For the last four years Apt613 has run the Fully Fringed initiative, where an intrepid team tries to review every single Fringe play within 24 hours of opening night. This year we sent two of our Fully Fringed veterans, Barbara Popel and Brian M. Carroll, to see how they fringe in la belle province. Check out their review of Around Ms Julie, which will also be appearing at the Ottawa Fringe, for a sneak peak of what to expect on Fully Fringed next week!
What a delight to be able to wander around Saint-Laurent between shows on the weekend. It was closed to traffic from Sherbrooke to Mont-Royal for Festival Murale. Plenty of food, clothing vendors, buskers, restaurants, bars, vernissages. Plus dozens of participants in the Montreal Festival Murale. With the street full of happy pedestrians, the people-watching was rich and varied. Including a roving bachelorette party – did you kiss the bride-to-be? There’s also the permanent pedestrian mall of Prince Arthur, and the narrowed, pedestrian-friendly Duluth, both with many established eateries and drinkeries.
While Fringe Central (in the park at Rachel and Saint-Laurent) is highly visible, the venues are almost invisible. We found our seven venues by spotting a cash box on a table, guided by street addresses in the Fringe program. No big sandwich boards proclaiming FRINGE DE MONTRÉAL. No marquees or roofed booths to protect the volunteers from the blazing sun or the pouring rain. Are there no carpenters? Yet this is a big festival with 111 companies performing at 19 venues!
Two peculiar features of this Fringe…there was only one volunteer selling tickets at most venues (very unsafe! not to mention depressing), and there was no front-of-house manager at some of the venues we visited. Often the lone/lonely ticket-seller must do everything — sell tickets, decide when to let the audience into the venue, handle the doorway checking tickets as the audience files past, and handling problems (latecomers, illness, etc.) during the performance — and do all this without leaving his/her seat next to the cash box.
First night impression: a festival of small houses. Audience numbers ranged from three to nine. And that includes the audience for long-time Fringe veteran Jem Rolls. Fortunately, the second day was a bit better – the audience numbers climbed to the mid-20s and for one local troupe, even came close to selling out.
Bring good walking shoes. The full distance of Fringe de Montréal, from Café Cléopâtre on Saint-Laurent near Sainte-Catherine to Rhodos on Avenue du Parc near Saint-Viateur is a 46-minute walk. A good plan: choose your performances so they’re near to each other. Otherwise you risk having to sprint between venues.
Dear God, the food! Did you know that you can get poutine with foie gras as takeout from Au Pied de Cochon near Venue 3, Espace 4001 Space? (Buy plastic cutlery at the depanneur at Berri and Duluth.) Or swoon-worthy delectables and chocolate chaud at Juliette & Chocolat? Or start your day with Europe de l’Est or Eggs Bysantine at Bagel Etc., accompanied by bottomless cups of coffee? (Get there before 11am.) Or yummy omelettes and impromptu entertainment at Chez José? Ask the volunteers and locals for advice. Or follow your nose.