What’s your Fringe Fest fancy?

From July 15-26, Winnipeg’s Exchange District and the venues that surround it will play host to the 17th annual Winnipeg Fringe Festival. The Fringe Festival provides an outlet for both local and touring theatre companies to present their productions at a number of venues across Winnipeg’s urban centre. The companies selected to appear in the festival are allowed total artistic freedom and receive the entirety of the revenue generated from their productions’ ticket sales.

After reviewing the current year’s lineup, the Manitoban has reached out to five theatre companies for comment on the plays they will be presenting at this year’s Fringe with the hope of providing a sampling of sorts – as well as the companies’ own descriptions of their art – for new and seasoned festival-goers alike.

American story-teller and writer Randy Ross is bringing his one-man show, The Chronic Single’s Handbook to the festival for its debut performance in Winnipeg. Ross told the Manitoban his play was based off his own life experiences and his unpublished novel about a “chronically single guy who takes a trip around the world looking for the woman of his dreams.” Ross admits that the show is “not for everyone,” as it includes mature content and features Ross’s “personal opinions about love, sex, marriage, and paying for a hand-job,” but concludes that the show “should be a good fit for adventurous Winnipeg Fringers.”

Touring company Sizzle and Spark bring another comedic, mature production to Winnipeg’s festival. Described in the troupe’s press release as a “theatrical adult clown show,” the play features a couple desperate to spice up their love life with secrets from an ancient document known only as the “Sama Kutra.” Performer Jacqueline Russell described the play to the Manitoban as “sexy, naughty and hilarious,” noting that the show is subject to a degree of improvisation with each performance.

“Because we are clowns, no two shows are ever exactly the same. So much of our show is shaped by the audience and all the wonderful, unexpected things that happen in live theatre”, Russell said.

Meghan Chalmers and Franny McCabe-Bennett make up the entirety of the touring theatrical company Two Juliets. They hail from Ontario, and are bringing their stylistic mash-up XOXO: The Relationship Show to Winnipeg directly following the Toronto Fringe Festival.

The plot of XOXO is centred on the concept of dating and relationships “from a funny, feminist point of view.” The two actors use a variety of genres to get their message across, combining “the honesty of stand-up comedy, the theatricality of a Shakespearean tragedy and the bone-chilling horror of an R.L. Stine novel in a queer-positive and gender-inclusive sketchy comedy/theatre hybrid.”

Chalmers and McCabe-Bennett recommend the show to anyone aged 15 or older, and promise “an hour of high-energy fun that everyone can relate to.”

Local theatre company Downside Up Productions is set to present a slightly darker production than the touring acts listed above. Downside Up is performing a play called SHARDS, which explores the manner in which violence can manifest in one’s everyday life. The aforementioned violence is presented and explored through 23 disjointed scenes, and sports a cast of two playing the parts of 24 separate characters.

Director and writer Wren Hookey told the Manitoban he believes the play will stand out as a result of its “intensity and range,” also noting that “having all 24 characters written to be played by actors of any gender is not something you can see anywhere else.”

Last but not least, another local company called Half Empty Productions will perform playwright Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning show, Circle Mirror Transformation. Half Empty Productions features former and current students of the University of Manitoba as well as distinguished U of M Film Professor George Toles as the company’s director. According to Toles, the play itself is set in a drama class, and the plot is based around a “six-week course in which five people go through this progression, and many of the things that reveal the most about the characters come through the theatre exercises, which anyone who’s done theatre for any length of time will recognize.”

Toles informed the Manitoban that he believes the play will stand out in the festival due to its “beautifully unforced, lifelike feel, which on one hand suggests casualness […] but in fact, closer examination of the play reveals that nothing going on is arbitrary or ill-considered.”

The Chronic Single’s Handbook and XOXO: The Relationship Show will both be running at Fringe Venue #11 (Red River College), The Sama Kutra at Venue #2 (MTC Up The Alley), SHARDS at Venue #8 (The Rachel Browne Theatre), and Circle Mirror Transformation at Venue #6 (MTC Warehouse). For show times, ticket prices, and more information, please visit www.winnipegfringe.com