Summer is well underway – the days are hot, the nights are short and you’ve had more than one chance to enjoy a patio beer this season. But one of Edmonton’s best-known summer gems still lies ahead – and with it will come more refreshing patio drinks, green onion cakes and even a few mini-doughnuts.
We’re talking, of course, about the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival – the biggest of its kind in North America. From August 17-27, the 36th annual festival will attract tens of thousands of visitors eager to enjoy live theatre, music and outdoor performances.
So the question is, how do you make the most of this hotbed of cultural and artistic activity?
If you’re not a big theatre-goer, the Fringe can sound a bit daunting: 11 days, 1,500 artists from around the world and shows in nearly 50 venues around the city’s core. But think of it this way: this is your chance to try live theatre in a casual atmosphere that won’t break the bank. Tickets hover around the $10-15 mark, with 100 per cent of the prices going back to the artists. “There are a lot of safe shows to try, a lot of outrageous ones and everything in between,” says past Fringe Festival president Marc Carnes. Start your Fringe with a visit to the box office to take a look at the schedule. Ask around if you have any questions – the volunteers are always willing to help.
Now in his fourth year as artistic director, Murray Utas is a Fringe veteran and he has one must-see recommendation: Edmonton’s best (and perhaps only) late-night talk show.
The Late Night Cabaret starts nightly at 11:59 p.m., and features a local house band and guest performers from shows at the festival, all hosted by Rapid Fire Theatre. You might laugh, you might cry, but you’ll certainly wonder what just happened.
“The Late Night Cabaret encapsulates the unexpected side of what you might find at the Fringe,” he says, adding, “it will show you a whole other level of what the Fringe can give you.”
Although festival volunteers are a great starting point for information, there are other wealths of knowledge on site. Take a look around for the festival’s most easily recognizable veterans – the ones proudly donning their ticket stubs like badges of honour. “They’ll have tickets in their hats, pockets, vests – somewhere on display,” Utas says with a hint of admiration. “These are the seasoned pros. Reach out to them. Talk to them in line. Take them for a beer and let them help you tame the wild world of the Fringe.”
If you’re still having trouble choosing a show, the festival’s Daily Discount Booth is worth a visit. A new batch of tickets goes on sale each day at 11 a.m. and are available until they sell out. The booth is a wallet-friendly way to select a show you might not have considered before.
With already limited parking in the festival area, it’s best to leave the car at home. Consider public transit, bicycle or the High Level Streetcar instead. “If you really want to drive somewhere, park downtown and take the streetcar over – it drops you off right in the middle of the action,” says Fringe Theatre Adventures Board President Ashley Dryburgh, adding that festival-goers can also take advantage of a free shuttle service between the two main Fringe sites in Old Strathcona and La Cit Francophone. Travel time is also an important factor in planning a successful Fringe. Getting between venues can take time and you’ll need to pick up tickets in advance from a festival box office.
But remember, the Fringe is about more than just theatre – it’s a community and it’s an experience. So plan an evening, a day or even a weekend to take it all in. Visit KidsFringe for some family-friendly fun, enjoy a pint in the beer gardens, take a stroll down Whyte Avenue or check out what’s happening in the French Quarter. Think of it as a Choose Your Own Adventure – you might not know what lies ahead, but you’re bound to find it entertaining.