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Festival Guide: Best bets at the 21st Ottawa Fringe

By Greggory Clark on June 5, 2017

Sachie Mikawa in Fish Saw. Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Fringe Festival.

Sachie Mikawa in Fish Saw. Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Fringe Festival.

57 shows are playing nonstop in the Ottawa Fringe Festival, June 8–18.

This 2017 schedule is packed with more than 300 performances. They range from offbeat storytelling shows (Delirium, Attention Seeker) to sketch comedies (DEB Talks, Dicky Dicky Dream Factory), sci-fi (Endlings, Unbridled Futurism), aerial theatre (Rough Magic) and mind-blowing magic (6 Quick Dick Tricks: A Dirk Darrow Investigation and Hotter Than Potter).

Every show is independently produced and many are new works being put in front of an audience for the first time. There’s a lot to pick from, and while it’s impossible to say “there’s something for everyone” at the Fringe, read on and you may find there’s something for you.

Gerard Harris. Photo by Andrew Alexander.

Gerard Harris. Photo by Andrew Alexander.

The Best of Fest

“I’d buy a ticket to hear them read from a phone book.”

Fringe is a worldwide phenomenon and every Festival on the circuit recognizes great shows with Best of Fest awards, Patrons’ Picks, or something to that effect. More often than not, this is the sign of a hit show.

There are a handful of artists in the 2017 lineup with Best of Fest awards backing them up. On opening weekend, these are your safest bets. And while some are performing brand new never-before-seen works of art, I’d say there’s more than a half chance these shows will be great:

  • Attention SeekerFrom the creator of last year’s Best of Fest show, A Tension to Detail, comes this “regrettably true story” about a jokewriter for a top UK comedian. Gerard Harris is a maniacal storyteller who the Ottawa Citizen‘s theatre critic described as the “British version of a Texas Tornado.” Harris is effortlessly articulate and has the audience in the palm of his hand from the moment he begins.
Tim Motley. Photo by Nathaniel Mason.

Tim Motley. Photo by Nathaniel Mason.

  • 6 Quick Dick Tricks: A Dirk Darrow InvestigationA solo comedy film noir magical murder mystery. Think Sin City meets X-Files performed by Harry Connick Jr. having a nervous breakdown. Comedian Tim Motley has won eight Best of Fest awards to date.
  • Rough Magic: A dramatic acrobatic retelling of The Tempest on aerial silks. Produced by Theatre Arcturus, this is the Canadian troupe’s second appearance in Ottawa. On their way to a Best of Fest win and Critics’ Pick nomination, WEIRD: The Witches of Macbeth sold out a Academic Hall at the 2015 Ottawa Fringe Festival.
  • High Tea: Another British Comedy: Another 5-star comedy by 17-time Best of Fest winners, James & Jamesy. Critics rave for the English duo, who last year came close to breaking Ottawa Fringe Festival attendance records.
James & Jamesy. Photo by Chris Ross.

James & Jamesy. Photo by Chris Ross.

  • Teaching Hamlet: A crackpot intellectual and a pompous actor clash while making Shakespeare conspiracy videos. Writer/performer Keir Cutler is a Fringe veteran of 20+ years, known on the circuit for his intelligent, witty, and well-acted parodies of higher learning. Cutler has a PhD. In real life.
  • Blind to Happiness: A reviewer for the Montreal Gazette said Tim C. Murphy’s comedy is “one of the best Fringe has to offer.” In this solo show, Murphy alternates between three very different men who work together in a restaurant. Each man believes the others are quite happy. On tour in 2016, Blind to Happiness won Best of Fest at the Toronto Fringe Festival.
  • Movin’ Melvin Brown: A Man, A Magic, A Music!Movin’ Melvin Brown has sold out performances around the world from Edinburgh to Adelaide and Edmonton to Hong Kong. He was a feature artist at Oprah Winfrey’s birthday party for Maya Angelou. Let that sink in. He was a feature artist at Oprah Winfrey’s birthday party for Maya Angelou. Winner of the Patrons’ Pick award at Vancouver Fringe. I promise you’ll love Movin’ Melvin on Youtube. You can be happy, give yourself a treat:

