You didn't win the Fringe lottery—now what?
For Fringe performers, being forced to "bring your own venue" can be a blessing in disguise
Some of the best productions at the Ottawa Fringe Festival are put together at the last possible minute.
Brooklyn-based theatre artists Martin Dockery and Vanessa Quesnelle, for example, arrived in Ottawa the day before they debuted their Fringe play, Love is a Battlefield — and they made it to the city with little more than the script for a play they'd written and polished over several months. As Dockery says, "We only have a little bit of time but hopefully we'll have some kind of set."
This is just part of the Fringe experience. Like so many shows at the festival, Dockery and Quesnelle's show is BYOV — or "bring your own venue," in Fringe speak.
The luck of the draw
Performers find out if they are included in the official program six months before curtain, and their shows are selected at random. "It doesn't matter what your name is or what the show is, it doesn't even have to exist yet," says Dockery. "They literally pick out names from a hat or a ping-pong ball shuffler."
Dockery and Quesnelle didn't win the lottery in Ottawa. But if you don't win, you can still play the Fringe — you just have to "BYOV." When actors go that route, the Fringe fest will still include their show on the bill and sell their tickets at the box office.
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But BYOV shows aren't on official festival stages, and thespians going this route are completely left to their own devices. They have to think about lights, securing a space, finding a technician and possibly sharing the venue with other troupes.
As for those venues, they're not moderated by the festival. "We can advise out-of-towners on what will likely work or won't, but as far as booking or setting up the venues, we stay out of it," says Ottawa Fringe's managing director Kevin Waghorn.
Bring your own vision
Sometimes, being forced into an unconventional venue is a blessing. A site-specific BYOV show can stand out from the others — in 2010, for example, a BYOV show by Zopraya Theatre won the festival's award for most outstanding concept. Called Six: At Home, the company staged an immersive piece inside Ottawa's historic Laurier House, the former home of prime minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Performers were spread throughout the building, playing different residents from the city's past as audience members wandered about.
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In the case of Love is a Battlefield, that show will play at The Courtroom to June 26. The story of a struggling pop singer and producer trying to record a new album, Dockery and Quesnelle will also bring it to Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver this Fringe season.
Everything about a Fringe production has to be versatile, because every show and every tour stop will be different. Love is a Battlefield has been designed with that in mind — performed on a minimal stage that requires the imagination of its audience.
Dockery, who's been a Fringe performer since 2009, always hopes to win a few lotteries every year, but the risk of having to stage a BYOV show is hardly the biggest gamble of doing the festival circuit.
"Every season I do a solo show and a two-person play," he says. "It's a risk, not just financially but creatively, because I don't necessarily know until I'm in front of an audience whether I'll be doing something that's worth everybody's time."
Love is a Battlefield. Featuring Vanessa Quesnelle and Martin Dockery. To June 26. The Courtroom, Ottawa. www.ottawafringe.com
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