Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sunday Feature: Sarah Segal-Lazar on the Island Fringe

Sarah Segal-Lazar, Will Roney (playing George-Etienne Cartier)

The 2013 Island Fringe PLAY List
by Sarah Segal-Lazar

Sarah Segal-Lazar is the founding Festival Director of The Island Fringe Festival. In her not-so-spare time, she is also an actor, playwright, and singer-songwriter. Her show Talk, Mackerel, which she wrote, composed, directed, and starred in, will be part of the Wildside Festival at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre this winter. An island-dweller through and through, she spends her time between Montreal, PEI, and New York.

I’m sitting at a coffee shop, where I opt to work instead of the Island Fringe office. 1) Coffee shops have bathrooms. 2) Coffee shops are not a billion degrees. 3) Coffee shops have coffee. I’ve just come from an interview on CBC radio about an event we’re having in the name of Fringe called “Scribbler Skeletons: Shameless Readings of Childhood Writing.” Like all shows in the Island Fringe line-up, it’s admission by donation. I hope they remember to say that in the post-interview segment.

It was a really nice email...I just wish that they’d sent it three days earlier.

Scribbler Skeletons is our first foray in expanding the Island Fringe Festival’s (IFF) programming, in addition to our six-show line-up. Last year we had five shows. We were supposed to have six but one of the international shows dropped out less than a week before showtime. They hadn’t realized they’d need passports. They were also on a very limited budget and had no way of getting from New York (NYC)  to Prince Edward Island (PEI). I wound up spending two days figuring out a way for them to get here: They would take a Greyhound from NYC to Bangor, Maine, where they would transfer to a shuttle that makes stops in various towns between Bangor and the Maine/New Brunswick border. They would then walk across the border by foot (I checked with the border authorities and it’s kosher) and get picked up by a friend of the woman who works at the St. Stephens, New Brunswick Chamber of Commerce, who would drive them from St. Stephens to Moncton, where they would get on a bus to Charlottetown. Seem convoluted? This was the summer that the Maritimes lost 85% of their bus service. But I found a way. No one thought I could, but I did. 

And that’s when the email came: “M***** and I have thought very hard together and decided that we are not able to come to the festival. We are both sad, but also feel that this is the best choice for us. We have so much appreciation for the work you have done to help us in this process.” 

It was a really nice email. And I believe that everyone should do what’s best for them, if possible.  I just wish that they’d sent it three days earlier. For the next week, I got phone calls from an elderly man with his own taxi service asking if I’d like him to pick up my friends who would be walking across the border. He kept assuring me that they’d have a good time, so long as they brought their own lunch.

This year’s line-up has been a comparative breeze. That’s what happens when your deadline for submissions is January 15th instead of May 15th. We’ve got six shows: four from PEI, one from Saint John, New Brunswick, and another from Ashfield, Massachusetts. Last year I themed my article as a summer mix-tape about the trials and tribulations of Fringeness. This year, I bring to you another mix-tape: Six Songs for Site-Specific Spectacles.

1) Down By the Water – PJ Harvey (I Am What I Am)
One of the best feelings in organizing a Festival is when someone has such a good time that they reapply. This year, three out of the five shows from last year reapplied to the Island Fringe. Last year’s company “Druid Busters” are back as “The Flummies.” I Am What I Am is the true story of a 19th century Métis woman of Labrador and will be staged at the Charlottetown Harbour, on the banks of the Hillsborough River. We love it when shows are set in water-centric lands. We’re an island. We can make water happen.

2) Rockin’ in the Parlour  - AC/DC (Place Setting)
“Passion, betrayal, tableware and a long-dead British poet.” When Silk Purse Atlantic Theatre from Saint John, New Brunswick answered the “What is your ideal venue?” question on the IFF application with “a Victorian parlour,” we were thrilled. This is Charlottetown, Birthplace of Confederation! We love Victoriana. 

We’re jazzed to have Place Setting going up in the Great Hall of the Haviland Club, which dates back to the 1860s. With high, molded ceilings, multiple fireplaces, and flexible seating, it’s a site-specific dream come true. We’re big fans of the Haviland Club here at the IFF. Not only are they so supportive of our grassroots festival, they’re also the site for two of our Fringe shows…

3) The Attic - Republic of Wolves (Total Verrückt!)
When we went to check out the parlour at the Haviland Club, Jamie, its very enthusiastic manager, asked if we’d like a tour. It’s not every day that you get to explore a historic home in Charlottetown, so we happily agreed. But after a half hour of rooms leading into new rooms, I was a little fatigued. So when he asked if we’d like to see the attic, while a small part of me thought it would be neat, most of me wanted a nap.

