By Stephen St. Laurent
Prince George, British Columbia has a population of seventy thousand people, is eight hundred kilometer from the nearest city, and sits in what the locals call a “bowl”, because of the way the exhaust from the outlying paper mills and oil refineries drifts down and fills up the air. In Prince George, culture could probably be defined by the amount of sports pubs the city has, or the number of dream-catchers hung in vehicle windows within the perimeter of said establishments. Not that there haven’t been attempts in the past to make our smoggy city cultural. In the seventies there were several local publishers and the formation of a city orchestra. In the eighties there were cafes and amateur playhouses bringing music and theater to ‘the working man’. In the nineties, we have publishers, poets, theater and sports pubs. The question remains: How can we bring the possibilities of independent culture to this industrial backwater? Things are changing. Slowly.
Prince George’s handful of artists, poets, thespians and musicians are determined to bring their art out of the closet and into the street. (Don’t mention the local reaction to buskers though.) In the past if you were to announce the occurrence of a poetry reading to a local they would be shocked. If you were to organize a production of anything more risque than “The Outsiders” or “Fiddler on the Roof” the floor would drop out from underneath you; the funding from the business sector would be non-existent, the local papers would leave you in the cold and you would be without a project.
Now, in this new tolerant age, the business community is coming around to the idea of culture. They are backing a Fringe festival. A Fringe festival has been a dream of local artists for years but due to lack of support by the aforementioned business community, plans failed to solidify. Finally, the Prince George Fringe Society is real and the festival is set for the upcoming summer. Some people will love it, while others will hate it. The world will not end (even for our plethora of sports-bar enthusiasts). Most importantly, this grand experiment will give the under recognized artists of Prince George a chance to step into the spotlight – if only for a few minutes. We started our push for the festival in July ’98. Here’s how its gone so far:
July 15th: First meeting to discuss the possibility of having a fringe festival. Not many people come but there is great enthusiasm from the people that do. Talk about starting a mini fringe in ’98 (Ian mentions that a couple of years ago he tried to organize a fringe and due to lack of response and co-operation from people it died a quick death. He was confident that it wouldn’t happen this time around. He also mentioned a couple of theater people who he felt didn’t take the whole idea seriously.)
July 22nd: Meeting to discuss how we are going to do it. Andrew wants to do a push to get a small fringe for this year. Ian wants to put all the eggs in one basket and wait for next year. Fringe meetings postponed over the summer for holidays.
July 25th: We meet at Andrew’s to get started on scripting something for a performance in August. Everyone has great ideas for sketches.
July 28th-August 12th: Writing scripts for the performance. Our numbers seem to be dwindling. We started at around 7 and are now at 4. Seems like ideas are more enticing than work. Almost done the script but cannot find actors. (Blame it on summer vacations.)
August 15th: Cannot find enough actors to carry the performance. Cancel the performance.
Sept 1st: Fringe meeting. Decide to form a Fringe Society so that we can obtain funding from the municipality and receive corporate donations with less hassle.
Sept 8th: Meeting. Start discussing possibilities within the community. Want to gather more support for the fringe. Volunteers.
Sept 22nd: Meeting. Form the board to divide responsibilities. Start to query organizations about whether they would support a fringe in Prince George.
Oct 3rd: Theater Workshop organizing a night of skits called “Monty Python and Friends at the PGPlayhouse.” Dust off the scripts we worked out for the failed mini-fringe and decide to act them out. (I mentioned to one of the playhouse board members that the fringe was taking place in ’99 and received a “yeah, right”.)
Oct 7th-Oct 17th: Rehearsing like crazy. Can’t think straight.
Oct 18th-19th: Attendance is good for the first night but low on the second. Strange audience. Laughing at all the wrong things. Do Rowan Atkinson’s “Reception in Hell” sketch. Good response.
Oct 22nd: Meeting. Form committees. I head the media committee. Good idea? Reviews for our skits in the Python night are so-so.
Oct 27th: Ian starts rehearsing his new play “Medea”. Posters start circulating. (Ian had a yelling match with a guy downtown. Apparently the gentleman didn’t think Ian should be allowed to litter the city poles with his posters. Ian mentioned that it was city property and that he had the right to put up a poster. The man backed down and let him put it up, strangely enough.)
Nov 8th: Meeting. We have the Prince George Theater Workshop on side. They will be doing an in-house production in conjunction with the fringe. Theater Northwest (The local for-profit theater) is still keeping their distance.
Nov 16th: Meeting. We activate the Media committee and decide to formulate a time line for media relations.
Nov 22nd: Ian’s “Medea” opens to a good showing. (Three local papers gave him pretty good coverage save for the Free Press. They instead, chose to do two pages on a December release by the Theater Northwest playhouse.)
Dec 8th: Meeting. Dale is going to contact the service industries in town to see if we can drum up some support (and volunteers) for August. We decide to brake for X-mas and hit the pavement for support in January. Things are looking positive for the future of the fringe as well as the continuation of culture in our city.
Aspiring thespians grope through the small town smog toward a Fringe Festival to call their own