Hamilton Fringe Festival ends this Sunday, July 24th – there’s still time to see some shows! Here’s what I managed to see. Happy 13th year, Hamilton Fringe!
The Hamilton Fringe Festival has been part of my I Heart Hamilton journey for the past five years. The number of plays I’ve attend fluctuates each year, but I always get so much out of it. We have such a talented and dedicated theatre community here, and Fringe is a chance to celebrate it and connect with theatre scenes in other cities. My highest peak was in 2014 when I hit 12 plays during the 10-day run, but even last year when I only saw one, it was one that really stayed with me to this very day (Zak McDonald’s “The Happiest Story I Know”).
Speaking of that show, one really rewarding aspect of attending Fringe is seeing projects grow and evolve. Some plays that have started as a 20-minute gallery shows one year have evolved into one-hour productions that debut the following year. In the case of Zak McDonald, he debuted his one-person show last year, and then took the show across Canada. Hear my recent interview with Zak about the show’s progression and how the tour went in my interview with him on 93.3 CFMU!
A fun new tradition to Fringe in recent years is the Kick Off party. It’s a chance to preview many of the shows before you choose what to see. Companies get about 90 seconds to sum up their shows for the audience, by performing a scene from it, or coming up with a creative way to pitch the show to us. David Brennan (who has quickly become my favourite person to see as host at these kinds of things) took the stage at the Lincoln Alexander Centre to start it off. (David also appears in the Fringe play The Tragedy of Othella Moore, which I would go on to see – more on that later.)
The Kick Off is an awesome way to bring all of the companies together and to welcome those from out of town. Similar to 2014’s launch party, we must give major props to the city councillors who support the event. Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Green was the star, and beautifully recited a few Langston Hughes poems.
Oasis Love; Sisyphean Productions (Toronto)
The first production that grabbed me was Oasis Love at Theatre Aquarius. As I mentioned, a really cool part of attending Fringe each year is recognizing previous Fringe names, and keeping up with their work. This piece was directed by Franny McCabe-Bennett of the theatre duo Two Juliets. Along with Meghan Chalmers, the two evolved their piece XOXO: The Relationship Show from a 20-minute play at Hamilton Fringe in 2013, to a full hour in 2014. They have since brought the show back to Yuk Yuks Hamilton, and I’ve even interviewed the girls!
Long story short, I knew Oasis Love would be up my alley. Written and performed by Johnny Salib, it’s a very relatable tale about dating and relationships. As we all know – it’s a jungle out there, navigating it all! Before the show started, songs like Adele’s cover of “Make You Feel My Love” and Regina Spektor’s “Samson” played and it completely set the tone. I hadn’t heard “Samson” in ages that struck me right in the heart, let me tell you. So many feels.
Johnny combines music and drama to tell the story of a past relationship. It’s vulnerable, endearing, and funny. The scenes flowed naturally from one to the next (something I loved about XOXO), and ended on a hopeful note. Johnny’s own original songs are used as well, and I also loved his use of pop music. Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” will probably go down as one of my favourite tunes ever, so he really won me over with that one.
For the past few years, the Hamilton Fringe after-party spot has been The Baltimore House. There’s really no better spot to mingle with the performers throughout the fest. Plus $5 pints of select beers with your Fringe button! Boom. Highlights so far include open mic night, karaoke hosted by The Eye of Faith (which are every other Tuesday on a regular basis at Baltimore House), and lip sync battles!
Another awesome Fringe connection for me was seeing performer Izad Etemadi host a couple events at the Fringe Club. Similar to Two Juliets, he performed at Fringe back in 2013 and returned in 2014 with Love With Leila, another top pick of mine that year. He has since returned to Hamilton with the colourful character Leila, who is always a joy to see. (I’ve interviewed him as well on 93.3 CFMU). Making these connections with artists is such a fun part of Fringe.
The Teeny Tiny Music Show; Sneaky Sneaky Productions (Toronto)
I encountered dynamic performer Hayley Pace and her marching band when they pounded the pavement during Art Crawl to promote their show. They were hard to miss! This show may be called Teeny Tiny, but it’s anything but. Hayley is a force of nature, a born performer. In fact, I remembered her from a production I saw at 2014‘s Fringe, A Language For Dogs.
Fringe shows are very strict with their timing, and people aren’t allowed in and out during the performance, but this was a looser set up. The Baltimore House (also the Fringe Club!) was the setting and the gang made amazing use of it. You could even grab a beer during the show. This was really cool to see – a venue I’m so intimately familiar with be transformed and to be drawn into Hayley’s world. The cast moved around the whole space and we in the audience were seated at the bar, on couches, at tables.
