Who: Various Artists
What: Frost Bites Festival
Where: Hamilton Waterfront Trust Centre (57 Discovery Drive)
When: January 30 – February 2, 2020, beginning at 7pm each evening
Tickets: $25 for adults; $15 for children per evening. A Frequent pass (access on multiple days) is $40 through the Hamilton Fringe Festival

The Hamilton Fringe Festival knows that in the dead of winter, this city could use a little life. To combat the cold, they created the Frost Bites Festival, a site-specific theatre event that encourages local artists to create unique “bite-sized” theatrical works that last no more than 20-minutes each and play multiple times throughout the course of the evening.

This year’s event is taking place at the Hamilton Waterfront Trust, a building that also hasn’t seen much life lately. In recognition of the location, the theme of the Frost Bites Festival this year is “water.” The significance of the theme isn’t always clear- many of the friendly guides will perform a small scene on the theme as they transport audience members throughout the venue, but the quality and intensity of this varies, producing mixed results. However, the theme was made apparent in an emotional and impactful land acknowledgement by Fringe Executive Director Claire Calnan, followed by a blessing and cleansing led by musician Rod Nettagog.

The festival is also billed as a party; however, despite a bar being a central feature of the main gathering space, the venue didn’t have the jovial atmosphere that past festivals have possessed. It may be because it was opening night; or perhaps limited transit options discouraged some from attending (or encouraged others to leave early), but the social element between performances seemed absent compared to past iterations. After exiting the final performance of the night, it was disappointing to see that only the organizers remained.

However, for those who have missed the Waterfront Trust, or have been curious about its presence, the Festival provides a unique opportunity to revisit the space or build new memories or connections- an activity that is encouraged upon entering the building. The nature of Frost Bites also allows each participant to chart their own course through the evening- a theatrical “choose your own adventure,” if you will. It is also an incredible way to support emerging and professional artists in the city who are able to take creative risks that more traditional spaces may not afford. With that in mind, brief reviews of each performance are below.

Amos, Amas, Amat

It is difficult to share an epic love story in only twelve minutes, but Flint & Steel Productions (Annalee Flint and Kyle Guglielmo) make an honest effort in Amos, Amas, Amat. However, an opening ballad that foretells the story’s tragic end seems disjointed with the rest of the production- it utilizes the actors names over the characters, which causes early confusion as to its role within the piece, which is never resolved. As “amantes sunt amentes” (lovers are lunatics) is declared with love at first sight, every cliché comes spilling out- from champagne and poetry recitation to sharing words of French, the language of love. With such a short performance time, the pacing of the show is required to move fast- but for the emotional journey that Amos, Amas, Amat attempts to take its audience on, it needs to slow down.

Conversations Around the Table

“Can I ask you a question?” a young girl asks the audience, before launching into a fifteen-minute monologue against a backdrop of a business meeting. As the young girl slowly reveals her current situation and the heartbreaking circumstances that brought her there, the contrast between privilege and fortune becomes clear- aided by the fact that the audience, too, is standing outside in the cold, watching developers determine the future while willfully turning a blind eye to others. Created by Open Heart and directed by the indomitable Kelly Wolf, Conversations Around the Table is based on the story of Tree of Stars’ Jessica Compton and part of a larger work that will be presented in the future.  

Elevator Pitch

Performers Will Gillespie and Susan Robinson of Chasing Shadows Productions revel in the cheesy and predictable nature of this piece. Their full commitment to their characters, script (in all of its pun-filled, double-entendre glory), costuming, lighting and blocking are what make Elevator Pitch a fun performance and guilty pleasure. Playwright Gillespie is clearly aware that the show has a shelf life and has purposely kept the running time short- at just five minutes, the piece is the shortest in the festival, and could even have been made slightly shorter. With such a brief running time, it would be easy to drive home a poignant message; however, it’s refreshing that this one consciously makes an effort not to take itself too seriously.

Key Words Include:

Combining theatre, poetry, sound and movement, Key Words Include: embodies the spirit of what a site-specific work should be. Using the Hamilton harbour as a guide, the thoughtful script (written by Claudia Spadafora and Jamie Milay Kasiama) tells the story of four women on a search for identity, belonging (or not belonging), settling and their relationship with each other and the land. The location within the Waterfront Trust is brilliantly utilized by director Jamie Milay Kasiama, allowing it to become as equally important a performer as the four talented performers who drive the momentum of the performance forward (Maddie Krusto, Adeline Okoyo, Brianna Seferiades, Yvonne Lu).

Migrant Stories

How do we determine which stories get passed on? And who decides what is important? Playwright Bryan Boodhoo’s dystopian script attempts to tackle these large questions in only fifteen minutes. Director Luis Arrojo has created some innovative solutions to physical obstacles that could have caused staging difficulties through the use of technology and integrating potential obstacles to site lines into the performance. However, the show’s location on site means this production doesn’t truly get the attention it deserves and is an example of some of the drawbacks of site-specific performances. Large visual projections from a nearby installation play in the background during the performance, while sound bleed from the main space music frequently deters from the production’s well-told central conflict.

Seasons

Unlike the other performances in Frost Bites, Seasons is driven by music and visual effects. A small space is transformed into a new, manufactured nature that the audience is invited to explore at their leisure. From production team (Michael Cordeiro, Taryn Crankshaw and Jessica Marshall) to performers (Thomas Kember and Ian Cognito), the company works together to transport the audience to another world- just by walking through a doorway. Unfortunately, the performance I attended had more than fifteen audience members, which made it difficult to fully explore the world they have created. Despite this, it was a shame that this piece is only six minutes in length, when they are so effectively exploring so much.

The Smartest Person in the Room

Grace Smith (as Professor Crawford) attempts to give a psychology lecture in this absurdist comedy, which quickly devolves into her worst nightmare. From leaving the house with no pants, to dinosaurs, cats and murder, Smith effectively captures it all. Through her performance, Smith confronts her fears and encourages the audience to question their validity vicariously. Although this could easily have become a simple lecture with static blocking, Smith ensures that every aspect of her space is utilized, thanks to the assistance of co-performer Jordan Kuzyk. While the surreal nature of the show may leave some wondering what is real and what isn’t, this is part of the show’s charm- which shines in the show’s conclusion.

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