For many performers, their first interaction with the stage came as a child. Seeing magic come to life firsthand struck inspiration- and those children grow up to become the theatremakers, Fringe performers and audiences of tomorrow.
Welcome to the Family Fringe; a series in itself at this year’s Hamilton Fringe Festival, which offers shows targeted to theatregoers of all ages- including those looking for their first experience and those who may accompany them.
For the creators of this year’s Family Fringe programs, inspiration came in unusual places. Kayla Kurin of Toronto’s Bad Monster, who is presenting Cursed! in this year’s Family Fringe first loved writing prose- specifically for those aged 8-14. Her show was created as she learned more about curse tablets; small sheets that were used to ask gods, spirits or the deceased to perform an action on a person or object.
“I visited Bath in the UK almost ten years ago, and when I saw the curse tablets I always knew they’d find their way into a story one day. …the problems on the tablet were so relatable – someone had lost their gloves, another their bathing suit, one a few coins. The revenge they demanded always seemed way out of proportion to the crime committed which sent my comedy senses tingling.” It wasn’t until Kurin imagined what ancient gods would have thought about such demands on their powers did a show start to take shape.
For Piti Theatre Company, inspiration comes during the show itself. The company has been to other Fringe Festivals – Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Regina in 2019 with a show called To Bee or Not To Bee about declining bee populations. That show was scripted; however, at the Hamilton Fringe, Piti’s offering, Story Wizards, is improvised. The story made up with the help of children (and sometimes parents) in the audience. For children with a creative bug, it provides an outlet.
“[One little boy once] told us what the story would be and who the characters were and he took care of the music,” recalled Laura Joseph of Piti Theatre Company. After the show, the boy’s father remarked that an actor was born that day. “I think an actor was born a long time ago.” Joseph replied.
Like Kurin, Josephs’ background also isn’t in theatre. It was only through knowing Piti’s Artistic Director Jonathan Mirin did she become involved in shows.
By contrast, storyteller Nava Sarracino was performing a puppet show for children when she realized she loved it because of how open their hearts and spirits are. Sarracino has brought her show Turtle Knows Your Name and Other Tales from Anchorage, Alaska to this year’s Fringe Festival.
Sarracino applied to the Hamilton Fringe after feeling drawn to the festival by some stirring in her heart. She was so trusting of her gut instincts that she applied to the Festival and was accepted before knowing where the city even was; she looked it up later.
While the company is from Alaska and performing in Hamilton, the story (by Ashley Bryan) is Caribbean in origin; a boy has a name so long that no one can remember it.
Sharing folklore, traditions and stories is at the heart of the Family Fringe. Shows- at Mills Hardware- are intentionally programmed for late morning and early afternoon. The timing and shows are meant to work for children and caregivers to share a creative experience. Despite sharing different approaches, different stories and different origin points, each story offers a unique storytelling perspective that we use not just on the stage, but at home. The ancient gods and myths of Cursed! turn into the folklore of Turtle Knows Your Name, and in turn, that storytelling legacy is passed on to the next generation to tell their own tales- like the improvised experience of Story Wizard.
In that way, the Family Fringe isn’t much different than the Mini Bar, Indie Venues or main festival. It’s all about telling tales, sharing experiences and bringing old and new communities together.