“This Is Not a Fringe Festival” Brings Art to Your Home

The Fringe Festival Introduces Socially Distanced Programming

Graphic Dan Buller

As an ode to the festival that never was, the Montreal Fringe Festival has announced This is Not a Fringe Festival, an alternative programming amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The socially distanced event featuring over 150 artists is taking place until June 21, 2020.

The series of events kicked off with a live-streamed concert by Canadian singer-songwriter Paul Cargnello from his home studio and includes online theatre, dance, music, challenges, magic, storytelling, and activities for kids to “satisfy all the Fringe appetites,” said Amy Blackmore, MainLine Theatre’s executive and artistic director.

“People are still very concerned with what the future holds. But, three months into social distancing, the sun is shining. It’s June. People want to get back to making art again,” said Blackmore.

While the majority of the performances are free, some events will be priced around $10, or on a pay-what-you-can basis. People will also have the option of buying a signature pass for $50, which will grant them access to all ticketed events, a 2020 Friend of the Fringe membership, and a $25 tax receipt for supporting the festival.

Spectators can expect a fair amount of Zoom hangouts, which can be quite personal as they are inviting artists and others to see them in their homes, significantly transforming the experience of art viewing.

“The beauty of live performance is that anything can happen. It’s the same thing with online performances because somebody can suddenly unmute, or somebody’s Internet can lag,” said Blackmore.

“We’re trying to create an experience, rather than a piece of theatre so we definitely encouraged our artists to rethink how they’re communicating outwards,” she added.

While some of the performances, such as dance videos, have been filmed outdoors, the participating artists will not be holding any in-person events as the festival stresses the importance of respecting safe practices and social distancing during this time.

“The fun thing in doing things online is that we can collaborate with folks from across the country,” said Blackmore.

One of the many shows to be featured this year is Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar’s BEING BROWN IS MY SUPERPOWER, which will be live-streamed through Fringe’s Facebook page on June 18 at 9 p.m. The hour-long show is free but will be accepting donations.

Rajakumar is an Indian-American award-winning novelist, professor, wife, and mother who has been living in Qatar since 2005, where it will be 4 a.m. at the time of her show.

Initially written for the stage, the piece was adapted to be less like stand-up and more like “a conversation with a close friend” in which Rajakumar goes through four key moments in her life with wit, unflinching humour, and straightforward honesty, sharing what it was like to grow up as a brown female in a “supposedly post-racial era.”

“[This] is a new experiment for all of us and at the end of the day, we want to just celebrate art.”
Amy Blackmore

“The show is really a humorous look at how people misunderstand identity and how, often without intending to, people can often impose their ideas of identity on someone else,” said Rajakumar.

BEING BROWN IS MY SUPERPOWER comes at a time when protests against systemic racism and police brutality have been globally widespread.

Rajakumar said she feels a sense of relief in delivering her show during this social climate because people are receptive to discussing racial issues.

“It’s really an opportunity because people are listening in a way that they have never really listened before and are kind of eager and open to hearing from other experiences that they might not have been open to doing before as well,” Rajakumar said.

Rajakumar added that it is important to have “open and honest” conversations about police brutality endured by Black people in the United States.

The format of the show will also allow a much more intimate and focused delivery as the absence of an in-person audience erases the typical pauses for laughter and feedback.

Home Theatre Productions also tweaked its immersive stage play,In The Stars, turning it into a digital and interactive game for this year’s festival. For $10, people can buy the game until the end of the festival and play it as many times as they wish, on their own or with a group of people.

In the game’s storyline, the astrological signs descend to Earth, taking on a human appearance. Players are then asked to look through clues in the form of puzzles and riddles to find various characters. With the help of embedded videos, the game also incorporates some actor involvement, making it more stimulating with theatrical components.

Completing the game can take anywhere between 30 minutes to 12 hours, depending on how fast players can solve clues, according to Home Theatre Productions’ co-founder Steve Greenwood.

“You don’t need to have a bunch of fancy technology. You just need a web browser,” said Greenwood, who programmed the game with the help of Chrystal Zhang. “I wanted to make sure that it was accessible,” he added.

“It’s kind of like the beta version of the project. It’s the first trial of the online game and then we’re hoping to continue to develop it into something bigger,” said co-founder of Home Theatre Productions Cheyenne Cranston, who said they are actively welcoming players’ feedback to continuously improve the user experience.

“We do eventually want to have nights where we can host a Zoom for a bunch of people to play, and possibly have some of our actors on the Zoom call to guide people through a character,” said Steve Greenwood. “That’s kind of down the line, but right now, it plays also very well as just one person,” said Greenwood.

The production group said they still plan on delivering the initial version of the play at next year’s edition of the Fringe Festival.

Holding a series of various online events as a well-established festival will be a learning experience, said Blackmore.

“I’m sure that we’re gonna stumble through and make mistakes. And I’m kind of looking forward to that because this is a new experiment for all of us and at the end of the day, we want to just celebrate art,” said Blackmore.

You can find the festival’s complete schedule by visiting its website at montrealfringe.ca.