Posts Tagged With: Fringe

A Week at the Street Show

I apologize for the lack of an update last week. My time was being filtered in all sorts of different directions. Particularly new for me was my volunteer work at our local theatre festival: The Fringe.

Running on its 34th year with the Mary Poppins-esque theme of SupercaliFringelistic, the Fringe is an ode to theatre both on stage and in the streets. Venues host shows ranging from local to global, and street performers come from all over to perform for thousands for a period of ten days.

I only took in two shows this year—which I will talk about next week—but I saw a lot of street performers from my post. I worked with the Community Engagement team, helping Fringe sponsors and getting people to sign up for the Fringe Fanclub newsletter and our big draw. I spent about four hours every day for a week inside the gazebo that was facing the big outdoor stage, where some of the better street shows get to perform.

Here were a few of my favourites:

Eden—A stunt performer working with ladders and whips. I can attest from personal experience that whips are not easy to use without hurting yourself—though, in my case, it was a cheap Halloween whip and my sister was the one wielding it, but her thigh severely regretted it—but this guy makes it look easy. In addition to demonstrating his skills cracking two whips at the same time in rapid succession, a major portion of his show had him aiming at spaghetti, which he would hold behind his back, between his legs, or on top of his head.

Every street performer I saw had a comedic aspect to the show, and Eden was no different. His humour was far more adult than the other performers, and did consist of a lot of Asian jokes (He’s Chinese-Canadian) that were often so bad you had to laugh. Admittedly, his humour doesn’t make him the best performer for your kids to see if you’re worried about them actually understanding those kinds of jokes.

Though, he did give me one of the best lines I’ve ever heard.

“Sir, can you please not laugh while I’m trying to be sexy?”

The Flying Dutchmen—A combination juggling and unicycle act. Upwards of five flaming torches were a staple in their act. They demonstrated their juggling with some flaming torch warm-ups and juggling around a volunteer and knocking a cigarette out of their mouth—no flaming torches here, of course, just regular juggling pins. Their entire performance built up to a tandem juggling trick involving two tall unicycles and fire.

The Dutchmen had a “Smart Guy, Dumb Guy” routine, which was funny, and certainly more child friendly than a performer like Eden. Only a couple jokes would go over a kid’s head, but mostly because it might be a pun as opposed to anything dirty. These two were a treat to watch.

Victor Rubilar—If I had to pick who I thought the funniest performer was, it’s this guy. All the way from Barcelona (though he claimed to be from Argentina), his act was entirely based around his soccer prowess, and the stereotype of the Latin Lover. A holder of five World Records, Rubilar’s act consisted of various tricks involving some of the most neon soccer balls I’d ever seen. Spinning tricks, kick tricks, juggling upwards of five soccer balls at a time, these were the staples of his act.

But between his warm-ups and his grand finale, he proudly demonstrated his dance prowess. He selected a woman from the audience—always one with a boyfriend or husband accompanying them—and brought them on stage. He had this elaborate story he’d crafted for this volunteer, whom he called Maria, about their whirlwind romance back in Argentina. This was followed by a minute-long dance montage that encompassed several songs and several genres, all performed seamlessly, to demonstrate Rubilar’s skills at seduction and rising to a climax involving a bikini tan line.

Trust me, it’s hilarious when you see it.

The Street Circus—If I had to pick the best act overall, I would vote these guys. A husband and wife duo, the Street Circus was an acrobatic show with stunts that could have put the performers straight into Cirque de Soleil. Their jokes were mostly family friendly and their warm-ups simple tricks that I’d seen performed before by other performers, it was the their solo acts that impressed me the most. The wife—Kim—was a contortionist who performed an extended acrobatic, contortion, hula hoop dance to “You Spin Me Right Round,” starting with one, going steadily to four, and ending in a dramatic twirls of forty-two hula hoops. Her husband—Dan—was up next, performing in a giant ring of steel called the cyr wheel. This was where the show took the Cirque turn, with beautiful instrumental music and a hypnotic amount of grace on Dan’s part as he spun within, creating acrobatic poses as he kept the wheel’s momentum.

The rest of their act showcased the acrobatic skills they had learned to do together. Their finale was admittedly not my favourite part of the show, though it was an impressive combination of three different circus acts. I really loved their solo performances the most.

Dan & Kim were by far the best street act I saw this year. I hope to see them again next year.

And with any luck, I’ll have the same great seats.

