A sample platter of top picks for the Calgary Fringe Festival

The end of another Calgary Folk Music Festival means just one thing – it’s time for Fringe. Celebrating its 13th year, the annual Calgary Fringe Festival returns August 2-10 with a lineup jam-packed with local and international comedy, drama, music and mystery, and all things between.

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1947, today there are more than 200 Fringe Festivals around the world, including several throughout Canada – most notably Vancouver, Halifax, Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, and Edmonton, which is home to the second-largest Fringe Festival in North America, drawing nearly 800,000 attendees each year.

With its roots in theatre, Fringe Festivals worldwide have grown to include music, improv, street performance and busking, muralists, photographers and body art artists, and more. Fringe Festivals are uncensored, accessible to artists and audiences, and chosen through random lottery. It can be a mixed bag, but it’s precisely that element – the unfamiliar and exotic unknown – that makes Fringe so darn fun. 

The festival’s shorter-than-average run times (most performances run 50 to 75 minutes) affordability (most shows cost $12-$20, with 100 per cent of the ticket price going to the artist) and international-meets-local vibe (most performances take place in public spaces throughout Inglewood, including restaurants, bars, theatres and coffee shops) all adds to the Festival’s appeal and accessibility.

If you haven’t been to Fringe in the past, the best time to start is now. And because of the sheer quantity and variety of performances, there’s sure to be something to tickle your fancy. You need just two things – a ticket and a Fringe button. 

The Fringe button is an extremely important part of attending the festival. Available for purchase online, at the Fringe Festival box office in Inglewood, and each festival venue, your Fringe button is just $5. The proceeds of the button support the Festival – which is a nonprofit organization – and is needed, alongside your ticket, to get in to every performance. And your Fringe button comes with added perks, like discounts at local merchants – including Rosso Coffee Roasters, Highline Brewing, Without Paper Pizza, and more. 

That said, here are my top picks for each of the days of Fringe to get you started:

Friday, Aug. 2

Death – A Romantic Comedy

“A comedy about drinking, death, falling in love and a missing pacemaker.” 

I had the pleasure of catching Rob Gee’s Forget Me Not — The Alzheimer’s Whodunnit at last year’s Fringe, which was a quirky, hilarious murder mystery about a former police detective in the early stages of Alzheimer’s who investigates the curious circumstances of his wife’s death days after entering a care facility for individuals with advanced Alzheimer’s and dementia. If it was any indication of his skillful storytelling and way with humour, I have understandably high expectations for this latest one-man show.

6:45-7:45 p.m., Alexandra Centre (922 9 Ave S.E.), restricted (16+), $15/ticket.

Saturday, Aug. 3

Calgary Fringe Late Night Cabaret – APT 33

“APT 33 is a high energy late-night kids show for adults from the twisted yet essentially sweet minds (of) Owen Chan and Rob Janowski. Part Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and part Sartre’s No Exit, APT 33 explores what happens when two man-children in their thirties refuse to grow up, and attempt to host a sugar-high talk show from their apartment.”

A highlight of each Fringe year, the Late Night Cabaret is a traditional romp for the late owls – and even those of us who feel it’s past our bedtime …

10:30-11:30 p.m., Festival Hall (1215 10 Ave S.E.), mature content (14+), $5/ticket.

Sunday, Aug. 4

False Profits

I won’t lie – this is the top of my to-see list this year. Jeff Leard returns to the Calgary Fringe for what must be the third or fourth time and, in my opinion, audiences are all the better for it. I’ve caught two of his past shows: Sperm Wars, “A one man sexual science fiction comedy that tells the… story of a sperm and egg battling inside the reproductive system”; and last year’s The Jupiter Rebellion: A Zach Zultana Adventure. Both were laugh-out-loud funny and the highlight of my Fringe experience in their given year. Witty and whimsical, fast-paced, expertly voiced and full of action, Leard is a Fringe circuit favourite and one of the most entertaining and engaging storytellers I’ve seen on stage. 

5:00-6:00 p.m., Alexandra Centre (922 9 Ave S.E.), mature content (14+), $15/ticket.

