The Edmonton International Fringe Festival was decimated in 2020. One year later, the theme is Together We Fringe, and organizers are prepared to welcome back a hybrid format, combining live and digital shows.
The 40th edition will focus primarily on local talent showcased at nine indoor and two outdoor venues with a limited audience size. Patrons will be required to mask up, and all activities will be ticketed.
“In fact, it will more closely resemble the very first Fringe Theatre event in 1982 than the festival we all knew and loved and left behind in 2019,” said Megan Dart, Edmonton Fringe interim executive director.
St. Albert playwright-actor-director Josh Languedoc will place his stamp on the festival through the newly created position of director of Indigenous strategic planning.
Working under the festival’s giant umbrella, Languedoc has been tasked with examining and researching, not just the look of the festival, but the feel and programming to better include Indigenous stories.
“My job is to fill in the gaps, meet city officials, and communicate the needs. What does the Fringe Festival need to do to fill out the gaps? And then I have to work out a strategy and prepare a report,” Languedoc said.
Artistic director Murray Utas added a few more details.
"He will look at how we do everything from the governance of the board to the execution of events in a way that relates to the Earth for Indigenous programming. I want to make sure the position has the autonomy to grow and expand. I see less hierarchical, top-down management and more of a circle," Utas explained.
Languedoc has created a fresh vision and is rethinking how to bring a new kind of theatre to the festival. The triple threat has programmed a variety of Indigenous entertainment – both through daytime patio discussions and evening variety programs. The presentations are all based on the Cree word, “Tatawaw,” meaning, “Welcome – there is room.”
“In fact, it’s the opposite of what the Fringe stands for – no late comers, no refunds. In Tatawaw there are no hardcore tickets, and you can come and go as you please. I even hope to start some circles,” said Languedoc.
The daytime live-patio series will host a combination of Indigenous artists, scholars, and leaders, while the evening’s cabarets will bring in fresh voices, such as DJ Red Cloud.
In addition, the Cosmopolitan Music Centre will showcase a screening of Languedoc's play, Feast, originally filmed for the New Works Festival.
“It’s about a couple and a young man who comes to terms with his lost religious identity. It asks, 'To what extent do we consume ourselves?' It’s not a happy play.”
The cast includes Sheldon Stockdale, Marissa Gell, Emily Berard, Desmaris Moonwalker, Trisha Jovellanos, and Kristin Unruh, while Rebecca Sadowski has choreographed this physical production.
As a bonus, Languedoc is also part of The Trip, a three-man improv show that includes Ed Picard and Scott Barrington. In addition, multi-instrumentalist Paul Morgan Donald provides the soundscape.
“In one word it’s “escapism.” We go on a journey with the audience. We ask them where they’d like to go. This year it’s a post-COVID escape. We go on the journey, but we take detours. We set up stakes and bend the genre,” said Languedoc.
As a teenage actor, Languedoc received his initial theatre experience and grounding through St. Albert Children’s Theatre's musical theatre shows.
“I was convinced it was all glitz and glam,” he said.
As an adult playwright, he has asked more pointed questions and views theatre’s repetitive traditional aesthetic as too predictable and sanitized.
“There’s a certain safety in seeing the same types of shows. But it quietly lets people know you don’t belong. Theatre doesn’t have to be one thing. It doesn’t have to represent just one type of narrative.”
As Canada grapples with past wrongs to Indigenous nations, Languedoc aims to create theatre environments that are accessible to all.
“Healing. It’s my life’s purpose. We do shows to heal the past generations' trauma and recognize different voices.”
The Fringe runs Aug. 12 to 22 in Edmonton’s Old Strathcona. A list of shows will be posted on the Fringe website by Aug. 2. Tickets go on sale at noon on Aug. 4.