The 16th annual Hamilton Fringe Festival ran for ten days this summer from July 18-28, 2019. At its closing party, Festival Executive Director Claire Calnan stated the 2019 edition was record breaking, with record ticket sales recorded during the Festival period.

Beyond James reached out to the Fringe Festival following the closing party to confirm ticket sales by both dollar amount sold and quantity of tickets sold, and have been informed that these numbers will be provided when they are calculated by the Fringe Festival. Despite this, the claim of a record-breaking festival is not unrealistic; sources confirmed that by the final day of the festival, show passes were sold out and only single tickets were available.

The festival also (once again) changed their geographic scope this year. This year, there were no venues on the Mountain for the upper city; however, performances were extended into the west end of the city with the Westdale Cinema, and to the eastern border of the Hamilton Museum of Steam & Technology. I missed the walkability of Festivals gone by; if the Fringe is going to continue to spread itself geographically, perhaps more venues- either regular or site-specific- could be added in these neighbourhoods or inbetween, to increase walk-by interest and increased engagement. Accessibility is clearly an important factor in selecting venues for the Festival; all the Fringe designated venues were physically accessible. Moving forward, it would be great to see the Fringe expand their work in accessibility to the ticket purchasing and seating experience so that those who require more time entering and exiting the theatre are able to do so with ample time. 

Big Themes

A large number of shows billed themselves as musicals. And even shows that weren’t explicitly labelled as musicals featured a significant amount of music- either through heavy musical elements in the show that added to the production, dance breaks, and performances on live or mimed instruments. Music played a significant role in an incredible number of Fringe works this year.

Female-led performances also emerged as a major theme during this festival. An incredible amount of one-woman shows were presented, and many were also female-written and directed. This was not just limited to solo performances; shows like We All Got Lost and Fuckboys the Musical had strong female ensembles with gender-driven storylines. 

Successes

The Fringe Club continues to be a growing point of pride for the festival with diverse programming. This year featured discussions and mentorship opportunities for emerging theatre artists, community engagement and education with local partners, dance parties, a trivia night, naloxone training session and specific family-friendly activities. In only its second year at Gore Park, the Fringe Club seems to be growing into its new home, which is becoming as significant to the existence of the Festival as the performances themselves.

The Family-Friendly Fringe was also a great success. Returning this year with three performances after a brief absence, the Family-Friendly Fringe showed that there is a demand for daytime performances (before 4pm), and that audiences of all ages desire interesting alternative theatre. It’ll be exciting to see how this concept is expanded upon for next year’s festival.

Curiosities

Bring Your Own Venues (BYOV)- the difference between the BYOVs and site-specific venues seemed to be a fine line in this year’s edition of the Hamilton Fringe Festival. Three sites were featured as BYOVs, with one of the sites containing three separate theatres and multiple performances. None of the BYOVs are noted as Fringe managed venues (although the Festival supplies marketing and box office support that all Fringe shows receive). Comparatively, the site-specific locations each featured one show each. However, groups like the Hamilton Aerial Group, which requires an unconventional space due to their rigging was not in a site-specific location; rather, their location (the Cotton Factory) was a BYOV.   

In some cases, the significance of BYOVs to the Hamilton Fringe Festival also contradict the spirit of the Festival itself. Almost 30% of the Fringe’s shows this season took place in BYOV spaces- one of them with 15% of the 57 shows featured. While finding spaces can be difficult, the Fringe’s reliance on BYOV’s to expand their capacity also seems to be stretching their capacity in terms of finding volunteers and providing the ample support that each venue required.

Fringe Festivals are notorious for being uncurated, open-access events where audiences can participate in unexpected artistic discovery. However, while at a BYOV during the Fringe, I was disappointed to hear a venue representative speak about their curation of the venue and how they had chosen the works to be performed. While this is not a slight to the BYOV (the works were generally good), there is a question as to how the curation of a venue reconciles with the concept of Fringe Festivals- or if it does at all.  

Some Favourites (in Alphabetical Order)

There were some incredible standouts of the Festival in terms of direction, acting and show concepts- here’s a few favourites from this year’s Festival:

Productions

  • A Time of Future Tales (My Friends and I Theatre Company)
  • Black Wool Jacket (bike circus)
  • Mercury Man: The Last Performance of Orson Welles (Dramatic Hat Productions)
  • (Sex) Cult: A Musical (S)Explosion ((Sex) Cult)

Performances

  • David Brennan Exhumed (David Brennan)
  • Fairytale Femdom (Caitlin Robson)
  • Leila Live! (Izad Etemadi)
  • Mercury Man: The Last Performance of Orson Welles (Cora Matheson, Rod McTaggart, Joel Pettigrew, Adrian Gorrissen)
  • Squeeze my Cans (Cathy Schenkelberg)

Direction

  • Bedwetter (Kyle Kimmerly)
  • Lost Lake (Gritty City Theatre Company)
  • You Want it What Way? A Boyband Tale (Brian Jansen)
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