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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

News: Fringe Press Conference

Amy Blackmore and Patrick Brennan

21 reasons to Fringe
by Émilie Charlebois

I recently had the pleasure of loafing and traveling through Western Europe for six months. When you meet new people, especially while abroad, you will inevitably have to ask and be asked: ‘‘Where are you from?’’ Interestingly, it seems like Canadians often have to then also justify why they voluntarily live somewhere so cold. When you’re from Montreal it’s easy: the people, the food, ever-changing bilingualism, the parties, the wonderful cultural mixing, and most importantly, the summer. For three glorious months Montrealers develop winter amnesia as they are distracted by a multitude of festivals. And out of the all the festivities that are about to hit, the Montreal Fringe Festival may very well embody all the best parts the city has to offer. 

Within the dark chamber that is the Katacombes on St. Laurent, Amy Blackmore (Festival Director) and Patrick Brennan (Special Events Coordinator) presented the festival’s 21st edition with promises that this year will be bigger than ever. In order to accommodate the increased number of applications they received, Blackmore and her team expanded the festival’s reach with 30 venues, 700 performances and 500 artists. In order to get the word out sooner and draw in greater crowds, this year’s press conference was held two weeks earlier than usual, and Blackmore’s team extended publicity efforts to the South Shore as well as within schools. While the Fringe has a strong community feel and serves as a great place to showcase Montreal talent, it also gets global. This year’s Fringe will host a variety of international artists, originating from South Korea (Probationary Theater Company), New Orleans (Texpatriate Productions) and Australia (Weeping Spoon Productions), to name a few. 
Fringe spokeperson, Steve Galluccio
at press conference

From May 30th to June 19th Montrealers will be able to enjoy 21 days of Fringe festivities which have been divided into three types of programming. The Fringe After Dark program will offer a variety of events where the line between audience and performers will be blurred for Crowd Karaoke, Slowdance Night and the 13th Hour (1:00 am Cabaret du Mile End June 10th-18th, free admission) hosted for the sixth and sadly the last time, by Zack Winters, Sweet Sweet Jimmy Priest and Rufus O’Hallahan (Montreal’s golden improv group and Fringe veterans, Uncalled For will be performing at the festival one last time). The 13th Hour will provide fringers with sneak peaks and most importantly, the opportunity to mingle with staff, volunteers, artists and press. It is where the Fringe goes to party and thus offers a shared hangover experience to many. 

As part of this year’s addition of visual art to the festival, Fringe After-Dark will also offer everyone the chance to submit original artwork for the Galerie Fringe (first come first served basis, deadline May 23rd, $20 submission fee) as well as go away for a night of ArtCamp filled with music, performances and visual art in Magog (June 10th, $50/ bus + shows; $20/ shows only). The Fringe Park program will bring the festival outdoors in the Parc des Amériques on St. Laurent with The Unsettlers launching opening night on June 9th (7pm, free admission). Similar to the 13th Hour, the Fringe Park can be used as a space to mix with fellow fringers, staff and volunteers and get the buzz on what shows are hot. Although organizers this year will have to comply with an amplification regulation that will force them to cut all mics and amplified music by 9pm, the venue will host a multitude of musical acts in association with other great Montreal festivals: Fringe Pop (Pop Montréal, June 16th-19th) and PiknicauFringe (piknicelectronik, June 11th). The 11th edition of the fabulous Drag Races hosted by Mado Lamotte will also take place on June 18th (4pm, free admission) with a special performance by one of last year’s  favorites: Dance Animal. Events from the Fringe A to Z programming will take place throughout the festival’s indoor venues within the Plateau – Mile End area. The full program listing all events and their respective venues will be available online as of May 17th. During the festival, daily installments of Fringe-Moi by Belzébrute will also be available on the website, offering interviews, Fringe excerpts and puppet shenanigans.

As Blackmore’s statement made clear at this year’s press conference, the Fringe Festival isn’t simply about the smorgasbord of performances, it is also about community and the active involvement of its members. In addition to selling reusable St-Ambroise cups with which people can get $0.50 off each beer they purchase at the beer tent, an Eco Carnivale set to celebrate the Fringe going green will take place on June 15th. A variety of neighborhood organizations will host eco-friendly workshops and there will be a clothing swap benefiting Le Chaînon. Furthermore, another thing to keep in mind throughout the festival is its Daily Donation program which will enable fringe-goers to support the Fringe and local charities such as the Native Women’s Shelter, Apathy is Boring and The Yellow Door. People can also get the good karma ball rolling as early as June 5th when Montreal Improv and Grindhouse Wednesdays (screening Dawn of the Dead) team up for the Head and Hands fundraiser (7pm Terrasse St-Ambroise, $10).

The great thing about the Montreal Fringe Festival is undoubtedly the array of performers and lovable weirdos that make it in. With a lottery system rather than auditions used as a means of selecting artists, you’re bound to get some train wrecks, but a lot of exceptional gems make it through as well. Nonetheless, as Amy Blackmore says: ‘it’s about discovery.’ And what better way to get a head start than to attend what she rightfully calls a ‘dégustation de spectacles’ on May 30th, at the Fringe-For-All (7 pm Café Campus, free admission). Whether it is your first or your twenty-first year at the Fringe Festival, the Fringe-For-All is the best way to pick out the must-sees from the ‘avoid at all costs’ (until the Charlebois Post reviews them…obviously). Local artists will have less than two minutes to take the stage and show the audience what they’re made of. A separate Fringe-For-All for out-of-town Fringe artists will take place on June 9th (11:00pm, Cabaret du Mile End, free admission).

The expansion of the Fringe Festival and the artistic diversity it provides to performers and audiences attest to its existence as a Montreal cultural phenomenon. More than just a name, unlike other city festivals, it can be a verb and a denomination for those who partake in its activities: ‘‘So where will you fringers be fringing tonight?’’ According to Uncle Many (Fringe Park Coordinator) as well as many other "habitués", the answer to that question from June 10th to 18th should be: ‘‘Cabaret du Mile End, because the 13th Hour is about to get cray-cray!’’ Although the festival has taken on greater proportions, it looks as though it will nonetheless remain as intimate as ever, bringing people from all walks of life together for a few days, as members of the wonderfully bizarre Montreal Fringe family.

Read Émilie Charlebois's interview with Amy Blackmore
See the Fringe Aggregator for more coverage

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