Back to the Fringe
Further discussion required
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
Before we start: be aware that I wrote an After Dark that got some incredibly interesting discussion going on at least two of the CharPo sites where it appeared. (See comments here and here.)
I was not going to go any further with my lamentations because I may give the impression I am beating down on the Fringe movement. Those who know me and have been following my op-eds know that I believe there is no theatre idea out there that should be hailed like our Fringe movement. But it also can be better and I offer the rest of this article as a form of...well, nurturing, if you will.
I made the decision to elaborate because of a single tweet: a colleague called the latest edition of the Montreal Fringe a hit. While Joel Fishbane has said the quality of shows in Montreal was magnificent (I concur based on my own sampling), the final figures for the Fringe add up to warning signs. Yes, the Fringe announced they had put "bums in seats" but there were also more seats. They added venues and shows this year. A 10% increase in attendance, which they claim, is indeed good news if I had not done some quick math (and I stress quick math - Fringers are invited to prove me wrong). The numbers published by the Fringe suggest an average head count of 27 per performance. In one comment, Patrick Goddard (ex-Montreal Fringe kingpin) said that a typical Montreal Fringe had an average of 30-40 headcount. So 27 is no hit by any stretch. And I bring this up again because the four Fringe veterans who DID complain about too many shows being in the Montreal Fringe were NOT a figment of my imagination and their complaint still stands.
But CAFF also needs teeth.
Now, over to another complaint. I bitched about unventilated venues. I think it is a legitimate complaint for all summertime Fringes. I repeat this because there were jokes on Twitter about some Toronto Fringe venues' lack of AC. (Critics were promising a review to companies in air-conditioned houses.) Have you felt this year's heat, folks? Imagine it contained in a venue with theatre lights, performers sliding in their own sweat and 20 spectators creating convection-oven conditions by fanning. Yes, it's the Fringe and budgets are low (as Canadian Association of Fringe Festival boss David Jordan reminded me). But unpleasant venues will simply condemn Fringes to having to keep budgets low. Word gets out about venues and I can't imagine anyone but the hardiest and completists rushing to those venues.
One final point, and it is inspired by Mr. Jordan's comments as well. Everything he describes about the realities of CAFF is a fucking scandal. That CAFF is not better supported by our funding agencies is a situation that should be decried by every person who cares about the future of the most exciting theatre in Canada.
But CAFF also needs teeth.
I have commented about how it was sad that there were three regional awards shows on the same night, last month; awards should get national attention and celebration - lots of it. The Fringes should too. In almost every Fringe festival there is an artist or play that rises above and will mark Canadian theatre in ways we cannot even suspect. For this reason, each Fringe has to be separate so that we can celebrate who or what rises from each.
CAFF needs the power to slap competing festivals about - both for the artists' sake and our beloved theatre's as well.