Fringe festival welcomes the fall with art, risk and adventure

By Brian Paterson

Artist Ingrid Hansen brings Interstellar Elder to the Vancouver Fringe Festival. (Laura Dittman photo)

Artist Ingrid Hansen brings Interstellar Elder to the Vancouver Fringe Festival. (Laura Dittman photo)

Every September, an eclectic, chaotic and endlessly surprising maelstrom of independent theatre takes over the city in the form of Vancouver Fringe Festival. For the past 12 years, David Jordan has stood at the centre of it all as executive director.

On the threshold of his final festival (he takes on a role as Burnaby’s arts services manager next month), he spoke of the lessons learned and what lies ahead during next week’s Fringe.

“It’s a well-oiled machine now, but in the early days, we were really scrambling to put the festival on,” Jordan reminisced, before laughing and launching into anecdotes. “In my first year, I was responsible for a money losing operation with the bar we were operating. We had all the beer donated…but still lost money! You can imagine, there weren’t many people in attendance.”

Flash forward a dozen years and nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout the 11 days of the festival, the Fringe Bar—located under the bridge in front of Granville Island’s Ocean Concrete—is a booming social hub and constant party, with multiple music acts performing free nightly concerts (including local icons such as The Matinée and Bend Sinister).

“There’s a wonderful momentum going on; I think we’ve developed a real strong and dedicated community,” Jordan said, reflecting on the social atmosphere that permeates the Fringe bar and festival as a whole.

“I say it every year: If you come to the festival, someone will talk to you,” he said. “Because the festival’s not juried or curated, there’s a strong audience incentive to talk to others and discover what they might like to see.

“At the same time, we have a large group of artists, many of whom are local with friends and families, and they’re driving interactions because they’re self-promoting,” Jordan said. “Nobody’s sitting back waiting for ‘The Festival’ to get the conversation started. We’ve got hundreds and hundreds of people out there talking about what’s going on.”

And there is a lot going on: Beginning next Thursday, more than 100 shows and 700 performances will take place.

The kaleidoscopic forms include drama, dance, circus, clown, stand-up, improv, magic and stranger, harder-to-define fare; artists will arrive from as far as Europe, Japan and Australia to share their sometimes dazzling, sometimes demented creations.

While one of the great joys of Fringe is diving in and taking risks on whatever strikes your fancy, Jordan did have suggestions to get folks started.

Among returning acts, we discussed Mind of a Snail, a duo of local shadow puppet practitioners whose brand new (adults only) show—Multiple Organism—is a surrealist comedy using their bodies as projection surfaces.

Our conversation also touched on Fringe-favourite solo artists, including Ingrid Hansen, whose Interstellar Elder follows a geriatric astronaut tasked with protecting the human race; and Andrew Bailey’s Brain Machine, about a cabin-dwelling technophobe who goes viral to dire consequences.

Newer to the scene is Nayana Fielkov, whose Falling Awake was a hit at last year’s festival (and returns in October as part of Fringe’s year-round Theatre Wire season). This year, she is joined by Isabelle Kirouac for Habitats, which blends physical comedy, circus and dance to tell the story of a woman in hot pursuit of a mysterious white hare.

As a father, Jordan had a few selections picked out for his own family outings, including Figmentally (described as Charlie Chaplin stumbling into a Salvador Dali painting) and Beaver Dreams, which promises equal parts charm and ridiculousness.

Ultimately, Jordan encouraged audiences to make their own discoveries at the festival… and to keep one important factor in mind. “There’s no arbitrator of good taste, so people should feel free to say ‘Yeah, that was awesome’ or ‘No, I didn’t really like that,” he concluded. “I’ve often had experiences where one person says, ‘It’s the most amazing play, it changed my life!’ and then I turn to another saying, ‘I’ll never get that hour of my life back.’ And they’re talking about the same play.”

For my money, an hour of time is always worth the possibility of having your mind blown. Why not get out there next week and roll a few dice?

Vancouver Fringe runs Sept. 7 to 17 on Granville Island and venues across the city. Info at vancouverfringe.com.