  • THE INVENTOR OF ALL THINGS: With more than a handful of Best of Fests to show for it, no one on Earth has toured to more Fringe festivals than performance poet jem rolls. In this show, jem tells the unbelievable true story of Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard, first to conceive the Atomic Bomb. THE INVENTOR OF ALL THINGS played at Ottawa Fringe in 2015 and was reviewed by Apt613 at the time: “Brilliant… Incredibly entertaining and engaging… Truly tremendous… Please do yourself a favour and don’t miss the opportunity…”
  • Hotter Than Potter: A straight-up magic show is not the typical Fringe offering – but Keith Brown won Best of Fest at the Winnipeg Fringe, anyways. The Canadian magician was touring internationally before he could even drive a car. For a young man in his twenties, Brown is an exceptional talent. Once he makes it to Vegas you’ll be saying, “I saw him when…” Truly world-class.
Martin Dockery. Photo by Bill Kennedy.

Martin Dockery. Photo by Bill Kennedy.

  • DeliriumSome say the Fringe circuit exists so that we can see artists like Martin Dockery. The NYC-based storyteller sells out more shows than not and will perform Delirium for the first time in Ottawa. His solo shows (Wanderlust, The Bike Trip, The Exclusion Zone, The Surprise, Bursting Into Flames) and two-handers (Moonlight After Midnight, The Pit, Love is a Battlefield, Inescapable) have received too many Best of Fest, Critics’ Pick and Patrons’ Pick awards to count.
  • Confederemix: Sandy Gibson’s debut solo show Portable #3 narrowly won a Best of Fest award at the 2014 Ottawa Fringe, outselling every show in its venue. His sophomore effort Heart Puppetations may not have accomplished the same feat – however Gibson took the show to all three of the Ottawa, Toronto, and Winnipeg Fringes, and with a tour under his belt now has gained plenty of experience.
  • Who, Me.: Australian comedian Rob Lloyd – noted for his resemblance to both David Tennant and Matt Smith – stars in this Doctor Who tribute. The show can only be described as a smash hit, as evidenced by sold out runs in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, Perth, Chicago and Edinburgh.

That’s not to say little else is worth seeing. From my experience, the best show at Fringe is almost never what you’d expected it to be.

Nick Di Gaetano in Unbridled Futurism. Photo by John Breggar.

Nick Di Gaetano in Unbridled Futurism. Photo by John Breggar.

Gambles

  • LunaFringe favourite Vanessa Quesnelle has played in award-winners Moonlight After Midnight, The Pit, and Love is a Battlefield. All three Quesnelle performed with her partner, Martin Dockery. “I’ve noticed that there is a lot of buzz around the [beer tent] about the brilliance of Martin Dockery,” wrote critic Brie McFarlane in 2014, during the run of Moonlight After Midnight, “…but I must emphasize the equal brilliance of his counterpart. Quesnelle is the driving force of the emotion in this show.” Luna will be the Canadian actor’s first solo show to appear in Ottawa.
  • Executing Justice: Bill Pats’s play is set in a future where Canadians have reinstated the death penalty. In the year 2030, his character is one hour away from being the first person executed in Canada since 1962. Just a few years back, Pats received the Winnipeg Fringe Festival’s Harry S. Rintoul Award for the best new play by a Manitoba playwright.
A production shot from the creators of Fish Saw. Photo courtesy of Sachie Mikawa.

A production shot from the creators of Fish Saw. Photo courtesy of Sachie Mikawa.

  • Fish SawMiyazaki meets García Márquez in this multimedia one-woman show (original animation and music) by Sachie Mikawa, inspired by her family and the 2011 Japan Earthquake. Working with artists from Japan, the USA and Argentina, Mikawa’s Fish Saw is a one-of-a-kind international collaboration.
  • Dicky Dicky Dream Factory: Ottawa duo Ray Besharah and David Benedict Brown have no fear of the juvenile… in fact, they’re known to embrace it. “Who ever heard of a highbrow sketch comedy show, though?” wrote reviewer Kevin Reid. Oh, and the show description published online says audiences will be asked to sign waivers before hoods and handcuffs go on. So there’s that…

The 21st Ottawa Fringe Festival runs from June 7–18, 2017 at downtown venues including Arts Court Theatre, La Nouvelle Scène and the University of Ottawa. 4-show packages cost $48 and are available online until June 8. Door Passes cost $55–189 (5–2o shows). Single tickets cost $12 at the door and $14 online including a service charge. All ticket revenue goes to the artists.

N.B. The one-time purchase of a $3 Fringe Pin is required to buy tickets. That $3 goes toward supporting the Festival. Visit www.ottawafringe.com for box office info.