Here’s a little backstory that you need to know: Our international show this year comes to us from Ashfield, Massachusetts. Inspired by the work of Jewish Dutch poet Etty Hillesum, Total Verrückt! tells the story of a Jewish cabaret star imprisoned in the Westerbork transit camp during the Holocaust. The show was created in the attic of the barn at Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield and calls for a desolate atmosphere: an abandoned warehouse, a run-down barn, a deserted factory. The thing is, between impossible liability insurance and old spaces being snatched up and renovated, there isn’t much in the way of large, empty, decrepit buildings in downtown Charlottetown. 

I begrudgingly climbed the narrow stairs leading up to the Haviland’s attic, behind our Festival Coordinator Megan Stewart. We stepped into the dark, dusty, wooden attic filled with boxed up mementos  - and junk - dating back to the late 19th century. This was it. We had stumbled upon the venue for this show.

But really, what respectable establishment would let us stage a show in their attic and say, “Sure, we’ll just clean this place up for you in time for your festival in three weeks”? An awesome one, it turns out.

4) Gettin’ Down at the Amphitheater – Common ft. De La Soul (A Celtic Cabaret)
When asked why I started the Island Fringe, I often say that it was because I want tourists to know that there’s more to PEI than potatoes and Anne of Green Gables. That said, it’s pretty impressive that a fictional character has lured millions of people from around the globe to PEI. Anne of Green Gables – The Musical, Canada’s longest running musical, premiered in 1965 at the Confederation Centre of the Arts’s Charlottetown Festival and has been playing seasonally ever since. 

The Confed Centre has been incredibly supportive of the Fringe. For the second year in a row, they’ve provided us with their outdoor amphitheatre. Last year, the amphitheatre drew more than 200 people to each performance, many of whom then checked out other Island Fringe shows. It also means a lot to us to be considered peers by this internationally recognized theatre. So this jam goes out to them.

5) The Old Apartment – BNL (The Abettor)
If I told you that no one wanted to lend us their grungy apartment for an hour a day so that we could stage a play about murder and corpse disposal in it, would you be surprised? I was. I seriously thought that some hip patron of the arts was going to shoot us a message saying, “Yeah, I’ve got a centrally located apartment with a big enough living room to seat 25-50 people and I’d be totally jazzed to lend it to you for the Fringe.” I was wrong.

Sometimes you have to settle… when it comes to site-specific theatre. We instead found a dance studio that looks like an empty loft. It has two doors, one which opens onto the main entrance and one that opens onto a bathroom. In the show, one of the characters leaves to go to the bathroom. And he will be going into a real bathroom! (Audience in my brain cheers heartily for small victory.)

6) Down in the Park – Gary Numan (O Prometheus!)
I want to take you back to last August. I’m sitting in King Square alongside an audience made up of Islanders and tourists, some longstanding patrons of the arts, some less so – one group of teenaged guys has never seen a play before, but their buddy just called them saying they’ve got to check out this show he’s watching in the park. 
The characters in the play are arguing about which animal they could ostensibly beat in a fight and one says, “A golden retriever? I bet I could take a golden retriever.” And that’s when the golden retriever walks by. 

For a moment, everything stops, as the audience and actors look in awe at this woman and her dog. As we’re brought together in this moment of unbelievable coincidence. One of the actors starts chasing after the dog and following some incredible improv, the show gets back on course. But in that short time, old and young, local and visitor, performer and audience, we’re all connected. That’s the magic of site-specific theatre. 

This year, we have a show going up at Rochford Square, one of Charlottetown’s other town squares (and the most beautiful.) King Square proved to be a great spot for Wolves > Boys last year. Wolves takes place in a graveyard – we tried to get a graveyard but the graveyard committee (yes, that’s a real thing) was not so keen.

King Square wound up being even better, in terms of accessibility (and surprise golden retrievers.) It’s also directly across from a funeral parlour, which was holding a wake during the Saturday night performance. So that was pretty cool.

This year, the creators of O Prometheus!, by new, local company Caveman Lovechild, requested Rochford Square as their venue. They’ll be furnishing the park with a complete living room set. A monkey falls from a tree. A space shuttle is cleared for takeoff. And two old friends order a pizza in the heat of a moment and attempt to cope with their own bringer of light and fire. 

I don’t know if we’ll have the same luck with a real monkey passing by as we did with the golden retriever, but I’m not discounting it either.

The Island Fringe Festival runs from August 29-31, 2013. For full schedule and show details, check out

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