It’s #wpgfringe time, set off the fireworks y’all!

Stormageddon

So last night’s megastorm managed to hit just late enough into my baseball game that we didn’t get to play much but were too far along to fit in another show before our planned late night outings. Oh well, at least I got noodles!

 

Girl’s End: Zombie Apocalypse- Venue #6

It’s unfinished. That much is obvious even without reading about it being a work in progress. The last 1/3 of an already pretty short (~40m) show feels flimsy and the ending is at best tacked on.  Despite this I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know who likes goofy musical theatre because the songs are great and the spunky performance from one woman powerhouse Jenna Warriner makes it totally worth it. Bring it back as a finish product please folks.

3.5/5

 

Fruit Flies Like a Banana – Venue #10

The unclassifiable genre for this one is pretty accurate. Music, Dance, Performance Art? Whatever you want to call it, these three multitalented performers from Boston spend an hour barrelling their way through one heck of a show. As a recovering Bass Trombone player myself I had a soft spot for the day in the life of a bass trombone bit, but most bits were great and everything was at the very least interesting. I thought it was hilarious that they pulled out an old radio free vestibule bit that I was pretty sure only my high school friend and I had ever heard of.

4.5/5 (admittedly probably not to the taste of people not into music)

 

Happiness – Venue #8

This didn’t do as much for me as it seems to for some people. It’s a tale of two self-help product pushers facing the biggest launch of their lives just as their facade of self confidence begins to crumble. The performances were great but something about it didn’t quite grab me, thinking back now though I’m willing to admit I may just not have been in the right headspace for it at that moment.

3/5 (others feel differently)

 

Gossamer Obsessions: Wilt -Venue #2

This one on the other hand I was in perfect headspace for.  Fractured parables for life (and death?) A mysterious (and evil?) apple. Pretty much indescribable but delightfully weird and funny. Not much more can be said without spoiling things. Like “an Iron Maiden made of pillows… the punishment is DECADENCE.” I can get behind that.

4/5

 

In Search of Cruise Control – Venue #1

I was never able to get in to see James Gangl’s previous show ‘Sex, Religion and other Hang-ups’ but I heard pretty great things. His followup is a weird and emotionally charged beast. The story of his transition from guilty catholic teen to giving his nephew the proper sex talk he never got is an entertaining one before a sharp sharp turn into a revelation that shatters (purposefully) the easy ryhtym of the show and suddenly gives new meaning to some of the earlier passages. It’s a testament to Gangl’s skill as a storyteller that he takes the audiences shock and weaves it back into the previous narrative to bring us full circle. It’s one heck of an accomplishment in my opinion and I hope it’s as cathartic a show as it seems to be for him.

5/5

 

DND Improv – Revisit

My cousin has been a fan in previous years and since this was the only night he could hit fringe we checked in for another installment. I stand by my earlier comments about possible staleness (I really do hope they take a year off while the GSAC redev is going on) but this episode was much much better.

 

Dr. Caligari’s Cabaret of Bullshit

For those who have never attended, the cabaret is a fundraiser traditionally held at midnight and involving a swathe of performers from across the fringe. It’s heavy on the out of town performers and (at least as was explained to me years ago by a performer) is meant as a thank you to the city. This year it was organized by Tara Travis/Penny Ashton and other mainstays. Lighting is provided by audience members using flashlights and a good chunk of the audience is performers who may or may not be on stage at some point. Bits are esoteric and numerous. Last night’s show included mashups of shows, a ‘who’s had the worst fringe’ faceoff between accident victim Fraz and review assassinated Jon Bennett in a bunny costume, rants from TJ Dawe and Jem Rolls, Cameryn Moore and Tonya Miller getting into a feminist sex call faceoff and an opera performance! Honestly you never know what you’re going to see.

Thoughtfully always held at a licensed venue too! If you’ve never been make plans for next year (and don’t do as I did and try to go to work the next day)


 

Sadly we’re now into the last few days of fringe and the masochist in me  won’t let himself skip tonight’s inevitable blue bomber shellacking by the Stampeders so it’s going to be one lunchtime show for me today. Also sleep because I got home from the cabaret just before 2 and couldn’t fall asleep until 3… then had a staff meeting first thing.

Plans for the weekend include catching up on a few fun sounding shows I’ve missed, checking out a few people who impressed me at the cabaret and attending the final (ever?) performance of the current lineup of Outside Joke and indeed probably the final performance of Outside Joke in their current improvised musical format as it’s Leif who is committing more fully to his new life in Edmonton (boo.)

Hope to see you fringing!

 

 

How high is my laundry pile?

There has been more concrete rumblings about the sad state of Fringe reviewing in the city this year. Due to recent choices by the freep CBC has become the defacto Review importance champ but they are either not reviewing EVERYTHING or doing what they’re doing extremely slowly, having the Metro as a print partner is a nice choice though. And while the Winnipeg Free Press IS reviewing every show this year, they are maintaining their infuriating pay wall. That said, at least they have mechanisms to sort and filter reviews whereas CBC is one long “press to load more” page of nonsense. The CBC actually used to have a pretty great fringe site but either by lack of budget or non-flexibility of their CMS (most likely both imo) they now have a garbage web experience.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why the Freep feels the need for a paywall as they struggle in this day and age, but they need to make an exception. As our only ‘good’ newspaper it would be really nice to see them make this SPECIAL section a free feature of the website. Not only would this make them relevant again (right now people are only mentioning the WFP reviews if they got a bad CBC one,) it would be better for out of town visitors and might be a good showpiece on why locals (young people in particular) might want to subscribe for their arts coverage.

