Years ago (1947) in merry old Scotland, Edinburgh to be exact, small independent theatre groups wanted to present their shows at the Edinburgh International Festival but were snubbed by the more elite groups who looked upon them as anti-establishment and somewhat left of centre, which indeed, they were. So these smaller groups decided to showcase their alternative productions on the fringe of the ‘official’ site. Thus, the name was born. The Fringe Festival.

Fringe shows are very different from shows presented at the professional theatres. The offerings are usually irreverent, rude and outrageous. It has its own particular niche in our society. Since its inception here in Montreal 23 years ago, it has become one of the most anticipated Festivals taking place in the Plateau district. It is quite the cultural and social phenomenon.

Amy Blackmore is in her third year as the Director of the Montreal Fringe Festival and when asked about why she was not referred to as the Artistic Director she responded, “Because there is no artistic direction, we do have a strong mandate, though. We are all about diversity, affordability and artistic freedom”. The Fringe Fest is certainly one of the few places for emerging Anglo artists to show their work here in Montreal.

She also pointed out an interesting trend and that is that while the breakdown for entrants is 35% Anglo, 35 % Franco, 15 International, 15 Canadian, many Quebec entrants do not know where they fit in as they are neither French nor English.

Blackmore also recognized the company that has been consistent in its support of the Festival year after year. McAuslan Brewery. “We are so thankful to Peter McAuslan. He has been so generous over the years and to have a sponsor that shares our values, our love of the arts…I look up to someone like Peter McAuslan. Every time I hear him speak, I stop and listen.” She learned from him how important it is to keep the community strong by supporting local resources. Thus, much of what is sold at the Festival, such as the T-Shirts, is from local companies.

The productions are chosen by lottery, there is absolutely no censorship, it is open to all artists with ticket prices purposely low allowing those who might not otherwise be able to afford theatre the ability to see some of the most inventive and outrageous productions in the city. The participants pay a small entrance fee and for that they are given a venue to perform in, six performances, technicians are provided and they also attend workshops on how to promote their shows. They set their own ticket prices. And, most importantly, 100% of the gross is returned to the artist.

The idea of ‘fringing’ is not to see just one show but to take in numerous shows during the day. (Hence the emergency tote bag.)This takes some intense planning and verifying of hours that particular shows go on.  This year you can take in dance (13 companies), mime, drama, music and, in between shows, a stop at the Fringe Park at the corner of St-Laurent and Rachel for a bite to eat and a brew is a must.

In the Park: This year, for the first time, there is something special happening in the park: Kids Fringe on Sunday, June 16 12:00-16:00 and Sunday, June 23, 12:00-16:00. There will be face painting and theatrical activities for children twelve and under. Father’s Day will have its own special program so Dads and kids can enjoy each other’s company while ‘fringin’.

Piknic Electronik au Fringe, Saturday, June 15, 1- 7 pm. Piknic Electronik is a veritable 101 course to all the different delineations of electronic music.

On Saturday, June 22, 16:00-18:00 are the much anticipated Drag Races. Mado Lamotte hosts this knock-down, Drag out battle royale pitting Montreal’s best known professional drag queens against a bevy of six Fringe beauties in a series of skill-testing challenges.

POP Montreal will present 5 days of 400 bands in 45+ venues plus visual arts, films, panels, workshops, crafts, kids’ activities. Throughout the day on Saturday, June 22, Sea Oleena, Carpet, Maica Mia and on Sunday, June 23, The Sin and the Swoon, Rakam, Ramzi, Paula and The Moment.

The main Festival has its usual plethora of productions. This is just a sampling.

Jem Rolls – Jem Rolls Attacks the Silence, Peter and Chris – Peter and Chris Explore their Bodies, Yana Kesala – My Heart Needs Glasses, Jon Bennett – Fire in the Meth Lab, Sam S. Mullins-Weaksauce, Zack Adams- Zack Adams: Zack to the Future, Dan Bingham – Now That I Have Your Attention, Keir Cutler – Teaching Shakespeare.

And new this year are, The Balding (Jeff’s in his early twenties, going bald, and leaving a path of destruction in his wake. Will he lose his virginity and stop his hairline from receding?) And the highly anticipated SciFi /Dance Show, Seduce All Humans (A fantastic, sextastic romp through space-time and intergalactic affairs.)

Go on – I dare you to take in this highly diverse, in your face Festival that will deliver a very different kind of theatre experience. Not all is excellence, much is experimental, all of it worthy.  It may provoke, it may shock. It will certainly provide you with a different perception of life. – Or it should.

The Montreal St Ambroise Fringe Festival is on from June 3 to 23.   
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