HOW RUDE! Tales of Fringe audiences
There are 203 plays at the 2015 Edmonton International Fringe Festival this year – many times more than the number of productions throughout the entire rest of the regular season, and with that comes many more patrons who never see any other kind of theatre but the Fringe, once a year. Sometimes in an inebriated state and their cell phones left on. Some people just don’t know how to behave!
Interior: medium-sized theatre, filled with people waiting for the evening’s performance. Just before the lights go down for the reminder to turn one’s cell phone off, a disheveled man stomps up the stairs to the last remaining seat right at the top, next to the newspaper critic – and he reeks. The man, not the newspaper critic.
The man stands up, he sits down, he stands up, he sits down. He seems restless. Finally the lights go down and the curtain comes up. On stage is an actor in a dress, claiming to be God. People cheer, and the play begins. The smelly man stands up, he sits down, he stands up again. Then he decides to stomp down the stairs to the exit, but changes his mind and stomps back up the stairs again. He sits down, he stands up, he sits down. He does this routine three times, up and down the stairs. Finally he turns to the newspaper critic and asks, “WHAT TIME IS IT?!” The reviewer, whose cell phone is turned off, replies in a whisper, “Uh, I dunno, 9:30?” The man stands up, stomps down the stairs and leaves for good.
The performer – Mike Delamont in God is a Scottish Drag Queen – takes notice and laughs, “Never had three walk outs before!” but then is informed that it’s the same guy – a guy who didn’t even seem to know why he was there, let alone be aware enough to be offended by the play’s sacrilegious comedy.
The man is also spotted in the front row of a Die-Nasty show the next night, as restless and confused as ever, wearing the same clothes. Did he buy tickets to every play at the Fringe?
Delamont, by the way, calls Edmonton a “fucking weird town.”
Exterior: Warm summer evening near the outdoor stage, where some European juggler is starting his performance. A drunk old guy staggers past and the busker calls him out: “Ladies and gentlemen: my father!”
This gets a good laugh, and the busker adds, “Naw, he’s not my father. He’s my agent!”
A little later the drunk lurches back to the front of the stage with a big grin on his face, wanting to be part of the show.
The busker says, “Get out of here!” Unfazed, drunk keeps at it, and the busker loses it.
“Get out of here!” the juggler shouts. “I mean it. I don’t want you here. I don’t need this.” He pauses and looks around for Fringe security, “I need help.” No help comes, but eventually the happy drunk staggers away and it’s all good. The juggler continues his show – which is not nearly as entertaining as the unplanned introduction.
One commenter quipped in response, “If you do art on the street, the street WILL be a part of the art.”
Inside a sparsely attended clown show, a dozen or so patrons laugh like toddlers on a sugar rush at the antics of two annoying and unfunny clowns. The clowns try on shirts, spill water on each other, spit water at each other, play with props and babble like minions. Nothing make any sense, and there are no jokes, yet the theatre echoes with a constant TEE-HEE-HEE-HEE-HEE! as the fans giggle at every little thing the clowns do. Like one of those laugh tracks on a lame TV show – but LIVE. The newspaper critic doesn’t laugh even once, and starts to wonder if something’s wrong with him. Earlier, a full house of women gives a standing ovation to another clown show – about rape. Maybe that’s it.
Blast from the past: At a production of Waiting For Godot in the 1990s, a woman in the audience stands up and starts throwing carrots at the stage. She screams, “You are not absurd! THIS is absurd!” Eventually she runs out of carrots and walks out. After a moment of silence, one of the actors says, “Was that him?” The audience howls with laughter and they continue with the play.
(Thanks to Mark Meer for the anecdote.)
Sometimes the friction comes later. A critic for a local weekly magazine gives ZERO stars to a play called The Fourth Wall – which plays nicely into the fact that the playwright-performer Ken Valgardson used to be a schoolteacher outspoken against the infamous “No Zeros” policy.
“I find it hilarious,” he says, while also remaining pissed off, along with a number of other actors who claim they’ve been reviewed unfairly by the local weekly. How rude.