From July 17 to the 27, the Hamilton Fringe Festival will be in full swing, celebrating 11 years of accessible theatre.
By Kevin Somers
Published July 16, 2014
The Fringe is coming. From July 17 to the 27, the Hamilton Fringe Festival will be in full swing, celebrating 11 years of accessible theatre.
Fringe Festivals take place all over the world and have been around since 1947, when it all began in Edinburgh, Scotland, which is not shocking.
Fringe has evolved into a misnomer for the popular festivals. Fringe patrons and performers are the people that you meet, when you're walking down the street. They're the people you meet each day. Professionals go from Fringe to Fringe, earning a living.
Canada has more Fringe Festivals than any other country. The first Canadian Fringe was in Edmonton in 1982, and it's turned into a monstrous event. In 11 days, it sold more tickets than the city's largest theatre did all year.
A play I wrote was in The Hamilton Fringe last year. As with any new experience, it was exciting and educational. The most remarkable takeaway was the amount of work required to write, cast, direct, rehearse, and execute a performance.
Fringe shows are often great, but, sometimes, they're not, Herculean efforts notwithstanding. Entertainment requires risk.
I met recently with two risk-taking entertainers to talk about life in the Fringe lane.
Harrison Wheeler has a one-man show, Jester's Incognito, in this year's Fringe. In 1998 and 1999, Harry had two successful Fringe shows in Montreal. This will be his first entry in fifteen years.
"I had a psychotic break," he said. "I spent ten years in and out of treatment. I was 24 and diagnosed with bipolar."
"What was that like?"
"Devastating. But, I'm lucky," he said. "Everyone: family, friends, police, hospital staff... have been great. I've had a lot of support."
When asked about the appropriate terminology, he said, "I used to say 'I am bipolar,' but a nurse corrected me. I have bipolar. The illness doesn't define me.
"I haven't had an episode since 2006," he said. Wheeler attributes his success to four main components: nutrition and exercise, talk therapy, medication, and creativity. "Creative endeavours are the perfect way to get it all out. Creativity can save your life," he said. "It's my mantra."
Three years ago, Harry suffered another setback with the onset of Guillain-Barre Syndrome http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guillain-Barr%C3%A9_syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that left him perilously near death and in a coma for 6 weeks. Recovering from G-B S, meant relearning basics, like walking and talking, so a one-man show is testimony to his perseverance.
"I've been through the ringer," he said, laughing with the indomitable spirit of an artist.
Harry enjoys writing, drawing, performing, improv, playing music, but his first love is cartooning. His show is a multi-media comedy. "It's a literal and metaphorical story of recovery. It's been very cathartic," he said.
"Creativity can save your life. I hope people laugh and are entertained, but I'm very happy to help demystify the mental health stigma, as well."
Peter Gruner's play, Mommy's Mask, won the 2014 Hamilton Fringe Playwriting Contest. His show, Minced, won Best of Fringe 2011 and Laund-o-mat At The End Of The World was part of Theatre Aquarius' Best of Fringe in 2009.
I met Peter four years ago through The Theatre Aquarius Playwright Unit and have developed a deep admiration for the man and his work. It's always a treat to read his scripts and enjoy the magic he creates with hard hitting subjects packaged with a skilful, deft touch.
Peter acts and directs, but his deepest passion is for writing. "It's the closest to divine," he said.
Life in the theatre is risky and competitive, and there are no assurances of success. All Peter's accomplishments are due to talent and hard work. He's a great writer, but schmoozes poorly. "I'm working on it," he said, smiling, but I don't think he is.
Peter's feeling pressure of winning the Playwrighting Contest. Humility, not vanity, fuels an artists and Peter said, "I'm worried people will see it and say, 'That won?'"
Having read it, Gruner has nothing to worry about. Mommy's Mask is a terrific script. It was inspired and influenced by a course he took in 1986 from legendary Canadian clown instructor, Richard Pochinko, who developed the Pochinko Technique of mask training.
Pochinko was influenced by European clowning techniques and Native American clown, Jonsmith. Jonsmith taught Pochinko about the "trickster fool" tradition in Native culture, where the clown is more than an entertainer, he is a shaman, who communicates with spirits. Peter explained, "To the Natives, the mask was a holy relic containing the energy of a God."
Peter said, "Pochinko dealt with energy. He said to us, 'The only thing that is perfect is energy and an artist must learn to channel it.'
"That idea stuck with me. I wasn't ready to process it at the time, but it's been percolating in my head for 25 years." He said, "It was profound. This, to me, is the heart of theatre."
Mommy's Mask is about a couple whose child is abducted and vanishes. A father of three, Gruner said, "There is nothing worse." So, in Mommy's Mask, Gruner marries the worst scenario imaginable with the heavily impacting creation of a mask meant to harness the energy of a guilt-laden mother of a missing child. The results are stirring.
On a lighter note, Peter has a easy-to-follow guide for performers to achieve success at The Fringe, which I also recommend.
Enjoy the shows.
Hey, hey, hey
What do you say?
Let's get out and see a play
Yo, yo, yo
What do you know?
Let's go out and catch a show
It's time, my friends, for another Fringe binge
Maybe, we'll serendipitously find
Something that will blow the mind
Maybe, we'll stumble onto something great
Check the schedule, make a date
Be on time, don't be late
We need not feel, that much, constrained
By money spent versus value gained
Fringe shows are essentially
They only charge a nominal fee
For live theatre!
Thespians, playwrights, amateur, and professional
Often confessional but always obsessional
With their craft
With what they do
With putting on a show for you
Strutting then fretting your point of view
We may see the Shakespeare of our age
From Fringe to Broadway, then all the rage
Perhaps, the next Olivier will take the stage
A proverbial panther in a cage
Of course, one can't guarantee
We will love every show we see
We might twinge, or cringe, or whinge a tinge
At a show so bad it's, somewhat, sad
But don't let that infringe or impinge
Upon your Fringe fun, son
Indeed, don't get mad, dad
Be glad, Vlad
Because, even if it's real, real bad, Chad
Or just a tad sad, lad
You've still seen a show, bro
Because, you know...
(I steal this from another man's page)
All the world is, indeed, a stage
And every day is another page
In the play
That is your life
Make it bountiful, write it rife
It has, at last, been ascertained
Nothing ventured, nothing gained
It's worth the risk to be entertained
It's time, indeed, for another Fringe binge
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