In excitement for the Ottawa Fringe Festival, which is running RIGHT NOW in Canada’s capital, we have a special guest post from global Fringe darling Chase Padgett. There are 60 shows in this years festival, which runs until June 29— don’t miss out! The Fringe is one of those amazing petri dishes for creative experiments of all varities. Oh, and all of the box office revenue goes directly to the artists— so your support goes directly to those making the magic happen. And it’s not just in Ottawa! Toronto Fringe runs July 2-13, Edmonton Fringe is August 14-24, and Vancouver Fringe is September 4-14. Actually, wherever you are, there’s probably a Fringe Festival. We’ll leave it to Chase to give you the low-down in more detail.
Chase Padgett is a performer who for four years now has made his living touring the North American Fringe festival circuit. His solo show, 6 Guitars, holds a record as one of the highest-grossing shows in the history of the Winnipeg Fringe Festival–selling nearly 3000 tickets in 12 days.
It’s summertime, which means people escape the confines of their stuffy homes to enjoy the live shows the sunshine has to offer. It’s prime-time for big name pop stars down to the the underground acts just finding their footing, cultivating dedicated fans in mid-sized venues. But while all that happens for bands and the like, there is a quiet revolution of sorts happening in live theatre. Every summer, an amalgam of actors, writers, dancers, magicians, musicians, and whatever kind of performer you can think of roll westward across Canada from Montreal to Vancouver plying their trade in houses big and small. It’s an independent theatrical railroad and it’s called the Fringe…
A Fringe Festival is basically a non-curated performing arts festival which encompasses any type of work, and usually features acts that you’d never see in the mainstream. The concept of a Fringe Festival began in Edinburgh, Scotland in the 1940s, when a rag tag group of theatre companies–who weren’t officially invited to the Edinburgh International Festival–found spaces around town and performed their works at the same time as the festival that rejected them. Those found spaces were all around the city, so this new independent wave was literally on the “fringe”. Since then, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival has grown to become the biggest arts fest in the world. It currently boasts around 3000 unique productions that take place in venues from basements to concert halls for the entire month of August. This brash independent spirit has caught on worldwide, too.
I saw my first fringe show in 2007 in Orlando, Florida. It was a local performer named Mark Baratelli, who improvised a brilliant comic satire of the standard schmaltzy musical cabaret. I laughed until I cried for 45 minutes. I loved everything about the show and the festival itself. Patrons were buying reasonably priced tickets (nothing more than $11 a show) to see things that ranged from straightforward solo storytelling to futuristic full cast musicals to adult oriented clown shows to anything else a creative mind can conjure. After seeing the shows, patrons would swap opinions about what they liked and didn’t like at the beer tent. I saw artists meeting there too. They were an eclectic blend of local, national, and international acts bonded by the unique experience of performing in this 10 day arts festival.
It was beautiful, and I wanted to be a part of it.
I applied the next year for the Orlando Fringe (a member of the Canadian Associations of Fringe Festivals, believe it or not) and got in via lottery. Since the spirit of the Fringe does not include a curator, there is no gatekeeper deciding who gets to perform or not. Fringe festivals turn to random chance to decide who is accepted. My name was called and I performed a sketch comedy review in 2008. In the 2010 Orlando Fringe, I performed my first one man show called 6 Guitars, and my entire life changed. It sold out the entire run, which was great for me financially. The Canadian Fringe model mandates that 100% of ticket sales be returned to the artist. I actually made money doing my own work of theatre. Artists who had come to make their living touring the Fringe Circuit across Canada suggested I hit the road with my show. And in the four years since the premiere of 6 Guitars, I’ve become one of those professional touring artists. My art is all I do for my income now, and it’s everything you’d imagine and more.
It hasn’t been always easy. Every touring Fringe artist knows the sting of a bad review, fair or not. We know what a chore flyering lineups can be. We all struggle to cope with the challenges of road life. We will most likely never get famous. Nobody gets ‘discovered’ in any Fringe festival in North America despite presenting some of the most innovative and accessible live performance works being produced today. However, we also know what a sold out house feels like. Some of us feel the acclaim of winning awards and rave reviews. Along the way, we meet other artists who share the spirit of independent creativity. They come from all walks of life from all over the world, and they are now among my closest friends. We take part in this crazy life of independent touring theatre. It’s the lovechild of modern day vaudeville and the travelling circus. It’s a wild, weird, wonderful journey that guarantees nothing but possesses everything. It’s adult summer camp for misfits. It’s the scariest artsy rodeo around. It’s the Fringe— and it is goddamn beautiful.