STEPHEN NEAR: Top 5 Trends of the Fringe
By Stephen Near
The weather’s getting warmer and the days are getting longer. And all around the city there’s scant space left to rehearse. We must be getting close to another Fringe season. This year, my company is back at the fest so I’ll be performing while trying to catch other shows. Which is why I enjoy looking over what the Fringe has to offer. In the last few years, I’ve written a few blogs for the Fringe about the Top 5 Trends of the Hamilton Fringe. This exercise always informs my choices on what to see so, once again, here’s my take on the top five trends for #HamFringe
It’s a little bit drama. It’s a little bit laugh out loud. It takes a skillful playwright to straddle the line between silly and serious. And any good director will tell you the best way for an audience to listen to the weighty things you have to say is to let them know it’s okay to smile, too. If you’re looking something not too heavy, and not too light, perhaps these shows will be just right:
The Lost Years is an intimate two-hander by Hamilton theatre veterans Peter Gruner and Deb Dagenais, while Toronto’s rejzndkliv stages a Queer coming-of-age parody of Charlie Brown with DOG SEES GOD. Hamilton’s Young Divas are mashing Chekhov with Monty Python in Two Sisters, but you’ll also want to see Vicktoria Adam mixing marriage with witchcraft in Midnight Circle. Fringe performers Liz Buchanan and Jamie Taylor premiere Grandfather’s Secret and playwright Steve Hartwell with director Kelly Wolf present Normal Shmormal. And don’t miss Andrew Lee’s Subway Extension to the Mariana Trench which took home this year’s Best New Play Award.
2) Solo Class
The one-person show is an essential part of the Fringe circuit. Often written by the performer themselves (but not all the time), one-person shows give audiences a chance to see a raw theatre performance in action. No matter if they’re dramatic monologues or stand-up romps of comedy, one-person shows engage audiences in ways no other theatre can. Some solo shows are found in other categories, so be on the look-out for some of this year’s highlights:
Playwright/performer Chantria Tram asks questions of culture and identity in Someone Between while Helena Cosentino pays tribute to Gilda Radner in Gilda. Melissa D’Agostino directs Mark Peacock in a Flightmare of alternative facts while award-winning Carlyn Rhamey returns with The ADHD Project. Margo MacDonald brings her hit The Elephant Girls back to the Staircase alongside Hamilton’s own Colette Kendall with Over 50 and Other Nightmares. Jennifer Walton directs Marianne Daly in the Open the Lace Curtains and Christel Bartelse talks motherhood in All KIDding Aside while Toronto Fringe veteran Paul Hutcheson performs in Stupefied.
3) Trip the Light Fantastic
Fringe is the place to risk. And often the best shows skew away from the so-called well-made play into genres or performances that spiral madly off in all directions. From magic shows to clown to science fiction and kids plays, this year’s Fringe offers a plethora of work that defies expectations while charting bold new directions:
Science fiction is onstage with Gemoma and their First Class alongside the tag team of Ryan Iwanicki and Ilya Marvin Ilyashyk in The Plausibility of Teleportation in an Oxygen-Deprived Environment. Fun is in the cards with the return of Fringe favourite Ewerton Martins in El Diablo of the Cards 2.0 as well as the stylings of Sawyer Bullock: Magician Ordinaire. New Zealand’s Collossal gives us physical comedy in Laser Kiwi and Hamilton’s Understudies perform Swipe Right for Love. For Eden is an interactive art installation by Fringe veteran Chelsea Haraburda while Toronto’s KnifeMan Presents give us physical theatre in Up Here.
4) Musical: the Musical!
The success of the Canadian-made Come From Away should remind us all that every musical had to start somewhere. Often that start happens at the Fringe. Audiences often go into a musical with the broadest of expectations. They want to be entertained by a good story and even better songs. A
good musical sweeps the audience off their feet to leave them wanting more. If that’s what you’re looking for check out this year’s toe-tapping numbers:
Chasing Shadows takes us back to the Rock with Elvis in Swingin’ in St. John’s while the award-winning Francesca Brugnano gives us playwriting as a deadly business in Acts of Fiction. Canadian theatre icon Sky Gilbert presents Cheri based on the novels of Colette and Maxie Liberman gives us a mystery/comedy/love story in This is Not a Musical: The Musical! Heart Strings: The Musical is tale of love, betrayal and revenge while Requiem Aeternam by Maya Ziemann tackles death and redemption.
5) Are You for Real?
Theatre is sometimes most powerful when it tackles real life issues or takes inspiration from an actual person or event. These kinds of shows can be hard-hitting political commentaries or social justice pieces but just as often they simply offer a unique take on a real event. If you like theatre that encourages discussion or sparks conversation check out the following shows:
Coal From Hades: The Story of Les Mouches Fantastique recalls the first queer magazine published in North America while Darren Stewart-Jones’ Misfit looks at the diary of Marilyn Monroe. Same Boat Theatre tackles radicalization in Canada with my new play Your Own Sons and London’s behindthewire takes on the Greatest Canadian in In This Corner: Eight Rounds With Tommy Douglas. Fringe favourite Izad Etemadi collaborates with McMaster’s School of Social Work with We Are Not The Others while Ron Weis brings his politically-charged Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy back to Artword. Toronto’s Jessica Bowmer recalls true stories of sexual assault on college campuses in The Flesh of Her and Saskatoon’s Scantily Glad looks inside Valerie Solanas’ Society for Cutting Up Men in SCUM: a manifesto.
This list is by no means complete and half the fun of any Fringe Festival is getting out and seeing something that takes you by surprise. So, maybe, think of this list as a road map to navigating your own unique journey through the Fringe.