Hamiltonian Brian Morton once took his theatre company to perform at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1991.
They performed at 2 p.m. each day of the festival — a difficult time to find an audience, Morton said — and were broke by the second week.
“I played Stan Rogers on my guitar and made 12 pounds,” Morton said. “It was enough to buy us all fish and chips.”
Morton is now the president of Hamilton's Fringe Festival, that begins Thursday and runs until July 29.
The Fringe Festival is an international summer theatre event with origins in Scotland that runs for 10 days.
This year, Hamilton's Fringe includes 29 plays with seven performances a piece, playing at five theatres in and around the James Street North Art Crawl district.
Morton said Fringe started in Edinburgh in 1947, where it still runs each August for three weeks, and is still based on the original four pillars.
“There is complete artistic freedom,” said Morton. “Absolutely no censorship.”
That means if a playwright is looking to add full frontal nudity, that playwright gets full frontal nudity.
Second, there is no artistic direction. The festival accepts shows on a first-come, first serve basis upon their application.
“It treats a grade 12 high school production of Godspell the same as it would a R.H. Thompson or Eric Peterson one-man show,” said Morton.
The schedule is randomized, so each play is performed at a variety of times, he said. Meaning, no one play gets better performance times than others.
Third, 100 per cent of the revenue goes to the artist. The festival itself is operated on membership fees and grants from all three levels of government.
“Fringe tends to be the home of first-time professional performances,” said Morton.
Finally, Fringe is a grassroots festival, said Morton.
“It's not elitist,” he said. “All the performances are nine bucks.”
This year, about a third of the plays are performed by local theatre companies, which give the local arts scene a boost, Morton said. Another third are from Toronto, and the last third from elsewhere in Ontario and Canada.
Hamilton Fringe is in its ninth year since 2002. Morton said it's grown to attract roughly 2000 attendees who see about three performances per festival.
Morton said if you see six performances, “you're doing really well.”
With Morton's input, here is a list of this year's 29 plays.
Awkward Jack: Hamilton-based Perplexed Productions takes on Awkward Jack, a play about Winnie, a woman who continually finds herself in awkward situations. She always blames it on Jack, her imaginary friend, and Jack just won't go away.
The Cooking Show: Mario has a cooking show on the Food Network, but his wife Betty hates his cooking. Performed by local company Riverslea Productions, The Cooking Show is about a trip Betty and Mario take to France to eat in a restaurant Julia Child once dined in.
Here Not There: A first-time play from local playwright David Laing Dawson whose day job is a psychiatrist at a Hamilton hospital, said Morton. Here Not There is about an older couple who downsized to a small condo and are now confronting their failures. The play features well-known community theatre actors Vince Carlin and Jo Skilton.
Occupy: The Musical: Local Green Party candidate Peter Ormond and colleague Michael Nabert wrote an original piece on the Occupy and 99 per cent movements.
Paul & Marie: Paul & Marie is the story exploring the lives of a happy couple, Paul and Marie. Morton said the Toronto-based RGV Productions got the show running in the spring and received good reviews from Toronto audiences. They've rebranded with a local cast for Hamilton's Fringe.
Significant Me: Playwright Christel Bartelse has toured the Fringe circuit several times, said Morton and is a three-time Canadian Comedy Award nominee. Her show, Significant Me, is like a stand-up comedy routine, Morton said. Bartelse plays a woman who marries herself.
Two Weird Ladies Bomb the Fringe: The improv, sketch comedy duo Two Weird Ladies put on a show for Fringe. Morton said they were picked best at their venue in Toronto's Fringe Fest this year.
Charlie: A Hockey Story: Playwright Jim Sands wrote a play about his love of hockey… in Shakespearean. Sands is from Vancouver, and is the playwright coming from the furthest way for Hamilton fringe.
Desperate Church Wives: Playwright Diane L. Johnstone was pick of the Toronto's Pick of the Fringe 2011 and has toured the circuit with Desperate Church Wives. Morton said it's a play about a group of church wives who cast out a prostitute who has come to them for redemption. It's a one-woman show featuring Johnstone.
The Donnelly Sideshow: Ausable Theatre's Jeff Culbert has toured the entire Canadian Fringe circuit with this one-man play. The Donnelly Sideshow is about the Donnelly family murders in 1880s. Culbert plays the grown-up nine-year-old boy who hid under a bed during the murders and was the only witness and survivor. 30 years later, he tells you what happened during the murder.
