When the Vancouver Fringe Festival kicks off, it’s hard to miss. The festival is an annual event, full of long lines picketed by actors tirelessly promoting their shows, made possible by hundreds of incredibly enthusiastic volunteers, and featuring over 90 shows. This makes it nearly impossible to do a fair analysis of which shows went above and beyond, since no one human being can see all of them in such a short period of time. Below are summaries of a tiny selection of these shows.
Unpossible, a magic show by Travis Bernhardt, was, in his words, “a captivating collection of infuriating implausibilities and diabolical deceptions.” In one hour, Travis managed to outdo himself over and over again, performing a variety of incredible sleight of hand and mind reading tricks. Audience members were made to telepathically communicate with one another and objects appeared only to suddenly vanish. At some points, it seemed like he was planting audience members, but that thought was soon abandoned as he pulled up more and more strangers from the crowd. From astonishing card tricks, to a mind blowing ending that pulls all the pieces together, Travis Bernhardt’s perfect comic timing, matched with his uncanny ability to make one doubt everything seen make him an outstanding magician and all round performer.
Another show with elements of magic, Dirk Darrow: NCSSI, took on a slightly different approach. Even though it was a one man show with elements of magic, carnival tricks and audience participation, the thing that really made this show different was that it had an entertaining, cohesive storyline. Tim Motley played a pun spewing detective solving a murder which he suspects various audience members of committing. And, aside from a strange dance interlude, it was set entirely in 1937. His microphone was a little distracting and seemed unnecessary, but it didn’t take away from the performance too much. Motley’s confident stage presence and natural 1930’s interactions with the audience made this a lighthearted entertaining show.
Orphaned Egret is a newly formed theatre group based out of Montreal, and their debut production, Third Person, was part of the Vancouver Fringe as well as many other festivals across the country. In this play, writing on a screen at the back gives stage directions as a script would, but things change when the characters are able to see the words behind them. The words begin to influence the actions of the two characters. Soon they begin to question how much control they really have over their lives, and how much the words (AKA the Third Person) really know. Kevin Ray and Nic Turcotte may have played the protagonists but the words on that screen (written by Brandon Wicke) really stole the show. Dealing with questions of fate, religion, nightmares, and how much control we really have over our lives, this play has a brilliant concept that is worth exploring further.
You Killed Hamlet by Naked Empire Bouffon Company was by far the strangest show we saw at the Fringe. The two actors wear disturbing costumes and hardly go on the stage at all for the first 30 minutes. They were loud, obtrusive, obnoxious and often tried to make audience members feel uncomfortable. Using a variety of accents and characters, Nathaniel Justiniano and Ross Travis perform a series of unconnected sketches and mime sequences (including the strangest game of charades you will ever see) related only by the morbid topic of Hamlet: how people deal with death. It even ends with a funeral for Hamlet (the play, not the person). While the violent, crude humour of this show would not appeal to everyone, it was somehow enjoyable for those not easily offended.
Awkward Stage Productions is a Vancouver group focused on giving young performers the spotlight, which is certainly what they did with Changing Minds. Changing Minds follows the lives of high schoolers when two of them (one male and one female) switch brains. The show was comical and light hearted, although some of the dialogue was unrealistic and lyrics were not particularly profound. It was a large cast compared to the average Fringe show, and everyone involved was aged 14-22. The talent in such young actors was obvious. Stand out performances by Devon Busswood as Ashley and Isaac Mazur as Brad embodied the “teenage awkward stage” perfectly, while Molly Wilson did very well as Claire. Mazur and Wilson’s song ‘Wishes’ was one of the better written songs, and their uncertain high school chemistry made it one of the most memorable parts of the show. This piece kept the crowd laughing (Drew Ogle in drag as Ms. O’Brien seemed to be there simply for that purpose) and it was easy to forget the inexperience of many of the actors on stage. Keep an eye on this company for upcoming performances aimed at a youth or young adult audience.
Threads was one of the better shows at the Fringe this year. It was a one woman show, put on by Tonya Jone Miller, in which she told the story of her mother’s life in gripping detail from the time she graduated from high school to the time she had her first child. Told out of chronological order, we see threads of Donna’s experiences in the USA and Vietnam tie together in the end. It’s a touching and compelling descriptive narrative, both funny and heartbreaking. Her experiences were captivating and well described, and included teaching at a Buddhist University in Vietnam during the war, working in an orphanage, and how everything that followed was dependant on one decision she made in her first week of University. Sitting back afterwards and realizing all of it was true made the whole show more worthwhile.
Pick of the Fringe will bring back the best shows from the Fringe Festival, as voted by audiences. The chosen shows will run from September 18 – 29. For more information, or to get tickets, visit their site.