Culture & Conversation

The Buzz on the Fringe

At the Parc des Amériques last night, local bands United Steel Workers of Montreal and Lake of Stew kicked off Fringefest 2009, Montreal’s anything-goes, no-holds barred (or all holds bared) performance festival running through June 21. Fringe performers are chosen by lottery, and anyone can apply. No discrimination. No censorship. And for the muddled theatre-goer, sifting through approximately 100 shows in the guide — no guarantees.

Fortunately, with prices hovering around $5 to $9 a ticket (plus Service Charge), Fringers can forgive a few rotten eggs along the way. That is the culture of Fringefest — painful failures and unexpected gems mixed indiscriminately for less than the cost of a movie ticket. Fringe encompasses all walks of performance art: theatre, dance, improv, comedy, poetry, song, and more. But how to pick a show amidst such tenuous odds? At Fringe, word of mouth reigns.

For tips on performances, check out the Buzz of the Beer Tent wall near the Central Box Office at the Parc des Amériques, or read the online hype. On June 15 from 7 to 9 pm, you can also catch the free Shameless Self-Promotion acts at the park, where Fringe artists will blatantly vie for the favour of audience members in short intro clips onstage.

With so many Fringe shows in the mix every year, artists invariably go to great lengths to gain audience and media attention. Newcomers must prove themselves without any prior credibility. Dracula in a Time of Climate Change performers sent a bag of fake blood with their press release to the local English daily, landing them a spot in the paper’s top 10 Fringe picks. Performers from the Cabaret L’Amour Fou wandered through the opening night crowds in full pirate regalia. Dancers of the show As Duas impishly admit to faking the promo quote from “The Mile End Quarterly” in their flyers (the publication doesn’t actually exist).

“At Fringe, you can go in as an independent artist and do your own thing — like REALLY do your own thing,” As Duas dancer Valerie Sabbah said emphatically, pausing before she added, “I think you can’t have firearms or set fires…”

Talk this year points to a few likely winners:

1) Uncalled For Presents: Today is All Your Birthdays: Sketch comedy from local award-winning improv artists. Having won the Just for Laughs Best Comedy Award (Montreal Fringe 2008), and Second City Best of the Fest Award (Toronto Sketch Fest 2008), this one’s a pretty safe bet.

2) Dancing in my Unbirthday Suit: Maybe it’s just a Fringe birthday theme, but the buzz around this Montreal’s Inertia Productions performance last night was confirmed from multiple sources. A mysterious performance combining “frilly dresses,” “twisted stripteases” and “kitsch dancing”.

3) ESTe: pulsion morte ou accouchement libéré: A self-described existential contortionist with a lifetime of circus experience engages in unimaginable twists and turns of the body. Her teaser performances have already captivated audiences. Not for the squeamish.

4) Jem Rolls’ Leastest Flops: Performance poetry from a veteran Fringe performer with a dedicated following. His past shows have been met with rave reviews.

Some other eye-catching titles include: How Does a Drug Deal Become a Decent Third Date?, Burlesque Unzipped: From Shakespeare to the Shimmy and my personal favourite, Fucking Steven Harper: How I Sexually Assaulted the 22nd Prime Minister of Canada and Where It Got Me.

There’s a lot to take in, and a lot to see. Check in to Rover next week for more Fringe reviews.

To buy Fringe tickets or read more on the shows, see Tickets can also be ordered by phone at 514-849-FEST.

Lake of Stew band photo by Sandra Lynn Belanger

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