Monday, December 4, 2023

2023 Hamilton Fringe Festival Wrapup

It’s been just over a month since Hamilton’s largest theatre festival, the Hamilton Fringe, came to a close. In some ways, it felt like the Festival many had known pre-pandemic. Unlike recent years, there were no virtual or online categories of performances; the Staircase hosted over 20% of main festival offerings and one person shows (a Fringe mainstay) dominated venues. 

But things were still a little different- and noticeably so. Mask-mandatory performances were available to select performances; performers- and their postcards- were absent from many venue lines and the Fringe Festival changed their fundraising approach with mixed success. Previously, ticket buyers were required to buy “backer buttons” to support the Fringe’s administrative efforts. This year, the Festival just asked for donations as patrons entered each show, explaining that if every audience member donated just $2, they’d reach their mark by the end of the Festival. 

By the end of the Festival, the Fringe was still several thousand dollars away from their $21,000 goal. Whether the backer button will return next year remains to be seen. For what it’s worth, there may still be time to donate; the Festival’s financial year end isn’t until October 31.

Fringe Awards

Seven awards were distributed at the closing night party; one for each of the Fringe’s official venues, plus an award for each of the Mini-Fringe, Indie Venue, and Family Fringe series. These awards recognized the highest overall ticket sales in each respective category. 

An additional three awards were given for Audience Choice (voted on by Fringe audience members), Critics’ Pick (voted on by critics of the Festival) and Best in Fest (highest overall ticket sales among all live ticketed productions at the Festival).

Critic’s Pick: Do You Think You’re Better Than Me?

Audience Choice: The Green Room

Best in Fringe: Bimbos In Space!

Best in Venue (Mills Hardware): The ADHD Project

Best in Venue (Theatre Aquarius Studio): Church Boyfriends & Other Impure Thoughts

Best in Venue (The Player’s Guild of Hamilton): The Green Room

Best in Venue (The Zoetic): Death By Shakespeare

Best in Series (Family Fringe): CURSED!

Best in Series (Mini Bar): WHY

Best in Series: (Indie Venues): Bimbos In Space!

That Festival Feeling

One sentiment that was repeated throughout the Festival was that for the first time in several years, the Fringe maintained a sense of community that was missing from past years. 

Part of this was attributed to the ability for audiences to come together in between shows; something that has been missing for many of the past few years. Much of it was attributed to the focus of the Festival on downtown venues. With the exception of a few independent venues, the Festival kept itself within a tight radius, making most of the Festival walkable for those who wished to do so. Admittedly, this wasn’t entirely a conscious move on the part of the Fringe- the Mini Bar’s initially planned venue changed last-minute- but the replacement of Relay Coffee on King William was a smart move that reinforced the mentality of a walkable Festival.

Not only was the geographical radius smaller, but the overall festival had fewer shows than last year. The 2022 edition of the Fringe marked an anniversary milestone and a return to performances- and celebrated both of these with the “biggest festival yet.” The 2023 edition acknowledged that bigger isn’t always better. Instead, organizers offered a smaller number of shows, allowing for a more focused experience.

Peak Social Media

In the weeks leading up to the Fringe, performers have been at art crawl handing out postcards. Posters appear in storefronts, community bulletin boards and hydro poles. And during the Fringe, performers eagerly approach lines of other shows, encouraging patrons to buy tickets to their show. 

For the most part, this didn’t happen this year. Instead of a physical presence, most show producers opted for a virtual one. Flocking to social media, producers provided an image, some show information, and details on their target demographic- and a credit card to reach audiences. Ads abounded on popular social media sites throughout the Festival, removing some of the grassroots nature, while simultaneously providing an even playing field for those less familiar with Hamilton hotspots. 

At the same time, social media reviews became more prevalent, with shows- and audiences- enjoying the virtual word of mouth that came from non-media sources. Instead of conversations with friends for recommendations, a hashtag or Instagram story provided everything one might need to know. 

In the same vein, shows who received a less-than-favourable review (at least from this site) sent screenshots of more favourable quotes in private messaging in a request to edit text accordingly. Social media provided a wide range of opinions on every performance- one that would previously have to be found in numerous publications.  

Breaking Glass Ceilings

We commented on this in our recommendations for Fringe Festival passes; but this year’s Festival spotlighted how much work there is still left to do in gender equality.

From one woman’s traumatizing journey in Charlie’s Riot or Seven Virgins, to a fearless call-out of the sexism and discrimination faced by women in Hamilton’s comedy scene in Cringe Mom, to the intentionally shallow Bimbos in Space, which parodied 70s sexploitation B-movies and transformed its sexpots into heroines, this year’s Fringe Festival had no shortage of women ready to stand and fight for their voices- and stories- to be heard.  

It echoes trends elsewhere of conscious efforts being made to ensure that previously marginalized people and voices are given opportunity that may have been denied in the past. Whether these stories and efforts evolve into more conscious choices by those in places of power still remains to be seen.

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