Thoughts from the Fringe — Festival

Melissa Yuan-Innes, who is an emergency room doctor, stars in I am the Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World (and Other True Tales from the Emergency Room). Photo: M. Innes

Again this year, the Ottawa Fringe Festival (June 13-23) finds both novice and veteran artists on its multiple stages. Performers from Ottawa and points beyond are presenting a total of 54 different shows, with a bracing mix of musicals, comedy, drama, documentary theatre and more.

Curious about expectations and motivations, we asked three long-time and three new performers about fringing. Their answers have been edited for brevity.

John D. Huston, Toronto
2 Sherlock Holmes Adventures, Arts Court Theatre

Huston, who’s been on the fringe circuit since 1991, teams up with fellow veteran Kenneth Brown in two multi-character Sherlock Holmes stories.

Q. Why have you kept fringing for so long?

A. In the normal course of things, I’d probably never get to play Sherlock Holmes. Artistic directors would want someone taller, fatter, whatever. It’s very empowering not to wait around and hope someone will call and say, ‘Hey, I have a role for you.’ I keep doing it because it’s magic: the audience and I go off on an adventure together and then after an hour we come back.

Sam Pomerant, Ottawa
Perfect Date, ODD Box

Pomerant, who graduates from Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School this month, is a fringe newbie. His solo show tackles the tribulations of dating and the search for the perfect one.

Q. Why did you want to perform at a fringe festival?

A. I’ve been in a lot of other shows and I wanted to do something that was really my own vision, that I had complete control over. In school, I’d want to do something and I’s be told, “Oh, you can’t make those jokes.” The fringe represents this amazing opportunity for artistic freedom. The show was a good way to see what I could do.

Melissa Yuan-Innes, South Glengarry, Ont.
I am the Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World (and Other True Tales from the Emergency Room), Arts Court Theatre

An emergency room doctor at Glengarry Memorial Hospital in Alexandria, Ont. as well as a crime and speculative fiction writer, Yuan-Innes based her one-woman show about the inside world of emergency medicine on her book The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World. This is her first foray into fringe performing.

Q. What are you hoping audiences will take away from your show?

A. I hope they’ll learn just what it’s like to be a doctor and to be a human in the system. Physicians feel under siege right now because our sphere of care is being eroded constantly by different practitioners. Pharmacists are selling medications and now giving medical advice, which is a conflict of interest. We just don’t seem to be able to get our word out; this way, I feel we can humanize what it’s like to be a physician.

Melanie Gall, St. Albert, Alta.
Ingenue: Deanna Durbin, Judy Garland and the Golden Age of Hollywood, Academic Hall

Gall, a professional opera singer who has also been fringing since 2010, tells the story of Winnipeg-born Deanna Durbin – a 1930s screen star before disappearing into obscurity – and her friendship and rivalry with Judy Garland.

Q. How has fringing changed you as a performer?

A. I worked all my life to achieve success in classical music, but once I became a working professional singer, it just wasn’t enough.  Classical music did not allow for the sort of creative freedom I craved, and so many of the singers seemed to be in bitter competition with each other. Then I discovered the fringe, where creative freedom was welcomed and most of the other performers were friendly and supportive. (It’s) allowed me to let the music of so many historic characters like Sophie Tucker, Edith Piaf and now Deanna Durbin live again.

Katie Nixon, State College, PA, USA
52 Pickup, Arts Court Library

Nixon’s one-woman show explores coping with and overcoming sexual assault. It’s one of at least eight shows at this year’s festival dealing with issues that women confront. Nixon, a recent graduate of Pennsylvania State University, is a newcomer to the fringe circuit.

Q. Why did you think your show would work in an intimate fringe space?

A. It’s so unique in its nature – we’re talking about deep, dark themes that people are afraid to talk about in a way that is playful, that is honest. A lot of it is about engaging the audience: Is it time for me to hold your hand? Time for a joke? The script allows for that; it’s not an improv show but there are moments of improvisation. I take care of the audience in a different way each night.

Rachelle Elie stars in Who’s Your Mommy.

Rachelle Elie, Ottawa
Who’s Your Mommy? Knox Presbyterian – Geneva Hall

Elie, a stand-up comedian in the 1990s, began performing her own plays on the fringe circuit in 2001 (she notes that her second child was conceived at the Saskatoon Fringe). Who’s Your Mommy? is her first stand-up comedy hour.

Q. What are you doing now that you wouldn’t have dared to do when you started fringing?

A. Actually, my shows used to be fringier and more edgy than I would allow them to be now because I care more about what my audience thinks. I’m not taking stupid risks anymore. In the past, I would be, ‘Oh, I think I’m going to rewrite my show on opening night because I’m bored with it.’ I did that with my first clown show, which was the dumbest thing I could do. I’m a week from opening, I should be so stressed out right now – we have a puppy! – but I’ve relaxed a lot more, I set expectations realistically.

Bat Brains. Photo courtesy Sam Kruger

Patrick Langston’s top picks for the 2019 Ottawa Fringe Festival

Bat Brains or (let’s explore mental illness with vampires). Sam Kruger, ODD Box. Scud the vampire has a visitor. Kruger’s Fool Muun Komming at last year’s fest was an indelible sci-fi exploration of loneliness.

Stick or Wizard? Oli Weatherly, Studio 1201. A wizard and a guy who dreams of being a stick team up in this clown show.

2 Sherlock Holmes Adventures. John D. Huston & Kenneth Brown, Arts Court Theatre. Holmes, Watson, bad guys, cops and others come together in a pair of stories.

Entangled. Paul Rainville and David Frisch (play by Jacob Berkowitz), LabO. Carl Jung built his theories using the dreams of Nobel-prize winning quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli. Then Pauli died.

Mike Delamont stars in God Is A Scottish Drag Queen.

God is a Scottish Drag Queen. Mike Delamont, Arts Court Theatre. God shows up in a mauve power suit to skewer earthly foolishness. This wildly popular show is a late addition to the festival lineup.

Pinter Stew. John Koensgen and James Richardson with Graham Price as designer, Arts Court Theatre. Hard to say just what the show is going to be about, but this veteran threesome should do a bang-up job.

The Ottawa Fringe Festival runs June 13-23 in various downtown venues. Tickets & information: 613-232-6162,

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Patrick Langston covered English professional theatre for the Ottawa Citizen from 2008 to 2016. He also wrote about music, travel, the local housing industry and other subjects for the paper. Patrick continues to contribute to Ottawa Magazine, Diplomat and International Canada Magazine, and other publications.