Michele Gallant is excited about this year’s Calgary Fringe Festival.
As festival director and producer, she has brought countless shows to Calgary since its modest beginnings as a small event taking place both on 17th Ave. S.W .and downtown.
In 2008, the Fringe moved exclusively to Inglewood and received such a positive response that it has made the neighbourhood its permanent home. “The feedback that we got was from people saying, ‘Oh, it feels great, it’s a small-town feel, it’s accessible, I had no idea it was so close to downtown,’ ” explains Gallant. “(The community) took a leap of faith not knowing us from a hole in the ground, and it’s been a happy marriage.”
Gallant also speaks to the generosity of the merchants of Inglewood who are fully behind the festival and who help contribute to its success. “They are offering up the opportunity for the artists to create the arts, so having that support from the community has been tremendous.”
And now the festival is celebrating lucky number 13. “Fringe the 13th!” exclaims Gallant, adding that there will be a bit of a fun, Friday the 13th theme permeating the festival. “We’re going to be creating a concession/bar area in the lobby at Festival Hall that’s going to be called Jason’s Lounge, and all of the concession volunteers will be camp counsellors, so just funky little things like that to be celebrating our 13th year.”
The performances that audiences will see during Fringe are pretty much random: it’s not a matter of Gallant sifting through artists and performances and deciding who makes the cut, it’s down to performers simply throwing their hat into the ring.
“All of the acts are selected by a lottery draw, or on a first-come, first-served (basis),” Gallant explains, “so I’m not searching for any particular artist or any particular shows, I’m just saying it’s a blank canvas, and whoever wants to apply, come and apply because you all have an equal opportunity of getting in. It doesn’t matter if you’re a newbie and you’ve never done a show before or if you’re a seasoned performer, all of your names are still all going into the same hat.”
This process leads to a wide variety of performances, with the artists essentially given free rein on what they present. “There’s something for everyone,” says Gallant, “so I capsulated it under the heading ‘Anything Goes Theatre’ because literally it can be anything.”
Gallant also describes the Calgary Fringe as an uncensored theatre festival, which is not to say that it’s necessarily R-rated. “Uncensored means I’m not telling the artist what to put up on stage, they can put anything, from little kid shows all the way up to the restricted, no minors, loud shows.” This seems like a pretty liberal approach, which would lead one to wonder if there is anything off limits? Gallant clarifies that, “The only two rules that I have is to give plain disclosure of what your show’s about so that the patron can make an informed decision as to whether or not it’s appropriate for them to go and see, and don’t break the law. Otherwise, whatever you want to throw up on stage, you just go right ahead.”
Gallant’s continued mandate is to make the festival accessible: keeping ticket prices low with 100 per cent of sales going to the artists; keeping the performances close enough for people to walk to multiple shows; and to keep the lineup varied and entertaining.
This year’s lineup is definitely varied, with some return performances and some new. Gallant gives a brief(ish) overview of some of the great performers and shows that audiences are in store for:
• The Kinkonauts: Go see their Cage Match improv because they’re a really engaging improv group.
• Monster Theatre: This is another Fringe favourite — it’s been around for many years. The show this year is called Jesus Christ: The Lost Years. Monster Theatre consistently put on good shows.
• Gemma Wilcox (Magical Mystery Detour): (She is) just a powerhouse woman who does, like, 50 characters in an hour, and is just amazing! It’s just like bang, bang, bang, bang, flowing one after another, she’s a really good performer.
• Paco Erhard: He was our runaway hit last year with the 5-Step Guide to Being German. Well, he’s doing 5-Step Guide to Being German 2.0, the follow-up.
• Ron Gee (Forget Me Not – The Alzheimer’s Whodunnit): Gee is a performer from the UK, he used to be a psych ward nurse, and is really really good storyteller.
• Sizzle and Spark (Hushabye – A Doomsday Comedy): They’re kind of like clowns, but on the naughty side — kind of like something between Avenue Q and Sesame Street, so somewhere in the middle.
• Erika Kate MacDonald (Evacuated) and Paul Srickland Presents (Balls of Yarns): They’re both from Kentucky, they’re a real-life couple, they met on the Fringe circuit, and are really, really good performers, really engaging storytellers and musicians. Sometimes they’re more musicians, sometimes they’re not. Super sweethearts.
• Viva Dance Company (In My Place): Stephanie Lilley is the main performer, and they do this dance homage, I would say they talk about how to balance being a wife, mother and artist. I just loved the imagery of what (Lilley) shows … expressing it in dance
• Life Stages Theatre (Mii Other Woman): Michelle Warkentin is a professional puppeteer, and what she talks about is dementia. She equates it, in this show, to the person losing a sense of their identity and their selves as dementia is taking more of a hold on them, and their personality goes into this puppet, so now this puppet is getting more of a life. It’s talking about how you struggle with an identity, especially as a dementia sufferer.
• Indigenized Indigenous Theatre (Rocko and Nakota: Tales from the Land): Josh Languedoc from St. Albert is a longtime Edmonton Fringe performer, he wrote a show about the land and how the stories that our elders tell, and, especially with social media, losing that sense of connection to where your roots came from.
“I just love the fact that artists can create whatever it is that they want to create and I’m not telling them what to put on stage, I just think that it makes it so freeing,” Gallant says.
“This is Christmas in summer for me.”
(Photo courtesy Calgary Fringe Festival.)
The Calgary Fringe Festival runs until Aug. 11, for info go to calgaryfringe.ca.
Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at email@example.com.