“First come, first served” applies just as much to the artists as it does to the audience at the Halifax Fringe Festival. There aren’t any reserved seats for patrons, just like there are no spots in the schedule held for budding thespians and playwrights.
“It’s not juried; it’s not curated,” said Lee-Anne Poole, the festival executive director, during a phone interview.
“Everyone who wants to do a Fringe show applies, and literally we pick them out of a hat. . . . We had about a hundred submissions this year.”
So, factoring in the luck of the draw, that breaks down to 65 shows at 14 venues across 11 days, starting Thursday. The 29th edition in Halifax runs through Sept. 8.
The forum for everything from off-kilter musicals, solo shows, comedians and circus-style performances may be at a peak of popularity, at least by one measurement.
“We’ve been spending our last few years trying to grow in strength, not in size, because the festival’s already really big,” Poole said.
“To give you a bit of context, usually our total box office hits at around 40 grand.
“Last year on opening day, our box office advance sales were at $3,000. So far, we’re over $9,000 of pre-sales already. It’s, like, way bigger than before.”
Keep in mind that the Fringe box office isn’t inflated by high ticket prices. Accessibility and affordability are keys to the event’s drawing power.
“The highest price is $15, and they go under from there,” said Poole, who’s overseeing her fourth festival as executive director.
“There’s a lot of $10 shows and $5 shows and pay-what-you-want.”
Big theatre embraces the Fringe
During the festival, the box office is at the Neptune Theatre Scotiabank Stage on Argyle Street. The most prominent theatre company in the region has become a big Fringe supporter.
“Neptune this year came on as a major sponsor for the festival,” Poole said.
“We are using the Neptune Theatre Scotiabank Stage as well as two of their rehearsal halls as small, 30-seater venues.
“They’re outfitting them with lights and chairs and they’re looking beautiful. . . . They’re fancy compared to some of the venues we’ve had at Fringe.”
Fringe favourite Gillian English’s new play 10 Things I Hate About Taming of the Shrew is one of the shows that will be on the studio stage at various times throughout the festival.
There are about 30 Fringe events across Canada, all members of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals, said Poole. There are guiding principles with stipulations like no restrictions on content and 100 per cent of the box office goes to the artists.
Poole, a Halifax writer and arts producer, knows how foundational participating in the Fringe can be.
“I think I was 16 years old, and that’s where I did my first show. I wrote a play and I performed it, and it was at DANSpace,” she said.
“I saw a flyer somewhere saying that they were accepting applications.”
The low-risk, potentially high-reward nature of Fringe presentations is also one of the selling points. Given the relatively low cost, taking a chance on something based on very little information is encouraged.
“Here’s what I know about every show: I know the title and the blurb,” said Poole.
“I know exactly what you know.”
There’s a chance to do more homework with the opening night sampler Thursday at the Neptune studio theatre starting at 7 p.m. Hosted by Cathy Jones, the evening will feature Fringers serving two-minute samples of their shows.
Visit halifaxfringe.ca for up-to-date info and links to buy tickets.
Don’t know which play to turn to? Try some of these suggestions.
1. 10 Things I Hate About Taming of the Shrew by Gillian English. This ain’t Kiss Me Kate. At Neptune Studio Stage Aug. 30 to Sept. 7
2. Broadway Boyz by DaPoPo Theatre. Original musical about ups and downs on the Great White Way. At Neptune Studio Stage Sept. 5 to 8
3. Flourish: Seeds & Needs by Nickle Peace-Williams. Non-binaryness expressed in a vivid, surreal dance show. At Neptune Windsor Studio Aug. 30 to Sept. 3.
4. M: The Berlin Murders by Dan Bray. Inspired by Fritz Lang’s classic thriller based on true crimes. Bus Stop Theatre Parking Lot, Aug 29 to Sept. 8.
5. Monster by Daniel MacIvor. Taylor Olson takes on MacIvor’s turbulent one-man show. Bus Stop Theatre Aug. 30 to Sept. 3.