languedoc joins a wacky team of improvisers in Thunderprov to create never-the-same stories that range from spooky and supernatural to silly and whimsical.

• St. Albert director Emily Belke as well as dancers Mara Palahniuk and Keegan Farrell tells the story of a Ukrainian renegade that became a nation’s hope in Dovbush: Legend of the Karpathians.

• Paul Kane High drama teacher Lisa Whitson stage-manages Stones in His Pockets, a two-hander that follows a Hollywood film crew’s invasion into a quaint Irish village.

• St. Albert resident Caitlin Tazzer stars in The Golden Smile, a comedic treatment of mental illness.

• Always experimenting with new ideas, St. Albert actress Nadine Veroba wears two hats as playwright and musician in Letting Go of Alone, a dance exploration of relationships in the modern era.

• Former St. Albertan Elisa Benzer returns to the Fringe in EUSHA, a tale of a well-meaning nurse who hears voices in her head that eventually turn on her.

• Asking the Internet: The Yahoo Answers stars Morinville dancer Thea Green in a dance about three teens trapped in a 1990s time warp where they navigate the World Wide Web superhighway. Paul Kane’s Arden Kobewka provides the sound design.

• Holly Wandler and Emma Hennig first acted in Matt & Ben for Paul Kane High’s One Act Plays and now they’re presenting it to the wider Fringe audience.

• Former SACT actor Owen Bishop challenges himself in a tour-de-force, one-man-show Half the Battle, a comedy/drama about a Canadian pilot and co-pilot shot down during the Second World War and buried in the same coffin.

• Twelve-year old Canon Duncan from Leo Nickerson School is making his Fringe dĂ©but in Jolly Rumbalo, two lively folktales from the British Isles.

• Josh Languedoc and T.J. Eggleston lead a cast of young, imaginative improvisers as they tell stories based on audience suggestions in Kid-Libs.

• St. Albert actress Sarah Ormandy struts her triple-threat skills in The Big Fat Surprise, a sometime musical-comedy-drama.

• Dylan Rosychuk, a graduate of Paul Kane High and MacEwan University, plays a man who has been missing his hand for 15 years in A Behanding in Spokane.

• Once again, Sarah Ormandy joins the musical brigade in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown as the overbearing, domineering Lucy.

• The extraordinarily versatile Garett Ross, a former SACT alumnus, stars in We Were Dancing: Two Short Plays by Noel Coward.

• Nobody does improv quite like Matt Alden as he teams up with Die-Nasty The Live Improvised Soap Opera and celebrity guests.

• Former SACT actress Kate Ryan directs Working and SACT alumna Madelaine Knight stars in this musical for anyone who has ever held a job.

• Former St. Albert resident Braydon Dowler-Coltman whisks us into the world of magic in Ta Da!, a story about Morton, a young boy determined to be a magician.

• St. Albert actor Sage Jepson, known for his musical theatre chops, is stretching his acting muscles in dramatic interpretation of The Diary of Anne Frank.

• Byron Trevor Martin, a former St. Albert drama teacher and improv workshop instructor, brings together some of the area’s strongest improvisers in The 11 O’Clock Number!: Life is a Musical.

• St. Albert playwright David Haas hosts the world premiere of his new production Wolfman Crossing, a surreal drama about seven highway travelers who have gone missing. Director Lori Chenger, Brett Hammerlindl and Patti Hammerlindl have also performed with St. Albert Theatre Troupe.

• St. Albert improvisers Matt Alden and Joleen Ballendine along with Edmonton cast dare to create a musical from scratch every evening in Off the Book: The Musical.

• A legend arises in Pacamambo where former St. Albert actor Judy McFerran stars in this tale of girl whose grandmother has died and was stolen by the moon at night. But young Julie has a plan to travel to the land of Pacamambo and square off with Death.

• St. Albert playwright Cindy Oxley’s creative juices are flowing with a new work. Directed by local artist Julien Constantine and starring Leo Nickerson’s Adam Skogstad, Pirates of the Puppeteers brings together disparate elements – crafty pirates, thinking puppets and a patient RCMP moose.

• Lauren Boyd packs a punch whether on stage or behind the scenes directing. She steps into a lead role in The Annotated Autobiography of Leone McGregor, one of Alberta’s first practicing psychoanalysts and an advocate for women in medicine.

• Rebecca Bissonnette, an affiliate of St. Albert Theatre Troupe, is in Seven Lost Minutes, a story about a woman whose symptoms point to an unknown illness.

• St. Albert producer Russ Farmer is mounting Edges, a cutting edge musical comedy that examines the lives of four prosperous adult New Yorkers.

• Cliff Kelly, formerly of St. Albert, has lassoed a main role in the outrageous comedy Cowboy: A Cowboy Story.

•?SACT’s Abbey Schwartz and Matt Graham rock their way through Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a high-powered musical about a transsexual punk rock girl from East Berlin.

• With an all-star cast from St. Albert including Sean Bedard, Ali Yusuf and Josh Languedoc, Improv Against Humanity is going for broke with their favourite run of party games.

• St. Albert children’s puppeteer Brendan James Boyd is experimenting with a new format that includes cartoonish violence, sexual content and adult language in Rear Entry: The Improvised Puppet Show.

• Former City of St. Albert drama teacher Candice Fiorentino returns with her hugely successful one-woman show. Anatolia Speaks is about a new Canadian working at Superstore and recounting her past in Bosnia to her ESL class.

• SACT alumna Maddy Knight joins an all-star cast for The Unsyncables, a comedy about quirky teens hoping to make a big splash with their newly formed swim team.

• A much in demand actor, former SACT performing artist Luc Tellier makes his directing debut in Never Swim Alone, a Daniel MacIvor drama about two men locked in a room to air out their grievances.

• Former St. Albert resident Braydon Dowler-Coltman gives an unforgettable performance as the clown-mime Scaramouche Jones.

• Never one to back down from a challenge Garett Ross takes on The Dirty Talk, where he doubles as two mismatched characters trapped in a hunting cabin together.

Preview

Edmonton International Fringe Festival
Aug. 11 to 21
Old Strathcona, French Quarter
Tickets: $12 to $13 at the box office or satellite booths throughout the Fringe site. Call 780-409-1910 or online at www.fringetheatre.ca

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About Author

Anna Borowiecki

Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.