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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

After Dark, May 17 (Pre-Fringe edition)

True Theatre
Lessons on imagination the Fringe has to teach audiences, critics and - hell! - even some Fringers
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

I was reading an op-ed by J. Kelly Nestruck in the Globe and Mail. Germane to what I am about to discuss, is this from Kelly's article: "...I was not particularly thrilled by the arrival of an 86-ton vintage steam locomotive on the stage at the end of the first act...This realistic - actually, just plain real - prop broke the spell created by director Damian Cruden's otherwise inventive and imaginative staging."

I know what he means. You come out of a Cirque show, Phantom or Les Miz and think: "Loverly, but of course, give me a gabillion bucks and I could work wonders too." (Or not: see Spider-Man.) It's not really theatre, is it? Theatre is about imagination, not about throwing money at a problem. It's about finding a way to say or show an idea with limited means and thrilling an audience even while not drawing too much attention to the way you have thrilled them. The best Peter Pan I have ever seen had the actors "flying" while standing on step ladders on rollers being pushed about by Lost Boys. (The worst was when I was 11 and the entire Darling family looked like they were being hanged - this had peculiar resonance in the city I saw it in: Düsseldorf, Germany, a mere 22 years after the war.)

A Fringe show lives and dies by imagination...

For me, theatre is imagination shared.

That is why I love the Fringe. A Fringe show lives and dies by imagination: the imagination of a director working with nothing and providing magic; the magic of a writer pulling stars out of the sky while you watch an actor, alone, on a bare stage; an actor who makes symphonic music with a single instrument; a designer who conjures whole vistas with a single drape under a single light.

One of my colleagues, at the daily, thought the Fringe was a waste of time. Clearly he was an idiot. A Fringe show requires a theatrical lingua franca that is simply not understood by a mainstream audience. It is a language that incorporates the common-speak of theatrical history, yes, but also an exploration of a present, living theatre and - especially - a vision of what theatre can be: a thrilling future. When the mainstream spectators are all dead, the revelations which rise from the Fringe will dominate our mainstages at last (and hopefully, will put aside the very concept of "mainstage").

It is already beginning to happen. Look at 
Centaur's next season. Look at how small houses in Toronto, like Tarragon, already dominate theatrical discussion. Look at the career of Rick Miller!

Don't get me wrong. Not everything at the Fringe is a gem. A lot is deliciously awful (this makes the event rather fun for a critic, though). But you wade through this - 45 minutes, ten bucks a shot - and suddenly find that one moment of ecstasy which makes everything - if you love theatre - worth while.

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