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Victoria Fringe marks its 37th year with eclectic lineup

The Victoria Fringe, which gets underway Wednesday with the Fringe Preview event at Market Square, runs for 11 days at nine venues. All told, there will be 150 performances by 30 local, national and international artists or companies.

VICTORIA FRINGE FESTIVAL

Where: Various venues, including Metro Studio Theatre, Roxy Theatre and Baumann Centre

When: Wednesday, Aug. 23 through Sunday, Sept. 3

Tickets: victoriafringe.com

By this point, theatregoers should be well aware of the Victoria Fringe Festival, one of the oldest festivals of its kind in Canada.

The Victoria Fringe will launch its 37th installment next week. Clearly, the annual independent alternative theatre festival needs no introduction. However, it’s worthwhile highlighting the nuts-and-bolts of the production, to put the scope of the event into perspective.

The Victoria Fringe, which gets underway Wednesday with the Fringe Preview event at Market Square, runs for 11 days at nine venues. All told, there will be 150 performances by 30 local, national and international artists or companies, ranging from comedy, dance, and drama to late-night cabaret, spoken word, and kids programming.

Though the festival is designed to have a wide appeal, Victoria Fringe producer Emmett MacMillen expects plenty of surprises over the next two weeks. “I’m trying not to go in with any expectations. It’s always good to have a fresh set of eyes.”

MacMillen joined Intrepid Theatre Company, which produces the Victoria Fringe, in the Spring. They were raised in Edmonton, home to one of the biggest and best Fringe Festivals in Canada. MacMillen expects to see some similarities between the festival in Edmonton (which was founded in 1982) and the one in Victoria (1986), which have built a bond with with audiences over several decades.

“We always make sure we are listening to our community, and making changes and evolving with the times,” MacMillen said. “Even though we are in our 37th year, we are not going to phone it in.”

The upcoming Victoria Fringe features predominantly regional productions, with creators hailing from Sooke to Surrey. Many of the well-known performers — such as Roderick Glanville (whose Moby Dick runs Aug. 25-Sept. 2) or Andrea Superstein (Oh Mother, Aug. 29-Sept. 2) — have prior experience on the national Fringe circuit.

MacMillen wanted to focus on the artists who do not have the same level of experience.

“We have a lot of first-time performers. It’s a great opportunity to get them up on stage, being able to support them and guide them through the process. Having them meet other seasoned performers is also a really great experience.”

According to the guiding principles of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals, associated festivals must be non-juried and adhere to a unique lottery system, thus making it accessible to all artists. The only distinction for each individual festival is the percentages relating to local, provincial, national and international content, MacMillen added.

“I think the Fringe is more relevant now than ever, especially as a space for people to come together and share their work in an unjuried context.”

Of the nine venues in play this year, four sites are deemed unconventional. MacMillen strongly recommends patrons catch performances held at Finnerty Gardens in Saanich, Belleville Street Garden, Macauley Point Park in Esquimalt, and Philippine Bayanihan Community Centre in Victoria, “if they really want to see some super interesting theatre.”

The festival comes to a close with the annual Pick of the Fringe awards ceremony, which take places at the Victoria Event Centre on Sept. 3. MacMillen expects, by that point, fans of festival hits to have voiced their support to anyone who will listen.

The Victoria Fringe brings out the passion in theatregoers, they added. Just don’t ask MacMillen to predict which performers will rise to the top.

“It changes from year to year, sometimes we have a lot more comedy, and other years a lot more drama. We have a good handful of more experimental and inter-disciplinary shows, which makes me really excited. It’s always nice to see that going on alongside work that is well-received at other festivals. Our tagline from the Fringe this year is, ‘Choose Your Own Flavour.’ We have a lot for people to choose from this year. It’s a mixed bag of genres and cast sizes and types of shows, so we can really cater to a lot of different people through that.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com