Happy 10th Anniversary, Hamilton Fringe Festival! Another year has come and gone, and I’m so glad I had the chance to experience several plays this year, thanks to my handy Fringe Fest media pass. Huge thanks to the organizers of Fringe for the accommodation and to everyone invovled for a fantastic ten days of theatre fun. Without further ado, let’s recap!
The official Fringe headquarters and after party spot was The Baltimore House, which was an excellent idea. The venue is theatrical itself and has hosted everything from plays, live music, club nights, trivia, vinyl-only nights (see Discography!), and just added, karaoke! I can’t think of a better spot in the city to represent Fringe.
Fringe kicked off with a launch party at The Baltimore House and it was absolutely packed in there. Theatre folk are a rowdy bunch! Actors and directors were mingling and promoting their upcoming shows and there was a fun vibe in the air. Of course, it wouldn’t be a birthday celebration without cake and some bubbly.
The launch was hosted by The Hamilton Spectator’s Jeff Mahoney and featured short preview performances. The stage area was filled with props from various shows – some of which I would see during my stint at Fringe.
Bridezilla vs. the Apocalypse; BrainDeadPan Productions (Hamilton)
I got a head start at Fringe when I was invited to a preview performance of this horror/comedy at the Citadel Studio. I was joined by fellow blogger Aaron Allen of The Zed Word and Horror in the Hammer, who is clearly more experienced with zombies than I am. We were prepared with plastic ponchos to protect us from projectile zombie guts and blood as we were seated in the front row. A nice touch to the play is that it includes a video introduction featuring Hamilton sights, and the play itself includes clever inside-references to the city.
Bridezilla featured the biggest cast of any Fringe play. I thoroughly enjoyed the story of a wedding gone awry due to an imminent zombie attack. The climactic moment when all hell broke loose was well choreographed and fun to watch. It was neat to see professional zombie actor John Migliore in action (whom I had seen interviewed live by Jian Ghomeshi earlier this year). I didn’t even get as messy as I anticipated. Just a little splash of blood and, ok, one zombie grabbed me – nothing I can’t handle!
Nocture; Cross Culture Productions (Hamilton)
My next play was in the main stage of the Citadel, the Citadel Theatre (view trailer). Directed by Samuel Chang, the play is set against the backdrop of World War II and explores themes of loss, loneliness, art, and love. All four actors portrayed their characters brilliantly and their performances were so brave, vulnerable, and moving.
The live music component was a great addition to the play. Actor Allison Warwick was equally moving in her acting as her piano playing (she also has a writing credit). The element of dance was also incorporated, as well as recorded music. Included was a song by Hamilton band The Rest, which evoked the perfect emotions and mood for the end of the piece. Nocturne was one of the plays I heard about the most during my Fringing, and rightfully so. I look forward to seeing future productions by Cross Culture.
The Hangman’s Reprise; Hamilton’s Zooid Aerial Theatre (Hamilton)
Next up was an inventive production by Hamilton’s Zooid Aerial Theatre, which is a branch of the Hamilton Aerial Group. Taking place at Lyric Theatre, this was the first performance from this wing of HAG.
The play related the true story of the Bloody Assize of 1812, a historical moment that I hadn’t known about. Telling the narrative through the premise of a travelling circus side-show was a very creative way to do it. What amazing feats of strength these women performed – I was front row and held my breath as they climbed up the silks, creating beautiful poses and demonstrating incredible athleticism. I would like to check out more shows by HAG again.
Ghost Train Riders; Red Betty Theatre (Hamilton)
A new addition to Fringe was the Gallery mini-Series. 20-minute plays were staged in small venues along James North. I found it amazing what the artists are able to do with the short format and how full stories can be fleshed out in that time.
Ghost Train Riders took place at Factory Media Centre, which I hadn’t visited yet. I met writer Radha S. Menon and actor Maya Huliyappa-Menon at Fringe’s launch party and immediately responded to their energy and added their play to my Fringe itinerary. Maya and her co-star Dia Frid gave excellent performances in this piece which keeps you thinking about the connection between the two characters. I especially loved the metaphor of the journey on a train and I was still musing over the play’s meaning as I left.
The short play is part of a larger work titled Passengers that I’m now intrigued to see. At Fringe’s closing, Ghost Train Riders was awarded with Outstanding Accomplishment at the Gallery mini-Series.
Death Married My Daughter; Play it Again Productions (Toronto)
I experienced another new venue when attending a play at Hamilton Theatre Inc.. I loved it immediately, with its red door and Broadway-themed interior. There are posters of classic musicals in the lobby and even the bathrooms are designated as “Guys” & “Dolls.”
This play was in a style called Bouffon. The Bouffons are outcasts who come from the swamps and reveal hypocrisy by way of irony and satire. In this piece, the two Bouffons are Shakespearean characters Desdemona (of Othello) and Ophelia (Hamlet) who return to the stage to turn the tables on their male oppressors. It’s subversive, funny, challenging, thought-provoking, and requires outstanding energy by its two actors, Nina Gilmour and Dayna Buonastella (who also co-created the work with Dean Gilmour and Michelle Smith).
This One; Toronto’s First Root Productions (Toronto)
The last play I saw was also at Factory Media Centre (watch trailer). The piece was written and performed by Denise Mader, who also founded First Root. It’s an intimate show, with Denise talking directly to us as if we were guests in her home as she baked a pie to share with us. Yes, she actually made a pie right before our eyes as she delivered her monologue which was so touching and endearing. It was impossible not to connect with Denise right away; she has a lovely spirit and it felt like you knew her.
This One was the most moving play I saw during my run at Fringe. My eyes welled up and I stifled back tears a few times. When it was over, I looked around and found I wasn’t alone – there wasn’t a dry eye in the bunch. Denise bared her emotions and we were privy to her memories and ultimate catharsis. It was fitting to end with this one – it was my favourite.
There were so many plays to see during Fringe, but overall I think covered a good span of venues and genres. The majority of the shows I saw were Hamilton productions and the main takeaway point from Fringe is that we have an incredibly passionate theatre community in this city.
And that brings us to the curtain call. Until next year, Fringe!
Note: I received a media pass to attend Hamilton Fringe Festival, but all thoughts about the festival are my own.