The Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, like many summer festivals, is moving online to help protect Winnipeggers from COVID-19. But unlike many other fests, Fringe will be free for all.
The festival is subtitled “Virtually Yours” and will run from July 14 to 17 starting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. The shows will stream live on Facebook and YouTube.
The performers, along with other companies who are helping in the planning and running of the festival, have received honorariums to support their art. This has made sure that Fringe will be accessible to everyone.
“It’s been different than anything we’ve ever done before,” festival manager Tori Popp says.
Popp says the staff is learning many new skills by adapting to situations they have never had to deal with before. “It’s been a lot of fun, actually,” she says, adding that her staff can put the new skills into their arsenal for the future. “The stage just happens to be the internet.”
The festival will run two live shows at the Gas Station Arts Centre (GSAC), which will also be livestreamed. A small audience will be admitted to each show, with limited seating to maintain COVID-19 precautions. The festival will make the few reservable seats available before the festival.
Anjali Sandhu, a standup comedian, actor and writer who will perform at one of the live shows at GSAC, says that an online-only comedy show would be challenging.
“Generally, when you’re onstage, you say something funny, the audience laughs, and you wait for them to stop laughing before you say your next line,” she says. When there is no audience to gauge responses, it becomes difficult to perform. “You have the risk that you’re either cutting off people’s laughs and they’re not hearing the next thing you say, or you’re going to have long, awkward pauses between dialogue.”
Fortunately, Sandhu will have a small audience in addition to the livestream. “Fringe is such a community builder,” she adds, explaining that she is excited to be part of the festival.
“It’s sad that we don’t get to have a regular festival, but we still get to put something out into the world that Fringers can engage with, which I think is better than we could have asked for,” Popp says.
The daily schedules and descriptions of every show are available at winnipegfringe.com.
Valerie Nyamori is a Kenyan-Canadian writer. She loves Winnipeg but struggles with the winter. She gets through the season by reading any books she gets her hands on and drinking too much tea.