EDMONTON FRINGE: POLITICAL AND PHYSICAL
LISA JEANS offers her take on what to see at the Edmonton Fringe
Festivals offer theatre audiences a particular challenge: hundreds of performances and a limited amount of time to see them. While there is pleasure in the happenstance of half-price tickets or taking a chance on the artist who just pitched their show to you in the line-up for someone else’s show, I prefer to sit down with the listings, a big cup of coffee, and my mobile device to identify a handful of productions that excite me. These are often shows that engage with social and political issues indirectly and provoke a strong emotional response in a visually theatrical way that intensifies the sense of spectacle and the immediacy of live performance.
As an artist who has performed at Fringe, I know the technical constraints of the festival format: there is limited space and time to set props and production design elements; the lighting plot is shared by all productions programmed into a given venue, and so on. While these constraints can lead directly to a visual same-ness—the empty stool and microphone on an empty stage comes to mind—that causes the shows to mix together in a slurry of memory, some artists find inventive ways to work with these limitations and produce outstanding work with meaningful imagery that lingers well after the house lights go up. This can be achieved in many ways including through clever, if minimal, production and costume design or through the use of heightened physicality and dance.
I certainly respect theatre that is very explicit about its political content and agenda, and admire artists who dare to produce very serious fare during the carnival that is Edmonton Fringe, but I get most excited about performances that address social and political issues in pleasurable and unexpected ways and are anything but on the nose.
There are several companies producing on the Fringe circuit that, with their talent, skill and ingenuity, address political themes with either subtlety and wit, or pointed largesse and bombast, all the while creating an immediate, magical, sensory experience for audiences.
When building my shortlist, I seek out the new, which for me means productions that are premiering this year or those without more than a couple of past productions at other festivals on the other side of the country. With that in mind, the following are my selections for the 2017 Edmonton International Fringe Festival.
The Merkin Sisters
SNAFU Dance Theatre
SNAFU is known for inventive physical performances full of heart and wit. This year they are bringing two different shows to Edmonton.
Interstellar Elder takes place in a dystopian future. I’m giddy just watching Ingrid Hansen dance in the promo clip.
The Merkin Sisters, co-created and performed by Hansen with Stéphanie Morin-Robert (Blindside), is about a pair of “formerly-famous sisters (who) leave the house for the first time in a decade as they risk everything to present their Ultimate Work of Art.” It promises to be a master class in physical theatre.
Mind of a Snail
A woman, sick of being objectified, steals a magic paintbrush and must decide whether to keep the status quo or change her life and love herself as she really is. Chloé Ziner and Jessica Gabriel use shadow puppetry, clown, physical comedy and original music in their surreal performances.
You Fucking Earned It!
Bouffon has the power to get under your skin and fester uncomfortably in your subconscious mind all the while provoking raucous laughter. These anti-clowns don bright bulbous costumes and promise to take aim at Western economic imperialism–nothing is safe or sacred.
SCUM: a manifesto
Scantily Glad Theatre
SCUM tackles an explicitly political subject: Valerie Solanas, the author of the late ‘60s radical feminist SCUM Manifesto, a.k.a. the woman who shot Andy Warhol, while examining the feminist movement today. It’s a bold and ambitious choice of subject and the emerging artists of Scantily Glad workshopped this show with Vern Thiessen after the show’s premiere at Saskatoon Fringe last year.
THE LONGLIST (and why I think these shows are intriguing):
Animal Farm Treatment (Alice Nelson/Underdog Theatre) : a fresh take on Orwell’s novel
Drunk Girl (Thea Fitz-James) integrates performance art and theatre and questions cultural norms
Executing Justice (Bill Pats) : a look at the criminal justice system
Gemini (Louise Casemore/Defiance Theatre), a new play by an award-winning emerging playwright
Ship of Dreams (Grasshoppa Dance Projects) : dance and women’s history
Souls (Multicultural Theatre) by Syrian playwright Aksam Alyousef, about a Canadian lawyer who finds herself drawn emotionally into the ongoing conflict in Israel-Palestine. Full disclosure, I participated in early table reads for this play.
Szeretlek: A Hungarian Love Story (The Grand Salto) : Hungarian culture, dance, mask
The Milky Way Express (In Arms Theatre Collective) LGBTQ2SIA+ themed and inspired theatre art
With Glowing Hearts (Send in the Girls) : smart, sexy, and body positive burlesque theatre
Showtime and venue details are available on the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival website.
Lisa Jeans is a theatre artist and writer. Her writing has been published in FASHION, The Globe and Mail, and in a smattering of Canadian literary journals. One of her current projects in progress is a performance text about violence against women in politics. She recently profiled issues of equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility at The Edmonton Fringe Festival for Alt.theatre.