On the Fringe: 5 shows at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe that push the boundaries
For those seeking the weird and possibly wonderful, we've reviewed some options at this year's festival
Some shows at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival play it safe. And others do not.
"Hell is other people."
That oft-quoted line comes from Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit, which is the inspiration for the latest from California acrobatic troupe Bossy Flyer (Taylor Casas, Ezra LeBank and Cynthia Price) — an intense and gripping story told through dazzling acrobatic feats.
It centres around three people confined in a space — in this case, bordered by blue tape. At first, they get along well — but cracks begin to form and their relationships turn ugly as the three turn on each other.
Bossy Flyer convey all this through acrobatics — climbing atop each other, lifting one another in seemingly impossible ways, twirling each other around, and finally entangling each other in that blue tape.
What's especially impressive is how effortless they make it all look — when these feats clearly involve incredible effort, and remarkable strength and agility.
It's an engaging story about relationships told through top-notch physical theatre.
Audience members are a key component of this light-hearted gem of a show. All who enter Venue 12 become test subjects in a series of experiments conducted by a nameless professor and her trusty lab assistant.
Using common household items, they set up scenarios in which those in attendance demonstrate concepts such as "tactile gratification impulse," "geometric overlap fortitude" and "projectile target recognition."
The result is ridiculous good fun — made funnier by the fact neither professor nor assistant utters a single word throughout the entire show.
Fear not, those adverse to audience participation: the potential for embarrassment is low. All activities are refreshingly wholesome and relatively simple to execute. By design, making us do the work also enables some memorable unscripted moments. (The show I attended featured an absolutely villainous response to a "transgressive dilemma disposition" experiment involving Lego.)
Mind-blowing theatre this is not. However, it's a simple-yet-clever concept that's utterly charming in its execution.
Hits Like a Girl
Devon More calls herself an independent musician but clarifies that what we're about to watch is not a musical.
"I am not an actor," she adds. "This is not a play."
So what is Hits Like A Girl? One way to describe it would be a mix of songs, spoken word and storytelling. But really, the songs are more like multi-layered soundscapes — created live using an assortment of instruments and looping technology — that serve as the audio backdrop to a moving autobiographical account of what it's like to live through the aftermath of a serious head trauma.
More is a captivating performer who clearly understands the power of pacing; what started playful soon became something completely different, something weighty and profound. The packed house at the show I attended was riveted.
Is this a redemption story? Is it a tale of recovery and survival? Of evolution?
Whatever it is, it's good.
The art becomes the artist in this odd, but oddly touching, piece of wordless physical theatre by James & Jamesey co-creator Alastair Knowles.
He plays a black-and-white line drawing who comes to life and tries to find meaning and connection by making new art. He gleefully sketches audience members on a roll of pristine white paper — only to, time and again, find fault in his art and discard it.
Much of this is played for laughs — Knowles is delightful in his wide-eyed and playful enthusiasm.
But there also seems to be a deeper point here about the sometimes torturous process of making art — and continually striving for perfection.
But Knowles brings the audience back at the end, enveloping us in his character's paper world in a surprising and artful conclusion.
— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt
Spotlight: The Show with No Actors
At the start of Spotlight, a disembodied voice (creator Shelby Bond) informs audience members that there are no actors — rather, the audience will be the performers.
A cast selected via spotlight is recruited (yep, that included me at the performance I attended). From there, a melodrama about an office romance unfolds — with the voice directing, and the audience-member cast acting the drama out.
It's an intriguing theatrical experiment, and the audience participation is fine — Bond is consistently respectful of his not-quite-volunteers, and stresses this isn't about humiliation, but fun.
And for a while it is — but in the end, it just isn't fun enough. The novelty of the concept wears thin too soon, and the performers onstage never really have any agency — they're more puppets to a disembodied voice.
Insert a "welcome to being an actor" joke here, but the joy of that wears off after a while — I suspect for those watching in the audience as well as those on stage.
A brave concept, but Spotlight doesn't quite shine.
— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt
With files from Marlo Campbell and Joff Schmidt