"Anything can happen, and we let it," proclaims the cover of the program for the 2017 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival — the second-largest independent theatre festival of its kind in North America.
That ethos means there's no such thing as a sure bet at the Fringe — but among the nearly 190 shows at this year's festival, there's sure to be gold.
Here are a dozen shows to keep an eye out for at this year's Winnipeg Fringe (with the company name in brackets):
Flight (Curbside): This family-friendly show uses acrobatics to tell a story that's a sequel to the children's classic The Little Prince. It comes to town with high praise from other festivals — including the granddaddy of all fringes, the Edinburgh Fringe — and even a nod of approval from the New York Times.
Edgar Allan (The Coldharts): This Brooklyn company hit Fringe gold at the 2014 festival with The Legend of White Woman Creek. This dark musical tells the story of the rivalry between two boys named Edgar Allan, drawing on the works of Edgar Allan Poe and the power of the ukulele. It's a curious blend that's earned rave reviews at other fests.
Macbeth Muet (La Fille du Laitier): Is this a physical comedy I see before me? Jon Lachlan Stewart dazzled fringe audiences a few years back with his remarkable physical show Big Shot. Here, he turns what may be Shakespeare's darkest tale into a wordless "high-speed romp."
The Trump Card (District Theatre Collective): You had to know The Donald would show up at this year's Fringe. Here, District Theatre Collective — a Winnipeg company with a great track record for tackling challenging shows with inventive style — adapts Mike Daisey's monologue about the American president with a superb local cast.
Fruit Flies Like a Banana: World Tour (The Fourth Wall): "Serious music by seriously talented musicians who don't take things seriously at all" is how I described the family-friendly outing from this Boston group last year. Expect more great music performed by a ridiculously talented trio and a hoot for Fringers of all ages.
Panacea presents: Be a STAR or Get the F**K Out! (Gillian Bartolucci): This Toronto sketch comedy troupe is new to the Winnipeg Fringe, but they've earned rave reviews in the Big Smoke and elsewhere.
4.48 Psychosis (Theatre by the River): Winnipeg's Theatre by the River has a knack for bringing remarkable scripts to the Winnipeg stage. Here, they perform the last play by the late, much-heralded British playwright Sarah Kane — an introspective meditation on living with mental illness.
Catalpa (Barjass Productions): Irish playwright Donal O'Kelly's one-man show about an 1874 prison break is another hit that originated at the Edinburgh Fringe — but the company says this will be the first time it's performed by a woman. Local favourite Sharon Bajer takes on acting duties, under the direction of her husband and fellow local stage star, Carson Nattrass.
Instagraham (Laugh Gallery): There are plenty of stand-up comedians at the Fringe this year, as always, but Graham Clark is among the best. He cracked audiences up reading the phone book in 2015 and is back to take on a more modern medium this year — Instagram.
Macbeth (Knavish Hedgehog Productions): Macbeth is having a little resurgence at the Fringe this year (see also: Macbeth Muet and Macbeth — A Comedy). But if you want to see the Scottish Play done a little bit more traditionally — and by a company that's done fantastic Shakespeare productions in the past — look no farther than the latest from the young and hugely talented Knavish Hedgehogs.
Olive Copperbottom: A New Musical by Charles Dickens and Penny Ashton (Penash Productions): New Zealand's Penny Ashton had a massive Fringe hit with her delightful Jane Austen-inspired musical Promise and Promiscuity. Her take on Dickens will almost certainly similarly satisfy musical comedy fans with a literary bent.
Riot Resist Revolt Repeat (Vault Projects): Frances Koncan took the Rintoul Award for best new Manitoba play at the Fringe for her remarkable zahgidiwin/love last year. Her latest is a play set in a near future that sounds familiar, tackling discrimination, colonialism, mental illness, environmental catastrophe and privilege.
The Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival runs July 19-30 at venues around the city.