As the province re-opens without restrictions, one festival is dipping its toe into the waters of live theatre once more addressing the question: Can people pack in to theatres again? Will they want to? What about the crowds that usually gather in Old Strathcona in outdoor spaces and beer gardens, enjoying a late summer celebration of Indy theatre?
The Edmonton Fringe's Together We Fringe: A Fringe Theatre Event is the answer to months of uncertainty around presenting a 40th anniversary happening for the hugely popular Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. Keeping safety and patron comfort in mind, plus presenting works from largely local performers, the 11-day event will look more like the Fringe's roots in 1982 than the massive extravaganza of indoor and outdoor entertainment last seen in 2019.
"Where we normally have crowds and gather--it won't happen that way this year," said Fringe Artistic Director Murray Utas. "The last year decimated our industry--brought it to a standstill--but we exist because theatre exists."
Describing Together We Fringe as a hyper-local, hybrid Event of live and digital performances, Utas said fewer venues and fewer shows are the only way the festival could move forward in these early (almost) post-pandemic times.
“We’ve reimagined the Fringe experience to deliver as safe an event as possible,” said Utas. "Fringe will look and feel very different from the festival we knew and loved in 2019."
The Fringe's interim executive director Megan Dart said organizers knew this 'welcome back' Event would look different in 2021, as Edmonton Fringe chose to maintain safety mitigations inside theatres, around outdoor venues and wherever fringers gather. "But will there be green onion cakes, beer, entertainment and questionable Alberta weather? Absolutely," said Dart.
“We want the return to fringing to be an enjoyable experience for everyone," continued Utas. “Fringers can expect to mask up, keep their distance, and support one another in a safe return to live events. Audience sizes will be limited to ensure everyone has lots of extra elbow room. All venues will be thoroughly sanitized before and after each performance. And access to ATB Park will be timed and ticketed to ensure we’re able to deliver the full Fringe experience and a spacious, safe event.”
“We are safely, mindfully bringing the community back together again. There are countless ways to fringe with us this year no matter whether you’re ready to return to smaller-scale live events or want to share in the experience from the other side of your screen," said Utas. “This is an opportunity for us to connect artists and audiences again and be safely together after a long and isolating time.”
Longtime lead partner and sponsor ATB Financial is aided this year by EPCOR's Heart & Soul Fund to present days of theatre and community. Curtis Stange, ATB Financial president, said he's thankful "to the Fringe team for their commitment and creativity in bringing the event safely back to the city in 2021".
Tickets for this year's Fringe event go on sale August 4 at 12 noon. For more information, visit fringetheatre.ca