In terms of general fringe health, attendance was down a fair bit for the first few days but that’s likely at least partly a product of pretty changeable weather for chunks of the weekend. Things definitely won’t be setting a new record but seem healthy at least.

 

Everybody Dies In December – Venue #11

The new show from Nancy Kenny creator of ‘Roller Derby Saved My Soul’ and the documentary ‘On The Fringe.’ It’s a very different show than Roller Derby and I think that might be what made her reviews a bit less than stellar. We join Claire the Mortician as she bares her soul while preparing her clients for their last visit with the living and enjoys a last conversation with them as well. It’s a slower paced, darker comedy and one I quite enjoyed, though I can see why it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

4/5

 

Curious Contagious – Venue #1

My second shadow puppetry extravaganza of the fringe. I’m ashamed to say I dozed off at one point. That’s mostly on me and my somewhat ragged state sleep-wise. That said, as gifted as these two women are at the various techniques they use in their unicorn tale I felt as if certain sequences went on a bit too long. Again that may be on me as this definitely shaded more towards the dance side rather than the story/comedy side of Space Hippo. Still, I really enjoyed it and the music was great too.

4/5

 

Falling Awake – Venue #2

Two gifted performers delighting the packed audience with a show that’s all physical comedy with elements of magic, mime and mystery. What’s more they survived a near catastrophic set collapse with grace and a lot of laughs. I hope we see them again next year.

4.5/5

 

President Bear – Venue #8

Their 2 star review might have been a bit harsh but it was also pretty on the nose. There’s a lot of potential here, particularly amongst the female cast members, but not a lot of polish. Most of the sketches outstayed their welcome to some degree and could have benefited from either more ruthless self editing or a workshop with an outside writer. Three or four more quality sketches and probably around 25% cut from the existing ones and they’d be looking at a 4-5 star review. Their filmed interstitials were great but you can’t rely on those too much. If they take their experience at this festival and learn from it we might have another great sketchcom group on our hands.

2.75/5

 

As for that laundry pile… let’s just say if you don’t hear from me after the Fringe it probably became sentient and ate me.

Another Fringe, a lot less time…

So we’re on day six of the 2016 Winnipeg Fringe Festival and I haven’t posted any reviews here yet, what gives?

Truth be told I’ve just been too busy at work and combined with a late start (thanks so much to the CFL for scheduling two bomber home games this week) I just haven’t had time other than a few twitter musings. Still, I’m a bunch of shows in at this point so let’s do a rundown with some very very quick reviews.

One Woman Sex and the City – Venue 4

Super energetic performer, non stop energy. As someone who hasn’t seen SATC after season 2 except for the occasional ep I didn’t get as much out of it as a lot of the audience but the script and performance won me over anyway.

4/5

 

Jupiter Rebellion with Zach Zultana – Venue 7

Even four days later this is still the standout of the fringe for me so far. Jeff Leard paints a vivid picture and does his best to create his sci-fi epic right inside your head. The fact that he does this as one man on a tiny spare stage with a minimum of lighting and great physicality makes it a must see.

4.5/5

 

5-Step Guide to being German 2 – Venue 1

I’d heard good things about Paco Erhard’s previous effort and it was indeed an enjoyable time. Nothing too groundbreaking just a pleasant standup routine based on national perceptions. Is either being nice or at least overly generous with his credit on Canadian geography skills though (sadly.)

3.5/5

 

The Beguiling Buffoonery of Jim Chiminey – Venue 26 (the place with the stairs)

God I hate this venue, the stairs are one thing but it’s more the reaching the top and finding yourself standing there on the steps in an area with no a/c or even airflow. It’s a throwback to the bad old days of fringe (die forever Ragpickers upstairs venue) but then you get into the venue proper and the A/C chills you to the bone. Luckily everyone’s favourite Shelby  Bond is there with an adorable physical clown show to lift your spirits to the rafters. There really isn’t any describing it, just go and smile.

4/5

 

One Man Dark Knight – Venue 1

Actually the Dark Knight trilogy. if you’ve seen a Charles Ross show before you know what to expect. Rapid fire, great impressions, great parody and asides. Being as I’m only really a fan of the middle film of this trilogy I enjoyed it less than his previous efforts but he’s still a gifted performer. That said, have to knock off some points for the sound, the combination of a lot of very whispery impressions and the less than stellar acoustics of the 3/4 closed off Mainstage made chunks of the show inaudible. This one would have been better suited for Warehouse I think.

4/5

 

Peter N’ Chris – Here Lies Chris – Venue 16

What at first seems like a departure from their norm into more of a standard sketch show is quickly revealed to have an overall narrative as well.  I more or less stumbled into seeing these guys for the first time during the overnight fringe years back and haven’t missed a show since. This one is probably my favourite since the first. Their incredible physicality and seemingly effortless charisma makes this show just fly by.

