Laura Efron is preparing for her first, full-on experience as the new executive director of the Vancouver Fringe Festival—and she’s stocking up.
“I have been getting tips: to bring in a couple different pairs of shoes, a couple different changes of clothes, coats for different weather, and food supplies,” she tells the Straight over the phone on a brief break from the frenzy.
The long-time Vancouver arts administrator knows a bit about what she’s in for. After all, she got her start here as a volunteer at the Fringe in 1997—a gig she credits with leading to her nine-year stint at the Arts Club Theatre Company in multiple roles, and various cultural jobs since.
However, she says she’s gaining a new perspective on the theatre extravaganza that takes over Granville Island and other sites across the city for 11 days.
“It’s just a lot of moving pieces and it’s interesting to see the details from the inside, and which shows get put into which venues,” she says.
Efron has taken the reins at the Fringe at a time when it’s wrapping up its last three-year strategic plan and preparing to plot out its next phase. Efron wants to get through the full cycle of planning and carrying out this Fringe—in December she will have been at the fest for a full year—before she starts to make her mark on it, though.
“I am definitely shaping a vision over time,” she explains, and offers some hints at her areas of interest. “One thing I’ve learned working at the Fringe is we have quite a demand from people wanting to take part that can’t. We see 250 to 300 applications, but 100 shows. How can we engage all these people in our community?”
She also wants to move the fest strongly toward more diversity, equity, and inclusion. “We really want to dive into that and make the Fringe more reflective of that at every level,” she stresses.
For now, though, she’s fully immersed in the programming at this year’s massive event, a typically wide-ranging, wild array—though she has noticed some big themes for 2018. And as ever, she says, they capture how art reflects society. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a cluster of shows explore #MeToo issues, while another few take on Big Brother–type privacy ideas.
But there are also far-flung personal stories and random journeys. Amid all this, Efron has learned the best advice for tackling the scores of offerings: “I encourage people to trust their gut.”
Still, pressed to choose, she dishes on three buzzworthy shows—one national, one international, and one local.
Rocko and Nakota: Tales From the Land
(At the Waterfront Theatre September 7 to 9, 11, 14, and 16)
“It’s a show from Alberta with a story about a First Nations boy and his connections to his ancestors. It has a great storyteller, [Anishinaabe playwright] Josh Languedoc.”
Forget Me Not—The Alzheimer’s Whodunnit
(At the Revue Stage on September 6, 9, 11, 12, 15, and 16)
“It’s a murder mystery set on a dementia ward from the U.K.,” says Efron of the work by comic, slam poet, and psychiatric nurse Rob Gee. “And it’s being so well received, it’s being used as a training aid for mental health.”
Poly Queer Love Ballad
(At the Revue Stage September 7 to 10, 14, and 16)
Of the work performed and created by local spoken-word artists and singers Anais West and Sara Vickruck, Efron says: “It’s the latest Fringe New Play Prize winner, and it’s an edgy new play with slam poetry. It explores how challenging it is to know somebody else’s experiences, even when you’re really intimate with them.”