Sunday, March 26, 2023

Local Artists Have Big Plans For Hamilton Fringe

They say good things come to those who wait. The Hamilton Fringe Festival is banking on it. 

In March of 2020, the Festival had already selected via lottery the participants for its 2020 edition. By April, the Festival had cancelled that year’s event and was shifting to a primarily virtual model. The following year, with the pandemic underway, the Festival again executed a digital event. 

“The uncertainty and fear in those early days inspired us to really reach out to the community of local Fringe theatre makers, to get a meaningful dialogue going.” recalled Christopher Stanton, the Fringe’s Festival Director. “We wanted to give folks a place to find some kind of audience for their work, and to financially support as many artists as possible at a time when the entire live performance sector was in crisis.”

During the pandemic, the Fringe helped local artists rally together to share resources, growth opportunities and network. The results of some of these behind-the-scene efforts will be seen during this year’s festival as Stanton, his team, and Festival artists work to make up for lost time. 

“It’s a bit bonkers, but we’ve come out of the gates hard with the biggest Hamilton Fringe yet.” said Stanton. “There’s so much happening, and so many options for audiences.”

Carly Anna Billings is one of the many artists who benefitted from the Fringe’s assistance in the last two years. Last year, Billings’ Afterlife Theatre presented a virtual work; this year, thanks to some help, she’s offering audiences an in-person solo show entitled Meat(less) Loaf.

“If I only had myself and our company Afterlife Theatre to rely on, Meat(less) Loaf would still just be an idea bopping around my brain.” says Billings. “With the help of [Industry’s] Garden Project and Fringe Xchange I’ve been able to work with amazing mentors. . .forge relationships with other organizations and artists in our community, and get this show to a place where it can premiere as a part of the festival. 

Stanton recognizes the important part that the Fringe Festival plays in developing spaces for new artists and creators in Hamilton- not just during the Fringe Festival, but also year-round. The company recently rebranded as the Hamilton Festival Theatre Company in recognition of this commitment, and works with other organizations, such as Theatre Aquarius and the City of Hamilton to incubate and develop artistic talent. For Stanton, none of the Festival, or the organization’s year-round efforts, would be possible without the dedication of so many partners.

“Being part of this incredibly talented festival team we’ve assembled, meeting the volunteers who are all so generous and excited, and speaking with all the Fringe artists and seeing the outstanding work they’re going to be presenting on our stages – I honestly couldn’t be more proud of what we have in store for Hamilton audiences.” says Stanton.

This year’s Fringe Festival marks the fifth festival for Chasing Shadows Productions who agree with the spirit of collaboration and support in Hamilton as noted by Stanton. To Chasing Shadows, it’s the reason they return to the Festival almost annually. Writer-performer Will Gillespie specifically cites the leadership of now-shuttered Artword Artbar for changing the course of his life and bringing him back to the stage after several years as a touring musician. 

Chasing Shadows’ latest show, MINE!, about the twentieth-century gold rush, premieres at the Westdale Theatre. To Gillespie and Producer Susan Robinson, there was no question about where the show should have its first performance before embarking on a multi-city tour across Ontario which has them performing at museums, performing arts centres and other Fringe Festivals.

“We want to bring the audience back to the early part of the 20th century, and the classic atmosphere of the Westdale matches the aesthetic of the show.” Robinson and Gillespie note via email “[The Hamilton Fringe is] a great opportunity to develop our skills as artists and storytellers and play to a supportive audience.”

Like Chasing Shadows, Craig Logue sees this year’s Festival as just the starting point. Producer Logue plans to launch his new comedy-theatre company, Red Brick Theatre during the Fringe Festival. The company’s first show is an improvised Hallmark movie entitled End with a Kiss

“Hamilton- and the Fringe Festival- is a perfect place to launch a professional theatre company dedicated to the art of comedy.” says Logue. “During the Fringe, I’m most looking forward to meeting and getting to know other comedy artists that Red Brick Theatre can present as we build towards a greater comedy scene.”

As the Fringe Festival provides administrative support in terms of a box office, marketing and infrastructure, artists and companies are able to focus only on their show and producing their artistic best. Acceptance into the Festival is done on a lottery-basis, meaning every show, regardless of content, has an equal opportunity to be programmed. 

Stephanie Hope Lawlor is in a unique position in this year’s Festival. In addition to participating as a performer in Same Boat Theatre’s Whale Fall, Lawlor is helping grow the local theatre community by mentoring the young performers of Right to Play Youth Ensemble and Ignite and is also facilitating the Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts participation as a venue.

During the pandemic, Lawlor took the opportunity to recharge and reassess, but found herself repeatedly grateful for the ability to work with resilient young people who were excited to study theatre. As the Festival returns to an in-person event, Lawlor is excited to deepen a connection to the Fringe while also ensuring the next generation of creators has a ‘live, artistic outlet to return to this summer.’

“Many pieces sort of just fell into place to create the opportunity for a venue with four shows, two arts ed[ucation] programs, and a performance opportunity, but I’m excited to return to live performance with my students and also return to the theatre as an actor.”

Lawlor hasn’t been to a theatre performance since the pandemic began, and is expecting the experience to be an emotional one- something that Stanton agrees with. 

“It’s a huge array of emotions.” says Stanton. “Excitement. Disbelief. Joy. Anxiety. We’ve all been waiting for live performance for over two years, and there’s so much creative potential energy in this city that’s been building over time and looking for an outlet. . .It’s like a coiled spring- people are so pumped to get back to the Fringe, back to live theatre.”

Editor’s Note: In keeping in line with our values, it is noted that both the producer of End with a Kiss and writer of Whale Fall work with Beyond James.

Related Articles

Stay Connected

- Advertisement -spot_img

Latest Articles