4.5/5

 

Papa Squat – Venue 13

The sequel show to the fantastic Ain’t True & Uncle False brings us a touching love story folk tale from the trailer park down by the Pea Punching plant. It’s an indescribable mix of story, song and feelings dragged down by a venue I despise. I get that the fringe is hurting for venues this year with Alloway Hall shut down and Planetarium Auditorium not being used (not sure why? is the construction affecting it as well?) but putting official shows out off this far in an incredibly cold hall with threadbare broken spring seats is just sad (this made worse by the fact I saw three shows in a row there.) This is the kind of venue you use for a BYOV so that they can schedule a few shows to maximum effect not for a main venue. Of course now that I say that I realize I’m just assuming it’s NOT a BYOV.

4.5/5

 

Burn Job – Venue 13

It’s TJ Dawe’s latest, what more do you need?   Ok, well if you need a bit more I’ll just say it’s a bit more of a return to a broader story and less focused on his personal involvement with new age personality stuff (though that comes up a bit as well.)

4/5

 

Best Picture – Venue 13

I’m finding it hard to say anything here. It was perfectly enjoyable and the cast certainly gave it their all but…  I’ve seen Tara Travis and Jon Patterson be so incredibly great in other stuff that I found this somewhat disappointing. It might just be that it seems to have been a last minute replacement for the show that was supposed to be in this slot (The Paladin) and I believe Tara was only filling in for someone else. Between this and Fraz apparently being injured and unable to appear in 2-Hander it’s not a great festival for RibbitRepublic.

3.25/5

 

SiddiqiJones – Venue 11

These guys tried hard it was a weirdly dead audience even by sunday afternoon show and they were getting absolutely no energy back. I’ve heard from multiple people that they’re talented but it just wasn’t working on this occasion. I really don’t think this a great venue for improv either which doesn’t help. Would see them again but this particular performance was solidly meh.

2.5/5

 

Space Hippo – Venue 8

Last year I saw these two present the very weird but very neat show ONI a very very japanese shadow puppetry extravaganza. I thought it was great but needed some work on pacing/production. They’ve put in that work and this show is pretty darned fantastic. In fact I hesitate to even call it shadow puppetry because that doesn’t really do it justice/might scare people off. If that fantastic poster hasn’t convinced you to give it a shot then listen to me and try it out (and if you love the poster they have pristine ones available for a donation.)

4.5/5

 

Outside Joke – Venue 18

Brilliant as always. Jane Testar’s ridiculous expression as she presented then played the maracas made my day. Seriously see them this year as it’s the last time (officially) that Leif will be doing the music.

4.5/5

 

DnDImprov – Venue 18

It pains me to say it, but I really wasn’t feeling it this year, we’ll see if that changes next performance I go to. Part of that is a few of the die hards, one woman in particular yelling out crap pretty constantly like ‘FIGHT’  or commenting on a scene. We didn’t come here to listen to youDefinitely wasn’t helped by multiple people going to the bathroom or leaving via the front of the stage and letting the big door slam either.  Performance wise it wasn’t cutting it for me either as people I consider the strength of the show didn’t seem to be given enough to do. I think they’re really missing Fraz Wiest too as his characters are always great at bringing the anarchy to the show.

I’m sort of torn on whether the multimedia stuff is really great either, the Windows 10 reminder was a pretty good unintentional laugh however.


 

Overall it’s been a good fringe so far but it has definitely felt ‘down’ attendance wise (sporadic intense rain can do that) so get out and see some shows! More to come!

The post-mortem

The Mystery of Krumhorn Castle – Kiss the Giraffe – Venue #1

I have been hot and cold on Joseph Aragon musicals over the years. Some of them are brilliant productions produced to perfection and featuring stellar casts, others have really let me down and been merely ok. I’m happy to say that he knocked this one out of the park, both in terms of creating a fun, family friendly story with catchy hummable tunes and in casting a group of actors who can project on a large stage, sing ensemble parts with power and flair (see my review of Chess for the counterpoint here.) This show is basically a 14 year old’s idea of a great monster/horror movie with kung fu orphans, weird monsters, a mad scientist and a portal to another world. As mentioned the singing is great, the choreography has the cast using the entire stage and clever multi use set dressing keeps everything looking great on a budget. Kudos to everyone involved.

 

Big Stupid Improv Show – Venue #21

The BSIS is always a fun time but definitely varies in style and tone based on the cast for any particular show. Since the cast is also entirely dependent on who happens to be free/wants to perform your mileage may vary.  On this occasion we got both guys from Crumbs (Steve from Crumbs runs the thing,) a parking lots guy, a guy named Mike who I feel I should know but can’t remember, Caity Curtis from Steven’s scripted play and Toby and Robyn from Outside Joke. As usual they played director’s cut long form improv and produced a great show for us.

 

Hot Thespian Action:Back in Black – GSAC

After taking a summer off (boo) and losing a member to her solo career (double boo) HTA is back with a completely new show. Near as I can tell there were absolutely zero sequel sketches in this one which was nice to see. These folks remain the gold standard of Winnipeg sketchcom, here’s hoping Jacquie comes back once in a while for a show though.

