I had my first day off in 4 months after the Ottawa Fringe let out on June 18th. That day off was real nice. And now I’m supposed to wrap up the festival this year. I’ve been on the road doing theatre, both Fringe-y and not, since April, and I have no plans to really stop before fall. So wrapping things up will be difficult, but I’ll try.
My experience at Ottawa Fringe this year was also a bit unusual in comparison, because I wasn’t just a critic. You know, I did that thing that some people think is a conflict of interest with this thing. Turns out, it wasn’t really a big deal, as far as I can tell.
With virtually no other option than to go in with cafeteria conglomerate Chartwells on UofO’s Tabaret Lawn, the beer tent was staffed by the opposite of the usual Fringe bartenders (grouchy and disinterested), and much too expensive. It seemed to be harder to find that cozy welcoming thing that happens when strangers who find themselves occupying the same table when their respective friends leave fall to talking. Walking in, bright lights and deep shadows hid even people you did know from view. Thank goodness we got back on home turf Arts Court/SAW Gallery for closing night (maximum party achieved, AL?). I am really looking forward to the rumoured location for the “tent” in 2018, because even if beer isn’t your thing, surely the conversations in a cozy courtyard full of Fringers is.
I saw less than half the number of shows I normally see at the festival. That means I missed seeing a lot of people I enjoy checking in on every year to see what they’ve made. Due to my conflict of schedule, the shows I did watch were, mostly, shows that I had to see because otherwise the NOC wouldn’t get to them. My schedule didn’t really leave a lot of room for following the buzz, or following my own instincts. I did get to see Balls: Je suis un vidéoclip, Hootenanny!, and Luna, which were on my radar going into things, but I missed one of my own pre-Fringe picks, House Show, to say nothing of the incomparable Martin Dockery.
The life of the critic at Fringe is hectic. We spend 3-4 hours every night watching shows, and then 3-6 hours every day writing reviews before doing it all again. It’s draining. But it’s also incredibly rewarding. I guess I hadn’t really realized the privilege I’d been giving myself by doing this job. The luxury of having the absolute freedom to determine my schedule from scratch every day of the festival, dig deep into conversations around the tent, and be able to set aside time to see all the shows I want to see.
It took me going into the light, and getting up on stage myself, to understand that the work of being an artist doesn’t begin and end with the 2 hours you are setting, doing, and striking your show. There are countless line runs, organizing logistics for the next festival (if you’re touring), thinking about rewrites and tweaks, incorporating changes into the understanding you’ve built in your head and body about the show. The need to see things that inspire you, that feed your energy and drive so that when you step on stage you aren’t a zombie or a robot teetering around slurring your lines at the audience and feeling nothing. Even if you know it, you don’t understand it til you live it.
Since Fringe ended, I have found myself sitting at home in the evenings with a vague sense of unease, like I’m missing something, or I’m supposed to be somewhere. I went out for a beer, read a play (Rozencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead, originally a Fringe classic!), and listened to people talk, but it wasn’t the same. There was no chance Jem Rolls would pass by and offer gruff bits of wisdom about the time he taught Tom Stoppard how to flyer, or ten actors who’d just spent an hour pretending to be pornstars and cursing each other with puns would pile in, riding high on the I-can’t-believe-it-ness of their lives. The music traced its origins no further back than 2015, and there was neither the whine of Tabaret mosquitos, nor traffic noise humming up Nicholas. Fringe is definitely over.
Until next year. We’ve already started looking forward to it, beginning to develop some plans and more exciting content and angles. And we’ll be plotting to get the whole festival covered next year. This was another record-breaking festival for us, seeing us review the highest percentage of shows since our inception, and web traffic continuing to rise. We’re on track to keep growing through the summer and into our residency at the gctc in the fall.
Fundraising efforts in that regard are still seeing us come up short of being able to do more than cover our costs, so if you appreciate our Fringe coverage, please consider becoming a Patreon subscriber so that we can continue to grow.
Personally, I have a few weeks ‘off’ until Winnipeg Fringe, but I’ll be filling the time with writing, rehearsing, working to pay some bills, and taking a week-long acting intensive class. Because the work is never done.