Fringe Fest Sticks to Winning Formula

Natalie Joy Quesnel is the director of the 2010 Ottawa Fringe Festival. Alan Dean Photography/Special to the Ottawa Sun

by Dennis Armstrong
Ottawa Sun
June 15, 2010

The Ottawa Fringe Festival
Where: Arts Court and the University of Ottawa
When: June 17 – 27. Tickets are $10 per show, or five and 10-show passes going for $45 and $75.

In her first year as boss of the Ottawa Fringe Festival, Natalie Joy Quesnel thought it would be best if she didn’t mess with the eccentric festival of little theatre. Better, she thought, to save the fine-tuning until next year when she had a little hands-on experience under her belt.

Or so she thought.

But leaving things alone isn’t in Quesnel’s nature. A critically-acclaimed actress, stage director and teacher, she’s used to telling people what to do, organizing groups of people into teams, and coming up with solutions to problems.

So it wasn’t long before she was busy adding her own stamp to the 2010 festival.

New this year is the Fringe Festival’s Mini-Fringers Make a Scene.

Essentially, it’s a Saturday afternoon theatrical day care for kids run by teachers from the Orleans Young Players, but the beauty is it leaves the parents free to enjoy themselves while exposing little ones to imaginative fun. As an added bonus, the kids will produce their own Fringe show and perform it for their folks.

Quesnel’s also added the lunchtime series at the Arts Court location. Now, working stiffs downtown will be able to watch an original play an hour in length or less while eating their lunch.

And finally, after years of begging, borrowing and stealing, the festival is now a registered charity, making it eligible for public and private handouts.

“I was going to follow the ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ approach but I’m a director at heart and get a kick out of co-ordinating events that bring the best out of people.”

Other than a couple tweaks, Quesnel’s left the festival — now into its 14th year — essentially the same. From June 17-27, they’ll present more than 60 dramas, comedies, and other bizarre performances from across Canada, the U.S, Australia and Europe, to venues at Arts Court and the University of Ottawa.

As always, the festival is unjuried, plays are picked on a first-come, first-served basis, so even Quesnel doesn’t know what to expect.

However, the veteran actor who’s appeared in many Fringe shows, who’s worked on the festival’s administration side since 2007 and who met her husband/partner and actor Stewart Matthews at the Fringe, she has a clear advantage when it comes to picking favourites and sure bets.

“I’ll see whatever’s getting good word-of-mouth, then take my chances with whatever looks interesting.”

Love ’em or hate ’em, fans will be able to vent their spleens and get that sense of closure on a show when festival diva Catriona host a nightly late-night talk show with artists and patrons in the beer tent.

“The Fringe is a way for people to connect with each other,” said Quesnel. “Theatre is about bridging distant relationships. We encourage people to connect with each other.”

Full festival information is posted on their website

Natalie Joy Quesnel’s must-see shows:
1. SHOSHINZ theatre’s Japanese comedy A Day in the Life of Miss Hiccup.
2. Ottawa premiere of Jayson MacDonald’s The Last Goddamned Performance Piece.
3. Inuit dance rock opera The Duck Wife.
4. Australian festival-favourite Jonno Katz’s new show Cactus: The Seduction.
5. Bob Wiseman’s one-man show Actionable about the legal wranglings he encountered with his label after leaving Blue Rodeo.

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