Fringe festivals around the world provide an opportunity for new and seasoned artists alike to create their own work and do something daring. These events transform theatre, take chances, foster artists and thrill audiences—all while celebrating creativity, craft and community.
Originally thought up in Edinburgh back in the 1940s, Fringe became a way to highlight theatre that was experimental in subject or style. Fringe celebrates theatre on the fringes of the regular, mainstream theatre season—hence the name.
Now in its 36th year, the Edmonton International Fringe Festival is the oldest and largest in North America. It runs from August 17 to 27, 2017. A summer favourite in the city, you can feel the excitement in the air when Fringe comes around.
I should know—I’m a Library Assistant at the Strathcona Branch of the Edmonton Public Library, right in the heart of Edmonton’s Fringe territory. I’m also an actress. This is my sixth year performing in the festival.
The beauty of Fringe theatre is that you can see shows that are incredibly polished alongside shows that are much more… spontaneous.
In the spirit of the festival, I’ve paired book (and other) recommendations with a few of the shows on offer this year. Each one is accompanied by a description of the show and a note on why you should check out the suggested item.
1. Mysteries and Princesses and Mayhem—Oh My!
The Show: Princess Confidential: Fortress Falls
The Premise: After retrieving the memories of an amnesia-struck royal and recovering the whereabouts of the mysterious Miss Melody Merchant, Princess Abigail and Detective Reid Simon have joined forces to take down the corrupt crime boss Fortress Jones in this thrilling fairy-tale film noir created by the award-winning Promise Productions.
The Recommendation: The Spy Princess by Sherwood Smith
When playwright Ellen Chorley sat down to write this play, she thought to herself, “What are my two favourite things? Princesses and detectives of course!” And thus was born the Princess Confidential series.
And really, who wouldn’t agree with her? Get in the mystery-solving mood with this recommendation.
2. Childhood Struggles
The Show: Gruesome Playground Injuries
The Premise: Over the course of 30 years, the lives of Kayleen and Doug intersect at the most bizarre intervals, leading the two childhood friends to compare scars and the physical calamities that keep drawing them together.
This show by Pulitzer finalist Rajiv Joseph is getting a lot of buzz at the Fringe this year—especially with star Canadian director Ron Jenkins back at the festival after a 10-year hiatus.
The Recommendation: Playground by 50 Cent
It’s a jungle out there. We all know the trials and tribulations of navigating friendships and foes in the schoolyard. Playground by 50 Cent will bring you right back to your youth and get you geared up for this show.
3. Fun with Philosophy
The Show: A Quiet Place
The Premise: Two men in a room with no door attempt to solve the mystery of their own existence while trying not to kill each other or fall in love. A mystery, a comedy and a tragedy, A Quiet Place is a great reckoning in a little room.
The Recommendation: The Republic by Plato
This show’s premise is akin to Plato’s allegory of the cave, so take a dive into philosophy and ponder the meaning of it all with the Greek philosopher’s The Republic.
4. The Pull of the Sea
The Show: Slack Tide
The Premise: Matty, months out of prison, is desperate to atone for an act that shattered the delicate trust between himself, his sister Annie and their friend Mary. Six years have passed since they last spoke to one another. They are not able to forget, nor are they able to forgive.
The Recommendation: Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe
Slack Tide has a fourth character and that is the sea. And without giving too much away, as in Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem Annabel Lee, a watery grave may be awaiting one of the three people on stage.
5. Somewhere Nowhere Near the Rainbow
The Show: Pompeii L.A.
The Premise: Johnathan Brandis auditions for the role of his life. Judy Garland is backstage at the Johnny Carson show. A burnt-out child star tries to reassemble the fractured bits of his life in the wake of an accident. Meanwhile, a volcano bubbles beneath the streets of Los Angeles.
The Recommendation: Judy on Judy Garland by Judy Garland
Get your Judy Garland fix with this Fringe play and read up on her life beforehand so you can be the most knowledgeable person in the audience.
6. Hellish Humour
The Show: No Exit
The Premise: Three damned souls awaiting their fate soon discover that the ultimate punishment is having company, in the darkly funny, searing, landmark existential masterpiece that proves "Hell is other people." Pity, terror and wild hysteria... forever!
The Recommendation: No Exit and Three Other Plays by Jean-Paul Sartre
Check out this play and some of masterful playwright Jean-Paul Sartre’s other works in this compendium.
7. Compare Apples to Apples
The Show: The Apple Tree
The Premise: This is a quirky, touching, musical spin on the tale of the world's first couple, adapted from Mark Twain's Extracts from Adam's Diary. The brilliant songwriting team behind Fiddler on the Roof and She Loves Me brings us this warm yet witty look at humanity.
The Recommendation: The Apple Tree (Album)
Listen to the soundtrack featuring the original Broadway cast of this fun musical.
8. By Any Other Name
The Show: Kill Shakespeare
The Premise: Shakespeare’s greatest heroes and fiercest villains must do battle to be the first to find the reclusive wizard: William Shakespeare. They must decide his fate, to save or kill him! Kill Shakespeare offers a comic book re-envisioning of the greatest characters of all time featuring comedy, romance and epic battles.
The Recommendation: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare by William Shakespeare
Time to brush up on the bard! It’s not a bad idea to refresh your memory on some of Shakespeare’s most popular plays before seeing Kill Shakespeare at the Fringe.
9. L'Austen Translation
The Show: One Man Pride and Prejudice
The Premise: Charles Ross, (One Man Star Wars, LoTR, Batman) and Lisa Hebden tackle the greatest romantic comedy ever: the intrigue, dancing, proposals, lace (did I mention the lace?) are given the one-man once-over. The showrunners hope to see you rolling in the aisles (not Jane Austen rolling in her grave).
The Recommendation: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good story must be in want of a stage to perform it on. Reread this Austen classic now, because you may never look at it the same way again after this show.
10. The Power of Dance
The Show: To Be Moved
The Premise: Falling in love is as familiar as falling out of love. A new theatrical creation set to original music, framed as a visual album. To Be Moved is an emotional and physical reflection on the cycle of love. A new creation from Blarney Productions.
The Recommendation: Pina (DVD)
For the dance enthusiasts at the Fringe, be sure to check out this beautiful tribute to a great German choreographer.
11. Brick by Brick
The Show: Legoland
The Premise: Two home-schooled siblings have assaulted their favourite pop icon and have been ordered to give a public service talk explaining why their actions were wrong. Penny and Ezra's hyperactive sermon on juvenile delinquency takes them outside of Saskatchewan and into the world beyond—known to them only as Legoland.
The Recommendation: The Lego Movie (DVD)
Take a tour through the ultimate Legoland—complete with nostalgic childhood callbacks and plenty of humour—with The Lego Movie.
12. Comical Commotion
The Show: Rivercity: The Musical
The Premise: It's the last day of school at Edmonton's own “Rivercity High.” Will the “girl-next-door” get the guy? Will the “aloof one” part with his crown? Will that “charming red-head” smarten up!? The company that brought you the five star Fringe hit, “The Unsyncables,” presents this musical-spoof based on Archie Comics.
The Recommendation: The Best of Archie Comics
Whether these comics were a childhood favourite or you’re picking them up for the first time, the world of Archie has a certain cheerful charm. Now’s the perfect time to enjoy some of the source material before you check out this light-hearted parody.
The Edmonton International Fringe Festival features over 1,600 performances across more than 45 different venues. It runs from August 17 to 27, 2017.
Learn more about the shows on the festival's website.