The might-have-been hits home: it’s Fringe Eve in Edmonton

Katie Hartman in The Unrepentant Necrophile, The Coldharts. Photo by Dan Norman.

By Liz Nicholls,

For months I knew it would come. The weirdest week of a weird summer. The week the Fringe doesn’t happen. It’s a might-have-been that leaves us face to face with the strangest, most unrecognizable of vistas … a Fringe-less August in Edmonton.

For 38 summers, it has never happened till now. In all the time I’ve been a theatre writer, since Fringe #2 in 1983 when my editor sent me out to investigate a bizarre little eruption of theatre in Old Strathcona, the Summer and the Fringe have been completely interchangeable terms. The calendar always, naturally, arranged itself around festivities that always started a week after the Folk Fest.

I know I risk sounding hopelessly self-centred, at a moment that hits thousands and thousands of other people, in the profoundest of ways — life, death, livelihood. But I can’t quite believe it, in truth.

In Might-Have-Been World on the eve of Fringe opening night, which changed from Friday to Thursday more than a decade ago, I’d be scrambling to write something more about shows I can’t wait to see, and how much the festivities have grown, shamelessly over-using “fringe” as a verb (an Edmonton contribution to world theatre lexicon). I’d be scrambling to unknot the contradictions in my ridiculously intricate Fringe schedule, hunting down an extension cord and power bar, lining up for a press pass (a tradition always accompanied by a lemon pizza lunch in  Strathcona to prepare the digestion for an onslaught of trail mix, green onion cakes and fried objects).

I’d be getting butterflies preparing to enter the high-energy world of jostling crowds, late late nights, lingering mini-donut smell in the air, and shows with no sets to speak of, enigmatic descriptions, and titles with multiple exclamation marks. And I’d be marvelling at the grand good fortune brought to us by the exciting Fringe mix of new, emerging talent and veteran artists, from here and the great big world, trying out shows, theatrical ideas, techniques, or skills they didn’t get the chance to exercise during the season. Like you I’d be preparing to be surprised, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms.

Well, 2020, an iffy proposition at best so far, has just flung itself willy-nilly, into Outer Space.

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A veritable tsunami of wistfulness is upon us. And the Fringe knows heartbreak when it sees it: they are after all, a festival facing a ruinous $3 million loss, surrounded by artists left stranded by the cancellation of their income. They’ve launched a fund-raising appeal they’ve christened Tears, Beers & Tickets You’ll Never Use — tickets to shows you can only dream about, beers you’ll never drink (not to mention horrifying pizza-in-a-cone things you’ll never eat). Check it out at

And since Fringe habits die hard, as well I know, Fringe #39, The Fringe That Never Was, has assembled free digital programming nightly for the festival duration: fringe shows, interviews with fringe artists from here there and everywhere, music, conversation…. It kicks off with Thursday night’s “opening ceremonies” at 6 p.m. on FringeTV, and runs there through Aug. 23. T

The full line-up is at And you can check out the Fringe That Never Was survey piece HERE.

Todd Houseman and Lady Vanessa Cardona in Whiteface. Photo supplied.

Thursday night on FringeTV, in a collaboration with FringeLiveStream, Todd Houseman and Lady Vanessa Cardona translate their edgy 2018 Fringe satire Whiteface into The Whiteface Cabaret (7 p.m.).

Friday night at 7 p.m. (also Aug. 19 at 7), Brooklyn’s The Coldharts (Edgar Allan) reveal a digital Fringe version of The Unrepentant Necrophile, a punk rock musical with an alluringly unusual true-life premise, a love story between an apprentice embalmer and a corpse. Read my 12thnight interview with Katie Hartman and Nick Ryan about the show HERE.

Josh Languedoc in Rocko and Nakota. Photo supplied.

Josh Languedoc, a great Indigenous storyteller, has re-worked his much-travelled solo show Rocko and Nakota for the Fringe’s digital series (Aug. 18, 7:30). And before that (6 p.m.) this smart and genial artist hosts Irreconcilable Spaces of Cultural Identity: A BIPOC Fringe artist conversation

There are many more fringe-y things to see every night (except Monday), including a Virtual Wine Tent (Thursday through Saturday and Aug. 18 through 22, 8:30 p.m.). And, look on the bright side, there’s this: you can drink your plonk in a proper glass and not in those little plastic stemmed things that always tip over on your program.


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