Monday, Aug. 5

I Am Not the Patient

If you’ve never seen a piece of verbatim theatre before, and aren’t familiar with the concept, it can seem a little strange at first. Often used to convey challenging and factual first-hand accounts – much like a documentary film – in a verbatim theatre performance the actors’ dialogue is taken, verbatim, from interviews with real subjects. In I Am Not The Patient, director/playwright JC Charlton conducted interviews with “active EMS practitioners” in Calgary to provide multiple, first-hand accounts – performed by actor Matthew Hall – of “the descent into PTSD that many paramedics face today.” This exploration of a timely and important social and health care issue is bound to spark conversation.  

5:30-6:45 p.m., Lunchbox Theatre (106, 115 9 Ave S.E.), mature content (14+), $15/ticket.

Tuesday, Aug. 6

Marcus Ryan – Walk This Qué

Much as I’ve never aspired to climb Mount Everest, I’ve never felt compelled to consider making the 1,000 km trek across Spain’s famous (infamous?) Camino de Santiago, but I’m fascinated by those who have! Marcus Ryan’s Walk This Qué is exactly that – an account of his own journey, shared in the comfort of Inglewood’s Gravity Espresso & Wine Bar. Perfect!

7:30-8:30 p.m., Gravity Espresso & Wine Bar (909 10 St S.E.), general audiences (10+), $15/ticket.

Wednesday, Aug. 7

Moonlight After Midnight

One of the perks of Fringe Festival is the opportunity to take in performances from around the world in bite-sized chunks. Where else, in just 10 days, could you catch a murder mystery romantic comedy from the UK, a handful of local performances, a pilgrimage through Spain told by an Australian, and a noir-tinted drama out of Brooklyn without leaving Calgary? Moonlight After Midnight has received rave reviews throughout the Fringe circuit – from Toronto to Edinburgh – and I, for one, am interested in adding a little “mind-bending romantic mystery” to my Fringe platter.

6:45-7:47 p.m., Alexandra Centre (922 9 Ave S.E.), general audiences (10+), $15/ticket.

Thursday, Aug. 8

An Honest* History of Bullshit

News cycle got you down? I have a (at least temporary) balm! From Berlin, Germany, Paco Erhard’s An Honest* History of Bullshit had me at hello: “Sick of the bullshit? Feel awash in spin, lies, propaganda? Don’t worry, a German is here to sort it all out.” ‘Nough said.

6-7 p.m., Ironwood Stage & Grill (1229 9 Ave S.E.), mature content (16+), $15/ticket.

Friday, Aug. 9

Kohkum & me

“In an age when Greyhound buses are extinct, a young man hops one to Vancouver, and meets an old Native woman who claims to be Jesus. Kohkum & me is a virtuosic folk musical about identity, and how the spirit world calls us home.”

I’m not familiar with playwright Zach Running Coyote’s work to-date, but that’s another benefit of Fringe – access to playwrights, actors, musicians, artists and performers you might never have had the opportunity to discover otherwise. I think many of us are looking for something – whether it’s a new job, a new love interest, an old love interest, or just happiness, life is the search for meaning. Whether you’re coming from a spiritual background or not, Kohkum & me looks to offer a rich and enticing story that I’m interested to hear.

7:30-8:40 p.m., Motel Theatre (Arts Commons, 2nd floor, 255 8 Ave. S.E.), general audience (10+), $15/ticket.

Saturday, August 10

The Ballad of Frank Allen

And then sometimes I see a Fringe performance simply because the description makes me go, “Huh?” This is one of those times. “From the bizarre mind of Aussie Fringe-favourite Shane Adamczak (Zack Adams, Trampoline) comes an award-winning sci-fi buddy-comedy about a tiny man who lives in another man’s beard.”

Huh. But honestly I love these types of shows, the ones that turn reality on its head in creative ways. And it’s the winner of the Just for Laughs award for Best Comedy at the 2017 Montreal Fringe. That sounds like an acceptable gamble to me – one with a high chance of return.

3:30-4:25 p.m., Festival Hall (1215 10 Ave SE), mature content (12+), $15/ticket.

The 13th annual Calgary Fringe Festival runs Aug. 2-10 at various venues in Calgary. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit

Shannon McClennan-Taylor is a writer, publicist, and arts/culture junkie with a bachelor’s in English Lit and a master’s in International Journalism. When not at the theatre, cinema, or record store, she’s probably knitting. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.