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My Final Fringe Days

The Fringe has come and gone, taking its actors and props and carnival fare with it. Last week, I reviewed the first play I saw at this year’s festivities. Now, I will talk of three others, though it’s a bit late for anyone to see them.

  • Grace in Exile—How in the hell was this rated PG?

Grace in Exile was the story of a girl—the titular Grace—who joins the circus to escape from her abusive preacher father. During her stay, her experiences and time spent with Madame Rose the fortune-teller change her as she begins to see that the circus isn’t the magical place she thought it was.

            The play featured a combination of traditional acting and Japanese Butoh to tell not only Grace’s story, but some of Rose’s as well. The acting was excellent, and the choreography was very clear when it came to the play’s Butoh segments. It wasn’t hard to figure out what kind of struggles the dances were trying to convey. The acting was also excellent.

            However, the subject matter was another story. Though having received a PG rating, I would not have taken a kid to see it. Hell, I wouldn’t have taken some older people to see it. The subject matter was very uncomfortable most of the time. One scene will forever be burned into my mind. Two clowns, accompanied by jaunty carnival music, make balloon flowers and fill a wine bottle with castor oil. Then they cheerfully go to visit one of the carnival’s stars, who has fallen pregnant. Gifting her with the flowers, they attempt to give her the bottle as well, which she refuses. The music then stops…as they proceed to force the castor oil down her throat to induce a miscarriage. Then the music starts up and they shake hands like a comedy duo while she choking and sobbing on the ground.

            Holy. Fuck.  

            Overall, I felt the play was too short for the subject it was trying to convey. At about an hour long, I think the play could have easily been twice that. It would have felt less rush, and the ending might not have been so unsatisfying for me.

  • A Series of Grisly Murders at the Lonsdale Record Shop—Murder, Mayhem, and Not-Great-Comedy.

The last play I saw this year was one of murder and music. Mr. Lonsdale owns the titular record shop, while in the meantime he tries to create the next musical sensation. It’s during one of his nightly experimentations that he accidently discovers a combination of notes that kills anyone who hears them (he is unaffected due to an incident that took some of his hearing). Though his first uses of the note are accidental, he begins to use them for more nefarious purposes, goaded on by a love-stricken employee.

            The play had an interesting plot and was well-paced, but I didn’t get a good sense of atmosphere from it. It was supposed to take place during the 1920s, but almost none of the dialogue made me feel like I’d been transported back in time. There were plenty of jokes, and the audience laughed quite a bit, but I didn’t find much to chuckle at. Most of the characters were extremely unlikeable, particularly Lonsdale. The actors in this production weren’t the consummate professionals of the other shows I saw, but they weren’t half bad.

            The play itself was a little slow, at least until the zombies showed up. However, unlike Grace in Exile, Lonsdale’s ending left me far more satisfied.

  • Mr & Mrs. Alexander: Sideshows and Psychics—Tied for my Best in Show.

I literally cannot choose between this play and Dirk Darrow for my favourite production this year. Mr. & Mrs. Alexander was, primarily, a magic show, detailing the last performance of the titular magician couple’s career. We learn how they met, and are treated to magic, mind-reading, and wit galore, before a big twist ending.

            The play was largely entertaining. The Alexanders were presented as grand folk of the theatre. Their exuberance was intoxicating, and their wit sharp. Little glimpses of them as a couple (Particularly the bit where Mrs. Alexander is trying to bend a fork with her mind, at her husband’s assistance and doesn’t take it seriously…at first) are both sweet and funny. There was wonderful chemistry between the characters. The show required audience participation, which included a delightful couple who couldn’t remember if they’d been married for 29 years or 30, and a woman so eager to participate, that she was willing to get a little too close to the Alexanders’ hand-shattering possum trap.

            Though there wasn’t much for plot, the show managed to pull off a grand twist at the end. The final show for the Alexanders was due to the impending arrival of a child. Yet, at the very end, Mr. Alexander steals a valuable necklace from an official’s wife and makes off with it after his wife gets her hand caught by the possum trap. Abandoned by her husband, people rally to donate to Mrs. Alexander and her unborn child. A few weeks later, Mrs. Alexander and a hearty, Victorian-era sum of $2000 vanishes.

            Years later, in another place, Mr. & Mrs. Montgomery prepare for their final show…

            There was some great talent at the Fringe this year. I’m hoping next year will be just as grand.

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Fringe Reviews: Dirk Darrow

Fringe has started up in Edmonton, so these next two weeks will be short reviews of the plays I saw while I was there. First up: 2 Ruby Knockers, 1 Jaded Dick: A Dirk Darrow Investigation.

