As the house lights dimmed for the final time at the Just For Laughs studio this past Sunday night – marking the close of the 2009 Fringe Fest – the mood was anything but sombre. An evening of “Frankie” awards and eleven-second dance party antics, hosted by 13th Hour MCs Dan Jeanotte and Anders Yates, gave way to a full-fledged dance party, complete with a projected slide-show of some of the fest’s finest moments.
Though there were many to choose from, no one would disagree that the raucous and wild Dance Animal easily came out on top. The ten-person dance troupe (of which Jeanotte and Yates are both members) thrilled audiences all week long with their winning mixture of comedic monologues and passionate gyrations. Concluding its six-show run earlier on Sunday with a five minute long standing ovation, the perfectly paced and cleverly scripted Animal so impressed Fringe-goers that Fest organizers awarded it with the Spirit of Montreal award later that same evening. And rightfully so – it’s been a good long while since a dance show had every member of the audience grinning and tapping their feet for sixty consecutive minutes.
Unfortunately, not everyone’s acts were as successful. Jimmy Hogg’s final performance of his coming-of-age stand up act, Like A Virgin, apparently never managed to connect with the local crowd. During his final, pre-awards show performance, a visibly weary Hogg valiantly tried to throw in cultural references and improvised asides, but never managed to overcome the overwhelming awkward silence.
Cobra: The Musical III: The Return of the King … of Kings! on the other hand, fared better. The nearly-impenetrable musical overcame muddled vocal performances, shouting performers and cheap gags to a warm round of applause.
You win some, you lose some. Fringe is all about experimenting with live theatre, after all. That being said, there was certainly plenty to celebrate … and much to look forward to next year, when the Fringe turns 20.
The verb “Fringing” was born with good reason; hopping from one hour-long Fringefest performance to the next amounts to nothing short of a sport. You cram in as many shows as possible, stop by the Beer Tent and have a brew, scrawl on the Buzz Wall, and you’re off to the next performance around the corner. While most of the shows stand alone very well, they are all the more powerful delivered together in the span of an eleven-day festival.
Musical acts, in affiliation with Pop Montreal, have grown into an increasingly prominent part of Fringe, and it is a pleasure to see the festival expand beyond the theatrical. As far as performance goes, Candy Simmons’ acting in Afterlife proved unbeatable; Jem Rolls’ self-conscious pandering to the audience was at once refreshing and amusing.
The danger with Fringe comes with the small venues, which make late entry impossible. Do not show up late — not even 15 seconds late. I learned this the hard way on my way to Dracula in a Time of Climate Change. Of course, you can hardly blame the strict policy when the entrance is on the stage. On the whole, Fringe sets are invariably minimalist — actors often set up and take down with tornado speed to make room for the next act. Content varies widely, but you can be fairly certain to expect the unexpected. Talent ranges from the mediocre to the impressive. But what makes Fringe fest remarkable is the unfailing glow of satisfaction that emanates from performers as they talk about their shows. At this festival, they are truly in their element.
The glow translates to the audience, who are initiated into a form of theatre far more intimate than more large-scale shows put on at Place des Arts. When else could you see an existential comedy show? Where else would you witness theatre performed in an ice rink? Or see a contortionist up close and personal? How often do you count yourself among an audience of twenty?
There are downsides to that intimacy, of course. An impressively ignorant woman on her cell phone in the bathroom, for example, may not realize how her voice seeps into the show room next door. But on the whole, Fringe Fest is made up of people united by a love of performance art. And that overwhelming sense of community — that connection wrought between audiences and performers who “Fringe” — renders Fringe Fest an impressive and worthy performance in its own right.
PHOTO CREDIT: The Dance Animal Troupe, accepting their Best of Montreal award on Sunday night. Photo by Louis Longpré.