Every year as the summer starts to heat up, the Montreal St-Ambroise Fringe Festival sweats it out thespian-style on the city’s small stages. Until June 24, close to a hundred local and international theatre and dance shows offer a unique up-close-and-personal entertainment experience. Not only that, free outdoor music shows – and burlesque and drag shows – at the Fringe Park/Beer Tent and famed late-night cornucopias of theatrical hijinks.
The Fringe attracts a diverse crowd, from fellow thespians to students to families. With so many shows, all with ticket prices at $10 or under, there really is something for everyone. Theatre inspired by dramatic classics (this year, Machiavelli and Ibsen inspire) as well as autobiographical solo shows (tackling everything from relationships to grad school) hold their own next to group dance spectacles, circus acts (there’s even a free Cirque du Soleil Workshop on June 19) and sketch comedy (Robin Henderson’s Act of Rod, for one).
Fringe’s June 14-17 weekend coincides with Main Madness, when Saint-Laurent Boulevard becomes a pedestrian-only zone from Sherbrooke to Mont Royal Avenue. At the corner of St-Laurent and Rachel is the famed Fringe Park and Beer Tent, a kind of madcap headquarters. Much of the Fringe’s success relies on DIY promotion by the show’s creators (and their friends) as well as on fans talking up the shows – that’s part of why the Fringe Park is such a scene.
Not only is the Fringe Park a prime-location meeting place, but there’s a message board for show reviews and other valuable info (missed connections, anyone?) and plenty of entertainment to go along with the socializing. On June 15, starting at 3 p.m., see six hot bands at the 6th annual Indyish Fringe Showcase, while June 16 offers up more bands plus the always-hilarious drag queen races, followed by June 17’s Dramaturkey and Confabulation wild storytelling time. Music and theatrics continue throughout the week, culminating in Pop Montreal programming the park’s entertainment June 23-24. And for even more music, check out the June 15-23 Fringe programming at local hot spot Divan Orange.
Though theatre is the focus of Fringe, Montreal’s strong and vibrant dance community has always played a big roll in the festival’s success – dance is, after all, perhaps the most bilingual of the performing arts. This year, familiar faces return and new ones make their mark in Fringe style, among them: Gold Ink Mouth, Still Milking the Sacred Cow, Corps Chorus, Josiane Fortin Danse, Correspon(dance), Ethereal Tribal and several more troupes exploring the vast territory of bodily communication.
With such an abundance of shows, navigating the Montreal Fringe Festival might seem daunting, but the handy Fringe fest guide, along with daily updates in local papers and blogs, makes focusing your attention that much easier. Good ideas can also be found at the free, late-night showcase The 13th Hour, where snippets of shows, stand-up, improv and dance parties are de rigeur – every night at 1 a.m. from June 15-23 at Cabaret du Mile End.
Montreal Fringe Festival, June 4-24, 2012
Photos: Cindy Lopez