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Calgary Fringe Festival returns for its 14th year

By Troy Hasselman, July 23 2019 —

The Calgary Fringe Festival will be returning for another year of non-curated, anything-goes theatre, showcasing local artists as well as international performers. The festival takes an egalitarian approach to its artist selection process to ensure that all performers are given a fair opportunity of participating in the festival.

“The premise of the Fringe Festival is that all of our actors are selected by lottery draw or a first-come-first-served system so anybody can apply,” says Calgary Fringe Festival Director and Producer Michele Gallant. “It doesn’t matter your level of experience, age, race, colour, creed, religious background, sexual orientation — anyone can participate. We do a draw from a hat for our spots in the festival. It’s like a potluck supper — you get a little bit of everything.”

The equal-opportunity approach taken by Calgary Fringe also allows for a high level of artistic freedom for the creators involved.

“With it being a non-curated theatre festival, there’s only two rules I have for our artists,” Gallant says. “One of the rules I have is that they have to give plain disclosure as to what the show is about so the patron can make an informed decision on whether or not it’s appropriate for them to see. The second is don’t break the law, other than that you can just go right ahead.”

The festival is entering its 14th year, growing steadily in that time as the organizers have focused on ensuring the festival is accessible and instills a sense of community amongst the artists and patrons involved.

“A part of our goal is always how can we best support the artist? How can we best provide to the community of Calgary what it is they would like to come and be a part of?  — honing that over the years, consolidating where our venues are located. With most shows being an hour, our patrons typically go and see between two and three shows and I see that going up a little bit each year. It’s no longer one-off patrons that go and see one show.”

The level of artistic freedom involved in the festival is a huge part of its appeal, according to Gallant, as the artists are able to present their uncompromised vision regardless of if their piece is unusual or different.

“One of the things I always hear from different patrons is that they really appreciate the passion of the artists work that goes on stage, especially because we don’t restrict their voice,” Gallant says. “Even if the show isn’t quite their cup of tea, I’ve had a lot of times a patron would say ‘That wasn’t really what I was expecting but I really appreciated their passion, what else have you got?’ I think for me the exciting thing that I always look forward to is how creative the artists have been. Are they thinking outside of the box? What type of unique things can I see? There’s always a little bit of that in each show and that’s a unique thrill.”

The venues used in Fringe are situated in the downtown core and nearby Inglewood, with a mixture of mainstage and boutique venues populating the festival.

“We have eight venues, five of them are mainstage venues and three of them are what we call venue boutiques or bring-your-own-venues,” Gallant says. “The mainstage venues are Alexander Centre, ArtPoint Gallery, Festival Hall — which is the home of the Calgary Folk Festival. Two venues downtown are the Vertigo Theatre and Lunchbox which are right across the hallway from each other. For boutique venues, we have Ironwood Stage & Grill which is hosting a show from a Berlin artist named Paco Echard called An Honest* History of Bullshit — he’s performing there nightly at 6:00 p.m. We also have a gentleman from Australia named Marcus Ryan performing in the Gravity Espresso & Winebar in Inglewood and Kohkum & Me, an Indigenous show, is being performed at Motel Theatre downtown in Arts Commons.”

Aside from being a local festival, Fringe also attracts talent from across Canada and internationally as well with performers coming from far-flung places such as Australia and Germany. 

“It’s a global festival,” Gallant says. “When we do a drawing, we do drawings from three different categories. We have our local category — we have brilliant artists in our local arts scene of course. We have our national draw of artists from within Canada and international artists, with artists from around the rest of the world. We try and lean more towards the local and national artists because we want to promote our homegrown talent. As well we invite our neighbours from south of the border — we also get people coming from Germany, Australia and the UK as well. It’s a great balance of a lot different acts and it’s really neat to see the different levels of entertainment and types of entertainment from around the world.”

One of the aspects of the festival that is most emphasized by the organizers of Fringe is its sense of building a sense of community amongst its performers and patrons.  

“The big thing about arts, and especially indoor theatre arts or visual arts, is that it brings people together in a common gathering place,” Gallant says. “What happens when you bring people together to enjoy a theatre performance, is they’re sharing something together. They’re sharing a laugh or tears when they’re watching a performance. One of the great things in terms of community building is that different people from different backgrounds and different walks of life all come to the festival for different reasons, but the one common thing they have is they are there to share an experience. They are there to engage, they are there not just to see the acts but to talk with one another and say ‘What have you seen? What have you found interesting?’ ”

The Calgary Fringe Festival runs from Aug. 2–10. For a full list of performances in the festival and to purchase tickets, visit their website. All shows are $15 and all proceeds go to the artists. Tickets are also available for the same price at the door before performances and are sold on a first-come-first-served basis.

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