Friday, September 17, 2010

Atlantic Fringe Festival: September 2-12

(The Bus Stop Theatre - next to a bus stop on Gottingen Street - is one of the five theatres hosting performances for the 2010 Atlantic Film Festival. It has no operating budget whatsoever. As The Bus Stop Theatre's technical director, Evan Brown, puts it: "it doesn't get any more... fringe than us.")

"Fringe" theatre is a term that originated in 1948 to describe the unofficial companies performing at the second Edinburgh International Fair. The term was coined by the twentieth century Scottish playwright, Robert Kemp, and since then it has been picked up by several festivals and theatres to describe a brand of alternative theatre that can best be summed up as "fun on the cheap."

Despite living in Edmonton, Alberta, home to the oldest Fringe Festival in North America and the second largest Fringe Festival in the world for a number of years, I had never actually checked out any of the performances there. I had always been to poor and/or "busy" (just a synonym for lazy, really) to go, and so it was with great anticipation that I waited all summer for this year's Atlantic Fringe Festival in Halifax - its 20th season.

Again, I found myself somewhat underfunded this year, but with 25 theatre and dance shows ranging from musicals to belly dancing to comedies and dramas, and over 230 performances in five different theatres, I was sure I could find a few shows to see. More importantly, the ticket prices were typically in the $6 to $10 range, so I could do it even on my tight budget.

I ended up settling on three shows I thought sounded interesting, and were all shown in one day in relatively close locations to each other. The first show was called Jewish Girls Don't Kayak, and was about one Jewish woman's journey to find an identity for herself outside of being Jewish, only to discover that she truly was Jewish in the end.

The next show I watched was called My Five Near Death Experiences. This was a series of stories and poems read by Arthur Moore, a teacher from Moncton, New Brunswick, about events that have happened in his life. All of them generally relate back to poems he has written or stories from his classroom.

By far the most entertaining show I saw though, was a performance called Breaking Point. Breaking Point was a play about a teenaged boy who is the youngest child in a family of professional torturers. He is named after his grandfather, who himself was a legendary torturer, and is the son of the greatest living torturer. Unfortunately he is a) not very good at torturing people, and b) has no interest in it. In the play, he must prepare for his entrance examinations to enter a prestigious torturing school soon (or else he won't get a good career), and so his older sister who hates him lends her "help." Hilarity ensues.

Had my Fringe experience stopped there I would have been quite pleased. However, I had read in The Coast that the Atlantic Fringe Festival is always looking for volunteers, and so I cycled over to the head office to see if I could be of service. I ended up signing up to volunteer to sell tickets for nine more shows on the final weekend of the Festival.

As a perk for volunteering, I was allowed to watch any show for which I sold tickets, for free. As a result, by the end of the week I had been to all five theatres, and had seen a dozen different performances. Not a bad result for my first Fringe attempt, if I do say so myself.

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