This summer saw the 10th anniversary of the Fringe Festival in Hamilton. For those who may not be aware, the Fringe is an annual 11-day theatre festival where artists from across the city and elsewhere present new and previously produced plays at a variety of venues in the downtown area. This year’s Hamilton Fringe took place at four venues in the downtown area but also included two Bring-Your-Own-Venues (BYOVs) and a new series of mini-gallery shows at three locations along James Street North.
The Fringe is a summer tradition for theatre artists not just in Hamilton but all across Canada and internationally, as well. As a playwright and performer, myself, I had the opportunity to speak with the Playwrights Guild of Canada about the unique process of playwrights developing new work in the Fringe. I also had the privilege of being involved in this year's Fringe as one of the producing companies with the debut of my new play.
One of the things that struck me at this year's festival was how diverse and how supportive the companies and artistis were to each other. Without question, this year's Fringe was one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) in the history of the organization with over 45 theatre companies or independent artists performing during the run of the festival. You would be forgiven if you thought that such a large number of artists and shows might not find a wide reception in Hamilton but such is not the case. If anything, the reverse seems to be true.
Indeed, this year's Fringe was likely one of the most successful in the 10 year history of the Festival. Certainly, it was one of the most dynamic with eclectic and off-beat shows that pushed the boundaries of theatre and took risks in ways I haven't seen in years past. And it sure seems that Hamiltonians wanted to see these plays. Audience numbers were up and the enthusiasm by many local artists both in the line-ups and at the Fringe Club was at an all time high. All of this just serves to remind me that not only is Hamilton growing but that theatre as a form of storytelling in this city is becoming more important and more powerful.
One of the most exciting things about being an artist in the audience for the many of the shows in this past Fringe was wondering how plays that got their start here might evolve down the road or how artists beginning their career would grow and focus their practice. But regardless of their experience, every artist involved in the Fringe essentially was given a fertile and safe venue for experimentation of new and daring work. And that's at the heart of the Fringe's power.
Of course, this year there were some bumps along the way. The massive storm that knocked down trees, knocked out power, and flooded some venues served to remind us all that theatre isn't always clean. It can be messy and chaotic. But sometimes that's precisely when the real magic emerges and the beating heart of the story truly comes through.
No doubt, the folks at the Hamilton Fringe are now taking a bit of well deserved break. But I, for one, can't wait to see what's in store for the Fringe in Hamilton. Be it next year or ten years down the road, I have feeling there's plenty more stories waiting to be told.