by Ottawa Fringe
June 17, 2008
A band plays on the mainstage of the Montreal Fringe Festival as I ask veteran fringe performer Keir Cutler to tell me about one of his favourite memories at the fringe. “Good or bad?” he asks; my co-producer Greer chimes in: “Bad first.” Keir chuckles and thinks long and hard: he did his first fringe performance in the 1999 Montreal festival, and has done 40 fringes since, so there are a lot of memories to choose from.
“I got an over-the-top review last year; you get reviewed a lot, and most reviewers review from the point of view that every show is either the best show of all time or the worst show of all time. But this review was way beyond the greatest show of all time. It had some great stuff in it, like saying the show was ‘utterly superb.’ But it was a music reviewer who doesn’t review theatre, so he said ‘this show deserves two Academy awards.’ Which is great, except an Academy award is not a ‘theatre’ award, sort of exposing that you’re not a theatre reviewer, so it kind of cuts into it a little bit… it’s still one of my best reviews.”
The review was actually for Keir’s previous show, ‘Teaching As You Like It.’ It’s classic Keir Cutler fare: Keir is the teacher and the audience are his students. As he goes through the course curriculum (in this case, Shakespeare’s As You Like It), he relates details of the sub-story: the rumours that he is erotically involved with a student. “It’s ironic,” says Keir, “because the show I’m doing this year, ‘Teaching the Fringe,’ is based on that play. Controversial subject, but there’s no girl actually in the play. So in Winnipeg, it got great reviews, no negative comments anywhere. But someone hated the play so much that she waited until I left the city and then started writing letters, including reporting me to a child protection agency asking that I be monitored. And that just freaked me out. As if perverts need to be instructed.”
The experience wasn’t an easy one for Cutler. He took much of the frustration involved in that event, as well as others, and turned it into a new show, with the assistance of fellow veteran fringe performer T.J. Dawe.
“I’ve had crazy people in the audience, so I put all the crazy stories together (including hers) so that when the whole show is done, she’ll just be another crazy that came to the show. It’s my way of getting revenge. And I made it as funny as possible. If the play works out, I’ll have got my revenge. If it’s a disaster, then she’ll have got hers. But I think the show will be good.”
It doesn’t take Cutler long to come up with an example of a crazy person story. “I had a woman run out of my show once. I did a play called ‘Teaching Witchcraft,’ and a woman ran out of the theatre during one of the performances, yelling at the technicians and volunteers, ‘he’s teaching witchcraft in there.’ Why would you attend a play called ‘Teaching Witchcraft’ if it would make you run out of the theatre?”