The Winnipeg Fringe Theater Festival is finally back in person after moving online for two years due to the pandemic, bringing with it everything the misfits were missing – plus a few changes.
This means that with over 100 performances, there are street musicians and bands on the free stage in the Old Market Square and a free children’s activity area – moved from the square area this year from the Old Market to Stephen Juba Park on Waterfront Drive – said Fringe Fest executive producer Chuck McEwen.
Other changes this year include a few new venues which organizers had to scramble to find after some of the regular venues from previous years were unavailable – either because they were being refurbished or not yet open to the public. when the festival, which opened on Wednesday, was in the planning stages months ago, McEwen said.
So if you’re at Portage Place mall, for example, you’ll see two vacant storefronts that have been temporarily converted into theater spaces.
“We are no strangers to building theaters in unusual places. We’ve done it before: art galleries, storefronts, retail locations,” McEwen said.
Portage Place was already home to two long-running Fringe venues on the third floor – the Prairie Theater Exchange’s main space and its smaller Colin Jackson studio.
But with the search for new spaces, “there are challenges around, you know, is there enough power for all the lighting equipment and is there access to restrooms and is that wheelchair accessible? So all of those factors go into the decision to make a space a Fringe main venue,” McEwen said.
“The mall ticked all those boxes and they were willing to let us rent them.”
It took about two and a half weeks to set up these spaces, he said, which were ready just in time for the opening of shows like Ingrid Garner’s.
The Los Angeles-based performer returns with her show Eleanor’s Story: An American in Hitler’s Germanywhich has already been presented at the Winnipeg festivals in 2015 and 2016.
The solo show, based on her grandmother’s memoir detailing her youth as an American captured in Germany during World War II, takes place in a new space on the second floor of Portage Place, near the mall’s fountain .
She opened her last race there on Thursday evening.
“The show went really well. It was a very generous audience. There were, I think there were about 30 people, and I got a standing ovation,” Garner said Friday.
“We’re all a little cautious coming out of the pandemic – a little less energy. But I think things are starting to pick up speed and [we’re] so happy to see each other again after years.”
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There are a few other changes audiences will find at this year’s festival, McEwen said, including the fact that all tickets for shows are available in advance. Previously, a percentage of tickets were reserved to be sold at the door.
Door tickets will still be available, provided the show doesn’t sell out in advance, McEwen said. The festival regularly updates its website with information on sold-out performances. Door sales are cash-only, and people under 25 can get $10 discounted door tickets (regular admission is $12).
The number of performances at this year’s festival is also down from its pre-pandemic editions. The festival peaked at 186 shows in 2017 and 178 in 2019.
This year there are 112 different shows at 24 venues – mostly centered around the Bourse district, but extending beyond to places like the Gas Station Arts Center in Osborne Village and the Cercle Molière in St. Boniface. .
In 2020, artists were selected through the festival’s lottery system before it canceled in-person events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, moving to virtual performances instead. Their places were held until 2021, but this festival was also virtual, so they were once again postponed to this year.
“Over the two years, some of them have dropped,” McEwen said.
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Ingrid Hansen, whose surreal puppet show Cirque of the epidermis is touring at Colin Jackson Studio, is among the returning artists for this year’s festival. She said she was looking forward to finally coming back.
“It’s a hangout… We’ve been craving it for two years,” said Hansen, a Winnipeg Fringe veteran who starred in previous Fringe hits like The Merkin sisters.
His new show is described in the festival program as “a debauched puppet cabaret, where the guests are different parts of the human body”.
“It’s a hell of a good time,” Hansen told host Faith Fundal in a CBC interview Wednesday. Up to speed. “It’s also a celebration of the human body and the weird and absurd fact that we are actually alive and functioning.”
Hansen and Garner say the annual Winnipeg festival, which has been around since 1988 and is now the second largest on the North American circuit of independent fringe theater festivals, is one performer looks forward to.
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“It’s the friendliest fringe, that’s for sure,” Hansen said. “People, all audiences, they want to talk to you. Like, ‘Tell me about your show! What is it?’
Garner says that artists “from all over the world speak of Winnipeg’s outskirts with the most beloved energy.”
“It’s most people’s favorite bangs in the world,” she said.
“It was actually my first fringe, before I even started performing. I attended the Winnipeg Fringe in 2013 and absolutely fell in love with it. And that’s what made me want to do festivals fringe.”
Winnipegger finds comedy in neurodiversity
This year’s festival also includes local artists like Adam Schwartz, who produces Adam’s neurohilaritya comedy show featuring a rotating lineup of neurodiverse comics ranging “from seasoned veterans and Fringe favorites to all-new comics,” the show’s program description promises.
Schwartz, whose show is at the Manitoba Theater for Young People in The Forks, said getting into acting was a way for him to come to terms with his autism.
“I started laughing, and the more I started writing about being socially awkward, the more I started to accept my disability,” he said. Up to speed guest host Keisha Paul on Thursday.
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“[Autistic people are] also already accustomed to monologue and long speeches, hoping that people will listen. We usually call these “news videos,” where we share all of our thoughts at once, which is basically what comedy is all about.”
The Winnipeg Fringe Theater Festival runs until July 24.