From serial killers to teenage realness, these plays are 'lighting up' Regina Fringe
Before the 2017 festival opens this weekend, here are three pieces you should watch
Nearly every major Canadian city hosts a Fringe. The annual festivals offer performing artists of all stripes the chance to try out shows on an audience with minimal financial outlay. From behemoths like Toronto and Edmonton — which boast more than 150 shows each — to tiny programs like Charlottetown — which features less than 10 — each city's Fringe has its own unique character.
Founded in 2005, Regina's fest began as one of the country's smallest. But that's beginning to change. Since 2016, the program has nearly doubled in size, jumping from 20 shows last year to 36 this time around. Demand from local artists is a major factor — more voices emerging means more spaces are needed. And as the 2017 event prepares to open this weekend, we're highlighting some of the local talent lighting up the stage this year.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Erzsébet Báthory is the most prolific female serial killer of all time. The 16th century Hungarian countess is credited with killing hundreds of girls, reputedly to bathe in their blood as a way to retain her youth. Thanks to the influence of her family, she narrowly escaped execution and instead spent her final years locked in a windowless cell. Sharon Nowlan's solo show picks up as Báthory begins her imprisonment.
Through a combination of recounted memories and flashbacks, Nowlan examines Báthory's story, in particular questions of her possible innocence. Though the trial included dozens of witnesses, scholars have argued that the entire saga may have been a conspiracy to bring down one of Europe's most powerful rulers. It may not reach any definitive conclusions about Báthory's life — but Blood Countess still serves as an examination of the lengths society will go to in order to contain a woman who threatens the status quo.
Through hundreds of festivals in dozens of cities over several decades, Fringes have produced infinitely more failures than they have durable theatrical works. While most shows never see the stage again, a handful go on to a longer life. What's particularly uncommon, though, is for a show to return to the same festival twice. But that's exactly what's happening with Rod McDonald and Roberta Nichol's 2016 crowd-pleaser Dewdney Avenue.
The structure is simple: McDonald recounts stories of life growing up on Regina's well-known strip between 1957 and 1967. He explores the cafes, schools, confectionaries and dry cleaners that make up the area and introduces us to the personalities that form the community. Intermingled with his stories are Nichol's interpretations of songs from the era, including classics like "Sounds of Silence" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand". The piece as a whole is an example of how truly meaningful works will always manage to find their audience.
While veteran artists often use the Fringe to try new ideas, more than anything the festivals offer a critical platform for those just starting out. Case in point: Mac Brock. The 20-year-old writer/director makes his Fringe debut this summer with Dry. Set outside a high school dance, the show features Kat (Alixx Davidson); a timid girl who's the victim of some vicious rumours, and Molly (Katie Abramovic), a gregarious go-getter who makes it her mission to fix the crisis.
Brock has already caught the eye of Governor General's award winning playwright Vern Thiessen, who programmed him at this year's Saskatchewan Playwrights Centre spring festival. The show is a critical stepping stone in Brock's career — but it's also an important contribution to the Canadian theatrical landscape. Amid the frequently shallow portrayals of youth we often see onstage, Dry offers something rare: a show about teenagers that actually portrays them with the complexity of real people.
Regina Fringe Festival. July 2-8. Various locations. Regina. www.reginafringe.com