Report From The Fringe

MY SISTER, who lives in New York and knows more than the usual number of professional actors, has never been to a fringe festival. So I sent her my review notes of the one in Edmonton, Alberta, the largest in north America, with about one-thousand personnel including actors, directors, writers, technicians and volunteers. The first fringe was created by independent performers on the “fringe” of the esteemed professional theatre fest in Edinburgh after WW II. The one in Edmonton this August was the 42nd. It presented about 140 sixty-minute shows in ten days, most by single performers. Pat and I saw 15 shows picked almost at random since we are not seasoned fringers.

Was this a series of “monologues?” my sister asked. I answered that monologue is a little too Shakespearean for this event. Stories by storytellers — some comic, some dramatic, some musical — would be more apt. The fringe stage rule also is not very Bardlike. It seems to be: “Move around, talk fast in incomplete sentences, and repeat.”

An prime exemplar of this is Martin Dockery, who writes his own material. His “Every Good Story Ends With One” about his attempt to make friends at the huge Adelaide Fringe in Australia was an hour of non-stop high-frequency delivery evoking constant laughter.  

Another show, with Dockery and Andrew Broaddus, advertised as “The Long Night of the American dream” followed the same rules. As the audience filed in, the two were already on stage, Broaddus pacing and stretching, Dockery seated on a folding chair reading a typescript. The show opens with the words of the Broaddus:  “I can’t do this!” He can’t because the Dockery either doesn’t know his lines or didn’t write the script as he was supposed to. They blame each other. They fight for the rest of the hour, revealing they are brothers or half brothers (who knows which?) Broaddus apologizes to the audience (no recognition of the ”fourth wall” here) for not getting what it expected. Namely, a story. 

 I often heard the term “story telling” at the Edmonton Fringe.  Some storytellers were standup comics.  Some were actors dramatically recalling terrible times, as in the shows about war. Let me tell you about the war shows in their historical order.

“Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany” told by Ingrid Garner, is adapted from her grandmother’s memoir. Most stories from those times are about Nazi atrocities, but this was about the bombing of Berlin by the Allies, illustrated by a backdrop of black and white photos of historic devastation in Berlin.

“Anatolia Speaks” is framed by writer-director Kenneth Brown as a speech to an English As Second Language class by a survivor of the Bosnian ethnic war, played by Candice Florentino. The dramatic tension between her wish to please the class with her progress and her attempt to hide her traumatic background — losing her husband and son in the destruction of Srebrenica and being gang raped by border guards — is resolved only by a moment of kindness by a Canadian UN soldier who escorts her through the same lines so she can find ultimate safety in Canada. 

“Bent Compass” is a soldier’s tale of the Iraq war, following his development from a recruit just out of high school to a hardened combat veteran (despite his assignment as a medic). Actor Neil Brookshire is so skillful in the role that I  immediately suspended disbelief. I was ready to believe that all the things he related really happened to him. Actually, he and Colin Sesek interviewed Iraq veterans and created this composite soldier. The show was our clear favorite of all the ones we saw.

“The War Comic” by comedian Pete Zedlacher is his standup routine, full of ironic humor, about entertaining Canadian troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The recollection is punctuated by tragedy, especially the “friendly fire” mistake in which U.S. forces took the lives of three Canadians. The jokes stop when Zedlacher hits these dark points. The lights black out, and he walks off stage, returning in character when the lights go back up.

Why do these fringe artists do what they do? Artistic freedom. 

I heard it often. Martin Dockery lives in New York, and I told Pat, “He could land any part he wanted to audition for there and stay home at home.” Instead, like most of the others, he travels the world for fans that pay $18 a show (the Edmonton price). Broadway shows are 20 or 30 times that price. An actor can raise a family on the pay from a part in a long-running show like “Hamilton.”

But money can’t buy freedom.

3 thoughts on “Report From The Fringe

  1. Have never been to The Frnge and I see that I am seriously missing an enjoyable time! Thanks Larry

  2. Great report, transmitting the joyful artistic spirit of the event. And I had never known the precise origin of the term “fringe” for these festivals. Wish someone would organize one in NM.

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