Hamilton Fringe on track to surpass last year's profits, ticket sales, says festival director

Things are almost 'back to normal,' for the third in-person Hamilton Fringe Festival since the COVID-19 pandemic, according to festival interim executive director Christopher Stanton. 'COVID-19 hit us really hard,' he said. 'We weren't sure if we were going to come back.' The festival ends this Sunday.

Festival began July 19 and runs until Sunday, with more than 50 shows taking over 11 stages

People acting on a stage.
This is the last weekend for the festival, with performances like Cursed! and Harmed in Hamilton being performed at venues across the city, including Bridgeworks, Theatre Aquarius, The Zoetic and The Staircase. (Prapti Bamaniya/CBC)

Things are almost "back to normal" for the third in-person Hamilton Fringe Festival since the COVID-19 pandemic, according to festival interim executive director Christopher Stanton.

"COVID-19 hit us really hard," he said. "We weren't sure if we were going to come back."

Stanton says profits are now on track to surpass last year. Last year's ticket sales were an improvement from the years prior, but not "stellar." This year's sales, he said, are a major improvement. 

"I think people are really ready to come out and gather in live spaces again, and experience theatre again."

The festival, which began July 19 and runs until Sunday, sees more than 50 shows taking over 11 Hamilton stages over 11 days.

This year 'feels really magical'

During the Friday afternoon performance of "Cursed!," a family-geared show, the audience ranged from toddlers to seniors. 

Gloria Geller has enjoyed fringe festivals across Canada and joined the audience at "Cursed!"

"I am an old fringe festival goer in Saskatoon," she said. "When I lived in Saskatchewan for a lot of years, I used to go all the time. It was nice to see Fringe when we moved here."

Baby watches a play on the stage.
Festival-goers have included people of all ages, from toddlers to seniors alike, including at Friday afternoon's performance of Cursed! at Mills Hardware on King Street East. (Prapti Bamaniya/CBC)

Emily Schooley, a long-time actor with Hamilton's festival, performed in the show. She's been involved with the Fringe fest for a decade, she said, and has toured as far as Prince Edward Island for fringe shows. 

"This [year] it feels really magical. Especially coming out of COVID-19, people really want to see live theatre again," she said. "I think just like where we are now in the world, we're at this point where the world needs change."

This year is Kayla Kurin's first time as a playwright in a Fringe festival show. "Hamilton Fringe is just such a small yet mighty festival," she said.

The cast of a play near a sign that says Fringe Festival.
"Cursed!," a family show, is meant encourage people to finding solutions to intergenerational trauma. Its final performance is Sunday at 10 a.m. (Prapti Bamaniya/CBC)

Performing arts sector learning to prioritize wellbeing

With the festival ending Sunday, Stanton said he expects "this is when things are going to start selling out." 

Heat warnings and major thunderstorms have forced some outdoor shows to be cancelled or rescheduled. Other have been cancelled due to personal reasons Stanton said, adding that this year, prioritizing wellbeing has become more recognized.

"Prior to COVID-19, there was this feeling that you never cancelled the show, the show must go on. And I think one thing we really learned in the performing arts… is people just needing to take care of themselves."

Man standing in front of gazebo that reads "Hamilton Fringe Festival'
Interim executive director of the Hamilton Fringe Festival, Christopher Stanton, said he's happy to see Hamiltonians come out to watch live-theatre in the community. (Prapti Bamaniya/CBC)

Stanton said this year's box office platform has also changed to be more user-friendly, and now visitors don't need to pay an extra $5 for a mandatory button to watch shows.

Shows themes have also been different this year, said Gregory Cruikshank, who was at the Friday performance of Cursed! and said he has been involved with the festival for years. 

"I'm seeing more personal stories compared to years before," he said.

Cruikshank is also acting in a show this weekend — called Gnomes, at The Staircase — and said festivals like these are a major vehicle to bring theatre to the broader community.

"Hamilton Fringe Festival and Fringe festivals in general are a great way for people to be exposed to a whole new slew of artists both existing and up and emerging," he said. "They are an essential part of the fabric of theatre."


Prapti Bamaniya is a CBC Joan Donaldson Scholar. She's previously worked at CBC New Brunswick and has recently graduated with a bachelor's of journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University. You can reach her at prapti.bamaniya@cbc.ca