Arts

It's never too late to start a theatre career, and these 3 Fringe artists prove it

Meet the Ottawa Fringe performers who prove it's never too late to put on a show.

They chased their dreams after 40, and now they're sharing their stories at Ottawa Fringe

Houston Robertson's autobiographical show, Victory for the Recycled Virgin, runs at the Ottawa Fringe to June 26. (Houston Robertson)

Ah, the Fringe Festival — beer tents, late night parties, zombie-musicals about disenchanted millennials. If that makes you think the festival is just a young person's game, think again. This year at the Ottawa Fringe, there are more than a few artists who prove it's never too late to put on a play.

Kevin Reid in his one-man show, Norman Bisbee Goes to War. (Caitlin Oleson)

The Fringe that changed his life

Kevin Reid's first solo show, Norman Bisbee Goes to War, premieres this year and follows an 84-year-old veteran who is targeted by a thief. Rather than despair, Norman leaps to action, embracing the mission to reclaim what is important to him — a story not altogether different from Reid's own.

The Ottawa man was 37 and working in a kitchen — "still not sure what I wanted to do with my life" — when he first bought a ticket for the Fringe. "It sounded like a cool event; I don't even think I knew it was theatre." The "fringe-y" aspect appealed — a place for artists who didn't always identify with the mainstream.

Reid spent the next five years learning about theatre by seeing as many as 100 shows a year and then writing about them on his blog, The Visitorium. The popularity of his writing led to a guest appearance in a 2013 Fringe show — which gave him the confidence to make a major life change.

At age 42, he was accepted into a full-time performance training program. He has since thrown himself into making work that has been seen locally at the Fringe and Ottawa's Fresh Meat Festival. Reid is thoughtful about why his experience is uncommon: "I think it is easy to get entrenched in a way of life, and once you get those financial and career benchmarks, it is harder to put them at risk."

The Actor's Nightmare plays the Ottawa Fringe to June 26. (www.ottawafringe.com)

60+ years of relevant life experience

Retired civil servant Rod Hagglund had his first acting role at 60; he auditioned for the role of "Townsperson #2" in a community production of A Christmas Carol, but found himself cast as Scrooge. Now, he is using "the range of experiences and emotions that come with almost 70 years" to tackle Christopher Durang's The Actor's Nightmare with the aptly named Salt and Pepper Theatre company.

I come from a time when women spent a lot of time living other people's lives, but now I can just live my own.- Houston Robertson

Houston Robertson, 79, also draws from her life experience in the autobiographical piece Victory for the Recycled Virgin. A preacher's daughter who grew up in rural Nebraska in the '50s, Robertson initially thought a career on the stage was out of the question. "Theatre was for bad girls," she says. These days, out on the road as a Fringe performer, Robertson says life is better than ever. "I come from a time when women spent a lot of time living other people's lives, but now I can just live my own."

Houston Robertson's one-woman show, Victory for the Recycled Virgin, plays the Ottawa Fringe to June 26. (www.ottawfringe.com)

Always looking to the future

Robertson's rebel years started at 47 when she quit her job in human resources to become "Ribbons the Clown" on the streets of San Francisco. Other performance opportunities soon followed. Now, Robertson is in her second year of Fringe touring and she embraces the unpredictability of the road — which includes billeting with strangers. "You have to be a good sport, because otherwise, you will miss out," she says.

Her show is resonant with people of all ages, but she finds a special audience with women in their 20-40s, for whom she represents an alternate future. This includes her granddaughter, who saw the show and gave Robertson her favourite review yet: "Grandma, it is obvious you are exactly where you are supposed to be."

Ottawa Fringe Festival. To June 26. Various locations, Ottawa. www.ottawafringe.com

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