Want a taste of the zeitgeist? The Ottawa Fringe Festival might be your ticket.
While the 55-odd shows that comprise this year’s festival (June 8-18) are decided by lottery, and a festival’s lineup is therefore subject to chance, some repeating elements – stories of sci-fi and fantasy, plays inspired by Shakespeare, and the presence of divine characters among them – suggest certain topics are front of mind for fringe-loving playwrights.
Unbridled Futurism, for example, is a multimedia space-time odyssey featuring an inter-dimensional refugee and other unlikely characters. Unlikely, that is, until you remember that the future always seems that way. “We’re living in science fiction, with the amount of connectivity and gene technology we have,” says co-writer/actor Nick Di Gaetano who, with Emily Pearlman, made a splash at the fringe in 2009 with the uber-popular and whimsical Countries Shaped Like Stars. “All those fantasies I had as a kid are here. So we want to extrapolate and speculate; that’s what we do as artists.”
Doctor Who of BBC sci-fi fame also appears at this year’s fringe fest thanks to Who, Me, from Melbourne, Australia’s Rob Lloyd & Scott Gooding. Ottawa’s Poo-Tee-Weet Productions (the theatre company’s name references Kurt Vonnegut’s sci-fi-tinged 1969 novel Slaughterhouse Five) is also on board with Endlings, an apocalyptic story of humanity on the brink of extinction.
Fantasy (think, Game of Thrones for starters) and sci-fi are “permeating our culture, and it’s percolating down to artists,” says festival director Patrick Gauthier. “Also, we’re looking to escape.” Gauthier says that the sci-fi/fantasy theme, which shows up in other productions this year, also had a notable presence in plays that didn’t make it into the festival.
The divine is also making itself felt at the fest, which this year features more than 350 separate performances in a dozen downtown venues. U.S.-based Rich Potter brings God! The One-Man Show, billed in part as a “quantum comedy,” to Studio Léonard-Beaulne, while Ottawa’s Tuba Czar Productions presents Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead. God also gets a nod in the spoken word Don’t See This Show, and the gods take a turn in The Iliad for Dummies, which uses everyday objects to tell the tale (earnest scholars of classic Greek literature may be offended by this one).
Just why the divine is taking the stage in an ever-more secular age is up for question, although His absence could be making our hearts grow fonder.
William Shakespeare, whose 450th birthday we celebrated last year, is back on stage in Keir Cutler’s comedy Teaching Hamlet and in Theatre Arcturus’ aerial theatre piece Rough Magic, which is inspired by The Tempest.
The prince of Denmark also gets a going-over in A Better Play Than Hamlet. Written by Lorne Elliott of CBC’s Madly Off in All Directions fame, the show is presented as a keynote address by a professor who may be crazy.
“I’d read Hamlet, but it didn’t stick with me,” says Elliott. “But then it occurred to me that I didn’t know the play very well and I had three or four Hamlet jokes in Madly Off, and I thought, ‘Oh, this is interesting.’ So, the show came from three jokes.”
Elliott was scheduled to perform the show, but family illness will prevent that. Ottawa’s Rick Cousins will take on the role instead.
Whether Shakespeare is on the fringe radar because of last year’s birthday bashes is anyone guess. As Gauthier says, “Shakespeare never goes out of style.”
This year’s festival marks the culmination of a year-long celebration of the Fringe’s 20th anniversary. Special events include a “1997 party” on June 10 at the Beer Tent, which is moving to the spacious Tabaret Lawn on the University of Ottawa campus.
My Fringe Festival picks
High Tea, Another British Comedy, James & James, U.K. The duo’s 2 for Tea was a side-splittingly clever highlight of last year’s festival.
Movin’ Melvin Brown, A Man, A Magic, A Music! Melvin Brown, U.S. Old-school song-and-dance show that revisits the 1950s to the ‘90s.
Fish Saw: Rundown Cutehouse & Sachie, Japan and Argentina. One-woman, cross-cultural, clown/multimedia show inspired by the 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami.
Blind to Happiness, Tim C. Murphy, Toronto. A show that comes down to the question: Is happiness a choice?
Unbridled Futurism, makesndoes, Ottawa. An international space refugee, a whacked out astronaut, a spokesperson for Google and others in a show of songs, comic monologues and video sketches.
Ethel, Aplombusrhombus, Ottawa. Madeleine Hall, wonderful in last year’s Cardinal, returns with storytelling and movement.
The Ottawa Fringe Festival runs June 8-18 in downtown venues. ottawafringe.com, 613-232-6162