Ottawa Fringe Festival: Hot tickets and online heat

by Patrick Langston, Ottawa Citizen
June 27, 2010

A cockroach disposed to metaphysical ponderings, a guy with a turtleshell grafted to his back and a conflicted duck have numbered among the intriguing characters on stage at the 14th annual Ottawa Fringe Festival, which winds up tonight. And with five dozen theatre companies at the 11-day event, theres been no shortage of other memorable, and some wholly forgettable, creations.

“I’m elated. Really, really pleased,” said Natalie Joy Quesnel of her first year as the festival’s executive producer. There’s been lots of sold-out shows and debate about shows. As of late Saturday, she said, the festival was on track to meet last year’s record attendance of 12,500.

As always, the festival’s seen endless jawing between artists and patrons. Remarked one patron before Saturday’s performance of 7(x)1 Samurai, David Gaines’ extraordinary one-man piece and a festival highlight, “I like how you can talk to the artists five minutes after the show. It reminds me of busking.”

Speaking of which, cabaret-style and other music-heavy shows staked out a chunky claim in this year’s line-up. Multi-media productions and shows about sexuality and gender including Margo MacDonald’s Shadows, a Best of Fest winner, have also stamped the festival. Performers are selected by lottery, so it’s uncertain whether such themes are coincidental or emerging trends.

What is certain is the festival’s galloping presence online.

Patrons were live-streaming events from the Fringe Courtyard including the first-ever Lunchtime Artist Series (a lightly attended, but smart series of debates and panels), tweets were flying after every show, and, says Quesnel, “a huge number of people focused their blogs on just the fringe. There was this huge online dialogue going on that’s completely different from people just standing around after a show talking about it.”

There was also some audience grumbling, although Quesnel said it didn’t reach her, about shows that termed their opening night a “technical run” because they weren’t ready for full-out performance. This is different from saying that a show is a work in progress, a legitimate use of fringe festivals, and audiences deserve better.

This year’s Best of Fest winners are in for the five major venues (the 11 other venues are not eligible). The winners are those who, during their first four performances, had the highest box office sales in their respective venues. Winners mount bonus performances in their respective venues at 9:30 tonight.

Best of Fest winners, 2010:

  • The Duck Wife (Inertia Productions), Arts Court Theatre (that’s where you’ll find the conflicted duck)
  • Men Telling Stories (That Dinosaur is Blue Productions), Arts Court Library
  • Dale Beaner and the Turtle Boy (Big Cat Facial Cream Productions), SAW Gallery (the boy with the turtleshell)
  • Burlesque Unzipped (Prairie Fire Presents), Academic Hall
  • Shadows (Queen Mab/Parry Riposte Productions), Studio Léonard-Beaulne. (A tie between Shadows and David Gaines’ 7 (x) 1 Samurai was decided by a draw.)

Winners of the seven Peer Awards, including drama and production prizes, will be announced tonight.

The cerebral cockroach, incidentally, is Archy of the excellent Archy and Mehitabel. It’s at the Janigan Studio, Ottawa Little Theatre.

The Ottawa Fringe Festival finishes tonight at downtown locations. Schedule and tickets: Box Office, 2 Daly Ave., Room 100; 613-232-6162;

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