A Taste of What’s to Come!

FRINGE 2014: A Preview

Brianna McFarlane

           Well, it’s that time of year again! Summer is fast approaching, the professional stages have ended their regular seasons, and I’ve started ordering the St. Ambroise apricot ale wherever I can find it, all seemingly in preparation for these next ten days also known as the Ottawa Fringe Festival. Since moving to Ottawa five and a half years ago, Fringe has always been my favourite time of year, and I am certainly not alone in this feeling. If I may romanticize but a trifle, there’s a sort of magic in the air when you walk into the Fringe Courtyard after an evening of shows: everyone’s buzzing and the excitement is palpable…the copious amounts of beer don’t hurt either.

This year the Fringe Festival is changing things up a bit by offering 100% of the tickets for advance purchase. Whereas in previous years 50% of the tickets were reserved for sales at the door, now shows can sell out by midnight before their next performance, which creates more of a demand for “seat security.” As such, the ability to go and see shows on a whim based on word of mouth feedback becomes slightly more difficult and, perhaps, creates an even bigger need for pre-production publicity!

So here I sit, mere hours away from opening night, writing my first ever preview for a festival I have come to eagerly anticipate every year. The recommendations I list here are based on a few things: an artist’s/company’s previous work, quality and/or number of press accolades and/or awards, and finally the level of interest gleaned from the précis given in the Fringe program and the press releases. Further, the recommendations will be broken into two sections: local shows (shows from Ottawa based companies) and touring, out of town, shows.

Ok, here we go!

Local Shows

Paco P. Put to Sleep by Martin Dockery

Presented by Black Sheep Theatre (June 19, 21, 22, 24, 27, 29 @ Arts Court Theatre)

I am recommending this show based on two things: first, it’s written by Martin Dockery who is an incredible story teller and performer in his own right (and someone you’ll see a bit further down this list) and I am interested to see how his script will be interpreted by local company Black Sheep Theatre and director Dave Dawson. Second, this show has a capable comedic cast.  Mike Kosowan, of Grimprov notoriety, and Will LaFrance, who is no stranger to comedy himself, I last saw onstage together in the popular 2012 Fringe farce Alien Vs. Predator the Musical. Marissa Caldwell (Space Mystery from Outer-Space and Sans Sense) has a voice that’s made for deadpan and sarcasm. Given these two reasons, I think this show has a lot of potential.

Royal Jelly by Kara Crabb

Presented by Book of Why (June 22, 23, 25, 26, 28, 29 @ Arts Court Theatre)

Normally I am hesitant about seeing shows that have anything to do with the post-apocalypse (and there seem to be a number of them this year…), but I am recommending this one because its précis sounds so badass: “In a luxurious post-apocalyptic bunker, three polygamist widows plan to celebrate the life of their late husband Jacob by eating his heart.” Heart eating?! Now that’s what I call rock’n’roll a la Game of Thrones! Furthermore, Norah Paton (After Miss Julie) is amongst the three person cast and I can attest to the fact that she is an electric performer, having seen her one-woman show, Forsaken Daughters of Winter, at this year’s Fresh Meat Festival.

Royal Jelly (cred Kara-Lis Coverdale)(phot cred: Kara-Lis Coverdale)

www.royaljellyplay.com

Wunderjammer by Richard Hemphill

Presented by Punchbag Playhouse (June 20, 21, 22, 25, 27, 29 @ Academic Hall)

I loved Die, Zombie! Die! Just about everything about that production from the script, to the directing, to that unforgettable zombie chorus was well executed. I am super curious to see what Hemphill brings to Fringe this time around with his sketch comedy show of “ridiculous proportions”. Not to mention he’s got two great comedic actors in his arsenal with Richard Gélinas (Much Ado About Feckin’ Pirates) and Allie Harris (Die, Zombie! Die!).

Tales She Tells by Tess McManus

Presented by Little Green Hat (June 19, 22, 23, 26, 27, 28 @ Academic Hall)

I first saw this show at the very first Fresh Meat Festival in 2013. It wasn’t perfect at the time, but I saw its potential. For this year’s Fringe, McManus has done some major rewrites to the script, though retaining the overall concept. McManus herself is a strong performer having proved this by successfully touring another one-woman show, Donkey Derby, across Canada in 2012. Needless to say, I am looking forward to seeing how McManus has developed her text and also seeing her solo work on stage again.

