It’s likely if you’re headed to the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival this year you’re aware of a few things. It’s the twenty-fifth anniversary of the festival, the beer garden is always packed, and there are 173 shows to check out over 12 days and you can’t see them all.
Now, if you’ve been to the festival before and are one of those people who stand outside Safeway or McNally Robinson the day the programs go on sale (only $5) odds are you already know what you’re going to see. But if you’ve never done the festival before, never attended a performance of a locally written and performed piece in the air-conditioned glory of the Tom Hendry Theatre or the upstairs BYOV (bring your own Venue) at the King’s Head, well then you may need a little help getting around.
But don’t sweat it; I’ve assembled three Winnipeg Fringe veteran performers and super fans to let you know what they look for at the Fringe, what acts you shouldn’t miss this year, and some tidbits about having a great fest.
Rory Fallis, writer and director of this year’s Maiden Voyage 4: Come Hell or High Water, an active fringe-goer and participant since 2009, who saw his first show in 2004. Brent Hirose, performing in his 20th production over the last eight years, has been attending Fringe for more than a decade and can be seen in Lost and Left Behind (a “storytelling show about the legacy of his grandparents who were forcibly moved from the B.C. coast during World War II). And Cory Wreggitt, who’s been involved with the Fringe as “audience and entertainer for about twelve years now” and directed a great performance of Neil Labute’s Autobahn for last year’s festival.
What draws you to the festival?
Hirose: I love the breadth and depth of the shows at Fringe: the sheer variety in the program speaks to the wide talent pool that brings shows to the city. On top of that, it’s all very accessible and leaves you with almost overwhelming options for entertainment. There is literally nothing like it in the city at any other time of year.
What do you look for in a Fringe show?
Hirose: As a performer, I tend to spend most of my time watching shows put on by people that I know, but I always try to check out stuff that I have no personal connection to; if someone mentions enjoying it, if it has a really good program blurb, handbill, poster, whatever. I absolutely love being surprised at Fringe, and if the show ends up being less than perfect, well, that’s part of the fun as well.
Are there any shows, theatre companies, or improv troupes out there that are a sure bet for a good time?
Wreggitt: I never miss Impro-vision or Theatre by the River — I’ve never seen a bad show from either troupe.
Does venue play into your decision at all?
Hirose: If I’m hanging out at the beer tent, closer is definitely better. Cinematheque is great since it’s very close and has A/C. The professional venues (MTC, Warehouse, MTYP) definitely have the most comfortable seats and best sight lines. If you’re going to other venues (Son of Warehouse & MTC up the Alley come to mind) it’s best to get there early so that you can get ideal seating, although you might want to stand until the show starts as the folding chairs are not the best.
If your seat comfort is important to you, I highly suggest bringing a cushion! It’s also good to have layers of clothing; sometimes the AC can get a little chilly and you don’t want to be uncomfortable during the show!
Are there any shows you are particularly looking forward to?
Fallis: The Getaway, Lady Skits, Surf Chimps
Wreggit: Fubuki Daiko is back with what I feel is the best titled play this year: Godzilla vs. Led Zepplin! I’m also really interested in a show called The Touring Test by a company called Treading Water — too fringe-y to resist!
Do you spend a lot of time at the outdoor stage?
Hirose: I always enjoy drinking a beer with my friends while listening to some top-notch local music. Winnipeg’s art community really comes out to play!
Are there any vendors or kiosks you absolutely have to visit?
Wreggit: Stay out of my way when you see me headed for the samosa hut. I usually manage to pick up a couple of books at the booksellers, too.
And what would you say is the best thing about Fringe?
Fallis: Eleven days of fun, creativity, and relentless partying.
Great theatre at an unbelievable bargain, whether it be single tickets, buddy passes or frequent fringer cards. This year in celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary they’ve added the 25 Hour Fringe Pass, the Overnight Fringe Pass, the Kick Off Show, and the Fringe Overnight Event, to make more shows available. More information on all these great additions is available in the program and online. Happy Fringing!