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Image from On the Fringe's Facebook page.

Documentary shows the life of touring Fringe Festival performers

By Brian Carroll on November 30, 2016

The Ottawa Fringe Festival is celebrating 20 years of bringing new theatre productions to Ottawa audiences with #Fringe20. For #Fringe20, they are bringing back crowd favourites like Blood on the Moon, Countries Shaped Like Stars, Giant Invisible Robot, The Elephant Girls, and… the 100th performance of Roller Derby Saved My Soul, by Ottawa alumna Nancy Kenny, on December 6th.

As a bonus, they are presenting something new the following night. Kenny, local actor Cory Thibert and Vancouver filmmaker Natalie Watson teamed up for a new documentary called On the Fringe.

They follow a number of touring Fringe artists across the country, including Ottawa Fringe favourites: Nancy Kenny, Jem Rolls, Martin Dockery and Vanessa Quesnelle. They also interview other artists known to Ottawans like Jayson MacDonald, Jeff Leard, Chase Padgett and Tara Travis.

Brian Carroll interviewed Thibert about the upcoming Ottawa premiere of On the Fringe. This interview has been edited for length.

Apt613: Ottawa theatregoers know you for roles in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Gary, Wolves > Boys and Happiness™. Why documentary film? That’s a very different set of skills.

Thibert: Maybe the Ottawa theatre scene doesn’t know it, but I’m also an aspiring filmmaker. I’m on my seventh short film, so far. Still, documentary film was a giant leap. Film is a passion of mine and filmmaking is something that I’ve always been interested in and I’ve been doing for the past couple of years. A documentary feature film was a happy accident that fell in my lap pretty quickly, from Nancy Kenny when she was producing it. (She) asked me to direct it. I jumped at the chance ‘cause I love filmmaking and the Fringe is such a special community. I have a passion for it, so telling that story – I couldn’t pass that up.

You said that the Fringe is special. Why? What makes that special?

The Fringe, in itself, is a special festival, ‘cause it’s completely uncurated and it’s driven by passion. Not by corporations. The merit isn’t judged by somebody else.

Any (Fringe) festival on its own is special, but then, the fact (is) that Canada has this consecutive tour where most major cities in Canada have this festival. You can go across the country and live as an artist. Just do your work and not be held (back) in any way. You can live off that. It’s a unique experience. Either you know about it and love it, or you don’t even know it exists. The goal in the film is to show that this is a community that exists. Maybe it’s not for everybody but at least now you’ll know and you can come.

Briefly, what’s the film about?

The film captures the experience of what it’s like to tour the Fringe circuit as an artist. This unique experience … it’s so hard to put in words once you’ve done the tour. The film aims to capture that experience on film as opposed to trying to put it into words.

On the Fringe has been shown in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Montreal…

… and Orlando, Saskatoon, Calgary and Victoria. Vancouver hasn’t had a public screening yet. They’ve only had the test screening so far.

You’ve observed the audiences in some of these cities. What do they like about the film?

That’s one of the biggest questions going into it. We were really worried about “Are only Fringe artists going to like it?” We’d watch it with Fringe artists and they love it. And everybody they knew would see it and relate to it. So that works.

Then what about Fringe audiences who aren’t artists? They really like it. They get excited when they see a city or artist that they know.

Then we were really worried about audiences who don’t know a thing about Fringe, or maybe just know the city. So far it’s been really positive. Everybody says it’s very informative and that they get it, and they feel that they’re part of it.

But it’s always way fun to watch it with people who are embedded in the community. So when they see Chase Padgett come up and then they cheer. Or when they see their city come up, or a theatre that they go to. It’s really interesting to see it in different cities ‘cause it’s heightened in each city. For example, when you’re in Edmonton – when Edmonton comes up in the film, you can feel the energy come up in the room.

I find it heartening that people who don’t know the Fringe still find a connection with their city, or with a theatre in their city. 

Who’s going to be at the Ottawa premiere from the team?

Nancy Kenny, ‘cause she’s got a show (Roller Derby) the night before, and me.

On the Fringe is playing at Arts Court Theatre, Wednesday December 7th at 7:30PM. For more information see the #Fringe20 website. Advance tickets are $20 (General), $25 (“Arts Supporters”) and $15 (“Need a Discount”).