Women Who Shout at the Stars by Carolyn Hetherington

Presented by Goombay Productions (June 19, 22, 24, 26, 28, 29 @ Studio Léonard-Beaulne)

This piece was dramaturged by Judith Thompson who also wrote one of my favourite plays, The Crackwalker, which makes up a large part of this recommendation. Moreover, playwright and performer Carolyn Hetherington is certainly respectable in her own right, being a two time recipient of Nova Scotia’s prestigious Merritt Award and having a Dora award nomination under her belt. A story about three strong women pulled from Hetherington’s life, this show promises to tug at your heart strings.

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Dicky Dicky by Ray Besharah & David Benedict Brown

Presented by Garkin Productions (June 19, 20, 21, 22, 26, 28, 29 @ BYOV C- The Courtroom)

Not recommended for anyone who prides themselves on having a “highbrow” or “witty” sense of humour, Dicky Dicky is basically going to be a dirty, vulgar, slapstick sketch comedy show performed by Besharah and Brown and directed by Melanie Karin. If that hasn’t sold you on the show, then I don’t know what will. Both Besharah and Brown appeared in last year’s hit Die, Zombie! Die! and were equally hilarious, and Karin and Brown were the masterminds behind the Fringe and Undercurrent’s massively popular Hip Hop Shakespeare Live Music Videos. Still not sold? Just watch their promo video here.

Eclipse by Simon Armitage

Presented by Third Wall Academy-Third Wall Theatre (June 20, 21, 24, 26, 28, 29 @ ODD Box)

I saw TWA’s production of Prince of Denmark at last year’s Fringe and I have to say I was impressed with the amount of talent demonstrated by some of these young adults. I am recommending this show solely because we, as a community, should be supporting our future generation of theatre artists both through ticket sales and criticism. I hope this show gets considerable audiences so that TWA can continue working with and developing the skills of our young artists.

TWA ( Third Wall Academy ) is now entering its 3rd year as Ottawa ‘s first young company (16 to 19 year olds) that is connected to a professional theatre company. Selected actors train & rehearse with Third Wall’s Resident Acting Company members. Then the ensemble works towards a public production at the end of June, presented as part of Third Wall’s season.  The work is usually edgy and contemporary.  TWA is the place for young artists’ acting to take flight! ” (Third Wall Theatre)

Fucking Carl by Louis-Phillippe Roy & Caroline Yergeau

Presented by Theatre 4.669 (June 20, 21, 24, 26, 27, 28 @ BYOV A- Studio 311)

From the director who brought us the highly acclaimed We Glow  at last year’s Fringe, Kevin Orr is back directing this promising comedy en français in which a couple is faced with the seemingly simple question: why is your family a strong candidate to adopt a baby? Based on past productions by Theatre 4.669, this company always strives to innovate and create something interesting on stage and I can definitely say, having been in two of his directing classes at the University of Ottawa, that Orr has a sense of humour like none other.

Kavalier’s Kuriosities by Aaron Lajeunesse & Jeremy Piamonte

Presented by Dead Unicorn Ink (June 19, 20, 21, 22, 26, 27, 28 @ BYOV C- The Courtroom)

Word on the street is that in past reviews I’ve been pretty hard on Fringe veterans and fan favourites Dead Unicorn Ink having found their newest shows not quite up to snuff with their very first Fringe offerings, Playing Dead (2011) and Space Mystery… from Outer Space (2012). Yet, something tells me that DUI have gone back to their roots with Kavalier’s Kuriosities, promising “sword-swallowers, fire-eaters, songs, and of course…puppets” which makes me incredibly excited to see this piece. The thing with DUI is this: like the Magic School Bus, this company is not afraid to take chances, make mistakes, and get messy. This risky style comes with a lot of potential for reward, or not. I recommend this show because this company is one of the few local companies that produces new shows on a regular basis and strives to create popular, crowd-pleasing theatre. Check them out because whether you love it or hate it, I guarantee you these guys will give you something to talk about.

