In The Heat of The Night
What is happening to the Fringe and do we all need to worry?
By Gaëtan L. Charlebois
The 2012 editions of the Montreal Fringe, The Ottawa Fringe and the London Fringe are over and that, my friends, is problem number one with that thing we love so much: The Canadian Fringe Movement.
The Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals is the organization that holds the rights, in this country, to that glorious name: Fringe. They can bestow it or not, based on certain criteria. This year they blessed a new Fringe, in PEI, the Island Fringe. But here's what else we THOUGHT they did: maintain order among the festivals. Apparently not.
Simply: this is bullshit.
Despite the fact we have about three months of Fringeable weather in Canada (four in some provinces) the various Fringes are now overlapping and egregiously. London wasn't done before Montreal started and Ottawa and Montreal ran virtually concurrently. Meanwhile, at the end of the season, two important festivals: Atlantic in Halifax and Vancouver, will be over-lapping again. Simply: this is bullshit.
Fringe companies and soloists (especially soloists) earn their living going from one Fringe to the next and here we are forcing them to play favourites. And some Fringes will lose.
That's one thing.
The other is that the days of bush-league Fringes with vermin-infested and unventilated venues should be pretty much over. Sure, it was charming when all this started 25 years ago, but when a Fringe star has to wake his or her audience up from a heat-induced torpor just to make an impression, something is wrong. I saw at least five shows this time out where I thought the performer (or I) might collapse. Might I suggest something? If there is no way around the unventilated venue problem, put the Fringe newbies in them - stop making the veterans and seasoned audiences pay and pay and pay for wanting to support this Movement.
People don't have to spend a plug nickel on theatre to see theatre at the Fringe.
Another thing: events. Too many of them and, worse, they're sapping audiences away from the shows. Last weekend as I trudged from one sauna-venue to another to see PLAYS, I kept walking past readings and shows and concerts and fora where there was cold beer and a place to smoke and I was so tempted to just stay there...enjoy the weather and the good chat. People don't have to spend a plug nickel on theatre to see theatre at the Fringe.
Finally, and this goes to all Fringes: having lots of shows does not indicate growth. Lots of packed houses indicates growth. Montreal had over one hundred different productions and except for two shows free to Fringe volunteers, not one of the 12 performances I saw came close to selling out. And a lot of these were presentations by local favourites and international stars: Elizabeth Blue, Zack Adams, Jem Rolls. When, at the press conference here, they announced they were upping the ratio of local shows I thought: oh-oh. One Fringe veteran told me why that was a bad thing: the good local companies have their following and this audience goes from one local show to another while out-of-towners play to minuscule houses. Also, more locals means a higher ratio of frat-party shows - the kind of Fringe show that looks like it was rehearsed on a drunken Saturday night. These shows - as fun as they are sometimes - also tend to give the entire Movement a reputation as an event that presents nothing BUT frat-party shows. Another veteran told me why some stars had gone missing (and more, in the future, would go missing) from this, the Montreal Fringe: too many shows. Montreal simply does not have the audience-base for 100 shows and, bottom line, you can't make money in this city anymore.
This was a refrain I heard from several veterans who actually approached me to share this concern.
So add this to the festival overlap, bush-league venues, super-sized skeds and too many fucking events and you get...what?
And, yes, we should worry.