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‘A bit of everything’ on stage as Winnipeg Fringe Festival kicks off 37th edition

Hundreds of artists will take to the stage to entertain crowds in venues across the city’s core as the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival returns this week for its 37th edition.

Homegrown Manitoba talent will be featured along with Canadian and international artists in 148 indoor productions running over the 12 days of the festival, which kicks off Wednesday and continues until July 28. 

“We got a bit of everything at the Fringe,” said Chuck McEwen, executive producer of the Fringe Festival.

The 148 shows on offer this year is shy of the 178 held at 31 venues during the 2019 festival — the last held pre-pandemic — but up from 112 in 2022, when the festival returned after a two-year pandemic hiatus on live performances.

Among the 25 indoor spaces are staple venues for the festival returning this year, including the John Hirsch Mainstage and Tom Hendry Warehouse theatres of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, which produces the festival, the two theatres at Prairie Theatre Exchange in Portage Place, and the Manitoba Theatre for Young People stages at The Forks.

They’ll be joined by more recent additions to the festival, such as The Park Theatre on south Osborne Street and The Gargoyle Theatre on Ellice Avenue. 

Old Market Square in the Exchange District, the Fringe’s outdoor hub, will be bustling throughout the festival, McEwen said, with all-day programming including crafts, storytelling workshops and activities for children. 

Man wearing a blue shirt stands, holds a pamphlet with the Fringe's programming.
Chuck McEwen, executive producer of the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, says his advice for first-time Fringers is to check out the program, then ‘just find something that makes you laugh and go check it.’ (Zubina Ahmed/CBC)

The Fringe is bringing back its pay-what-you-can model for the five shows presented at the Kids Venue at MTYP. That model was introduced last year in an effort to make the festival more affordable for families.

“I’m looking forward to seeing thousands of Fringe fans coming out to enjoy the festival and run from venue to venue,” McEwen said.

As usual for the long-running festival — which started in 1988 and is now the second-largest in the North American circuit of independent fringe theatre festivals — there will be a mix of traditional comedies and dramas along with spoken word poetry, cabaret, magic shows and more.

As with other fringe fests, the productions running at the Winnipeg festival are selected through a lottery draw, bringing both unpredictability and new talent to the stage, McEwen said.

“Every year, almost all the shows are original work, never performed before,” he said.

Gargoyle offers up ‘Manitoba-made’ shows

Four of those shows will premiere at the Gargoyle Theatre on Ellice Avenue.

The theatre’s owner, Andrew Davidson, said this is the second year the space is taking part in the summer festival by bringing “Manitoba-made shows,” produced by creators and artists from within this province.   

Man on a black t-shirt wearing glasses sits in front of a camera smiling.
Andrew Davidson is owner of the Gargoyle Theatre on Ellice Avenue, where four new Manitoba-made shows will be presented as part of this year’s Fringe Festival. (Zubina Ahmed/CBC)

“A lot of them are early careers and up-and-comers,” Davidson said.

“We’re not a huge theatre with a lot of resources, but what we do have is the rehearsal space for them to create … and a lot of love to put behind their new, original shows.” 

Among the slate of shows debuting at the Fringe is The Fifth Date, a play written and directed by Davidson, a best-selling author known for novels like The Gargoyle.

Artists have been rehearsing for the production since early January, and as a theatre creator, Davidson is excited to finally see it hit the stage in front of a crowd this week.

“I just love the Fringe. It is my favourite time of the year,” said Davidson, adding he’s looking forward to being an audience member as well as producer at the festival.

“In Winnipeg, we are very lucky to have the Fringe.” 

For those trying the festival for the first time this year, McEwen said the best way to break the ice is to simply look at the shows on the festival’s website or its program, and then come out for a show.

“Just find something that makes you laugh and go check it,” he said. 

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