The Wild Things eat up the box office: a record-crushing Fringe comes to an end Sunday

Reality Crack

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“We’ll eat you up we love you so….” — Where The Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak

The Wild Things have been rampaging through town on a Fringe tear, eating audiences up (or is it vice versa?).

Sunday night, the 38th annual edition of our monster summer theatre bash, crashed through last year’s record-breaker by selling 147,358 tickets to its 258 shows. That’s up from 134,276 at last year’s Fringe O’Saurus Rex (for 227 shows) , and 129,800 the summer before that. You can see where this is going.

Box office revenue was up to $1.72 million (with $1.4 million paid out to Fringe artists). And the carnival crowd “site visits” (848,263) were up to (from 817,000), amazingly, though it’s not as if Where The Wild Things Fringe got any special favours from the weather which, to put it politely, pretty much sucked.

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“Larger than we’ve ever been,” declares the exuberant Fringe artistic director Murray Utas who is “not afraid of growth.” But maybe even more than the celebratory news from the box office is that the spirit of “‘take a chance!’ is alive and well” — for both artists and audiences, Utas says.

The Fringe’s “Randomizer,” an online button the festival website that lets Fate pick a show for you, saw hot action, Utas reports: $120,000 in ticket sales from the Magic Eight Ball, up from $39,000 last year.

Fringe observers are constantly predicting that artists will play it safe at the Fringe. Director/ actor/ producer Utas (who restored the word “theatre” to Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival the moment he got his job six Fringes ago) demurs. As a measure of the enhanced air of risk-taking he points to the selection of shows held over next week. “We curated a hold-over series that’s as weird and wild they come, a Fringe cross-section.” Of the four shows that will play Wednesday through Saturday, “one is a performance for the ages,” (Willi Carlisle in There Ain’t No More), in which the star, who plays a startling variety of instruments, sifts through the dark-hued American experience armed with its folk music.

“One is a new play by a young writer who’s going to take the country by storm,” says Utas of The Green Line by Makram Ayache. One is  “among the weirdest experiments I’ve seen since the ‘90s.” That would be Reality Crack, an enigmatic new performance piece by and starring Candace Berlinguette and Laura Raboud.

“I saw shadows of our history at this festival,” says Utas. “And I saw new stories, too….”

And then, as a fourth Fringe Theatre holdover, there’s the sheer crazy impossibility of TEDxRFT, in which Kory Mathewson and Julian Faid actually improvise an entire TED Talk from slides they’re never seen, and audience cues of the moment.

At a Fringe where improv is constantly dreaming up new ways to verify spontaneity — from Gordon’s Big Bald Head, which promises to improvise any Fringe show from a randomly selected title in the Fringe program, to Jacob Banigan’s The Game of Death to The Royal Zissou Academy (an entire Wes Anderson movie improvised from cues), TEDxRFT counts as the smartest, the most ambitiously brainy. 

Sarah Feutl, Carmen Osahor, Jessy Ardern in Queen Lear Is Dead. Edmonton Fringe 2019.

I like that there’s room on the the Edmonton Fringe spectrum for the new generation of creators, like Ayache or Jesse Ardern (Queen Lear Is Dead), alongside experienced, stylish artists like Stewart Lemoine (A Momentary Lapse), Clinton Carew (director of The Trophy Hunt), Ryan Gladstone (Juliet: A Revenge Comedy), Trevor Schmidt (Check Me Out).

I like the Fringe’s hit-and-miss quality. Ditto the crazy mixture of polished pieces (like theatre simple’s much-travelled The Master & Margarita) and experiments, like the cluster of brand new musicals that includes Meat: The Musical, Invisible Friend: The Musical, Alberta Musical Theatre’s Baba Yaga.

Candice Roberts in Larry. Photo supplied.

I like the way the Fringe has time for shows that step boldly up to the risk factor, like Candice Roberts’ complex, fearless, and very funny portrait of a redneck dude in Larry, a reinvention of clowning if there ever was one. I like the way veterans veer off into left field at the Fringe. Sandy Paddick’s Crescendo! for example, set in a women’s community choir, is now a musical as tended by Plain Jane Theatre and Chorus Productions. Actor April Banigan tries out directing with the acidic little Quebec comedy You Are Happy.

And, hey, isn’t it heartwarming that there’s still a Fringe audience ready to take a chance on a play that is enhanced by its BYOV location? The clever Queen Lear Is Dead is a “celebration of life” in a church. Fake Ghost Tours, by a Victoria duo, takes its audiences on a tour of made-up haunted Strathcona locations (I tried to go; the show was sold out right through tonight). There’s a tale set in a miniature town: 

Chase Padgett and Christina Garies, in Chase Padgett Gets Married, at Edmonton Fringe 2019.

There was even a wedding, a real one, by definition a one-off  performance. Chase Padgett and Christine Garies actually got married Friday onstage at the Garneau Theatre in Chase Padgett Gets Married. And there wasn’t a ticket to be had, for love or money. A romantic at heart, Utas is pumping for a sequel: Christina Has A BabyThe happy couple has not been consulted on this.

“Festivals are a celebration. Artists and audiences are in this together….” 

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