The bad news is the Edmonton International Fringe Festival was cancelled. The good news is it has moved online from Aug. 13 to 23, sporting a new theme: The Fringe That Never Was.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world as we know it has become a blur of rapid-fire changes that shift from day to day.
The cancellation has had a ripple effect not only on local community artists, but also performers travelling from across the world to perform at Edmonton's Old Strathcona.
While cancelling the event was a smart choice, for Murray Utas who spends eight months of the year planning the event, it was devastating.
“It was hard to cancel the live in-person Fringe, but it was the right thing to do. Now we’re going full steam ahead and turning our Fringe into a fun thing,” said Utas.
This year’s theme is building into a digital festival of art, community and togetherness – even if social distancing requires sitting apart. For Utas, the new format is a way to animate both Fringers and artists.
“I had to look at two things. I was looking for joy and I wanted to celebrate the heart and spirit of who we are. And I wanted you to meet artists you may not know. My job is to connect artists to people and I called in a few favours. People were very responsive and it’s been heartfelt to connect and have conversations with people who care so much about the festival,” Utas said.
Even though the ATB Financial Arts Barns and McIntyre Park will be eerily empty, The Fringe That Never Was has a packed schedule. Expect diverse disciplines – both filmed and live performances, drama and comedy, hip hop, rap, spoken word, magic and shadow puppetry, to name a few.
Opening ceremonies kick off the festival on Aug. 13 through Fringe TV. Utas plans a forum with five special guests tuning in from their respective cities across North America. The forum is shaped around a game show format where guests are challenged with Fringe facts.
The Virtual Wine Tent artist series is up and running Aug. 13 to 15 and Aug. 18 to 22. Utas invites everyone to plug in a computer, unfold back yard lawn chairs, pop a cork and tune in to Fringe TV. Various special guest artists throughout the series include Secret Creek, Amplify1, Wares, RedCloud, Caley Thomas, Lyra Brown, Arlo Maverick and Audrey Ochoa.
Todd Houseman and Lady Vanessa make a joint appearance on Fringe Livestream Thursdays, Aug. 13 and 20, along with a lottery drawn showcase of “live, uncensored, unjuried” performances by a slew of talent.
Seasoned Fringers always get a kick out of meeting artists they support. Meet the Artist, on Aug. 14, 15, 19 and 20, features magician Billy Kidd, Indigenous actor Todd Houseman, actor-director Farren Timoteo and actor Michelle Todd.
Utas suggests keeping an eye out for Friday night’s hip hop guest artist, Amplify1.
“His name is Andrew Cardinal and his hip hop is incredible. His machine-gun patter is explosive. He’s gonna take off, he’s so freaking good.”
Tuesday’s Irreconcilable Spaces of Cultural Identity draws inspiration from Indigenous and People of Colour artists and storytellers. They include St. Albert’s Josh Languedoc, Lady Vanessa Cardonna, Jake Cardinal, Monica Ogden and more.
“It’s a gathering with community performances and Josh is going to lead the discussion on what it means to be marginalized.”
The Friday Night Fire Show on Friday, Aug. 21, sizzles with global street performers who dabble in fire and flames. Meanwhile, the Collapsing Future Cabaret on Aug. 21 and 22 is a wild mashup of crazy performing arts dispersed across four continents.
In addition there are two theatrical performances. The Unrepentant Necrophile on Aug. 14 and 19 heads into a surreal zone with a mortician who falls in love with a man’s corpse she’s preparing for burial.
And Rocko and Nakota: Tales From the Land is a mystical, mysterious narrative aboout a sick boy whose grandfather whisks him into a world of long-forgotten stories.
Online programming will be broadcast on www.tv.fringetheatre.ca/en/.
The 11-day run coincides alongside a Fringe fundraiser with a target of raising $1 million. The fundraiser, titled Tears, Beers and Tickets You’ll Never Use, aims to direct 70 per cent towards Fringe operations and 30 per cent to establish an endowment fund to support artists in need.
At the writing of this article, the fundraiser has generated $124,647.83. Online programming throughout the festival is free, however organizers are asking fans to support the Fringe through a donation at fringetheatre.ca/give.