The musical revue combined different eras and genres of music, with Hayley at the heart of it all. I went into this show not knowing what to expect and that was the best way to experience it – it really increased in dynamic as it went and I didn’t know what would happen next. Super fun show.
Anybody Else; Make Art Theatre (Hamilton)
I’ve come to expect good things from local company Make Art Theatre, so I knew this one had to be on my list at Theatre Aquarius. I caught their Romeo & Juliet: An Escapist Comedy during 2014‘s Fringe and loved it. I unfortunately didn’t see their next project, Much Ado About Nothing, but heard great things.
I thoroughly enjoyed Ryan Sero’s Woody Allen-esque delivery in Romeo & Juliet (Ryan is also Make Art Theatre’s Artistic Director and a playwright). Anybody Else centres around the character Thaddeus who is riddled with similar neuroses. Enter Sigmund Freud, himself, to chime in with his analysis of Thaddeus’ relationship. The piece is quick and witty; non-stop from start to finish. The cast of three: Ryan, Sean Emberley, and Pamela Gardner, are all fantastic. I know Pam from her work with the Hamilton Aerial Group and it was a delight to see her in an acting role!
The Bathtub Girls; Kairos (Windsor)
This was the most challenging piece I saw during the Fringe. It was the first original work for Kairos (the word means “the opportune moment” – I love that) and was created, directed, and performed by Natalia Bushnik and Robin Luckwaldt Ross. Their performance during the Fringe preview was so intriguing and I heard great things about the show just days into the fest.
I went down a rabbit hole internet search prior to seeing the show, to get some context. The piece is about the first known case of sibling matricide in Canada. In 2003, in Mississauga, two sisters plotted and succeeded in drowning their mother in a bathtub. Using intense movement and vocals, the pair weave a visceral performance that is haunting and powerful. It’s something you have to experience. I marvel at all artists – I can’t even imagine what it’s like to perform a piece like this or to even conceive of it.
The Tragedy of Othella Moore; Perplexed Productions (Hamilton)
I hit a double feature when I saw The Tragedy of Othella Moore and #dirtygirl at The Staircase. Othella was at the top of my Fringe list to see – I missed the first run back in April but I interviewed writer Esther Huh and actor David Brennan on 93.3 CFMU. Esther took Shakespeare’s Othello and transformed it to a modern day, Mean Girls-style retelling with a flip in gender, and she stuck closely with the Bard’s scenes when writing the script.
The whole cast is awesome – Allison Edwards-Crewe is a standout as Othella. The use of the screen was perfect, showing the rapid-fire nature of live tweeting (one meme in particular got the biggest laugh in these show). I also loved that they had a Twitter wall up at the beginning showing everyone’s #OthellaMoore tweets!
#dirtygirl; Broken Soil Theatre (Hamilton)
Last summer I interviewed Michael Kras, Artistic Director of Broken Soil Theatre, on 93.3 CFMU about his gallery series piece at Hamilton Fringe, For Keira. Written and performed by Michael, the piece featured characters Keira and James, and dealt with teen sexuality. These themes are explored even more in #dirtygirl. Described as a techno-horror film, it had me feeling tense and unsettled in parts – not knowing what was going to happen next!
Claudia Spadafora and Cass Van Wyck play off each other brilliantly, and Matthew Power is also great in his supporting role. Cass’ portrayal of Bridget was the most well-acted performance I saw during my Fringing. They had me hooked right from the start.
This piece leaves you walking away with some serious questions. Social media is now my livelihood but I’m old enough to remember life without it. For the generation now being born into it, it brings about a whole mess of things for teenagers to deal with. It also shows the mob mentality that happens all too often and how monstrous the internet can be.
Saor (Free); Squirrel Suit Productions (London, ON)
Carlyn Rhamey playfully describes her life as a “light-hearted train wreck” in this one-person show that she wrote and stars in. It’s a relatable story – being in your 20’s and having no idea what you’re doing. But Carlyn has led a particularly adventurous life, travelling abroad through Ireland and Scotland. She’s one of those people that encounters hilarious characters and situations wherever she goes. Carlyn is an absolute delight to watch onstage – she has incredible energy and keeps you captivated from start to finish. I really enjoyed this one.
And so ends my run at Fringe. It’s a particularly busy week for me and that’s all I can fit in, but I encourage you to head out and see as much as you can before the fest closes on Sunday with a final bash at Baltimore House! Thanks to Fringe staff and volunteers for all your hard work in bringing us an awesome thirteenth year of the festival – I look forward to it every year.
Note: I received a media pass to attend the Hamilton Fringe Festival, but all thoughts are my own.