Lessons From the Fringe

by Patrick Gauthier

June 15, 2010

Festival veterans discuss duct tape, packing light and seducing the audience

By Patrick Langston, The Ottawa Citizen


Sharon Nowlan, performer, Toronto

The play: Burlesque Unzipped

On how to live in the moment: “You never know what the next city will be like, but you’ve paid your registration fee, so you make the most of being on the circuit. You see as many shows as possible and keep a perspective on the pros and cons. You learn how to have fun.”

Attend a fringe festival and you learn all kinds of things. The shows impart, if not always life lessons, at least fresh perspectives on life. Chatting with other festival-goers updates you on gossip, opinions, sometimes even facts. A few minutes with a bartender can offer a whole other slant.

But what do performers and other theatre artists learn out on the festival circuit? With the 14th annual Ottawa Fringe Festival starting Thursday and running until June 27, it seemed a good time to find out.

There was no shortage of folks to ask. Bigger than ever, this year’s fringe features 60 theatre companies from as close as our own town and as far away as Japan and Australia. They’re bringing drama, comedy, dance and more to 16 downtown venues, a total of more than 300 shows during the festival’s duration. After that, many of them move on to the next festival.

Jonno Katz, performer, Melbourne, Australia

The play: Cactus — The Seduction

On how to make real life (try to) imitate theatre: “You find things in theatre that are a reflection of you and then bring that into your actual life. In this show, Cactus, I seduce the audience. Seducing someone in real life is something I wish I was better at.”

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We asked a few of the performers for their insights:

Shoshinz (Yanomi), performer, Tokyo (responded by e-mail)

The play: A Day in the Life of Miss Hiccup

On how to appreciate cultural differences: “Generally Japanese and Singapore audiences are rather shy and quiet; in the United States and Canada, they’re not shy to react to my show. In the scene of audience interaction, Singapore audiences seemed to be confused sometimes and very shy to play with me, but ones in Canada and the United States were excited and easy to enjoy the same moment.”

Bremner Duthie, performer, Toronto

The play: The Pig of Happiness

On how to adapt: “At this one festival, my venue was this rundown bar with eight tables duct-taped together as my stage and the lighting guy only ever worked rock shows. At first, it was ‘Omigod!’ but then this beat-up bar really added to the show. If I’d had a designer, it would have been thousands of dollars to make that bar.”

Dave Dawson, artistic director, Black Sheep Theatre, Ottawa

The plays: Wild Abandon;

The Last Goddamned Performance Piece

On how to pack: “The whole thing has to fit in my car: cast, set, props, costumes, everything. When we did Batboy the Musical in Winnipeg a few summers ago, my van got attacked by a taxi. It was the biggest production I’d done, and after it was over, I had to send the whole thing home in hockey bags from Giant Tiger, one bag with each actor.”

Ray Besharah, co-performer, Ottawa

The play: G-Men Defectives

On how not to behave on stage: “In fringe shows, what you do is often experimental. You respond to people in the moment, so sometimes you react in ways you never would in another venue. We were doing G-Men Defectives and we had six people in the audience. One of them fell asleep and started snoring. I stopped the play and watched her for a while, then I said, ‘Are we keeping you up?’

I felt terrible afterward. I think I’ve matured since then.”

Chris Caswell, co-performer, Burlington, Vermont

The play: Seeking

On how to not anticipate:

“I played Orlando, and it has a pretty great festival. Which was surprising because it’s the land of Mickey Mouse. It’s also quite a gay city, and some of the best drag shows are in Orlando.”

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The Ottawa Fringe Festival

When and where: June 17-27, multiple downtown venues, including Arts Court and the University of Ottawa

Tickets and information: Box office is at Arts Court, 2 Daly Ave., Room 100. Call 613-232-2931 or check out www.ottawafringe.com.

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