Who: Various Artists
What: Frost Bites Festival
When: February 11 – 14, 2021
Tickets: Single tickets $7 – $20 + HST through the Hamilton Fringe Festival. Frequent Frost passes are sold out.
Determined to continue its annual site-specific theatre festival even during a provincially-mandated lockdown, the Fringe Festival had faced an incredible challenge in this year’s Frost Bites. How do you produce a site specific festival when people can’t gather in one site?
First, the offerings for Frost Bites were paired down. This year’s festival offered five separate shows, compared to last year’s seven. The Festival then re-examined the way in which digital media could be consumed and utilized to present performances. In this year’s festival, two of the submissions are audio-only presentations. A third offers both an audio-only and visual option, while two additional performances require the use of screens to watch videos or otherwise communicate. As a consequence of these decisions, there is no specific site in which the Festival is offered; instead, it is the medium and the shows that create the connection.
Next, some elements that Frost Bites loyalists know and love were dismissed; the “hub” that was created for audiences to meet and socialize in between performances has been eliminated- there is no virtual or communal waiting room in this year’s Festival. In exchange, the Fringe Festival upgraded their ticketing system, allowing for a relatively seamless experience for audience members as they purchased tickets and prepared for shows. This is a feat worth celebrating in itself and will serve the Festival well not only during this pandemic but afterwards as well.
This careful planning and many contingencies has paid off, as the Fringe Festival announced before Frost Bites opened this year that the Frequent Frost pass had sold out. In the process, the Festival has cleverly redefined how audiences experience site-specific; it has opened the doors of possibility so that a theatre space can be within one’s own home and the performer- instead of the audience- is invited in. With this door open, Frost Bites may never look back.
There are not a lot of promises made in Femmepire’s latest offering; however, it ends up being everything a great story (that takes place in your bathroom) should be. A great deal of time and care is spent in setting up the plot, while also ensuring that the audience is entertained. Throughout the experience, audiences move around their bathroom and move their bodies, making it easy to feel like an active participant in the story- which is critical to its success. The choice of YouTube as a medium is a smart decision, as the video, audio and chat work together to immerse the audience into the story, as does Claud Spadafora in a brilliant performance. Spadafora’s conviction in the idea of a space-travelling bathtub is so strong and passionate that you start to believe it, too. While this premise in itself is absurd, and the show could quickly travel into mediocrity as a result, the clever writing, anticipation of audience reaction and prompts save the show and instead, make it a must-have experience. The ending provides a feeling of hopefulness and as the performance comes to a natural conclusion, one can only hope that Femmepire takes them on another journey again soon.
Some theatrical performances make their premises clear at the outset. Others, like Future Leisure’s Escape, make discovering the premise the performance itself. The sense of mystery begins at the start, and requires an inherent sense of trust between the audience and performer. This is enhanced through a series of one-on-one text messages, where the sole audience member becomes a critical component to the performance. This offers an advantage to create a “choose your own adventure” scenario, and Future Leisure presents numerous guiding questions throughout the performance to suggest a greater or personalized exchange is possible. However, the performance I attended strictly adhered to its script, presenting the conversation as distanced and missing the spontaneity of a true dialogue, rather than the sense of intimacy that comes with a one-on-one conversation. While a framework is necessary to ensure the performance meets its goals (and stays on time), Escape would benefit by allowing itself to loosen its structure. With a compelling script, and full exploration of the many facets and definitions of “space,” Escape has all of the ingredients to present an engaging piece of theatre and create impactful connections with its audience members if it allows itself to do so.
Can you hear me? asks the performance by this year’s ALERT contingent, under the name Blue Light Collective. Focusing on the ways that humans have communicated, or not communicated throughout time, the Collective smartly gives two options for audiences to consume this series of vignettes. One is an audio experience that takes the listener outdoors; the second is an audio/visual experience that takes place in the audience member’s home. While a clever contingency for a cold night, this multi-option presentation begs the question as to whether this show is actually site specific if the experience can be gleaned almost anywhere. I chose the outdoor option, but didn’t find that the subsequent walk added depth to the overall performance experience. This could be because the prompts didn’t quite match up with my walk (look for clouds- it was a clear night; or a mailbox when surrounded by trees); it could also be that the cold night and continual communication about the inability to communicate started to feel repetitive. However, regardless of whether the street was empty or crowded, the show’s concept was easy to grasp and the feeling of loneliness and an inability to communicate seemed particularly relevant as we enter the eleventh month of this pandemic.
Through the Pages
Presented by Passing Through Theatre, this audio play travelled through time to tell the true story of the history and impact of the Hamilton Public Library, with a focus on the women who led needed changes. In preparation for the performance, the listener is required to acquire several small items that most would have in their home. The props are not mandatory to enjoy the performance; however, the transformation of a space through these whimsical and thoughtful movements is the strength of this production. Outside of these moments of stillness, the performance feels rushed as a live experience, and this listener benefitted from re-listening to the duration of the show to more fully digest the complete story. This is a natural result of presenting years of history (including full names and dates) in a condensed amount of time, as much of the story ends up being lost and the pacing feels rushed. While a beautiful concept and thoughtful editing done to focus on the story that was told and the dramatization of key focal points, there is simply too much story here to tell in the short period of time allotted for this show.
Editor’s note: As part of our values, it is noted that this blog received a complimentary ticket to attend the 2021 Frost Bites Festival. It is also noted that a writer of this blog (but not this article) performed in Through the Pages.