 

D&D Improv 8 finale – GSAC

The annual bloodbath episode. The story is concluded, the special effects are used up (though I feel like the blood bottles were underused or simply not used when they should have been this year), most everyone dies and the cast takes their final bows. Toby Hughes’ quizmaster death was the highlight for me when (as he succumbed to the mind flayer) he goaded his killer into eating his brains only to reveal in his death monologue that the flayer would have to speak in rhyming verse from then on. Unfortunately that was somewhat early on in the show and I personally think Toby is one of their best stage fighters. Still a great time though with an energetic audience that the cast obviously adores. The finale is going to keep selling out earlier and earlier each year.  Good news for fans though, they’ll be doing a fall show again this year as part of an Outside Joke season of yuks performance.

 

Overheard in line: “I just saw the most amazing show… 10 guitars.” TEN? I guess Chase Padgett really needs to step up his game for next fringe.

Highlight: Has to be the D&D finale for its total wild and crazy bloodbath nature but this was a great day.

 

Sunday:

For the last day of fringe I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d get out or not. The last day is always so sad as the crews start ripping everything down the instant the last show starts. Combined with that was the fact that there were no best of fests this year, often the last day is where I make an effort to see one best of fest show that I’ve missed earlier in the week and between the line/show I’m usually done after that one show. With the super pass this year though I wasn’t going to pass up a few more free shows. In the end I decided the best way to mitigate the sadness was to skip old market square and finally catch some things at MTYP @ the forks. I really hope the artists out at the Forks make enough to make their outlays worthwhile. When Gemma Wilcox is only half full it makes me somewhat curious re: attendance numbers at these venues. I don’t know why but the Forks seems so remote from the rest of the fest even though PTE/U of W aren’t that much closer and GSAC is farther but it definitely is the case for myself and others I spoke to.

 

Magical Mystery Detour – Gemma Wilcox – Venue #21

Gemma Wilcox is a serious fringe star and this show represents the final chapter in the trilogy of her one woman shows (though they are all stand-alone as well.) While I personally didn’t like this one quite as much as her previous offerings, her energetic portrayal of a myriad of characters still won me over.

 

Barely Living – Shelby Bond (& friends) – Venue #21

Shelby genuinely seems like a great guy. Everyone I know who is friends with him seems to reiterate this. I always really enjoyed him in his Sound and Fury days (along with Vinnie,) I really enjoyed his solo show and his One Man Back to the Future.  This show, while it had its moments, was not of the same class. The acting was far from even (prep underdone perhaps?) the writing could probably have used another pass (a few of the jokes were far far too obvious) and the addition of a makeup artist to transform an audience member into the undead girl of Shelby’s dreams was fun but really not enough of a gimmick to make the rest work flawlessly. Still fun and worth a freebie but I hope he comes back with something better next year.

 

Big Stupid Improv Show – Venue #21

Since I was over here anyway I decided to pack in another BSIS in hopes that a bunch of performers might come out to say goodbye to the festival. Seems like they were over doing karaoke instead as we had only 5 people. Steve and Caity again of course joined by Fraz Wiest, Mike from the previous show and someone else I’m completely spacing on. While I liked the stories this time round I think they probably should have either gone with three directors and longer cuts or used a completely different structure as (at least in my mind) five people is too few for directors cut as everyone pretty much has to be in every scene all the time. There’s no quick creativity recharge breaks in the wings.

 

Post-Mortem

Sadly that marks the end of probably my favourite fringe ever. Even though I didn’t get to see as many shows with friends as I would have liked, I did get to see a new record number (46, of which some reviews are missing up here) and a quality level that was simply amazing. I know that my lack of stinkers was partially due to scheduling pretty much everything and never having a window where I’ve been turned away from a sellout and choose something at random; Yet it still seems remarkable that I haven’t seen anything this year that I would ‘un-see’ if given the opportunity.

Fringe is, by far, my favourite time of year in this city. The exchange is so alive with people nearly every hour of the day. I can skip out of work and take in a show on my lunch hour and get back to my desk with something from a food truck. I can more or less live down here for the entire festival. And now? It’s back to the real world I suppose. Back to paying attention to the terrible Bombers, back to home reno work, back to actually eating a bit healthier instead of enjoying yet another taco or pizza or butter chicken in the beer tent. Yet at the same time I take inspiration from this time of year. Once the house is shaped up a bit I may finally get around to taking that improv class to get my theatre chops back. I may even start writing that thing I always wanted to write (yes vague but whatever! Secret!)

To the staff and volunteers, thank you. To CBC Manitoba for the super pass, super thank you. But above all to the writers and performers: Thank you for the entertainment, the energy, the eye opening inspiration. You make everything come alive, in the words of this year’s slogan. We are ALL fringefamily here!

See you in 2016!

Two Days Left! Get out and fringe!

Just some quick reviews today, it’s late and I have a long day planned tomorrow.

Daddy Issues – Peter Aguero – RRC

This was simply intense storytelling. Aguero is a longtime contributor to The Moth podcast/storyslams and for this show has taken a number of those stories to combine into a fringe show. As you might guess from the title the focus is strongly on his relationship with his father though we also get some glimpses into his upbringing in general. Here’s hoping he makes good on his promise to come back next year.

