Hey Fringers, where’s the party at?

I have a Fringe question. I’ve just spent the weekend rolling around Granville Island – the epicentre of our Fringe – and I’m struck by the distinct absence of any kind of carnival atmosphere down there, of any indication of ‘fest’ from this festival. Yes, there’s a few performers doing the traditional line-up flyer-and-pitch, some costumed volunteers selling lil’ chocolates to raise money for, well, themselves (do not get me wrong, I think this is a great idea. I put in enough cash to get me 4 lil’ chocolates), and there’s the neatly organized designated poster areas, but I can’t help thinking that if I happened to be on the Island unawares of the occasion that there’s really nothing for me to get swept up in, as it were. No fanfare or weirdness or, heaven forbid, anyone acting out.

I realize that the Fringe organization itself is hamstrung by the rules of good behaviour imposed by its Granville Island hosts, and that they can’t organize or sanction any illicit craziness outside of the specific venues. What I’m curious about is the lack of perfomative presence from the performers themselves. What’s stopping them from turning their two-week performing arts neighbourhood into a big ol’ marketing bazarre? What about making a scene? I mean literally, like, thrusting their wares onto the laps of the unsuspecting and uninitiated public. Are we as an art form really that polite? Are we too into our own thing to come together as a loud, proud community? Is the Fringe really just an opportunity to rent some cheap theatre space and show up six times for an hour and a half?

Do other Canadian Fringes feel more celebratory as you walk around them, outside of the shows themselves? Have you experienced any incidents here in Vancouver of creative marketing ambushes? We’d love to hear any stories you may have of being assaulted by theatre when you weren’t expecting it. The Fringe is the one time out of the year that we get some pretty high profile advertising, how can we make the most of it?


  1. Does Vancouver have a Fringe tent?

    Toronto has two, and I believe they are the epicentre of Fringe culture during the festival. They are both beer gardens, poster havens, network-y, social-y hotspots. They are well attended and fun. (Though they close early – noise complaints from years back, I gather.)

    To your other point, as far as I can see, Toronto’s Fringe tents aren’t being leveraged by individual companies as retail opportunities. You can buy a Fringe T-shirt. But that’s about it.

    It is common, however, to see performers walking around the Fringe tents in full costume, handing out flyers for their shows.

    Does any of this happen in Vancouver?

  2. Ian, there are restrictions to allowing the tents to become true retail opportunities. The fringe can’t afford to sink much money into swag, so they have the t-shirts and bags, but that’s it. There’s limited space, so they can’t really set up a marketplace, or even display their own merch to best advantage. They also have to promise the sponsors prominence, so that’s why you get the large banners for them all around that kind of dwarf the show posters a bit.

    But in years past there were groups that would hang around the Tranzac, doing either bits from their shows, or do some kind of interactive entertainment and then flyer the crowd at the end. The most recent example of this I can think of is the Don Quixote show from Chicago last year. I also remember a guy a few years ago who was doing the circuit who was a massage therapist doing a one-man show who’d do massages in the tent.

    I attended Vancouver’s fringe 5 years ago and I do remember there being a pub on the island that became the hangout, but it wasn’t identified as such the way the Tranzac and the Factory are. I wonder if that’s changed.

  3. Thanks for this you guys, that’s interesting. There is a rather well organized lounge set up on the site for performers and staff to interact, etc. And there is a smattering of performers talking to the other show’s lines about their own shows, but there’s a distinct lack of buzz happening around an island that’s so partitioned from the rest of the city that it’s ideal for a big, loud celebration of theatre.

    If you’re not on the island for the Fringe already, there’s a distinct lack of hoopla to engage your curiosity. And if you are, well, you’re in a line-up, then a seat, then being told to turn your phone off, then entertained (hopefully), then…another line-up, I guess? Maybe a beer at some random bar with the friend you’re already there with? Ho-hum.

  4. So the Fringe is totally contained on Granville Island? That sounds a bit isolating, in the sense that the Island isn’t really on anyone’s way home from work. (Please correct me if I’m wrong on that.) Is Granville Island where most of the independent-friendly theatre space is in Vancouver?

    Does the Vancouver Fringe have Bring Your Own Venue (BYOV) shows scattered around the city?

  5. All of the official theatres are on the island except for one, which is about 7 blocks away. There are 4 actual theatres on the island being used for shows, 3 of which I would describe as being at the high end of affordable for indie-theatre, one that is a large civic theatre, and they have converted a gym at the island’s community centre into a theatre for the fest. In years past they’ve actually set up extra theatres in tents, which were just too noisy and bright to work, so they’ve been scratched.

    There are 11 BYOVs this year, one of them an hour’s drive out of downtown up at Simon Fraser University! That one’s a bit weird. But the island is certainly ground zero for the festival, and offers a fairly contained area which could serve as a sort of carnival grounds if the performers wanted to make a scene out of it.

    It’s not on a route to get home from work, but it’s definitely a common destination, GI is always packed after work hours with Vancouverites, mostly because of the restaurants, bars, coffee shops and especially the market, and it’s busy all day long with tourists.

    I would love to see more of that merchandising aspect that you mentioned earlier too, Ian. Even something, anything more interesting than just giving me another flyer.

    Actually, I heard that one of the guys involved with Gutenberg! The Musical! was handing out free books to people in lines. More! Creative! Noise!

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