What would you do if you won the lottery? Would you invest? Everyone has fantasized about what they would do if finance were no longer a concern and, for some of us, practicing our art is at the top of the list. On December 10th at Mills Hardware the Hamilton Fringe Festival held its first ever lottery and although the prize was not money, it was something even more valuable: opportunity. Recently I caught up with an old friend and a new friend to talk about the lottery, the explosion of theatre that is our city’s Fringe Festival, and the opportunity to practice our art.
“It was fun! I enjoyed the games and the atmosphere was relaxing.” reports my long-time friend and fellow theatre addict Aaron Middlemiss. Middlemiss is currently co-writer and co-director with A Company of Players. He described the friendly atmosphere and games that interspersed the actual drawing of numbers from a whimsical bingo hopper. One challenge had participants gargling the lyrics of a song for others to guess. Middlemiss gave a glowing review of the event praising the venue and happily suggested that the lottery would grow each year just like the festival itself, which isn’t the kind of response you might expect from an artist whose number wasn’t called. Not the least bit deterred he noted that “with B.Y.O.V's, the gallery series and the family fringe, there are still tons of ways to participate.” Although he admitted that he was hoping for a different outcome and that the ideal would be for the festival to be large enough to showcase every applicant, he asserted that the lottery was a method that gave equal opportunity to all artists in a growing festival. After expressing his excitement at seeing the festival grow exponentially over the last few years he agreed: “It needs to stay fresh and the lottery guarantees that.” Middlemiss, like many other members of the grass roots artist movement reshaping our city, see the development of our city’s largest theatre festival as an investment that cannot lose. “The Fringe needs Hamilton and Hamilton needs to continue supporting the Fringe”
My new friend, Ryan Sero, is also hopeful about what the growth of the festival and the implementation of the lottery can mean for the theatre community of Hamilton. Sero is the artistic director of Make Art Theatre and one of those artists who’s lucky number came up last Wednesday. He described feeling relieved, excited and then resolved when a spot was secured for his upcoming production of Much Ado About Nothing in the 2015 festival. When discussing the implications of the lottery he eloquently opined: “the best case scenario sees more outside interest in the Hamilton arts scene, which in turn brings in more quality artists to the city and, ultimately, forces local Hamilton artists to step up their game. There is a danger, after all, in being insular. With outside eyes on Hamilton, I think our artists [local artists] will rise to meet new challenges as part of a bigger arts community.” His confidence is contagious, and his irresistible conclusion: “It's very exciting stuff” is hard to refute.
As the festival, which offered itself as place for developing artists to experiment and explore, grows so too will our local artists, audiences and community. It may seem like a big dream, but then again, so is winning the lottery.