by Lynn Marie Calder
For a lot of people, the August long weekend signals that’s it’s time to get out of town. For me, it means it’s time to head to historic Inglewood for the Calgary Fringe Festival. Many Calgarians are familiar with the established Edmonton Fringe Festival (the second largest in the world, right after Edinburgh, which started it all in 1947), but aren’t aware we’ve had one for seven years now. Hopefully Calgary's year as a Cultural Capital of Canada will help change that.
Fringe festivals are unique in that selection is by lottery, which helps level the playing field for artists. 100% of a show's ticket price goes to the artist, so bums in seats = money in their pocket. Fringe festivals are also great for audiences because in the absence of a jury, just about anything goes - as long as it’s legal. As a result, you get shows that you wouldn’t get to see otherwise, including those by performers who tour the international fringe circuit. Inevitably there will be a few duds, but that’s part of the adventure. There are 15 - 24 shows a day at several venues, so you’re bound to find something to your taste. I like to think of it as a smorgasbord for theatre lovers. And who doesn’t like a good buffet?
I’ve studied this year’s online program and picked a few shows that I want to see based on past reputation: The Ballad of Herbie Cox, a new show by a Melbourne duo; Two to Django by well-known BC guitarist Colin Godbout; The Bro Sho by Florida’s Chase Paggett (he did the popular 6 Guitars last summer) and his brother Ross; as well as Loon, a new performance by Portland Oregon's Wonderheads, winners of last year’s "Best of Fest." For a change of pace, I also want to take in one of the nightly Inglewood Ghost Tours, part of the festival for the first time. I’ll pick the rest once I get my hands on a physical program – available now at Inglewood merchants and select Second Cup locations.
Michele Gallant, Festival Director and Producer, says there’s a trend this year in physical theatre that features movement, dance or acrobatics – something to do with the Olympics, perhaps? Also, she tells me that Fringe is going to be a guinea pig for Calgary’s newest public performance space, Festival Hall. It will officially open later this year, but we’ll get a chance for a sneak-peek here - definitely worth checking out.
One of the great things about having Fringe in Inglewood is that all the venues are within a 10-minute walk of each other – even quicker by bike, if, like me, you want to not just “See the Fringe” but “Blitz the Fringe” and take in the most shows in the least amount of time. There are also lots of fine shops, galleries and restaurants to visit in between shows. Inglewood is known as Calgary’s antiques district but there are lots of other neat stores as well. Many are listed on the Fringe website and some offer special Fringe discounts. The best way to see it all is to take in the Inglewood Sunfest on Saturday, August 4th, when 9th Avenue is closed to car traffic and pedestrians take to the streets for shopping, food and entertainment. It’s a great family outing, even if you don’t go to the theatre.
A few words of advice for Fringe virgins:
- Tickets are easiest to get for opening weekend - before the buzz gets out.
- It’s well worth booking online ahead of time for popular shows. 20% of tickets are held for day-of, on-site sale, but you may miss out if you don’t arrive early.
- If you want to take in several shows, consider a SuperPass. For me, the Buddy Pass (10 shows for $105) is about right. Passes can be shared, so it’s a great way to save money if you have a group.
- Parking can be tricky on weekends, but if you arrive early or don’t mind walking a few blocks, you can find free street parking nearby (another reason to bike, especially with the Bow River pathway so close).
- None of the theatres are air conditioned. If it’s hot out, the heat builds with each show and can be quite uncomfortable by the end of the day. On days like that, go early, dress light or bring a paper fan.
The Calgary Fringe Festival runs August 3 - 11 in Inglewood. For tickets and more information, visit CalgaryFringe.ca.
Lynn Marie Calder is a composer, lyricist, playwright and Calgary 2012 Cultural Ambassador. You can find her on Twitter @CalderLynn.