Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival

Various locations // July 16-27

Big Names // Lots of touring companies from around the world.

Local talent // Too darn many to name.

Cost // $10/show, though there are Frequent Fringer passes for $94 (12 shows)

Regular downtown parking rules apply.

winnipegfringe.com

 

During the Winnipeg Fringe, you will find two types of guardian angels around the festival. The first, holed away in the booth at each venue, are the stalwart technicians. Second, in matching t-shirts, are the  volunteers, found educating Fringers new and old at the info booth, playing with kids at Old Market Square, checking IDs in the beer tent and, of course, selling tickets at the venues. Volunteering at the Fringe can be a great experience to put on your resume, but also, as volunteer Barbara Knoll says, a lot of fun. “It’s okay to be silly. It’s okay to not sort of have all the answers to everything.”  You do, however, learn what shows to see, by talking to all the funky Fringers.

Knoll has been volunteering with the festival for three years but wasn’t much of a Fringer before that, she says. She and her friend were MTC subscribers who saw advertisements for the festival in the MTC program and wanted to try it out, but they heard “Fringe was weird and the shows were weird.” When they bought tickets to three shows they learned Fringe shows were, in fact, “fantastic and not weird.”

Knoll and her friend signed up to be volunteers and had such a good time, that when she married her husband, Bern Beliski, he joined the party. He notes that you don’t have to be a theatregoer to have a good time.

“These are the kind of important events to grow community and have pride in our community,” Beliski says. “If we don’t do it, who will?”

Chuck McEwen, Fringe Executive Producer stresses his gratitude for the nearly 800 people who volunteer at the Fringe every year. “The Fringe couldn’t run without volunteers,” he says. “Without their incredible support we wouldn’t be able to provide the support that Fringers rely on.”

These hardy volunteers work for at least four shifts (around four hours long) over the two week festival. In return, they receive free tickets to shows, a t-shirt and a pizza party to kick off the festival, in addition to other appreciation events. Knoll and Beliski agree that being a part of Fringe is also an opportunity to talk to all the Fringers about what shows they are seeing, what the good ones are and what they might want to pass on. However, it’s not just the Fringe team that appreciates the hard work the volunteers do - the local and visiting performers recognize the hard work and appreciate the enduring positivity of volunteers.    

‏"Fringe volunteers go above and beyond to make everyone's experience joyful,” says Mel Marginet, Artistic Director of Theatre by the River and Fringe Alumni. “I remember the first Fringe show I did with some university friends, and how our house manager was also our cheerleader. She recommended our show to others and encouraged us to keep at it. 10 years later and most of us are still involved in the theatre scene - so we are good listeners!”  

Slightly more mysterious than the Fringe Festival volunteers are the technicians. Two are assigned to each venue and bring an unparalleled level of creativity, enthusiasm and expertise when handling sound, lights and many other duties.

Audra Lesosky, stage manager/producer/writer for the Fringe favourite 3D Macabre and writer/producer of the upcoming Lies of a Promiscuous Woman says that when she took her improv troupe to the Edmonton Fringe she was glad to have a Winnipeg technician, stating that “they are well known to be the best on the circuit.”

‏Technicians get into their venues Saturday before the Fringe and run two tech rehearsals a day until the festival begins. Performers are required to submit technical requirements early in advance but Wayne Buss, a 24 year Fringe Veteran (as a performer, director and technician) says that shows often get completely rewritten as the rehearsal process wears on.

Each technician uses the short amount of time to work out each shows sound, lighting and projection cues. The short time is good practice for the festival, as shows are allowed in 15 minutes before show to set up and 15 minutes to strike after curtain, but don’t let that fool you - techs are committed to making each show work. Buss and co. go above and beyond the call of duty in order to help each show. He recalls everything from building projection screens to stopping the show when an actor had an epileptic seizure.

He also notes that he doesn’t like to split the show times with the other venue technicians, but with theatre groups.

“I’ll take care of my group,” he says. “If you need something, I’ll do what I can to help you.”

As the production manager of both Prairie Theatre Exchange and Rainbow Stage, Buss is not above using his experience and spare tools or parts to build such needed things as risers or mime boxes. Because of their intense commitment to each and every show, techs often become as close as the rest of the cast. Lesosky says that she’s had many great technicians over the years but credits “the amazing Chris Hadley” for his exceptional props and special effects. He was their technician for the first Macabre show, a member of the company for the second and a cast member for the third.

All in all, Fringe technicians will give everything they can to each show, in skill, sound, lighting, props and enthusiasm. When they aren’t in the booth, prepping for the next show, or resolving any problem that comes up, you can find them at the beer tent after the show enjoying the community of Fringe for themselves.

“Most of the time they have more experience than the theatre companies they work with during Fringe,” Lesosky says. “So I've learned to invite them be part of the show and ask for their input. I've never been sorry I did.”

 

Applications are still open for Fringe Volunteers, if you want to be a part of a valued community, have a good time, support the arts and see some shows, visit winnipegfringe.com for details.

Part of the series: 2014 Summer Festival Guide

Published in Volume 68, Number 28 of The Uniter (July 2, 2014)

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