            I saw the first Dirk Darrow play about two years ago. For those unaware, the play is a one-man parody of film noir following one of Darrow’s improve-littered investigations. This year, Darrow was working to solve the case of a massive bank heist, all while trying to figure out what connection the mysterious and beautiful Ruby “Knockers” has to it all.

            In addition to mystery and comedy, there’s a bit of magic as well. Darrow’s got a few clever card tricks and sleight of hand up his sleeve that’s sure to some applause. Some tricks start early, leading to pay offs near the end that will leave you asking “When did he do that?”

            The real treat comes with the comedy, however. While the play is littered with clever jokes and jokes that are so bad you’ll laugh anyway, the real gold is in the improv. Experience will vary between audiences, depending on how stage-shy the unexpected volunteer might be. I was lucky to witness one unintentional smartass and one gentleman who was more than happy to take on the role of the beautiful Ruby. Together, their antics even managed to trip up the actor once, leaving both Darrow and the audience in hysterics.     

            If I had to say anything negative about the play, it’s that I felt like it went by too fast. But maybe that was because I was having so much fun.

            If you’re out Fringing this week, check out Dirk Darrow before he’s back on the case.

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Fringing Up The Summer

Festival season is coming to a close in my fair city, signaled by the end of the Fringe last weekend. For those of you who are not of my town, the Fringe is a two week long theatre festival. It showcases street performers and stage performances of all shapes, sizes, and genres. Contrary to the belief of one individual I know, it’s not a bunch of “leftist, artsy-fartsy crap.” Yes, you get your bits with interpretive dance and no dialogue—which vary in quality; I generally will not enjoy such performances if I give up on interpreting the story—but there are also one-man shows, musicals, and comedies as well.

I saw three plays this year.

First weekend of the Fringe, my family went to see Hitchcocked, a three man show done in the style of a Hitchcock movie, but with more comedy and improv. Admittedly, I haven’t seen as many Hitchcock movies as I probably should, so a few things may have gone over my head. Frankly, when a play basically starts with a man walking into a room, declaring “Hello, I’m Sean Bean,” and falling over dead, I’m expecting good entertainment to follow.

The play was funny and well-paced. Some of the improv fell short in one scene, but to no fault of the actors. When they asked an audience member to draw the lead, they were expecting a stick figure with a curl of hair. They were surprised by the fact that they got a decent artist instead.

It was an enjoyable show from start to finish, and a good start to my Fringing.

I had planned to see more shows this year, but my Fringing partner had gotten sick during our scheduled meeting day. We didn’t get to see each other until the following Sunday, at Coraline the Musical.

Of course I was going to go see Coraline. I’ll admit, I haven’t read the book yet (it’s on my to-read list), but I have seen the movie. My friend confirmed, as expected, that the play was closer to the book. There were some excellent performances and prop use in this one. The guy playing the cat got that self-righteous strut down; Coraline was adorable; the Other Mother was creepy as hell.

The songs were hit-and-miss, and the pattern was inconsistent. At first it seemed like the whole play would be a musical (ala Repo! The Genetic Opera), but it went down to a more standard musical (Disney Animated) style, with passages of dialogue between the songs, near the end. I felt it was a little inconsistent that way.

But I was entertained.

They also managed to scare a little girl sitting behind my mom, so kudos to Coraline.

Finally, my friend and I split from my family and went to see Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl. I had desperately wanted to see this one, as it sounded like something I could relate to. I worked at a Starbucks for four years, after all. I figured I’d be able to connect with this play on a personal level.

And holy shit did I connect.

Coffeeshop Girl was a one woman show about Joanie, a writer (like myself!), who worked at a coffeeshop and how she dealt with everyday life there. The play left me crying because of how hard I was laughing, and I audibly groaned several times at some of the shit Joanie had to deal with. I enjoyed every second of it.

The ending was unexpected though. It was sobering and familiar. I honestly think it was the best play I saw this year. Joanie the Coffeshop Girl is right up on the list of characters who I feel I have a personal connection, alongside Mulan, Tiana, and Penny Proud of Disney.

I felt it was a good Fringe season for me. After the shows, I also learned a valuable lesson during supper at Hudson’s Canadian Tap House.

Just because a lot of your small, skinny friends can eat massive amounts of food, doesn’t mean they all can. There were so many nachos.

Categories: musings, stuff i like, This is my life | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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