Eight dumb things about the Fringe

The Edmonton International Fringe Festival is the best festival in Edmonton. There. It had to be said. Seriously, you won’t find a higher concentration and variety of artistry in one spot at one time anywhere else in town any other time of the year, the folk fest being a distant second. The Fringe draws around half a million people to Old Strathcona, turning the entire district into a booming Party Central for 10 days.

Well played, Fringe!

That said, the beast has become unruly and a little spoiled in its 30th year, puffed up with a sense of entitlement and a real handful as it spreads its tentacles across the city. Time to check a few annoying traits before they grow into bigger behavioral problems. We’re here to help.

1. THE FRINGE MIDWAY, the money-sucking deal-breaker – Organizers have introduced carnival rides whose generators are powered by allegedly environmentally-friendly vegetable oil. They’re still a complete rip off. Say you spend $20 for a small book of ride tickets because you didn’t come to the Fringe to ride the Tilt-a-Whirl, but upon discovering $20 amounts to one ride for a family of four, you wished you would’ve bought the $30 wristband instead, but then that’s $30 per person and you’ve already spent $20 for a three minute ride so you balk and besides and there’s only a few rides, and there’s plenty of other fun things to do at the Fringe because you want expose the kids to some culture, so you see a street act that does fart jokes, and now the kids are bored and all they want to do is eat junk food and ride more rides, and you’re subjected to a non-stop storm of whining and wheedling and begging, please, please, please, one more spin on the Gravitron! And then you snap! Damn it! No, we’re not going to the Fringe … a second time. If we wanted our wallets hoovered, we would’ve gone to Capital Ex.

2. KIDSFRINGE – This place has been going downhill for a couple of years now, the consistent quality of the little plays they put on and the energetic volunteer staff notwithstanding. The craft area this year is basically a pile of cardboard scraps and packing tape. At least bring back the bouncy castles.

3. TALKING AFTER PLAYS – We’re not sure when this annoying tradition started, but all the actors seem to do it now: Forcing the audience to stick around after the final applause to listen to them thank us all for coming or plug some equally worthy plays their actor friends are doing. This is a total buzz-kill at that crucial moment of reflection after what was supposed to have been a transcendent, transporting theatrical experience. What was the damned play about again?

4. AUSTRALIAN STREET PERFORMERS USING THE SAME JOKES – This whole “street theatre” thing at the Fringe is getting awfully stale. I swear to God I have heard three different jugglers using the same bit about how if the kids understand their sexually suggestive jokes it’s not the juggler’s fault. Here’s a suggestion: An Aussie Busker Cage Match. Five men enter, one man leaves. Fill the gaps in the schedule with some actual street theatre: Scenes from Shakespeare, improv workshops, roving performances – ANYTHING but those wiseass jugglers from Down Under.

5. LITTLE KID VIOLIN BUSKERS – So cute, so hard on the ears. Just once I’d like to hear some amazing prodigy really cut loose with some serious Paganini cadenzas. Hell, we’d settle for smokin’ fiddle on Orange Blossom Special. Sorry, mom and dad, it’s doubtful you’re going to collect enough change in the case for more violin lessons. Here’s another helpful suggestion: While producers of indoor plays don’t have to go through a judging panel to get into the Fringe, auditions for the much fewer number of outdoor performers is a good idea. It would really raise the bar. Yes, I’m picking on little kids. You got a problem with that?

6. BYOVs IN FAR-FLUNG LOCALES – The concept of the “bring your own venue” came about when the Fringe proper capped the number of official venues, which are granted to only a select few theatre companies through lottery. Those who miss out must wrangle their own theatre space – or already own one, like the Varscona in the very heart of the festival site, which has been a BYOV for years and can therefore book whatever they want. This is all well and good, but the number of BYOVs has grown so much that someone thought it would be a smart idea to spread them all across town – even all the way the hell to the Avenue Theatre on the North side. A 40 minute commute to see one play kind of takes away from the whole “festival” experience.

7. MEDIA COVERAGE BORDERING ON OBSESSION: The Edmonton Journal has its entire entertainment staff on the Fringe site, full time. Likewise the Sun. Vue Weekly magazine promised to review EVERY single Fringe play, all 185 of them. Local TV and radio are all over it. Good luck getting any coverage if you’ve got another event going on.

8: THE FESTIVAL OUTSIDE THE FESTIVAL: Perhaps many of the foregoing annoyances amount to a conspiracy to FORCE the public to attend an actual play. They get so bored from Australian jugglers, people watching and carnival rides there’s no other choice. But what play to see? This is the problem. There are so many you might suffer choice paralysis. The good ones are probably all sold out, the bad ones you don’t want to see and there’s always a huge line-up at the ticket office. Why not give the hawkers a bigger role? The people handing out flyers for their plays could stage short street performances, publicity stunts and – here’s the best part – have a fistful of tickets they could sell to choice-paralyzed Fringe-goers on the spot. That should bring those indoor attendance numbers up a notch. There were also some ideas being kicked around in the Fringe media room – including a big wheel to spin that would pick your plays for you. We’ll work on it for next year and get back to you.