ON STAGE: Victoria Fringe Festival
Where: Various venues, including Metro Studio Theatre, Roxy Theatre and Baumann Centre
When: Aug. 25 to Sept. 4
Heading into this year’s Victoria Fringe Festival — one of the oldest festivals of its kind in Canada — organizers knew they would have to make up for lost time.
Getting up to speed following a long layoff was somewhat difficult, however. “It has been a while since we’ve done a multi-venue Fringe,” producer Sammie Gough said. “It’s important to be aware of what we learned, having had that time to pause and reflect, so it’s a lot of reviewing and remembering. A lot of audience members I haven’t seen in a couple of years.”
Intrepid Theatre, which produces the event, was forced to cancel its 2020 edition of the Victoria Fringe, due to complications from COVID-19. The fallout was significant both culturally and financially, as more than 300 theatre artists from across North America had been booked to appear.
Intrepid Theatre devised a hybrid edition in 2021, with a longer runtime but smaller footprint, with only one in-person venue in play. The pendulum has swung back toward the middle this year, with more than 100 performances of 26 shows at six venues over its 11-day run.
Though slightly smaller than pre-pandemic editions, Gough likes that the most dedicated Fringe fans will have an opportunity to achieve the near-impossible. “This year, it is very possible to see all 26 shows. There aren’t the seven- or eight-show days that we are used to having, which made for a long, long day.”
Fringe supporters have turned out in droves to purchase tickets thus far, which is good news. Gough wasn’t sure how the festival’s new business model — where only advance tickets are being sold — would be received by longtime supporters, who are accustomed to buying their tickets on-site at each performance. But the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Our box office opened Monday, and there was a lineup of people ready to book tickets,” Gough said. “We are trying to make things safer, and reduce person-to-person interaction. The silver lining is that everyone can book 100 per cent of their tickets in advance, plan their Fringing, and not spend so long in line-ups.”
The performances are what drive sales, and the 2022 edition has plenty to offer in that area. Victoria is well represented, and there’s a trio of play readings at SKAM Satellite Studio, which make up a series of new work. As expected, a number of high-profile artists from Ottawa, Los Angeles and Toronto, among other locales, are making their way to the city in the coming week.
Fringe festivals are rarely big money-making ventures (performers are paid exclusively through ticket sales), but both artists and local audiences have remained committed for more than three decades of operation. The two-year break further cemented that relationship, Gough said.
“The Fringe lives in the hearts of all the artists and audience members. It has been happening for 35 years in Victoria, and everyone who is involved are stewards for something much bigger than them. We can always trust that the Fringe spirit will manifest each year.”
In addition to kids’ programming, Intrepid Theatre is offering a range of accessibility options this year, including low-vision resources, text-based materials, and sign language interpretation. Gough said by offering “relaxed performances,” with reduced sound levels and brighter lighting, attendees can attend on their own terms, and are free to come and go as they wish during each performance.
Fringe is nothing if not a constantly evolving entity, she said. “It isn’t a static thing. Everyone sitting in a space together is intangible. People come to the Fringe because they want to be surprised, they want to see something unexpected — to know that anything can happen. A live space is a place of infinite possibilities.”
Five must-see picks for the Victoria Fringe Festival
Now that Victoria Fringe Festival audiences have been welcomed back for in-person performances, the schedule is bursting with options. Performers from as far away as Toronto and Los Angeles give the popular annual event a big-fish appeal, but don’t forget about lesser-known locals and under-the-radar types. The Fringe is where stars are born, often unexpectedly. Here are five shows that could impress.
1. Lesbihonest (Aug. 25-Aug. 30, VCM Wood Hall). The comic storytelling of Toronto’s Laura Piccinin has an everyperson appeal, but the story she weaves in Lesbihonest finds myriad ways to set itself apart from the pack. A first-person account of her sexual awakening (Piccinin came out as queer at 23), Lesbihonest is everything all at once: Awkward, political, inspiring. Hers is a story worth hearing.
2. Blueberries Are Assholes (Aug. 25-Sept. 4, The Roxy Theatre). Fringe legend TJ Dawe needs no introduction, having starred in several award-winning productions during his 14 career appearances at the Victoria Fringe. The University of Victoria graduate will premiere his new monologue during this year’s festival; given that this is his first appearance at the Victoria Fringe since 2014, tickets will be difficult to acquire for this one.
3. Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany (Aug. 26-Sept. 3, Metro Studio). Patrons can expect great things from Los Angeles actor/playwright Ingrid Garner’s highly acclaimed one-woman show. Based on the diaries of her grandmother, Eleanor Garner, the multiple Best of Fest winner is set in Germany during the Second World War, and places emotion and drama front and centre for the duration. A true gem that pulls very few punches.
4. Is This Yours? (Aug. 27-Sept. 3, VCM Wood Hall). Al Lafrance, who is known for his rapid-fire writing and synapse-firing delivery, has never been at a loss for words. Is This Yours? premiered in 2019 but has been remounted this year, with a nary a drop-off in terms of quality. The production won outstanding English comedy this year at the Montreal Fringe, which points to a very successful Victoria run.
5. Tree (Aug. 30-Sept. 4, SKAM Satellite Studio). Natasha Mercado has roots in the Upright Citizens Brigade (whose alumni includes Amy Poehler, Nick Kroll and Aubrey Plaza), so her improvisational and sketch comedy skillset is clearly elite. Her solo show, Tree, is billed as “part clown show, part game show, part philosophical discussion on humanity,” providing the Los Angeles-based performer with a multitude of arenas in which to create magic.