It’s a milestone year for the Calgary Fringe Festival. The event returns to Inglewood for its 10th anniversary from July 29 to August 6 with more of the world’s strangest and most unconventional theatre.
Fringe festivals are unique because all performances submitted are accepted and a lottery system determines which shows get to run. This is in stark contrast to traditional theatre festivals, where a selection committee typically determines the program.
The Calgary Fringe Festival is relatively young, especially when compared to its Northern counterpart — the Edmonton International Fringe Festival is the second largest fringe fest in the world, and it’s what inspired Michele Gallant to start something similar in Calgary.
“My husband and I did [the] Rocky Horror Picture Show at Edmonton Fringe in 2004. We were walking around thinking ‘why doesn’t Calgary have something like this?’ People had freedom of voice to be able to say what they want on stage,” Gallant says. “So we started doing some research and everything on our end of things and we started the first festival in 2006.”
Due to the nature of the festival, there are no headlining shows at the Calgary Fringe Festival. Shows range from improv bits like the foul-humoured Improv Against Humanities, to off-Broadway comedies like P.S. 69 A Teacher Grows in Brooklyn, a piece about a substitute teacher who falls in love during a job at an elementary school. The latter was part of the first Calgary Fringe Festival 10 years ago, where it sold out despite the venue catching fire midway through the festival.
Gallant likes how the festival gives a stage to unorthodox acts.
“For me the highlights have always been the different variety acts that come to the Fringe,” she says. “It’s uncensored. [If you] give the audience disclosure about what you are talking about and don’t break the law, go for it. I call it ‘anything-goes indoor performance’.”
The festival will feature several events aside from the theatre pieces to celebrate their 10-year milestone. One is the Fringe Zone, which Gallant describes as an “outdoor vaudevillian venue” where buskers and artists will create a carnival-like atmosphere. Other events include an erotic poetry slam open mic night and a screening of On the Fringe, a documentary that follows a fringe artist’s circuit, including a stop in Calgary.
Since acts are chosen through a lottery, there’s a wide range of talent and experience at the festival. Some artists are performing in their first show, while others are decades-long veterans of the fringe scene.
“It’s non-restrictive. We don’t care about your level of experience. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never done theatre before or if you’ve done it a thousand times. You have just as equal of a chance of getting in because people’s names go in a hat,” Gallant says. “I think that speaks to a lot of people and opens their minds to the things they can do.”
The Calgary Fringe Festival takes place at various local venues from July 29 to August 6. All box office proceeds go to the performing artists.