Fringe Fest 2015

So, Fringe Fest was a good time. I spent a lot of time sitting outside the Manitoba Museum telling people how to get to the Planetarium. Aside from keeping myself busy during the historically depressing summer, my motivation for volunteering was to get some first-hand experience of how a large arts event works from the organizational side of things. It’s interesting to see how well-oiled the machine is, so that overall the entire festival functions smoothly even if the individual volunteers have no particular skills or training.

The third ulterior motive was the volunteer comps. I saw four shows: Life’s Lyrics was at the Purple Room on Princess St. and featured two of my soon-to-be roommates. The writers were all U of M jazzers. Some of the songs were good, but there were more than a few that fell flat and at least one eyebrow-raiser (“Everlasting lust/never-ending trust”?). The vocal harmonies were more flavourful than I’m used to hearing in musical theatre, but acoustic guitar and drums is not a combination that lends itself to interesting textures. The book was a morass of second-hand melodrama and subplots that went nowhere (what exactly was the point of the dead ex-roommate?) and ultimately didn’t hang together. I’d say the cast was superior to the material. But I’d like to see what these guys come up with next, if 686 Productions is going to stick together.

The Exclusion Zone was a one-man show by storyteller Martin Dockery. In his unique discursive but subtly structured style, Dockery weaves together his visit to the site of the Chernobyl disaster, his experiences on drugs at Burning Man, and his obsession with the author Geoff Dyer and his book Zona. Though Dockery’s performance style is heavily embodied and vocal, the show is literary in concept. He attempts to mimic the structure of Dyer’s book, which in turn mimics the structure of its subject, the Soviet film Stalker. He even gives us an epigraph and chapter divisions. The performance was fantastic, and throughout the festival Dockery was omnipresent, talking to younger performers, rubbing elbows with audience members, promoting his shows, and running from one venue to another when he had two performances scheduled back-to-back. A great show, and he seems like a stand-up guy.

At my first volunteer shift, the second night of the festival, I was selling tickets for a little show called Three Men in a Boat put on by Pea Green Theatre Group. Hardly anyone came except for actors on their comp cards. When I came back two days later, the show had become the runaway hit of the festival and was selling out every night. It was a very slick production with period costumes, intricate choreography, English accents, and even songs. With his Victorian take on the familiar modern comic themes of milquetoastery, camping trips, and male braggartism, Jerome K. Jerome is something like a 19th-century Dave Barry. The play occasionally has to stretch to get the novel onto the stage, but overall it was my favourite show of the Fringe.

Immediately after Three Men I saw Woody Allen’s Central Park West. This is a deliciously funny play that explores some of the same territory as Coward’s Private Lives but with even bleaker results. The characters are familiar Allen stock, the exception being Juliet, the naif who appears near the end of the play to kick it off in a totally new direction. She really makes the show; her presence is the only thing that keeps it from being a retread and turns it into a bizarre entertainment in its own right. The actress who played Phyllis was a little stilted by herself, but once all the characters were onstage the cast bounced off each other very well.

The real excitement of the festival, though, was the book stall that seems to pop up at every street festival in Manitoba. I had a spare ten bucks to pick up a James Joyce collection (Portrait, Dubliners, and Chamber Music) and round it off with a copy of The Naked Sun—I’ve read it, but it appeared to be the only book they had for $3.

I’m finding myself more and more annoyed with Facebook. These days I’m only checking it when I’m desperate for novelty. I think the Internet thinkpiece machine has become too efficient and now the same links keep floating to the top and people keep weighing in with their inane opinions, seemingly oblivious to the fact that everyone else has the same opinions expressed in the same words. Twitter is where the action’s at these days: my Twitter feed is all people I’ve followed voluntarily out of interest, whereas Facebook is a lot of distant acquaintances and people I haven’t seen since high school. At this point it’s only good for remembering birthdays and keeping tabs on people the way I keep tabs on the spiders in my shed, so I can dump a bucket of water on them if they start getting ideas.