Lies, Damn Lies and Magic Tricks: James Alan, protégé of magician Nicholas Wallace, performs his own magic this year. Wallace's shows have always sold out at the Hamilton Fringe in previous years, Morton said. He expects Alan to do just as well.
Toronto theatre company Awe! take on this play about an optimistic telemarketing employee looking for meaningful work in her field. Libby learns the ins and outs of phone sex, corporate call centres and more.
Pickin' N' Shtick: Toronto comedian Tony Molesworth did a show in the Hamilton Fringe five years ago, said Morton, and now he's back with his one-man routine. “It's basically stand-up comedy with a banjo,” he said.
Trashman's Dilemma: Recently in the Ottawa Fringe, Transman's Dilemma is a science-fiction drama about anarchists who attempt to overthrow the police state. Sound familiar, occupiers?
Drafts: A local production by a group of McMaster students about a student who becomes obsessed with a girl he sees dancing and his fantasies about her.
Ganga's Ganja: A play by local playwright Radha S. Menon about a pair of Indian sisters. One is dying of cancer, the other learns to grow marijuana to ease her sister's suffering. The get involved with an Italian mafia man who they inadvertently sell their stash to. “A King of Kensington-type comedy with Indian overtones,” said Morton.
The Girl in the Window: A rewrite of the Diary of Anne Frank by local playwrights Samuel Chang and Derek Hung. They attempt to interpret the Diary of Anne Frank through a multi-cultural cast. “An Asian production doing the story of a Jewish girl in Nazi-Germany,” Morton said.
Jump!: A Musical From the Edge: Last year, Toronto-based playwright Toni Maggio was the pick of the Hamilton's festival. This year, her production company is back with a musical about a girl who is standing on the edge of a building, about to throw herself off.
Maria Biasi Loved the German Soldiers: A play about five female gardeners living in a tiny Italian community in Southern Ontario. One of the women becomes involved with a German after the war and she is ostracized by her peers. It's about intolerance, Morton said.
Local playwright Rovert Savoie writes about a prostitute he knew who worked Hamilton's streets. An original play, Morton said it should be very interesting.
Wealth Secrets: From Thunder Bay theatre company Superior Anti-Theatre, another play about the 99 per cent movement. Wealth Secrets is about how the African government spends their aid dollars.
The Actor's Nightmare: Brantford-based theatre company Billy Walsh brings a play about an actor's biggest fear: not remember his lines. “I actually did this play in high school,” said Morton. “That's how you can tell how old it is.”
Betrayal: Performing an established play can work well for a theatre company, said Morton. NorteSur Artistic Productions from Burlington chose to do their own version of Harold Pinter's Betrayal.
Broken Butterfly: An original play by Sondra Learn. Broken Butterfly is the story of a teenager girl who cut herself and examines the relationship between a psychiatrist and a self-injurer.
Dairy-Free Love: Dairy-Free Love is a one-woman act by Toronto writer Victoria Murdoch. Her play follows Dawn, a 1950s-esque housewife of a naval officer who does a nightly internet cooking show.
Drive Up Counter of the Universe: The winner of Hamilton's Fringe's 2012 play writing competition. Morton said playwrights can send in their work to a jury in the winter, and the winner gets a free slot in the festival. Drive Up is by Ottawa poet Lesley Strutt, but is performed and directed by a local company. The play is a one-woman performance about a mother whose son has just been deployed to Afghanistan. She wonders what legacy he will leave, and if that legacy might be death.
That The Multitude May Live: A sequel to a play from Hamilton Fringe 2011 by McMaster engineering professor, John Bandler. It's a science fiction tale loosely based on 9/11, said Morton. The first installment was about the moment the Twin Towers fell. This part is about the daughter of a survivor confronting the President.
Working at the Dollar Store - an Opera: “If you're Italian, you'll like it,” said Morton. This play, by local theatre company This Bag is Not a Toy Productions, is about Olivia who travels to Canada from Italy to work in her uncle's dollar store.
Hamilton's Memories Production brought their own venue to the Fringe Festival for this play. Lost Identities is about a man who is challenged to do the right thing — report a case of extortion to police or keep it to himself.