Eight rules to Fringe by

Fringe Edmonton GigCityYou think by now people would be hip to the “turn off your cellphone” rule at the Fringe, but apparently there are holdovers. Here’s a thought: make your ringtone a big wet fart. It will be offensive when it goes off, so you might as well get a laugh out of it.

Just trying to help here.

As for other rules at the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival – whose name should be shorter, for starters – there aren’t many. If you show up 15 minutes past curtain time with your pet ferret, an open bottle of vodka, a lit cigar, a steaming plate of bhoona and a crying baby who doesn’t have a ticket, chances are you’re not going to get into the sold-out zombie musical. That’s about it. They should have more rules:

1. If you make eye contact with a busker, you owe him a dollar.

2. Heed the critics. More than any other time of year and in any other festival, critics are important at the Fringe. The entirety of media in Edmonton plays along: newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, bloggers, Facebookists and Twitterers of all stripes are deploying vast resources to quickly analyze and rate every single one of the 210 Fringe plays. The goal: To boil it all down into a convenient consumer guide. Critics work hard on these ratings. They agonize over having to “grade” the work at all, whether to elevate a 3-star to three-and-a-half. But they are also expected to supply some written justification behind it – and that’s what the canny Fringe-goer should be paying attention to.

3. If you must go by ratings, don’t neglect the middle ground. Obviously if a play earns five-stars across the board, it’s bound to be a sell out. On the other end, one-star bombs sometimes succeed from the curiosity factor, especially if there’s gratuitous nudity, sex, violence or zombies. It’s the three-and-a-half-star ones – branded as mediocre, so-so, OK, meh, good but flawed, whatever – that deserve closer examination. Maybe the critic was in a bad mood. Maybe the critic was offended by one part of an otherwise worthy play. Maybe the critic had an axe to grind. Maybe the critic is flat out wrong. I know, hard to imagine.

Fringe Edmonton GigCity4. Improv shows are only as good as the improvisers. While some Fringe-goers would rather see a scripted, rehearsed, fully-formed play than something just made up on the spot, seeing as you’re paying the same $12.50 for a ticket, there are more improv shows than ever – nine this year alone that include members of the Rapid Fire Theatre collective, where it’s hard to go wrong. Choose wisely.

5. After the final bow, it’s OVER! This rule is for actors. There’s a disturbing trend that has marred the Fringe these last few years – the inevitable post-performance speech. Everybody’s doing it: Hey, thanks for coming, you’ve been a great audience, you should go see this other play some friends of mine are doing, buy some merch, and so on in a jarring destruction of the fourth wall that totally blows the mood of whatever transcendent performance art piece you’ve just been moved to tears by. Please stop.

6. This sounds silly, but it’s a time saver. Pre-fold your perforated tickets to make them easier for the volunteer usher to tear on the way into the theatre. Seriously, if everyone did this, it would save thousands of Fringe-hours.

7. Too many BYOVs? Not enough BYOVs! Having to drive clear across town to see a play after having PAID to park in Old Strathcona is a pain in the ass. Numbering more than 40 this year, these BYOVs – “bring your own venues” – are theatres, lounges or makeshift venues whose rent and production are the sole responsibility of producers that didn’t get in on the main “lottery” Fringe venues, one through 11. Strangely, the Varscona Theatre, at the heart of the Fringe site, is a BYOV, too. As the Fringe grows, and it will, more BYOVs are inevitable, including bigger clusters of theatres downtown, in the French quarter and around Alberta Avenue. Just one little suggestion: how about at least one green onion cake stand and busker circle in each satellite Fringe district? Give it time and the entire city could turn into one big festival site.

8. This is a rule for another disturbing trend that’s been a steady annoyance for decades: Audience participation. At least leave that fourth wall up when we’re indoors, please? If a performer forces you to participate in the show, you automatically get 10% of what the show makes – 20% if it’s a busker.