 

Snack Music – Snafu Theatre – Venue #8

A very different show. Improvised music, dance and kitchen utensil puppetry based on stories from the audience. I’m sure they’re always great but I felt like we got an extra amazing collection of stories for our instalment and the addition of an ASL interpreter and a strong deaf contingent in the audience made for a unique experience in my fringe travels. These are some gifted performers and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t get to Kitt and Jane last year despite the recommendations.

 

The Orchid and the Crow – Daniel Tobias – Venue #1

Better known round these parts as ‘german’ punk clown Otto Rot of Die Roten Punkte, Tobias presents his solo show more or less as himself. It’s a tale of his upbringing as an atheist Jew in Australia, his diagnosis as subsequent defeat  of testicular cancer and his onetime love affair with Lance Armstrong. The narrative is augmented by some really great songs co-written with Clare Bartholemew (The other half of DRP) and an oddly fascinating animation sequence with the titular characters. This was admittedly not what I was expecting but was one of my favourites of the festival.

 

God is a Scottish Drag Queen 3– Mike Delamont – Venue #6

Another one where there isn’t much to say at this point. An hour spent in the company of Delamont’s god is always a blast and this show was as on point as ever. Definitely worth catching if you have a chance or go see the remount of parts 1/2 at the Pantages in October.

 

Die Rotten Punkte – Venue #1

Just to make the Orchid and the Crow seem weirder to my brain in the aftermath I decided to catch the late night Die Roten Punkte ‘best of’ show. As ever Astrid and Otto were a blast as they played out their mix of physical/musical comedy on stage. If you’ve never seen them they are ‘german’ orphans who learned to play together as the punk/rock band now known as Die Roten Punkte – The Red Dots. My only warning is not to sit in the front row if you’re a shy man as you might end up with a face full of  Astrid Rot.

 

Overheard in line: “Oh, I’ve already flyered you? Have some candy then.” – The nice lady from Hitler’s Little Abomination

Highlight: Snack Music, but only just. If I was able to catch another show of theirs this fest I would.

Cabaret Hangover

 

I honest to god have no idea how I managed 4 more shows Thursday with the ridiculously small amount of sleep I got after getting home from the cabaret and taking care of everything/getting up for work at the regular time. I probably should have just taken off an hour for more sleep instead of checking out a so-so show at 3:30.

 

One complaint in general for the fringe this year is that for this show the volunteers at the door were incredibly slow. Venue 1 is one of the bigger houses (275) and CKS is a popular (darned close to sold out even at lunch.) Advance tickets must have been sold out or close to it as well… yet fifteen minutes before show time as the doors open we have one volunteer checking the list slowly, scanning for the name, not finding it, scanning again, finding it, slowly stamping two tickets and tearing them, finally moving on to the next person. Unsurprisingly the line to pick up advance tickets stretches around the corner and is NOT moving. Meanwhile the volunteer doing regular ticket sales is just sitting there. It was honestly getting to the point where I almost pulled out the super pass and got 2 new tickets just to make sure I’d get in (if it hadn’t been so obviously close to a sell out I would have, but I didn’t want to be a douche.) Eventually as it was 3 mins to curtain and the line was still 20 people deep someone else started stamping the tickets so at least we got that part out of this volunteer’s process but yegods it took forever. I wish this was an isolated incident but this has been the case for any busy show I’ve seen at venue 1 this year, Chess was also particularly bad.

So Dearest Winnipeg Fringe, if we’re sticking with this ticket pickup method for next year I’d like to ask the following for busy shows in large venues:

  1. Train your volunteers to split up the duties better, no reason cash sales guy couldn’t have been ripping and stamping tickets ahead of time when not busy, most venues do this and it’s particularly important in these cases.
  2. When advance tickets are sold out for a 150+ seat venue maybe consider sending a rover over 15 mins before that showtime to help out?
  3. Not to be impolite about this but perhaps your faster volunteers could be at bigger/busier venues? If it’s the first time someone’s done ticketing maybe assign them to Son of Warehouse or Cinematheque?
  4. In the same vein, most of your volunteers are on the mature side and don’t have the greatest eyesight anymore, maybe print your advance ticket lists with better spacing and a less eye-strainy font size?

 

On to the review nonsense…

Channelling Kevin Spacey – Wolf and William – Venue #1

This one is from the same folks as Becoming Banksy and definitely shows the same comic sensibility while also having the tightness I thought was missing from the newer show. Same m.o. as well with the one actor playing the lead and his companion playing every other character. In the show sad-sack Charlie decides that he’s been channelling Kevin Spacey’s sad-sack roles and decides to go to the opposite extreme and loose the raging ID of Pacino’s middle period. What really sells it is his Pacino impression as he’s quite good at getting that set of the jaw and raging crazy eyes look.

 

Hey 90s Kids You’re Old – Hole Punch Prods – Venue #10

Packed for a half priced afternoon show with an enthusiastic crowd (that to be quite honest seemed to lean on the too young side for a lot of the references) the Planetarium Auditorium A/C still manages to be overpowering and chilly. A few of the sketches are quite brilliant and most are decent to good but a bit of pruning or at least some extra work might have elevated this to a can’t miss show. Unfortunately the sketches that miss the mark do so rather badly and drag down the rest of the laughs as a result, though iIt’s hard to be too harsh when the ending dance number is so enthusiastic.

