Summer is definitely upon us, so it must be Ottawa Fringe Festival time again. Last year, all shows were cancelled, but there was the hope that this year we’d be crowding into downtown venues once again. Sadly, this is not going to happen. But on the plus side, the Fringe team did have time to organize an online digital festival that looks a lot like the fare offered in earlier years. Well, maybe with less audience interaction.
Apt613 talked to Ottawa Fringe Festival director Patrick Gauthier. After this interview, Gauthier announced that the 2021 Fringe would be his last as Director. He’s worked at the Fringe since 2009 and has been Director since 2013.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Apt613 : You’re holding the Fringe in its usual late-June time slot. Did you give any consideration to slipping the dates to later in the year, versus doing it online?
Patrick Gauthier: We start planning in September and then do the festival in June. Initially we told international artists that they could only do digital, because we couldn’t be sure about travel restrictions. And we need to consider a whole bunch of different things in terms of changing the dates. That’s a little bit tricky just because of how the fringe festival circuit works. We don’t necessarily want to move our dates because that impacts fringes in other cities. And of course there’s no guarantee that we’re going to be able to do something in person later. So ultimately we just decided to keep our dates and go digital.
So with the digital format, you buy a ticket in advance, you get a link, and you can watch the show whenever you like in the next week?
Yes. It’s like renting a movie from Apple TV. It’s the exact same model, except that instead of 48 hours to watch it, you have seven days.
Are the performers just uploading a video to a site somewhere? Are these shows performed in Ottawa? Are they done at Arts Court? I suppose that if it’s an international artist, they’ve recorded the show wherever they are located?
If you’re from the UK or Toronto or Vancouver, then we give you a deadline for the file. You send us the file and we upload it. One of the things that we discovered, and this isn’t exclusive to local artists, is that a lot of people didn’t have the resources to actually film, edit their show and submit it. Because these are theatre artists, they’re not necessarily film artists.
So we were able to use Arts Court Theatre. And actually, people are filming there as we speak. We hired a camera crew, and we have a director who’s got experience in television. They do a couple of runs and the director is basically doing a live edit with a multi-camera. And the artists can be given those raw files and they can then go and do the edit themselves. And that becomes the show which will be posted to the site.
So the viewers will get the experience of being in Arts Court Theatre.
Yes, exactly. We also wanted to make sure these were higher quality shows. We didn’t want performers to resort to doing everything from their living rooms. We wanted to give them options of tech and sound and all that kind of stuff.
In looking through the productions, it does seem like a typical sort of fringe mix of shows, but with fewer shows than earlier years. Is it because performers didn’t want to do digital?
It’s basically that. We had a standup comedian in the festival who told us he couldn’t do a digital show because he needs the audience’s reaction. Our philosophy was if you were scheduled in 2020, we’re gonna hold this spot for you in 2021. And then the list of shows went from 60-plus down to 15.
Are there any shows that you’re particularly excited about seeing?
I always get asked this question and I always forget to anticipate this question. Well, one is “Dressed as People”,which is a show from Margo MacDonald. I always love her work. I’m looking forward to that one.
Another is “Blindside” by Stephanie Morin-Robert. That’s a great one, I’ve seen it live. And a third would be “Speaking Vibrations” (created by Jo-Anne Bryan, Carmelle Cachero, King Kimbit and Jordan Samonas). That one’s really interesting to me. It’s kind of an ASL poetry dance show.
Anything else you want to tell us about this year’s Fringe?
We’re introducing a bunch of new accessibility measures this year. Because it’s all digital, it gives us a bunch of options. All the shows will be closed-captioned, and there will also be transcripts for all the shows that you could potentially see beforehand. One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that, because we have a much smaller festival this year, we’re able to focus our resources and really make things a lot more accessible.
The Ottawa Fringe Festival runs from June 17 to 27. The full list of shows is here.