Fringe festival: Drama, dance, comedy and more

The Victoria Fringe offers no shortage of options this year, with 47 shows and more than 250 performances on tap in more than 12 locations through Sept. 1.

Knowing where to be and when is always a difficult task right out of the gate, as the buzz does not catch fire until mid-festival for some shows. While you wait for that news to bubble up, here’s a quick-reference guide on what should be good, what will be good and what looks super-interesting at first blush.

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1. GRL PWR: A Musical History of 90s Girl Group Feminism (Metro Studio Theatre: Aug. 23-Aug. 31). Victoria’s Salty Broad Productions is expected to make some noise with this love letter to the music of TLC, the Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child, among others. Creators Sadie Evans and Emilee Nimetz (who will joined in their girl group by Jana Morrison, Ingrid Moore and Sarah Murphy) will be putting a new spin on some old songs, while updating the context for the modern era in the process

2. Playing with Men (Victoria Event Centre: Aug. 26-Sept. 1). Fringe favourite Jon Bennett brings Playing with Men to Victoria for the first time next week, along with the expectation that another hour of very comedic and very personal storytelling from the Australian funnyman will be on display. A previous winner in Victoria, he should walk away with some hardware by the time the festival awards are handed out.

3. Crazy for Dick Tricks: A Dirk Darrow Investigation (Downtown Activity Centre: Aug. 27-Sept. 1). You will be wowed when Tim Motley, another Australia-based performer, puts his “mentalism” into action with the latest entry in his Dirk Darrow series. Playing a psychic detective on the hunt for a murderer in a 1930s mental hospital, it’s an effective mix of comedy and magic.

4. LUB DUB (Downtown Community Centre: Aug. 26-Sept. 1.). One of several strong local entries in the Fringe this year, this surefire hit claims to be a variety show that is unapologetic, which is a plus given that the show is attempting to smash white supremacy. Questions will be accepted from the audience, so LUB DUB has limitless directions in which it can move.

5. 13 Dead Dreams of “Eugene” (Metro Studio Theatre: Aug. 27-Sept. 1). Erika Kate MacDonald and Paul Strickland — 13-time Best of Fest winners at Fringes worldwide — are making their Victoria fringe debut with a metaphysical shadow-puppet show that doubles as a folk musical. The sights from this creative team from Cincinnati, Ohio, will, by all accounts, be spectacular.

6. Josephine (Langham Court Theatre: Aug. 26-Sept. 1). Adult themes in this hotly-tipped musical from Dynamite Lunchbox in Orlando, Florida, will keep some audience members at bay. But that’s the Fringe in a nutshell; sometimes the best shows have their own rhythm. Josephine is carried by a stand-out performance by Tymisha Harris, who plays the titular singer, dancer and civil-rights activist Josephine Baker.

7. Summer Bucket List (Roxy Theatre: Aug. 22-Sept. 1). The latest from Victoria’s Collectivus Theatre — which won several Fringe awards for 2018’s The Fitting Room — is once again shepherded by playwright Ellery Lamm and director Anna Marie Anderson, who supply their cast of six with a 90-minute dramedy that will tug at your heart and pull at your brain. Sensitive topics (sexual assault, mental health) are key components of this play, one of the rare ones that is by and for and about young adults.

8. Ballad of Frank Allen (St. Andrew’s Kirk Hall: Aug. 21-Sept. 1). Shane Adamczak is a name Fringe fans will know — and love. The Australian behind festival favourites Zack Adams and Trampoline, he delves into science fiction for this romp, which has been described as a buddy-comedy about a tiny man who lives in another man’s beard. That it has won several awards gives you an idea of the genius inherent in most of Adamczak’s work.

9. Dear Samantha (Wood Hall: Aug. 22-Sept. 1). British writer-actor Charles Adrian Gillott has made a career out of his spinster-librarian character, Ms. Samantha Mann, whose cringe-worthy attempts at life make for a smashing round of can’t-turn-away solo performance. Gillott has produced big wins in the past, so there is no reason to assume his enduring fish-out-of-water creation won’t be in fine form starting tonight.

10. Scaredy Cat (Wood Hall: Aug. 21-Sept. 1). Award-winning storyteller Carlyn Rhamey scored a hilarious hit at last year’s festival with The ADHD Project, but the performer from Hamilton, Ont., is back with something more heartwarming this time around. A story about her fear and anxieties, dating back to her upbringing in Welland, Ont., she brings the audience along for a ride on her courageous journey.

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