Fringe Festival veterans reflect on 25 years of freedom

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      The Fringe will set you free.

      The Vancouver International Fringe Festival turns 25 this year, and a number of artists who’ve participated in the past are returning—even though many of them now have steady work in the worlds of theatre, film, and television. What keeps them coming back?

      In a word, freedom. “We let everybody do whatever the hell they want,” says executive director David Jordan, who has been running the event since 2006. Participation in the festival is unjuried; groups pay an application fee, and slots are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. The Fringe supplies the venue, technicians, and administration, and the groups get to keep their box office. “We just provide a direct relationship between the artists and the audience,” says Jordan. “It’s quite simple. I think that’s why it works.”

      Among the veteran artists returning this year is Jacques Lalonde, performing in his 23rd Fringe in a row. When asked why he loves the Fringe, Lalonde echoes Jordan: “Probably the most important thing for me is that I get to do what I want.” This year it’s a free kids’ show, Return to DragonLand (Saturday and Sunday [September 12 and 13] at Carousel Theatre). But Lalonde also revels in the opportunity to connect with other artists. “There’s sometimes over 100 groups, all doing theatre at the same time,” he effuses, “so it’s like a critical mass of creativity that really doesn’t happen any other time in the year.”

      Playwright Andrew Templeton, who had a show at Vancouver’s second Fringe in 1986, appreciates the levelling effect of that critical mass. “I had just graduated from UBC’s creative writing program,” he recalls of his Fringe debut. “It was great to be on par with all these other theatre artists.”

      Twenty-three years later, a much more experienced Templeton is back with a new script, a “psychological ghost story” called Biographies of the Dead and Dying (tonight [September 10] through September 19 at the Havana Theatre). He usually spends three or four years developing a play, but he’s excited to show Biographies, which he’s been working on for less than a year, in a rawer form. “We’re able to take a few more risks,” he says. “And I think that probably means the work is better. It’s truer to itself. I don’t think we’re limiting our imaginations.”

      Fringe veteran Ami Gladstone knows all about risk. In 1997, he introduced the Vancouver festival to the concept of the BYOV (for Bring Your Own Venue), directing and performing in a two-person show in the front seat of a 1977 Volaré parked beside the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. (The audience of four would squish into the back seat.) Since then, BYOVs have become a staple of the fest, with venues ranging from the relatively conventional Carousel Theatre rehearsal space to places like the Aquabus passenger ferry (Gladstone again) and parking garages on Granville Island.

      Gladstone is in rehearsals for Tape, about a complex reunion of old friends in a hotel room. Again eschewing a conventional theatre space, Gladstone is directing the show in an actual room at the Waldorf Hotel (tonight [September 10] to September 20). It’s one of 22 BYOV shows at this year’s Fringe.

      The theatre artist acknowledges the challenges of the BYOV. “One is just the unpredictability of it,” he says. “Your show really has to be strong and interesting, because there’s so many other things going on.” But he praises Fringe-goers for being open to the unexpected. “They’re a very adventurous audience,” he offers. “They know that the Fringe can be a bit of a crapshoot, they know they’re going to see everything from the sublime to the completely atrocious, so they’re already embracing this idea of risk.”

      Tape is one of two shows Gladstone is helming at this year’s festival. The second is Cam and Legs, (Friday [September 11] to September 20 at Playwrights Theatre Centre), a puppet show by Whitehorse’s Brian Fidler. He has plenty of other theatre work, but he says he’d keep coming back to the Fringe. “If the right kind of projects feel Fringe-y in the right kind of way, then absolutely,” he says.

      Having the right project or the right people has also attracted Vancouver actor-director Lori Triolo back to the Fringe half-a-dozen times in the past 15 years. This year, Triolo is directing Cara Yeates in Some Reckless Abandon, (Friday [September 11] to September 19 at the Waterfront Theatre) a solo show about a teenage girl who escapes her dull small-town life by running off to Honduras. “What draws me in is I’m working with people that I truly respect,” says Triolo, “’cuz you can’t do that kind of guerrilla theatre unless you love each other.”¦You have to be having fun, and it’s got to be somewhat magical, even if it’s totally experimental.”

      Triolo has a busy career in film and television, but she appreciates the immediate connection with audiences that the Fringe offers. She also sees benefits for her other work. “Working in television and film is hard, too,” she says, “and people get bent out of shape really easy because they’re treated like princesses. So when you show up on a set and you can roll up your sleeves and dig in, people really appreciate it.”

      Hard work and freedom seem to go hand in hand at the Fringe—and they inevitably build stronger artists. As Triolo says, “Man, if you can do this, you can do anything.”