The Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival features a wide range of acts. // © 2012 Edmonton Economic Development Corporation
The world’s first fringe theater festival took place in 1947 in Edinburgh, Scotland, when a group of performing artists who were not invited to formally participate in the elite Edinburgh International Arts Festival decided to create an event of their own. Theatrical performances were staged in empty churches, store basements and on street corners. One Scottish playwright, who described the enterprise as operating “’round the fringe of official festival drama,” inadvertently coined the term “fringe festival.”
From those humble beginnings, fringe theater has grown into an international phenomenon that attracts tourists and theater buffs to festival cities worldwide. This form of theater is particularly popular in Canada and the oldest and largest fringe theater festival in North America can be found in Edmonton.
“The great thing about the Edmonton International Fringe Theater Festival is that you can find shows that you won’t see anywhere else,” said Ross Bradley, a self-proclaimed theater junkie who has attended the event annually for more than 20 years. “There is everything from slapstick comedy to serious drama, and I usually look for cutting-edge theater that will challenge me and be interesting to watch.”
Fringe theater is definitely not mainstream and one of the defining aspects of traditional fringe theater festivals is the non-juried nature of the performances.
“Many of the largest fringe festivals are programmed, but we still pull from a hat,” explained Thomas Scott, program director for Fringe Theatre Adventures, the organization that produces the Edmonton festival. “Keeping the festival non-juried allows the event to remain true to the original concept.”
This year, the 10-day Edmonton International Fringe Theater Festival will take place Aug. 16-26, and will feature more than 220 shows in both indoor and outdoor venues. Most shows will take place in the festival area surrounding Edmonton’s Old Strathcona neighborhood, but some will be outside the immediate area of the festival grounds due to a new category called “bring your own venue.” On the festival grounds, visitors will also find 60 street performers and plenty of refreshments — including a beer tent.
With more than 220 shows playing in 10 days, it’s impossible to see every production at the festival.
“I typically fit in 50 to 55 shows per year, but I have done as many as 72 in an exceptionally good year,” said Bradley. “You really have to plan well, or you’ll end up spending your entire day in the beer tent — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.”
Each year at the festival, Bradley and two other fringe fanatics offer a free course on “how to fringe.” Some of their top tips for fringe visitors are to check out the online program (posted in early August) before attending the festival and to purchase tickets in advance (starting Aug. 7).
Tickets are $6 to $12.50 per show or visitors can buy a Frequent Fringer, a pass that allows one person to see 10 shows at a discounted rate. Bradley suggests that guests go early, as it is easier to get into shows on the first weekend. In order to find the best shows, ask other event-goers, check reviews or, if the shows haven’t been reviewed yet, look for highly rated performers and directors. Some shows have been performed throughout Canada and may have been reviewed in another city.
For the most convenient access to the festival, clients will want accommodations right in Old Strathcona where they can walk to the events. Two popular hotels in the area include the Varscona and Metterra. Another option is a downtown hotel that is close to a trolley that runs to Old Strathcona. Two downtown hotels in convenient walking distance of the trolley are the Matrix and the Coast Edmonton Plaza.
More information can be found at the Fringe Theater Adventures website, including a list of events and additional tips on how clients can make the most of their experience on the fringe.