The Calgary Fringe Festival – A Theatre Smorgasbord
I wrote this blog article for Calgary2012. In case you’re not on their mailing list, here it is (with a few minor edits).
For a lot of people the August long weekend signals that’s it’s time to get out of town. For me it means it’s time to head to historic Inglewood for the Calgary Fringe Festival. Many Calgarians are familiar with the more established Edmonton Fringe Festival (the second largest in the world, right after Edinburgh, which started it all in 1947), but aren’t aware we’ve had one for seven years now. Hopefully Calgary2012 will help change that.
What’s unique about Fringe Festivals is that the selection is by lottery, which is great for artists, because they don’t have to be part of the theatre community inner circle to get in. Also, 100% of the set ticket price goes to the artist, so bums in seats = money in their pocket. Fringe Festivals are also great for the audience because in the absence of a jury, just about anything goes – as long as it’s legal. As a result, you get shows that you wouldn’t get to see otherwise, including a number of performers who tour the International Fringe Festival circuit. This also means that there are inevitably going to be a few duds, but that’s part of the adventure. Most performances run about an hour and there are 15-24 shows a day at several theatre venues, so you’re bound to find something to your taste. I like to think of it as a smorgasbord for theatre lovers. And who doesn’t like a good buffet?
I’ve studied this year’s online programme and although I don’t see anything that I would describe as a musical :( I’ve picked a few shows I want to see based on past reputation: The Ballad of Herbie Cox (a new show by a Melbourne duo; 2 to Django by well-known BC guitarist Colin Godbout; The Bro Sho by Florida’s Chase Padgett (he did the popular 6 Guitars last summer) and his brother Ross; and Loon (a new performance by Portland Oregon’s Wonderheads, the winners of the last year’s “Best of Fest”). For a change of pace, I also want to take in one of the nightly Inglewood Ghost Tours, part of the Festival for the first time. I’ll pick the rest once I get my hands on a physical programme – available now at Inglewood merchants and select Second Cup locations.
Michele Gallant, Festival Director and Producer, says there’s an interesting trend this year in that there is a lot of physical theatre that features movement, dance or acrobatic – something to do with the Olympics, perhaps? Also, she tells me The Fringe is going to be the guinea pig for Calgary’s new public performance space, Festival Hall. It will officially open and be available for rent by the public later this year but we’ll get a chance for a sneak-peek here – definitely worth checking out.
One of the great things about having The Fringe in Inglewood is that all the venues are within a 10-minute walk of each other – even quicker by bike, if, like me, you want to not just “See the Fringe” but “Blitz the Fringe” and take in the most shows in the least amount of time. There are also lots of fine shops, galleries and restaurants to take in between shows, at least on the weekend. Inglewood is known as Calgary’s antique district but there are lots of other neat stores as well. Many of these are listed on the Fringe website and some offer special Fringe discounts. The best way to see it all is to take in the Inglewood Sunfest on Saturday August 4th, when 9th Avenue is closed to car traffic and pedestrians take to the streets for shopping and outdoor food and entertainment. It’s a great family outing, even if you don’t go to the theatre.
A few words of advice for Fringe virgins:
- Tickets are easiest to get opening weekend before the buzz gets out
- It’s worth booking online well ahead of time for popular shows. 20% of tickets are held for sale on-site on the day of the show but you may miss out if you don’t get there early enough
- If you want to take in several shows consider a SuperPass. For me, the Buddy Pass (10 shows for $105) is about right. Passes can be shared so it’s a great way to save money if you have a group.
- Parking can be tricky on weekends but if you get there early or don’t mind walking a few blocks you can find free street parking nearby (another reason to bike, especially with the Bow River pathway so close)
- Be aware that none of the theatres are air-conditioned. If it’s a hot day, the heat builds with each show and some can be quite uncomfortable by the end of the day. On days like that, go early, dress light or bring a paper fan.
The Calgary Fringe Festival runs from August 3 to August 11. Tickets are $10-$15 per show and most shows are about an hour long. For information and tickets, go to Calgary Fringe Festival.
Lynn Marie Calder is an Alberta-based composer, lyricist and playwright, and the author of the calgarymusicals.com blog. She is the creator of the musical Eve: The True Story (Calgary Fringe Festival 2008) and is currently working on a new musical with award-winning playwright, David Sealy called No Ordinary Tulip. She also runs The Calgary Musicals+ Meetup Group and hosts a monthly Strictly Show Tunes Sing-Along at the Auburn. She can be reached on Twitter @CalderLynn.