 

Oni – Mochinosha – Venue 26

It’s quite a climb to get to venue 26 and given the heat and humidity in the stairwell I was prepared to die of heat stroke during the show. Thankfully once you’re in the room itself things are much cooler and you can settle in to see a delightfully weird shadow puppet extravaganza. Nothing is hidden in the venue so you’re able to see the two performers work the puppets or simply concentrate on the screen as you wish. It’s naughty and silly but also beautiful as the intricate hand made puppets tell the story.

Butt Kapinski – Venue 26

Later that night at the same venue I caught film noir audience participation extravaganza Butt Kapinski. This one is a weird and delightful show but pretty much anything I can say about it would spoil the experience/surprise so just go!

Overheard in line:

  • One lady upon reaching the top of the first 3 flights of stairs and finding a new set to climb: Oh my god, there’s more, I should have brought a water bottle.

Highlight:

Butt Kapinski – Just a ton of fun with an inventive and hilarious performer.

The Run Up to the Cabaret.

It’s been a couple more laid back days on the Winnipeg Fringe warpath but I capped it off by catching the “secret” Cabaret for the first time in a few years (so secret it’s in the program grid now.)

 

Graham Clark Reads the Phone Book – RRC

It might sound odd, but this was both exactly what it sounded like AND extremely entertaining. Clark has an affable demeanour and quick wit that fuels the show well. Like many standups that play the Canadian fringe circuit he has gone for a show with an express theme, something that many of them stick to far too rigidly when there’s no need. In Clark’s case it makes for some very weird laughs as he uses the obsolescence of the phone book in this day and age as the starting point for his set. The latter half of the show mostly uses random browsing as a starting point for quick asides or runners with the audience that made the hour fly by. Lots of fun.

 

 

Ain’t True and Uncle False – Venue #7 Cinematheque

Something about a noon show in a (let’s be honest here) shitty venue (at least in summer where it’s always hot when full) that makes you just want to doze off. I was fighting it the entire time and that’s nothing against Paul Strickland.  His tales of a weird and wonderful Kentucky trailer park where everyone works at the pea punching plant and the gardens are made of crockery were engrossing and his energy was hopping. Eventually my brain listened to me and I was able to give him the attention he deserved as he had a near sell-out crowd hanging on every word.

 

 

The Exclusion Zone – Martin Dockery –Venue #4

I don’t understand how Martin Dockery functions as a human being. He is such a frenetic and energetic story teller. When doing his one man shows he very rarely stops talking and even then usually only to take a sip of water. The words are rapid fire, the hand gestures constant, the story… is magic. Weaving together tales of a trip to Pripyat, meeting a hero at burning man and a dissection of the creative process definitely isn’t easy, yet he does and takes us all on a hell of a ride.

 

Dr. Caligari’s Cabaret of the World – Special Event at MTC Warehouse

This year’s cabaret was a hoot with at times seemingly as many people on stage as in the audience despite a nearly full house. What is there really to say other than give some highlights:

Most of the cast going all high school musical to make Jem Rolls smile, T.J. Dawe giving us chocolate, Fraz’s cosby, Otto from DRP and Chase Padgett duelling guitars, an energetic sweaterbirth and well… pretty much everything else. Only downside being the lady two rows behind me who consumed roughly 5 beers by my count and who felt the need to scream her favourite performers names multiple times while they were on stage… seriously lady, nobody came here to listen to you.

Sorry, there was a second downside too, it went til 2 and I had to be at my desk this morning… yikes.

 

Overheard in line:

Oh look, it’s (Insert Performer name here) as seemingly half the performers in town were either participating in (or watching) the cabaret.

Probably the best day yet…

It’s amazing how much fringing advance tickets let you pack in. I’m still planning on seeing a few spur of the moment shows in the last days of the fringe but being able to pack them close together and not worry about getting in, and doing so for free, is amazing. How much do I have to donate to get one of these golden tickets next year?

Three Men in a Boat – Pea Green Theatre – Venue #4

So incredibly British (for a Toronto based group) and well crafted. I’ve never read Jerome K. Jerome but I have seen various Three Men in a Boat inspired things over the years growing up with a Brit grandmother. I more or less knew what to expect but I wasn’t really anticipating it to be pulled off quite so well. Absolutely great and worth seeing if you enjoy quick word british comedy, but if that’s not your thing you’re not going to be converted here.

 

Broadway to Obscurity – Eric Gutman – Venue #16 PTE

An exploration of the personal career arc of the performer as he goes from being the dog in a school production to joining one of the biggest shows in the world on Broadway, then abandons it all. Gutman’s story is peppered with great music, a few spot on parodies and an engagement with the audience that many a fringe performer could learn from. For someone on his first fringe tour he seems to be enjoying the experience. I don’t mean this in at all a pejorative sense but this is the kind of fringe show everyone should bring their mom to.

