Saturday, June 1, 2013

Theatre For Thought, June 1, 2013

joel fishbane

The old timer was a veteran of the Canadian Fringe circuit. In the early 90's he toured several plays and enjoyed a modest success. He was a scant 21 then and now, almost 40, he’s that silver fox reminiscing about the good old days. It’s 2001 and I’m a blast from the past, the physical embodiment of his younger self. This is probably why he’s picking on me. All I want to do is get drunk at the Montreal Fringe Festival. But the old timer wants to kill the buzz. 

“Beware!” he croaks. “Beware ‘The Ides of March’!”

“March was two months ago,” I say.

But he isn’t referring to the date. The Ides of March is a one-man show about a young boy’s coming of age, as told from the perspective of his tricycle. “Beware!” the old timer croaks again. “It’s terrible!” Then he sits back and looks around at the army of artists swirling through the beer tent. “Nothing makes you feel your age worse then a Fringe Festival.” 

“What do you mean?” I ask.

flipping through the program for a Fringe festival is like a yearbook in reverse

The old timer tells me that every year, around the end of May, he sits back with a cup of coffee and leafs through the program for the Montreal Fringe Festival, plotting his ten day excursion into all things theatre. Montreal’s Fringe is the first on the Canadian Fringe circuit and has long doubled as a reunion of sorts for the local community who all make appearances either as performers or faces in the crowd. For this man, flipping through the program for a Fringe festival is like a yearbook in reverse, a chronicle of what my friends and cohorts will be doing in the coming weeks.

“Alas!” he moans. “Not anymore!” Apparently this year, for the first time, he knows very few of the artists who are putting up shows. He’s also surrounded by strangers: at the beer tent and the various theatres, he rarely runs into anyone he knows. “All my friends have moved on,” the man says. “Some have moved to other cities. But most of them are simply busy with families and careers. They don’t have time for the Fringe.”

“Are you suggesting the Fringe is a festival for the young?” I ask.

“For the young and the young at heart,” the old timer corrects. “When you’re young, the Fringe Festival is a showcase, a platform to show the world what you can do. Then you get older and you realize that while you want to keep showing the world what you can do, you also want to get paid for it.”

Most shows are forgotten almost as soon as they’re done.

“Don’t artists make money doing the Fringe?” I ask.

The old timer can’t reply for a while; he’s laughing too hard. “You don’t get rich doing the Fringe!” he crows. “Oh sure, every now and then, some lucky artist strikes it rich. Look at The Drowsy Chaperone. That started off at the Toronto Fringe and ended up being produced in a 1000 seat theatre. But that’s the exception. Most shows are forgotten almost as soon as they’re done.”

“That sounds rather depressing.”

He shrugs. “Art is a transient thing. It comes and it goes.” The old timer has become philosophical. He glances around the festival, watching the artists and patrons with the gaze of the theatre critic, which is to say it’s both judgemental and envious. 

“These festivals are a microcosm of the entire artistic experience,” he says. “You struggle to create something you believe in. At last you present it to the world. You endure scorn or praise or both. Maybe you’re a hit and maybe your name is on everyone’s tongue. But people move on. The festival ends, the world turns its attention somewhere else. And you sigh and smile at the fun you had. Some people stay to create again. And some people move on to other things.”

The old timer stands and checks his watch. He’s got a ticket to see Son of a Gun, an improvisational western about a talking Colt 45. “I’ll bet you know everyone here,” he says to me. 

“Pretty much,” I say.

“Enjoy that,” he says. “Art isn’t the only thing that’s transient, you know.” And with that, he disappears.

My girlfriend appears out of thin air. “Who was that?” she asks.

“Just some old coot,” I say. “He said the Fringe is a microcosm of the artistic life.”

“These festivals bring out all the weirdoes,” she sighs. “Come on: I got us tickets to The Ides of March.

The Montreal Fringe Festival runs from June 3 – 23 in Montreal. For details visit For details on the Canadian Fringe circuit, visit

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