Twenty-five years on the Fringe

Winnipeg Fringe Fest returns with more shows and more fun than ever before

Unadulterated Love. Supplied
Redheaded Stepchild. Supplied
Fresher. Supplied
The Good, the Bad and the Stupid. Supplied
N.C.S.I.S.N.Y.P.D. Supplied
Body Language Supplied
Little Orange Man Supplied

Glancing over the 25th annual Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival’s extensive lineup of shows, it’s immediately apparent there will be no shortage of intriguing entertainment, what with titles such as The Complete History of the Moustache, Surf Chimps and Pretending Things are a Cock finding their way onto the recently finalized list.

North America’s second-largest fringe theatre festival returns to town from Wednesday, July 18 to Sunday, July 29 for a landmark year.

With a whopping 173 shows - up from last year’s 150 - Chuck McEwen, the festival’s executive director, promises that there will be something for everyone.

“Even if you think it’s not quite for you, if you come out, out of 173 shows, you can always find something that will speak to you, (something) that you’re really going to like,” McEwen says.

Although for the last decade-and-a-half festivals have been assigned unique themes, such as last year’s “Big Top Fringe” or 2010’s “Fringe and Beyond!,” the event’s silver anniversary will be going theme-less, instead opting for the more general tagline of “Get your fringe on.”

According to McEwen, the phrase is meant to highlight the unique experience of “fringing” itself, which includes the quirky atmosphere of the overarching event along with its theatrical core.

Among new additions to this year’s festival - many of which, true to its aforementioned non-theme, build upon the event’s community and social aspects - are featured musical performances from the Old Market Square stage every night at 9 p.m., which will include local favourites such as Romi Mayes, Cannon Bros., The Liptonians and SitDownTracy, as well as something known as the “25-Hour Fringe Event.”

Smiling, McEwen describes what he refers to as “a special event for those extra-crazy Fringers,” during which - from 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 21 until noon the following day - theatre junkies will embark upon a non-stop Fringe-a-thon that will usher them through what up until now has only taken place within the whims of zany thespian-insomniacs the world over.

According to McEwen, the event will be the first-ever of its kind.

Attendees of this year’s festival will also be able to purchase tickets for shows at their respective venues (of which there will be a staggering 31) instead of having to pick them up from the Exchange District hub as in previous years - a change which McEwen hopes will increase the event’s accessibility for newcomers.

However, the Fringe Festival - aside from its array of globe-hopping street entertainers, lively atmosphere, outdoor snacking and shopping, and all-important beer tent - remains, above all else, about theatre.

Colin Peterson, director of Winnipeg Studio Theatre’s Fringe Festival production of Fresher, The Musical, attests to the festival’s importance in terms of the city’s broader theatrical scene.

“People that don’t normally go to see regular (Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre) shows will go see Fringe shows, so you get a much wider variety of people out,” says Peterson, citing the festival’s comparatively budget-priced admission fees as a probable explanation.

Although not all of the festival’s titles could be described as avant-garde, perhaps the quarter-century-old institution’s greatest appeal stems from its principled commitment to the unrestrained artistic freedom of its participants.

“You can do much more boundary-pushing theatre at the Fringe,” Peterson says. “(During production of Fresher) we would often find ourselves saying, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be cool if we could do that,’ about things we normally wouldn’t do.”

“But then,” he adds with a laugh, “we just decided, ‘Hey, let’s do it anyways!”

The Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival takes place Wednesday, July 18 to Sunday, July 29. Visit for full listings of shows, show times and venue locations.

Published in Volume 66, Number 28 of The Uniter (June 27, 2012)

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