Memories of the Fringe

In 1993 I made my first of two trips to an Albertan theatre camp for junior/senior high school students called Artstrek. Perhaps another entry can discuss my times there, but for now, I just bring it up to say that it was here I first heard about the Edmonton Fringe Festival. An annual event where people from around the world come to perform plays of all description, from dance shows to cabaret pieces (simply singing show tunes rather than doing the play itself) to Shakespeare and big musicals to original works and one-person shows.

Many, many one person shows. Because you see, the less cast members you have to split the door with, the more profitable your show is. But anyway.

That very summer my family went up to Edmonton for the weekend to experience the Fringe, and it quickly became an annual event. I would use the Fringe to gorge myself on theatre. If I saw less than five plays in a day, I thought I was wasting my time. Need to eat? There’s food booths all over the grounds, just gruffle some curry or an Italian sandwich while watching one of the outdoor shows (jugglers and acrobats, mostly) then head to your next play.

And now, some highlights of my two decades of Fringing.

First show

1993.

The first thing I saw at the first Fringe I attended was Atomic Improv. Paul Mather and Donovan Workun. They did the Three Little Pigs as a spaghetti western, they did a scene about stamp collecting in Seussian verse, they scattered the names of every other Fringe show over the stage and had to insert them into a scene about gopher racing. I was, in one go, sold on the Fringe and a new fan of Atomic Improv. Which proved quite handy when they joined forces with Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie to do The War of 1812 some years later.

Paul Mather eventually left Edmonton to work in Canadian television. He wrote for Corner Gas, for instance. Donovan is still there and, last I knew, was still a regular part of Edmonton’s live improvised soap opera, Die-nasty, as well as doing Atomic Improv gigs with Commander Shepard himself, Mark Meer. Those are bound to be funny.

I want in on this

1997.

Remember The Amazing and Almost Accurate Adventures of Trigger Dandy, which I mentioned a while back? Jason and I put that show on, and as a side effect founded Mind the Walrus Theatre Company, as part of a plan to take Trigger to the Edmonton Fringe. I’d been going for four years now, and I wanted in. Now, it didn’t happen right away. Fringe slots are handed out in a lottery… well, it used to be that Edmonton residents were able to line up for a “first-come, first-served” option, and in 1998, a group of us attempted to take part in what would be the final Edmonton Fringe application line-up. See, Yuk Yuks comedy club paid a guy to start the line two days earlier than it normally would, so when we arrived, we were already twenty spots down the waiting list. We abandoned the line-up to take our chances with the “rest of Canada” lottery, and by the end of the weekend, the Yuk Yuks placeholder had become so drunk and abusive that the whole thing was shut down, and never done again.

On the plus side, we got in through the lottery, and the next summer we took Two Guys, a Couch, and the Fate of the World to the Edmonton Fringe. We ultimately decided it was a better choice than Trigger. Less act breaks.

First tour

2004.

The previous year we’d taken one of my scripts, The Course of True Love and the Curse of the Jade Monkey, to Edmonton while taking another show, Knoll, to Vancouver. This decision made some sort of sense at the time. And that’s why I now have a full Board of people keeping me from making unilateral decisions like that, because clearly someone should have tried to stop me.

Anyway, Jade Monkey was not a hit. It didn’t help that we were nearly two hours long and had two noon shows and two midnight shows, but I spent the 2003 Fringe looking at all the packed houses at shows I saw, wondering why we couldn’t have that kind of crowd. I eventually decided what we needed was something shorter, faster, funnier, and more portable. And thus began Heracles: the Mythologically Accurate Adventures. And just in time: that fall we got our first Fringe tour. Montreal, Winnipeg and Edmonton Fringe festivals, then back home for a one-week run in Calgary.

I’ll talk about Heracles and Jade Monkey more when we reach them in Danny G Writes Plays, but for now I just want to mention the wonderful community we discovered. We learned how comp exchange worked, a system where Fringe artists are able to swap free tickets with each other by putting your allotted comps under a password you can share with people you meet. We chatted with other companies, went to the Edmonton Fringe wrap party, and started to feel part of something amazing. I couldn’t wait to get us another Fringe tour to be part of this world again.

It took three years, and by that point I had a grown-up job and couldn’t go on the tour. C’est la vie.

David Belke

I have many influences, writers who’ve taught me something about storytelling through their works, figures whose style has inluenced mine. Aaron Sorkin, Joss Whedon, Steven Moffat, Brian Michael Bendis, to name the most prominent. But as far back as I’ve been writing plays, my idol has been Edmonton’s David Belke.

I saw my first Belke show in 1993. Blackpool and Parrish, a comedy about the impending final battle between good and evil. It changed my life. Hilarious, moving, brilliant character moments, I decided then and there that this was the kind of thing I wanted to write. Not this exact play, but this style, this wit, this razor-sharp dialogue, these wonderful characters.

Okay, and at least once, that exact play, but we’ll get to that. To my chagrin.

In 1994, I realized too late that the author of the amazing Blackpool and Parrish had debuted a new script, April and Peril, and didn’t get tickets in time. But it was finally remounted this year, and I finally got a chance to see it: classic Belke.

He’s done two hilarious mash-ups, in which a film noir private eye solves crimes involving Shakespeare’s characters (The Maltese Bodkin, in which Nathan Fillion first played the detective, and two decades later the sequel Forsooth My Lovely). He’s done plays about improv (Inside the Sandcastle), deals with the devil (Soul Mate), the slog of auditioning (The Headshot of Dorian Grey), and a few plays that are uncomfortably similar to plays I would later write (Blackpool and Parrish, That Darn Plot). Nobody on Earth can both inspire me and make me feel like a copycat hack like David Belke. He’s often been a highlight of my Fringe experience.

This year

This year my Fringing was more compressed. Between GISHWHES and rehearsals for Pastoral Paranoia, I could only spare one full day and two half-days. I still managed nine plays, including April in Peril, and improv show with Mark Meer, a comedy with Ryan Gladstone, and more great shows. I did well this year. It’s still a magical place for me, and someday I may yet bring a show there again.

Hopefully soon, an update on GISHWHES. Or something else if it takes my fancy.

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