Get caught in the Fringe

STRAPLESS PRESS PHOTO 4 - Sassy Pyramid

The shows are literally drawn out of a hat. With a “theatre for everyone” mentality and a truly fair and open-minded approach to programming their line-up, the Vancouver Fringe Festival welcomes all kinds of theatre artists. This year’s festival features 91 shows, ranging from one-man dramas, to naked comedy, to a new Jane Austen musical “Promise and Promiscuity.”

From Sept. 5–15, 800 performances will happen at over eight venues on and around Granville Island, including the Waterfront Theatre, Performance Works, and the New Revue Stage. With 100 per cent of box office proceeds going directly to the artists, the Fringe is a great way to support independent theatre artists.

One artist with quite a bit of Fringe experience is Jackie Blackmore of Strapless, a five-women comedy show with a variety of smart, funny sketches. Having performed at the Vancouver Fringe for nine years in addition to a few appearances at the Victoria and Edmonton festivals, Blackmore said that these festivals are so important because they allow artists to create their own work.

“They don’t discriminate, and the work is welcome no matter how shocking or how avant garde it is. I love the classics of course, but I get fired up about seeing new works on stage, and I think it really expands and pushes theatre in many ways,” she says.

Blackmore also described the atmosphere of the Fringe: “Actors and playwrights come outside their comfort zone, and up and coming directors show what they can do and there is a magical energy in that risk; there’s a creative magic because no one is doing it for money, but for love.”

The Fringe is also a great place for actors to create lasting contacts and build their careers, as well as honing their craft by just doing it and experimenting. “That’s how I cut my teeth . . . it was a huge help to my career,” Blackmore says.

Blackmore originally applied to write her own show and was number 97 on the waitlist, but then she was contacted by a few of the women from the Vancouver Film School Sketch Comedy Company who asked her to direct their show and perform with them. Blackmore has known them since she started teaching at VFS about four years ago, which makes preparation and rehearsals fun: “You know it’s going to be a great show when you can’t stop laughing in rehearsal.”

The title and promotional material of Strapless may make some think this show will appeal more to a female audience, but Blackmore says, “Absolutely not. We had a huge discussion at the beginning about ‘are we feminist or not’ . . . we’re not doing comedy just to give women a voice.”

There are some racier sketches, Blackmore says their show covers a whole range of topics and aims to be universally funny. “It’s a gift to make a room full of strangers laugh. Entertainment is first and foremost . . . I want people to forget their lives.”

From here, the Strapless comedy girls are going to try to find other venues to perform their work, and they have been busy applying to other fringes and sketch comedy festivals. Blackmore is also very excited to be a part of the Vancouver Sketch Comedy Festival that is returning this January after a seven-year hiatus: “There’s a resurgence of comedy in Vancouver and it’s very exciting.”

When asked which shows she is looking forward to at the Fringe, Blackmore recommended Assaulted Fish, a show by a local sketch comedy group, Scotch and Chocolate, a show by one of Blackmore’s ex-students, and Searching for Dick, an existentialist show by her good friend Tara Travis of Monster Theatre.

These suggestions might help get you started, but the performances are just the beginning of the Fringe. Each night there are also free concerts at the St. Ambroise Fringe Bar, including Dominique Fricot, and The River and the Road. If you are unsure about which shows to check out this year, perhaps the Fringe-For-All will help; the whirlwind preview evening allows artists to perform two-minute teasers from their shows. You can join host David C. Jones at Performance Works on Sept. 5 to see which shows catch your attention.

After the festival itself, the fun continues with the Public Market Pick of the Fringe, which takes place from Sept. 18–29 at Performance Works and the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at SFU Woodwards. The shows in this series are determined by audience votes and judges selecting a few of the most popular ones to hold over for more performances. Ballots are available at each Fringe show, and the winners are announced at the Awards Night at Performance Works on Sept. 15.

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