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Photo of main characters from performance of SOLD // courtesy Calgary Fringe Festival

Calgary Fringe 2021: Take me to the playhouse

By Rachneet Randhawa and Ava Zardynezhad, August 18 2021 —

After two years since their last appearance, the Calgary Fringe Festival finally returned to the city this last week. 

The Fringe Festival has been a Calgary summer tradition since 2006. You might be asking, “What is a Fringe Festival, anyway?” 

Fringe Festivals date back to post-World War II Edinburgh, where the first Fringe Festival was showcased in 1947. During this year, a few theatre companies were omitted from the Edinburgh International Festival lineup and subsequently decided to put on their own show on the sidelines. Since then, Fringe Festivals have travelled the globe. In Canada, this festival started in Edmonton in 1982 and has spread across the nation over the years. 

“Basically, [Calgary Fringe] is an open-access festival, which means anybody can participate,” says Michele Gallant, the executive director and producer of Calgary Fringe. 

All Canadian Fringe Festivals are all part of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF). The association has five core mandates, which ensures that diverse shows and performances are selected fairly and without bias, that the shows are accessible to the masses and that the artists are able to receive the full extent of the revenue collected from the shows.

Coming back from a year of lockdown and quarantining, Calgary Fringe’s priority was ensuring audience safety. The shows this year took a hybrid format — they were available to watch live at Festival Hall or at home. This year’s festival also included many on-demand options on their Digital Theatre Playhouse, which are only available online.

The shows can come in many forms of entertainment, including comedy, opera, theater, magic and more. Gallant describes the repertoire as a potluck supper where you have a little bit of everything. 

This year’s lineup definitely lived up to the potluck comparison. Here at the Gauntlet, we were able to catch most of the live shows and we were surprised by the variety. In addition to classic plays, the lineup also included one-man and one-woman pieces, a magic show as well as interactive experiences. 

The live shows consisted of The Rumble Follies, Drag Me to the Opera, Final Sale. No exchanges, No refunds., A Socially Distanced Mentalism and Magic Show and SOLD. 

The Rumble Follies was a play featuring puppets. The show followed Maxine Rumble, the director of “The Follies” and her struggles to keep the show afloat after her husband leaves her and the company. The show depicts social issues today’s aging population might face. Hilarious and heartwarming, it was definitely a highlight of the festival. 

Drag Me to the Opera was a coming-of-age story of a young tenor who is struggling to find their singing voice via their alter ego drag counterpart Aida Cupcake who is both a drag performer and a classically trained opera singer. It features a handful of numerous musicals with oh-so-many colourful wigs galore. 

Final Sale. No exchanges. No refunds. was a one-woman show featuring the real-life story of Jessica Belbin and her personal struggles with being stigmatized for her body. She walks us through a carefully curated dialogue she has with herself with the goal of her monologue emphasizing that one should not be ashamed of their body and that they should choose to unconditionally love and appreciate their own self-worth regardless of size, shape or colour.  

A Socially Distant Mentalism and Magic Show was brought to Calgary Fringe by Albertan Jeff Newman. The show was full of tricks and puzzles that kept the audience “ooh-ing” and “aw-ing” throughout. The show was inviting, baffling and mind-blowing. 

SOLD was a feature from Ottawa’s Levity Theatre and was a game show style, theoretical performance. The setup was a parody of shows like Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank which give enthusiastic entrepreneurs the chance to secure a business deal as they pitch whatever they can conjure up to win a deal. This show strayed away from being a typical and classic art performance. The themes within the show acted as a euphemism for our generation and what we stereotypically value — environmentalism, women’s rights, wanting to make a difference in the world and questioning the status quo of capitalism and its unequal distribution. Overall, it was a solid performance by these young artists.   

The live shows might be over, but Calgary Fringe certainly isn’t. The on-demand shows are still available online and by popular demand, the shows will remain on the festival’s website until Aug. 28. Be sure to enjoy the shows before they’re gone. 

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