 

Jon Bennett:Fire in the Meth Lab – Jon Bennett – Venue #9

If you’ve seen either of Jon’s previous shows you know what to expect: a mix of comedy and pathos based on his own experience and augmented by clever use of multimedia. This show is probably his best, and is definitely his most raw. He chronicles his childhood with his older brother Tim, and tries to trace what might have led Tim down the self-destructive path that left him in jail.

 

Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany – Shadows Obscured-  Venue #4

My early favourite for my personal best play of the fringe. Ingrid Garner presents her grandmother’s story: an American family moving to Berlin just as Hitler invades Poland and her struggle to survive. From dull apprehension to suddenly being marked as an enemy, from seeing her first dead body to struggling with the aftermath of the bombings and the Russian invasion, Garner fully inhabits her role. We watch as this young girl becomes a woman under circumstances that would appal anyone and yet survives and rediscovers life even as she realizes she no longer fits in with her fellow American children she left so many years before.

I was absolutely blown away by this play and I’m hoping to grab the book on which it’s based soon. If you enjoyed Spiral Dive/Letters from Wartime etc. this one is for you.

 

Overheard in line:

“Why can’t she do the show without the projector?”    (Well I guess we’ll see after we see the show won’t we idiot)

 

My Highlight:

Eleanor’s Story was fantastic, I’m so glad they fixed the tech issue in time for the play to go forward.

 

Up next:

Graham Clark Reads the Phone Book and 6 Guitars

 

Fringe Weekend Round Up: Storytelling and Drag Queens

It’s been a pretty stellar year so far at the Fringe, no real stinkers, honestly nothing I’d give below a 3/5 if I were handing out stars. I’ve even gotten more companionship for shows than I expected. Here’s a quickie roundup of everything I’ve seen up til sunday night:

 

Trampoline – Weeping Spoon – Venue #3

Trampoline is a sweet and sentimental romantic comedy with a tinge of music and two winning leads. Comparisons to Garden State seem to be the thing amongst reviewers… I can see it but I definitely enjoyed this more. The two leads (Shane Adamczak and Whitney Richards) are a winning duo that really make you care about their characters. Expect plenty of Awwww moments from the audience.

 

Hunks – Venue #4

A couple months ago this quintet started putting on monthly shows at the Park Theatre down the street from my new place. I’ve been meaning to go but they are always the same night as softball or some other activity. It’s just as well it seems because their fringe offering this year is essentially a “best of” package of those first shows and it was all new to me. Really great sketchcom… Inventive, weird and just a hell of a lot of fun.

 

Searching for Dick – Tara Travis – Venue #19

I’ve long been a fan of Tara’s work with Monster Theatre. The wives of Henry VIII was a tour de force for her and last year’s puppet Agatha Christie number was incredibly charming. She has a stage presence that is simultaneously welcoming and comedic which really helps draw the audience into her stories. This year’s journey is definitely something quite different than the show previously mentioned as she tells are more personal story about her visits with mediums on her quest to speak with her deceased in-laws to be prior to her wedding. Whether you think spirit communication is poppycock or not (and most of you know where I fall on that) Travis engages so strongly with the audience that you want to believe in her conversations. Plus she bakes brownies!

 

The Seven Lives of Louis Riel – Monster Theatre – King’s Head

I’ve seen this show before and quite enjoyed it, but it was definitely rough. Ryan Gladstone explained that he’d had trouble finishing the script about the father of Manitoba and had really only finished it several days prior. I’d heard he’d revised it and polished it so I decided to give it another go (the fact that it was around dinner time at the King’s Head mid-long fringe day didn’t hurt either.) I’m glad I did. What was a good show is now a great one and Ryan’s enthusiasm for storytelling makes the manic hour of seven stories fly by.

 

D&D Improv 8 – GSAC

I don’t really have to “review” this do I? Saturday’s show was definitely an eventful one though as the second early death seemed to throw a big wrench into the works. It’s easy to see why as it seemed as if the character in question is meant to be the narrative driver of the show. The rest of the show saw our (NEW!) DM freaking out and whispered conversations as they looked to retool the plan going forward. I wished I’d booked a ticket to Sunday night’s show to find out how well that worked out but I guess I’ll see at the finale.

Highlight this year is definitely the Beholder puppet that Chadd was running, that thing is fantastic.

 

Sunday:

Two Ruby Knockers and One Jaded Dick – Venue #4

I believe this is Tim Motley’s third go round here with Dirk Darrow’s film noir stylings and he certainly seems to have a regular audience full of fans at this point. It’s a long way from the first time I saw him in a 10 person audience at MTC up the Alley.  His experience shows and the characters film noir patter is perfect even as he ad-libs with the audience and occasionally has his slight of hand thrown off by slowpoke audience “volunteers.”

 

 

Becoming Banksy – Venue #3

The tale of an Englishman fleeing a failed marriage via holiday in NYC only to be mistaken for the popular street artist. Let me start by saying that I enjoyed this.  The performers were talented and the story was cute… That said I really felt like the script wasn’t quite there. Some bits hit well, others were less successful and the whole show dragged a bit in spots. I would imagine that was the point of trying it out on the fringe circuit though and one more solid rewrite will probably have it ready for its New York debut.

