The origins of theatre are in community. The ancient Greeks considered it a religious experience, important to all citizens, and Elizabethan-era audiences would talk back to the actors performing Hamlet or Macbeth.
While modern theatre is more staid, its communal origins are alive and well at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. The festival and performances spill far out beyond the plays and venues, with celebrations taking over the entire neighbourhood surrounding Old Market Square.
Chuck McEwen, the festival’s executive producer, says that collective vibe has been present since the festival’s beginnings in 1988.
“The great thing about the Fringe is that connection,” McEwen says. “You can come as a single person and not know anybody, but as soon as you get on site, you’re part of a family. That family talks between shows and in line, share their ideas about Fringe, what plays they liked, what they’ll see next.”
This year’s festival includes 174 shows, with performers from Germany, Australia, Sweden, South Africa, England, New Zealand, Israel and Russia joining their contemporaries from Canada and the US. All of this, of course, as part of in-venue plays, thus not counting buskers and street performers.
McEwen says that diverse programming creates a diverse audience, creating unique challenges for Fringe’s planning and marketing.
“(Fringe’s appeal) is cross generational,” McEwen says. “It crosses economic and cultural barriers. Our demographic is not a small, target group. It’s everyone. So it’s very hard to reach such a wide ranging group with ad campaigns. We just sort of say, ‘This is an experience everyone can enjoy.’”