Friday, July 5, 2013

A Fly On The Wall, July 5, 2013

Fringe Wrap Up
by Jim Murchison 

So the Fringe is over, but festivals will continue to dot the Ottawa landscape until the theatre seasons officially open in the Fall. There will be lots of theatre in the park. Coming up are Comedy of Errors and The Merry Wives of Windsor which have long runs.

As I reflect on the Fringe, the first thing that hits me is how many one-person shows I saw that I really enjoyed. Many of the one person vehicles that make it to GCTC or NAC are much ballyhooed and often overhyped. I am talking about shows that were developed as tour de force projects to highlight a performer or a theme that invariably give last thought to the actual crafting of a play. I Am My Own Wife is a prime example. This play won a Pulitzer and a Tony primarily because of its subject matter and the party trick of allegedly one man playing upwards of 20 or 30 characters. Sadly, though, it is a confusing claptrap of one man walking around in circles playing an interviewer and a cross dresser in Nazi Germany with a plethora of other characters thrown in as window dressing. There was no actual revelation, exploration or conclusion.

In any event they brought their game

What I found great about the Fringe was that performers like Chase Padgett (6 Guitars), Kurt Fitzpatrick (Cathedral City), Noah Spitzer (My Second Smile), Bruce Horak (Assassinating Thomson), Christine Lesiak (Ask Aggie), Jeff Leard (The Show Must Go On), Cameryn Moore (slut (r)evolution) and Zeb L West (Innocent When You Dream) all performed with a very personal connection to the audience. There is a reason that most of the plays that travel well are one person performances. It just makes more financial sense. In any event they brought their game and performed more complete plays than some of the more ballyhooed corporate financed big one man extravaganzas do and I appreciated the craft of these artists. I didn’t mention The Bike Trip, a Fringe favourite, only because I didn’t see it but I did see Martin Dockery’s other play The Pit and enjoyed it very much.

The ensemble pieces were primarily done by local companies. Again local companies can afford to do this as they don’t have to travel. In many cases these are very young companies or veteran performers that are testing out their work, still developing it in much the way Broadway does an off Broadway run to test the waters before taking the finished product to Broadway or on the road.  

I couldn’t review some of these shows because of a personal connection with the writers, artistic directors or the performers, but it gave me some insight into the challenges of meeting writing, casting and rehearsal challenges while being actively involved in the local scene in other projects.  The Fight was a piece by Nick Amott that had a dark futuristic theme with some wry humour and some really fine fight choreography that we didn’t fit in because of deadlines and you can only see so much. Also I like Nick. I worked with Nick so my opinion is biased. So is my opinion of The Vanity Project and Windfall Jelly because of my association with their creators, but these were reviewed by Robyn Lester for CharPo.

Ultimately I find the Fringe to be a really interesting hodgepodge of new ideas in development just at the embryonic stage of their development and seasoned tested projects that can tour on a phone call. All you need is a tooth brush and a suitcase and off you go. There are a hundred little catastrophes a day that no one knows about but as Jeff Leard pointed out, the show must go on. When a big problem happens, like the Be A Man company having to cancel its shows, the community finds a way to help. Although it is called the Fringe it really epitomizes the heart of theatre and of art. 

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