Here in Vancouver, the Fringe Festival has been in full swing since Sept. 5, and its early bustle has come as something of a welcome surprise. Shows have been selling out right and left, including those by the five-woman sketch comedy team Strapless, and the manic SNAFU Dance Theatre's survivalist romp Kitt & Jane. The buzz hangs as heavy in the air as the morning humidity. It’s interesting to compare the rowdy carnival atmosphere of the Edmonton Fringe, complete with sideshow attractions, tireless street performers, and mountains of cheap fried food and the people who eat it, with Vancouver’s more refined approach and oddience. The Vancouver Fringe is the biggest theater festival in town, I’m told, and therefore attracts a fairly large percentage of mainstream theater-goers.
But despite the fact that each show begins with an overly complicated spiel about sponsorship opportunities, the shows themselves have run the usual fringe-y gamut of content from heartfelt to hilarious, edgy to educational. Here are some of the standouts I’ve seen so far.
With the frenzy of the Edmonton Fringe Festival finally subsided, and Vancouver’s about to begin, myself and the Naked Empire Bouffons are ready for action. We have posters to plaster, our venue to scope out, and fellow artists to schmooze before the festival opens on the fifth, but in the interim I have time to let my attentions wander back momentarily to San Francisco, whose Fringe Festival also opens this week.
Did you know that we boast the second oldest Fringe Festival in the United States (the first being Orlando’s)? And that, along with Vancouver, we represent the final leg of the CAFF (Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals) circuit for touring Fringe artists, despite the small complication of not actually being Canadian? Admittedly our festival is smaller than the Vancouver event (36 shows, as compared to 91 and counting), but it’s still a veritable bacchanal of drama, dance, and comedic derring-do packed into 14 days.
It’s hard to believe, but the 32nd annual Edmonton Fringe is already over and touring companies like Naked Empire Bouffon are packing their bags to move on to the next festival, while artists who have finished their runs head for home — whether that’s Australia, the UK, or just North of the High Level Bridge. As at every Fringe, my goal has been to see just as many shows as I can, and in between stage-managing Naked Empire’s run and feverishly making deadlines, I saw 35, which ranged in content and execution from the merely mundane to the inarguably sublime. Here’s a roundup of my personal favorites and companies I recommend watching out for should they make over to San Francisco.
On my first day in Alberta, Canada I am greeted by gracious Edmontonians bearing platters of smoked meats, a local tradition perhaps, and upon joining my reconnaissance troop, the small but mighty Naked Empire Bouffon Company, who I’m stage-managing for their one-month Fringe Festival tour, we head down to the 32nd Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival headquarters to discover what we can about the territory. The Edmonton Fringe is the second largest in the world after Edinburgh (the original), attracting over a half-million people to the festival site, and hosting over 200 performing companies over the course of 11 days. Mixed in with the vast throng of performers from around the world, a small regiment of infiltrators from the Bay Area have scattered themselves throughout the festival grounds and venues, a quiet invasion of quirky monologists and seasoned storytellers.
And Naked Empire of course, whose confrontational buffooning offers an entirely different definition of Fringe theatre. Read more »
In an iconic sequence from Winsor McCay’s eccentrically beautiful Little Nemo in Slumberland, Nemo’s bed sprouts elongated legs and strolls through the city as Nemo and his cantankerous friend Flip cling to the bedsheets and try not to fall out. Whenever I see performers on stilts, the exaggerated limbs of that unexpectedly animated furniture are one of the first things that spring to my mind, their death-defying acrobatics furthering the resemblance to an unnerving dream sequence.
Tapping into both the whimsical and the deeply unsettling nature of stiltwalking as art form, San Francisco’s Carpetbag Brigade and Nemcatacoa Teatro from Colombia performed their unique brand of physical theater in tandem over the weekend, along with Tucson, AZ’s VerboBala and Hojarasca Andina from Colombia, as part of their transcontinental “Bi-Cultural Road Show."
Tweaking tradition with Minor Empire and Thingamajigs
There are as many roads down the path of “world music” as there are countries represented within that nebulous category. And while there’re still plenty of purists adhering strictly to the musical traditions of the past, it’s just as common for today’s world musicians to use those traditions as a kind of jumping-off point for their compositions, in much the same way that the 12-bar blues have been the foundation for numerous offshoots of “American” music.
A good example of this conscious hybridization between past and present, old word and new, is Toronto-based Turkish-Canadian combo Minor Empire, who blend sinuous Eastern folk tunes with Western jazz-jam, desert rock, and pulsing electronica, providing multiple entrance points to their specific sound.
One of beer’s most intriguing qualities is that it’s an incredibly easy elixir to get nerdy about. In fact, it’s almost like a double gateway — attracting regular folk to the wide wonderful world of microbiology and science-minded folk to the bar scene. What’s more, beer as a social catalyst has been bringing people together for possibly over 10,000 years and is the third most popular beverage in the world after water and tea, providing plenty of opportunity for historical insight and cultural exchange. All of which made hosting a beer-tasting event at San Francisco’s 38th edition of Nerd Nite kind of a no-brainer … except with brains. Read more »
FoolsFURY’s Factory Parts Builds a Future for Ensemble Works
Ever ambitious, the process-oriented foolsFURY theater ensemble has added yet another performance series to its production calendar: "Factory Parts," focusing on works-in-development from fellow ensemble companies from both coasts.
Structured like a lower-key version of its biennial festival of ensemble theater, "The FURY Factory," "Factory Parts" brings together ten companies to present segments of unfinished works before an audience (and each other) to gain perspective on how to shape them for the future. Broken up into three separate programs each showing three times over the course of ten days, Factory Parts offers artists and audiences alike to get in on the ground floor of a production’s existence and offer insight and feedback to the companies involved, turning what would normally be behind-the-scenes workshopping into a form of participatory theatergoing.
I caught up with foolsFURY’s associate artistic director Debórah Eliezer to get the inside scoop on the series, which opens tonight.
Celebrating Freedom of Expression with Tourettes Without Regrets
I’m as susceptible as the next ‘Murican to the social imperative of observing certain time-honored holiday traditions, particularly the ones that involve drinking and blowing shit up, but still I appreciate the opportunity to mix things up in that milieu. Which is why this Fourth of July, heading over to the Oakland Metro for Tourettes Without Regrets was the perfect way to celebrate my inalienable right to get freaky.
Probably the least predictable and therefore most electric variety show in the Bay Area, TWR has been throwing down the gauntlet of weird since 1999, a mad mashup of foul-mouthed comedians and spoken word performers, battle rappers, burlesque beauties, and sheer, unbridled chaos. Can YOU guess what’s in host Jamie DeWolf’s pants? Would you fuck a pie onstage? Compete for the prized “golden dildo”? Participate in a bout of pants-off musical chairs? Be forewarned, there are no true bystanders at TWR and nobody is innocent.