Kavalier's Kuriousities (cred Kathryn Reeves) (6)

No Second Chances by Drew McFayden, Mike Kosowan, Joel Garrow & DJ Helicase

Presented by GRIMprov (June 19, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 28, 29 @ BYOV H- Lunenburg Pub)

With long-form improvised plays done in a different style with completely new content every night and set to a live soundtrack provided by DJ Helicase, GRIMprov guarantees laughs. If you’ve never seen this company’s improv before, you’re seriously missing out. These guys are quick on their feet with great comedic timing and the live soundtrack gives them a whole other edge that most improv companies don’t have. If you’ve never seen this company do what they do best, now is your chance.

To Hell in a Handbasket by Madeleine Boyes-Manseau

Presented by Front Yard Productions

I first saw this piece at this year’s Fresh Meat Theatre Festival and it was easily the strongest and most well-rounded piece of the bunch (arguably only rivaled by Norah Paton’s solo piece Forsaken Daughters of Winter). Since then Boyes-Manseau has enlisted the help of Prix Rideau Award winner Brad Long in developing this drama concerning “curious moral codes, the intricacies of family, and (ultimately) hope.” Having first sighted Boyes-Manseau on stage in the 2010 Youth Infringement’s “best of fest” winner, Sacred Sites in Suburbia, she is a powerful and compelling performer and you will have a hard time taking your eyes off of her. Check out her teaser video here.

Wake by Nicholas Amott

Presented by FireFlood Theatre (June 20, 21, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28 @ BYOV D- St. Paul’s Eastern United Church)

Yet another offering from this year’s Fresh Meat Theatre Festival, Fringe veteran Amott (Mercutio and Ophelia and The Fight) is back with his newest piece, Wake. A story about a clinical insomniac who realizes he is still having dreams while awake, Amott’s manipulation of different lighting elements while one stage in order to convey his message is what I appreciated most about this piece. The contrast between light and shadow is certainly integral to this production and I am interested to see what new developments have been added especially given its’ small and intimate space within the tower room of  St. Paul’s Eastern United Church.

Wake 3(cred Nicholas Amott)

Youth Infringement’s Patrons’ Pick: The Anomaly by Ryan Nadon

(June 21 & 28 @ Studio Leonard-Beaulne)

I only made it out to half of the shows at this year’s Youth Infringement Festival much to my disappointment; however, I was lucky enough to catch this piece directed by Colin Giles. As far as Youth Infringement standards go, this piece is decently written, well-acted and well-directed. A comedy in which one woman goes to extreme lengths to steal her husband’s scientific research grant money, the actors will most certainly have you in stitches. With only two performances, there is very limited time to check out this show and I am recommending it because it is definitely strong enough to hold its own against the other contenders on this list.

Touring Shows

Against Gravity by Mind of a Snail Puppet Co.

Presented by Mind of a Snail Puppet Co.- Vancouver, BC. (June 19, 21, 22, 24, 27, 29 @ Academic Hall)

Puppets seem to be trending at this year’s Fringe Festival and Mind of a Snail is no stranger to puppetr. They’ve been developing their own style of “visual story telling using overhead projectors as their main light source” since 2003. According to their website, their performances integrate originally crafted puppets, music, masks, and “eclectic experiments” in lighting and timing. This company intrigues me because I feel that this style of theatre something that is not commonly found on Ottawa stages and the contrast between what is real and what is artificial should prove to be its’ most engaging quality.

Against Gravity  (cred Mind of A Snail)

Bulls Heart by Veenesh Dubois

Presented by Ra Ra Wai Productions – Vancouver, BC (June 19, 21, 22, 24, 27, 28 @ Studio Leonard-Beaulne)

If you saw last year’s hit Under the Mango Tree, then this should be on your list of things to see. A piece that shows the effects of obsession with money and power “fueled by expectations”, this one woman show intends on giving audiences an “unsettling[ly] close” look at greed, murder, identity, and transformation and redemption. I was quite taken with Dubois’ performance and stage presence during Mango Tree, as were many others, and I look forward to seeing what she has to offer in this new solo piece.

Burnt at the Steak by Carolann Valentino

Presented by Carolann Valentino Productions – New York, USA (June 20, 21, 22, 24, 27, 28 @ Academic Hall)

In this one woman musical (impressive enough on its own) about managing a multi-million dollar steakhouse in NYC, Valentino portrays 18 different characters through song, dance, comedy and improv. Checking out the website for this show the first thing you notice is the number of awards and the amount of praise this show has received from all over North America. Something tells me you might want to get your tickets early for this one!

