“I have had a most rare dream….”
— Bottom the weaver, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Rare? It’s been a record-breaking Fringe! By 6 p.m. Sunday, with an evening of fringing to go, the 36th annual edition of Edmonton’s giant 11-day-and-night summer theatre bash, had sold 129,522 tickets to its 220 shows. A Midsummer Night’s Fringe ticket sales nearly hit 130,000 — 129,809 to be precise — by the time the revels ended, and the curtain(s) came down on the festivities Sunday night.
This is a dramatic surge from last year’s 121,900 tickets. And festival director Murray Utas, a theatre artist himself, was understandably in a celebratory mood Sunday night. “We’re putting ‘theatre’ back in the name Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival!” And artists will take home a record-breaking $1.15 million from this year’s edition of the festivities.
“It’s all about people taking a risk!” declares Utas in delight. “Friday night, 44 shows were sold out! Saturday, 59! Crazy! More than 400 sold-out shows altogether” And, as he points out, it wasn’t as if volatile unpredictable weather did the Fringe any favours: sun, squalls, winds that could blow a busker clean off his ladder, thunder and lighting storms, deluges. “People could have chased themselves away. But they didn’t! They stayed!” declared Utas Sunday night, heading for a backstage dance party. “This means 10,000 more people got themselves out of the beer tent and into the theatres!
With crowds that regularly approach three-quarters of a million — and this year, surged to 810,000, another record — the Edmonton Fringe, the continent’s first and largest, has long struggled with the imbalance between the gigantic outdoor carnival and the ticket sales to shows. This year theatre got a big boost. As Shakespeare and Gordon’s Big Bald Head show have it, “the play’s the thing.”
And with that thought, something crucial about the Fringe’s raison d’être and spirit has been restored. Congratulations to the artists and audiences who bravely experimented together.