By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
If you were in any doubt before that, the moment in mid-April the mighty Edmonton Fringe pulled the plug on its 39th annual edition in August, was a capital-M Moment of confirmation that the world had changed. Dramatically.
A summer without the Fringe? What would that even look like?
Meanwhile Edmonton Fringe Theatre, the company that produces our biggest and most profoundly influential summer festival, has been making plans for “a world that’s different the next day. And the next. And the next….” as artistic director Murray Utas puts it.
With Fringe Revue, the original live variety show that runs Saturday night (8 p.m.) online, “we’re back to who we are!” says Utas, with his usual exuberance. “OK, we don’t have this big fancy international festival …” he says. But this debut venture is designed to capture something of the impromptu energy and spirit of a festival with a winsome way of brokering “a true live ensemble” of artists and their audiences.
Part pre-filmed and part live from the “Westbury as sound studio” at Fringe headquarters (the ATB Financial Arts Barn), Fringe Revue is hosted by the elite improvisers of Rapid Fire Theatre, festival regulars themselves. Live music is courtesy of Jason Kodie.
And the 12-member cast of Saturday night’s show, directed by Utas, is made up largely of artists we would have seen at the Fringe this August had the world been (very) different. The engaging Chris Dodd, artistic director of the Sound Off deaf arts festival, is one. Tymisha Harris, the Florida-based triple-threat whose solo show Josephine has been a hit at successive Fringes, is another.
The multi-faceted theatre artists Amber Borotsik and Jesse Gervais, are in charge of the show’s dance break, in which “they’ll teach you a little choreography.” And we’ll see Utas in conversation with the Indigenous artist Josh Languedoc (Rocko and Nakota) about “how to give an offering to an Elder in a time of pandemic” and how to make a meaningful land acknowledgment.
Spoken word artist/ activist Shima Robinson is assembling The Currently Current, a segment spun by artists of various perspectives from the week’s headlines: “spitfire artists, who run with it, film it, and Boom!” as Utas puts it in the language known in Fringe circles as Murrayspeak.
Saturday’s show is the first of three summer editions — June, July, August — of Fringe Revue. Ultimately Utas plans to unleash editions of the show four times a year, including a holiday special, a Chinook Series offering in February, and a season launch. “Every episode will have segments that are repeatable,” The Currently Current among them, he says.
“We want to show all of our personalities,” says Utas, a playwright/ director himself, of the arts company he runs. Designers, production assistants, crew members … the six-member Fringe Revue production team of multi-taskers, led by designer Tessa Stamp, are all part of the show. “We want to be a maker of theatre.”
He’s thinking ahead, to a festival future that is, as yet undefined, not least because so much depends on the willingness of a mass audience to gather. “We’re thinking ‘creative pods’ not ‘performance venues’,” he says. “Artists tell me they just want to connect with other artists and with an audience. And I’ve got to create spaces where that can happen….”
“I’m going to roll out salons, with guests from around the world,” declares Utas, extrapolating at high speed. He habitually thinks big, maybe because he’s in charge of a festival with so many moving parts. He’s imagining “multi-camera set-ups and cranes; I’m stressing the video guy out — and I think that’s a good place to be….” He’s thinking of workshops and healing circles, with “opportunities for artists who are marginalized to connect with audiences….”
“I want to create a magic box of resources.”
“Welcome to the visual Fringe the pandemic just handed us!” says Utas. “We’re just getting started. It’s gonna be fun. And the trajectory is unstoppable!”
Theatre: Edmonton Fringe Theatre
Director: Murray Utas
Art director: Tessa Stamp
Running: Saturday, 8 p.m. (and 30 days after that)