By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
It’s been a long pandemical journey — uphill, full of stops and re-starts and detours, on a bumpy road, with skimpy signage, in the dark. Sometimes it seemed as if we’d never get there; sometimes we wondered if we’d only dreamed it all.
But now, fellow travellers, our festive Destination is finally at hand. We’re nearly there; yes, there is a ‘there’ there. Tickets for Destination Fringe, the 41st annual edition of Edmonton’s mighty summer theatre extravaganza (live, Aug. 11 to 21 ), still the continent’s biggest and oldest, go on sale today at noon. And there’s more than one route to tickets.
You can order them online (fringetheatre.ca). You can call (780-409-1910). You can show up in person at the Fringe’s central Arts Barns box office (10330 84 Ave.) or TIX on the Square in Churchill Square downtown. When the festivities begin, you can visit any of the five satellite box offices, including the Garneau Theatre, La Cité francophone, the Roxy Theatre on 124th St., by the Fringe entrance (83rd Ave. and 104 St.), and on 85th Ave. between 104th and Gateway Blvd. This year’s time-saver innovation: e-tickets.
The top ticket price has remained the same for years. Fringe artists set the price, to a $13 maximum, theirs to take home. And Fringers pay the festival a $3 service fee on top of that. So you’ll be shelling out $16 tops for a show ticket. This year the ticket prices, listed online and in the glossy 12-buck 146-page Fringe program, are inclusive.
Most artists opt for the max (and after the couple of drought years they’ve had, no wonder), as you’ll discover touring the guide or the website. But there are exceptions I discovered leafing through the program: Charade, a stage version of the murder caper, is $13; so is My Name Is Rachel Corrie, a solo drama culled from a real-life diary. The YEG Youth Poetry Jam is $9; St. Kilda is $15, and so is the Fringe’s own ever-riotous Late-Night Cabaret….
The sweetest deal for Fringe travellers? the Frequent Fringer Pass ($120 for 10 tickets) and the Double Fringer Pass ($240 for 20 tickets) — two tickets per show per pass holder, subject to availability. But there are precious few, and historically they sell out in a flash.
There are discounts for students and seniors at many shows. And, in the spirit of spontaneity built into fringing, there are artist-instigated daily discounts, recorded online and at all box offices, designed to amplify the audience.
And so, my friends, we’re poised to return to fringing, in the place where that verb was invented. True, Destination Fringe isn’t on the gargantuan scale of the rampaging Where The Wild Things Fringe in pre-pandemic 2019, with its 260 shows in 50-plus venues. But it’s more than double the 64-show lineup of last year’s creatively trimmed edition Together We Fringe. The program isn’t the thickest ever, but it’s hefty, full of possibilities, and still a great upper-body toner when carried in a backpack on a jog between venues.
“Re-growth” is the operative word, says Fringe director Murray Utas of this year’s edition. As the audience returns to live performance in these late-pandemic times, the question, for him, is “what is the experience you’re creating? Experience vs. size…. How big do we need to be?”
There are 164 indoor shows at Destination Fringe, in 27 venues. Eight of these (a reduction in number from the usual 11) ) are “official,” programmed by lottery. The rest are BYOVs, acquired and outfitted by artists themselves, most (but not all) in or near Old Strathcona.
Some are bona fide theatres like the Varscona or L’UniThéâtre or the theatre at College St.-Jean. An assortment have other lives — as churches or community halls, clubs, a cabaret, a community hall, a university auditorium…. The four BYOVs in the French Quarter at La Cité francophone and the College St.-Jean across the street, have 29 shows among them (not counting the long-running hit poutine at Café Bicyclette). The Grindstone Comedy Theatre curates 25 shows at four venues of varying sizes. And here’s a first for 2022: Theatre Network’s two theatres at the spiffy new Roxy on 124th Street are Fringe BYOVs, each running four shows.
Pêhonân (Cree for gathering place), last year’s sold-out initiative in dedicating one venue to Indigenous artists, has expanded its reach outdoors. Josh Languedoc, the Fringe’s director of Indigenous strategic planning and a playwright/performer himself (Rocko and Nakota: Tales From The Land), has assembled an eight-show series featuring local Treaty 6 artists for the ATB Outdoor Stage, ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lot 11∞ (the Indigenous Art Park in Queen Elizabeth Park, the KidsFringe stage, the pêhonân teepee (between the Backstage Theatre and the Strathcona Performing Arts Centre). The teepee is where you’ll find a sharing circle, bannock, smudging and more each Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m.
After a two-year pandemical hiatus, the KidsFringe returns to Light Horse Park (daily 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.), free, with a line-up of shows and activities (all arranged by Girl Brain’s Alyson Dicey).
And at Destination Fringe a bona fide Fringe tradition (interruptus) is restored. After a hiatus of, oh, a couple of decades, there’s a welcoming all-ages Fringe Street Dance on Fringe Eve, Aug. 10 (6:30 onward), with bands that includes the Halluci Nation, Sudan Archives, Sampler Cafe, and tzadeka & the Murder Hornets. The first-ever Fringe Street Dance was in 1984; an up-and-comer named k.d. lang played to a crowd of 3,500.
Which brings us to the fringer’s alluring question: what to see in the 164-show world of Destination Fringe. And that’s something 12thnight.ca can help with. Don’t let an intriguing question be a daunting one: stay tuned to this very site for encouragement, suggestions, features, reviews.
It’s a theatre town, fellow travellers. And we have the Destination to prove it. I’m hoping you’re finding the theatre coverage on 12thnight.ca, my free independent online site, entertaining and worthwhile. And I’m hoping, too, that you’ll be able to chip in to my Patreon campaign, with a monthly amount to support its continuation. Click here.
And let’s set forth.