 

Lord of the Thrones – Sound and Fury (and some guy named Ryan) – WECC

The CBC reviewer somewhat savaged this year’s Sound and Fury production and while I don’t think it was quite that bad I have to admit that I don’t think they’re a must see for me anymore. The performers are talented and energetic but their show feels less finely tuned every year.  Whereas the occasional blown line was once a planned or unplanned laugh point they are now so common as to make one wonder about lack of rehearsal time. I get it, they have a massive fan base with seemingly endless good will towards them and all three guys are genuinely nice guys… at some point it would be nice to see them deliver a honed and polished (if endearingly silly and slapdash) performance again.

Worth noting, the using a volunteer from the audience as the hero thing was a cute idea… and on the night I went the guy they chose was very game and into it… I could see this completely being death if you got a stiff up there though. The show just relies on him too much.

 

Marathon – T.J. Dawe –  WECC

How does he do this? Seventy five minutes, multiple narratives, all twisting together until you walk out with a sense of wonder. A picture painted with words, a comforting cadence and the occasional movement , you’re spellbound. When people ask me “What is fringe?” TJ’s pieces are always a go to reference in my mind. I love my comedy, I love a good drama or improv… but it just isn’t fringe to me without a storyteller and Dawe remains the best. It’s good to have him back in Winnipeg.

 

The Birdcage – Venue #6

It’s the movie, more or less scene for scene but with fringe production values. That doesn’t tell the whole story though. The performers bring their own touch to the characters and the show incorporates some local drag queens to often hilarious effect. The Christine Baranski role is played by a HEAVILY pregnant (and nowhere near old enough looking) actress lending her line about not being maternal an extra laugh.

I do have a few complaints, one would be that I think Val (the son) comes across as a complete dick in this version instead of just desperate. The Barbara character is also even more of a non-entity than in the film. And honestly, I get that fringe budgets are slim as hell but I think there could have been a bit more of an effort to create a south beach vibe for the opening/exit staging. I get that neon is out… but a pink light doesn’t cut it.

Overheard in line:

(10 Minutes before James & Jamesy started) What do you mean you’re sold out?

 

My Highlight:

Tough one, I can’t really pick one this time.

Trampoline, Searching for Dick and Marathon were all completely stellar though.

 

Flyers Received: Mid 80s

 

Up next:

Three Men in a boat, Broadway to Obscurity, Fire in the Meth Lab and Eleanor’s Story, boy free advance tickets is amazing.

 

Friday Follies

Chess – Venue #1

I’ve always been a fan of that incredibly 80s hit spawned out of the musical “One Night in Bangkok” for the super fun cheese and I’ve always wanted to see the musical as a whole. Unfortunately I’m left feeling like I still haven’t really.  Doing a musical in venue 1 means you’re on a REAL stage, even if the audience is a third of a packed RMTC house. Sitting on one of the sides sound was atrocious. With one exception I could rarely hear the leads unless it was a solo and ensemble pieces were either muddled or had one member’s voice dominating. The aforementioned “One Night in Bangkok” was particularly bad with the band so scaled back for what’s supposed to be a fairly funky song (even with the scaled back music) and the ensemble’s lines were still muddled and the lead inaudible when he wasn’t facing in your particular direction.

Staging didn’t help this either… I get the idea but having two characters turn their backs on the audience for a conversation just does not work without wireless mics in that large a house. With a few rare exception characters were either standing at the front of the stage, or on a podium at the back. It was just a fairly dull presentation.

I really hope they worked some of these issues out but the first performance wasn’t great for anyone that wasn’t in the middle. There are some great performances here and an audience that really really wanted to love it.

 

Drinking and Dragons – Monkey Centurion – Venue #1

What if the cast of archer played d&d while drinking? That’s basically the premise of this (somewhat short) romp through a night of the role playing game. We see twin scenes of the players and their characters being (sometimes) directed by the ‘voices in their heads.’  There are some really cute bits in this but some suspect acting and an overreliance on a reference being the entirety of the joke keeps it from being really good.

 

Grandma’s Dead – Sam Mullins – Venue #7

I once referred to Sam as TJ Dawe’s non-union Mexican equivalent. While that’s really not fair to Sam there’s definitely some similarities about them. They are both curly haired Vancouver based guys telling stories based in their real lives after all. I don’t think it’s unfair to see him as following in TJ’s footsteps. Mullins had the audience in the palm of his hand for the full hour as he told story of two brothers on a cross country trip.

It’s hard to describe exactly why these tales are so compelling but I have to recommend you go experience it yourself and go find out.

 

Subway Stations of the Cross – Ins Choi – Venue #10

Kim’s convenience was a great experience at RMTC last year and when I learned the playwright was bringing a one man show to Winnipeg Fringe this year I was excited. It’s a VERY different kind of show but no less interesting. What starts out as a personal journey turns into more of a storytelling meets slam poetry thing that really finished off the night well.

Warning, this venue gets damned cold late night!

Overheard in line:

If this venue has Air Conditioning then I must be going through menopause.

 

My Highlight:

Sam Mullins, I’m a sucker for a good storyteller.

 

Flyers Received: Way more! Forgot to take a total.

 

Up next:

A minimum ten show weekend including Searching For Dick, Trampoline, Marathon and my first D&D improv of the fest.