Chase & Stacey Present: Joyride by Chase Padgett and Stacey Hallal

Presented by Stacey Hallal- Portland, USA (June 20, 21, 22, 24, 27, 28 @ Arts Court Theatre)

I finally got to see 6 Guitars written and performed by Padgett a few weeks ago at Arts Court theatre, having missed its sold out run last year at Fringe. Not only is Padgett an impressive guitarist, but his character work is equally impressive, being both accurate and dynamic. Though, according to Padgett, Chase & Stacey has less guitar playing, I am still looking forward to seeing him act on stage again, this time with co-star Hallal and discovering how they will interact with each other. I recommend getting tickets in advance for this one.

Jem Rolls One-Man Traffic Jam by Jem Rolls

Presented by big word performance poetry – Edinburgh, UK (June 22, 23, 25, 26, 28, 29 @ ODD Box)

Jem Rolls is a bit of a Fringe icon and an incredibly strong performer of spoken word poetry. Just googling “Jem Rolls” will turn up a plethora of favourable reviews for his work. This style is not something we see a lot of at Ottawa Fringe and as such this show is not to be missed.

Jem Rolls One Man Traffic Jam 2 (cred Carole Bellon)

Kitt and Jane: an Interactive Survival Guide to the Near-Post-Apocalyptic Future by Kathleen Greenfield, Ingrid Hansen, & Rod Peter Jr.

Presented by SNAFU – Victoria, BC (June 23, 25, 26, 28, 29 @ Academic Hall)

ERMAHGERD you guys, the (stand-alone) sequel to Little Orange Man!! When I first saw Little Orange Man at the Ottawa Fringe two years ago, it moved me in unspeakable ways – artistically and emotionally. I have never been more excited for a company to come back to Ottawa. Don’t miss this show, you will regret it! Plus there’s free cake!

Moonlight After Midnight by Martin Dockery

Presented by Concrete Drops – London, ON (June 19, 20, 22, 26, 27, 28, 29 @ BYOV C- The Courtroom)

Martin Dockery has three pieces in this year’s Fringe and I highly recommend seeing at least one of them. His ability to tell a story is unmatched and his presence on stage is magnetic. Last year I had the pleasure of seeing The Bike Trip, his solo show about his real life experience trying to recreate the very first acid trip. Though I did not manage to see his second show The Pit, I am looking forward to the dynamics between Dockery and Quesnelle as this is their third two person show to tour. Another show that I would recommend getting tickets for in advance because they will sell fast!

The Devil’s Circus by Daniel Wishes & Seri Yanai

Presented by The Wishes Mystical Puppet Company- Winnipeg, MB (June 20, 21, 22, 25, 27, 28 @ ODD Box)

Adapted Greek mythology + Bunraku puppets and 19th century trick marionettes = all I needed to read in order to sell me on this show. Their website has a variety of videos and pictures of their previous puppet work and I highly suggest checking it out. This show is sure to be a refreshing combination of pupeteering styles from both Canada and Japan.

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The Surprise by Martin Dockery

Presented by Martin Dockery – Brooklyn, USA (June 19, 21, 22, 26, 27, 28 @ ODD Box)

It seems only appropriate to end this Fringe preview on the same artist we started with: Martin Dockery. A solo piece, The Surprise is the “wildly unbelievable true story” of Dockery travelling in Saigon and discovering that he has Vietnamese twin siblings…36 years his juniors. As previously mentioned, this performer has a magnetic stage presence when spinning his tales that is certainly reminiscent of Spalding Gray. Again, you’re going to want to purchase tickets in advance for this show because I have a feeling it’s going to sell out fast!

The Surprise 2 (cred Cathryn Lynne)

Well, that’s it, and that’s all folks! Those are my recommendations for this year’s Ottawa Fringe Festival, take ‘em or leave ‘em, it’s up to you! Regardless, get out and support Fringe theatre because, honestly, this is where the exciting, messy, and innovative art is happening and you’ll be hard pressed to find this kind of stuff on any of our main stages. Tickets are only $10 and 100% of the box office goes straight back into the artists’ pockets, something that is completely unique to Fringe Festivals. Don’t forget to utilize the Ottawa Fringe Twitter hashtag, #ottfringe, when posting your own Tweet-views and thoughts on the festival itself.

Happy Fringe-ing!