By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“We’ll eat you up – we love you so!” — Maurice Sendak, Where The Wild Things Are
Tonight’s the night, the biggest opening night of the year in this theatre town. And Where The Wild Things Fringe, the 38th annual edition of our monster 11 day-and-night summer theatre festival, is the biggest yet, with 258 shows (up from last year’s 227 ) in 50 venues (up from 38). Growing bigger and bursting its buttons isn’t just a phase: last summer’s Fringe O’Saurus Rex sold 134,276 tickets, up from about 130,000 the year before that. Topsy-turvy has always been the way the Edmonton Fringe rolls. Apparently, neither beer nor green onion cakes stunt growth.
You know you’re at a festival with a history and decades of connection in the theatre community when the artists who’ve grown up with the Fringe have kids who have grown up with the Fringe — and then they start doing Fringe shows together.
Multi-generational productions are everywhere at Where The Wild Things Fringe.
Check Me Out!, for example, is a new Trevor Schmidt comedy about female friendship specially written by the playwright for NextGen Theatre. The cast consists of two pairs of mothers and daughters. Not that the actors are playing mothers and daughters: the characters are a quartet of cashiers at a small family grocery story.
“Blair (Blair Wensley) and I have worked on productions, but never been onstage together,” says Elizabeth Allison-Jorde. A busy stage manager and director, Allison-Jorde herself hasn’t been onstage for a couple of decades, Wensley for 10 years. They both have 20-something daughters in theatre (they’re MacEwan theatre arts grads). Janelle Jorde and Morgan Donald are both in Check Me Out!.
“We started the company because there isn’t a lot of indie theatre where the generations are mixed…. And we thought that would be cool.” NextGen productions of Kingfisher Days and Clean Cut! ensued. And next up, they hope, is a show during the season.
Veteran actor April Banigan makes her directing debut with the Blarney/ Dog Heart co-production of You Are Happy, an oddball black anti-rom-com rom-com by Quebec’s Rébecca Déraspe. Her son Jezec Sanders is in the cast, along with Madelaine Knight and Jenny McKillop.
Like camping, wall-papering, and learning a foreign language, directing your kid in a play is an extreme test case for a relationship. Banigan reports, happily, that “working with my son has been amazing (and new for both of us!) Last night Jezec and I were coming home together after a late rehearsal, him on his longboard and me on my bike, and I was struck, as I have been many times during this process, by the relevance of this moment. That the stars aligned for us to work together and that it’s been so fun and lovely….it’s pretty special for this mama.”
Actor/ vocal coach/ U of A drama prof David Ley is in a Fringe show with his son Sebastian Ley, an early and surprisingly light-handed two-hander by the Chicago heavy-hitter David Mamet. In A Life In The Theatre a failing veteran actor and an ambitious theatre newcomer share scenes in a dressing room and onstage. Kathleen Weiss directs.
For sheer multi-generational theatrical bravado, it’s hard to top Stéphanie Morin-Robert, of Blindspot fame, who arrives onstage in Eye Candy with her glass eye and her year-old baby Olive. Like all stories about motherhood, it’s bound to involve risk — and improv.