Tuesday, June 12, 2012

After Dark, June 12, 2012

Why We Do It
Answering the question: "Why is there so much Fringe shit on your site?"
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

For the next three months or so - whether you go to our national, Atlantic, Alberta, Montreal or Toronto sites - you will see a whole heap of Fringe coverage. Since I started covering the Montreal Fringe, some two decades ago, I have been an apostle of the movement. The reason is simple.

The Fringe is the alpha and omega of Canadian theatre. Before there were festivals at Stratford or Citadels in Edmonton, there were Fringes. Sure, back then we called it amateur theatre competitions (or festivals) but it still boiled down to an assembly of people who loved theatre defining the art of the future as it pertains to this country and, in most cases, doing it with nothing but imagination.

There is no doubt that the beginning of the Fringe movement was a mess.

Some of the revellers and competitors were never going to have a career in theatre, some were there to improve their public speaking and diction - towards jobs in banking, business and the law - some were there because there were no TVs. But they were there.

At the core of these festivals and competitions, however, were the people and plays which went on to define theatre in this country. They appeared in plays by Voaden, Dubé, Coulter, Gelinas, Galluccio (just before the Montreal Fringe was born, this last had a play in the Quebec Drama Festival - he was the first playwright I ever interviewed). Even before the Fringe movement - in all its warped glory - was born actors and directors were being nurtured, watched, and went on to careers in radio, then television, then film and all while they did theatre.

There is no doubt that the beginning of the Canadian Fringe movement was a mess. I have likened its atmosphere and plays to frat parties and even coined a term for the type of theatre done there - and which I applied to Galluccio's early works - Gonzo Theatre: messy, full of pop culture references and local and inside jokes.

But it didn't take long for serious artists - who did increasingly serious works - to find and even USE the Fringe to make a living: TJ Dawe (one of our finest monologists), Keir Cutler, Jem Rolls. In their footsteps came Cameryn Moore, Elizabeth Blue, Kirsten Rasmussen, comedy troupes like Uncalled For.

Real theatre houses, co-opted by Fringe fests across the country, became packed with aficionados

Moreover, away from the comedy and frat parties, rose some very serious theatre and themes: dark sexuality in Cameryn Moore's Phone Whore, discussions of hardcore feminism in adaptations of Dworkin or presentations of Boucher's The Fairies Are Thirsty. Real theatre houses, co-opted by Fringe fests across the country, became packed with aficionados who thought nothing of lining up at midnight to see something new, refreshing and exciting - works which (like Ride The Cyclone) would find their way from a Summerworks to a national tour and into the seasons of the "real" houses.

The Fringe, bless it, lives on. From Edinburgh to Edmonton, from Toronto to Montreal. This year we get to celebrate a new arrival: Island Fringe in PEI (see a delightful first-person article about creating that fest). Best of all, even as it continues to receive Dawe, Rolls, Cutler and Johanna Nutter too, it still maintains that spirit of silliness and youthful exploration.

The Fringe proves one thing, year in and year out: the truth of the phrase: Out of the mouths of babes...

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