St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival #fringebuzz
St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival – The 27th edition of the St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival is now officially unleashed upon the city, and thousands are now into “St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival” mode that will have them catch their share of comedy, music, dance performance art and offbeat shows until June 18.
And last Monday night (May 29), the good people at the St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival kicked off the proceedings the only way they know how: the “Fringe-For-All” at Café Campus. For those Fringe first timers, the Fringe-For-All is a no-holds-barred, anarchistic, hurleyburly of a showcase, in which nearly 50 local acts (in both English and French) that have been chosen to appear at this year’s festival get the opportunity to convince the packed crowd why they should go catch their respective shows during the course of the next two weeks. The only catch is that each act has exactly two minutes to state their case, before the stage literally goes dark when their time limit is up.
So while the artists were prepping for their two minutes’ worth of convincing potential audiences, myself and other members of the local media were beginning to get our fringe on at a special 5 a 7 cocktail reception at the Petit Campus, located below the main venue, as we were itching with anticipation to find out which shows were going to be our must-sees, and which will be the ones that will get the most fringe buzz amongst us media and the multitude of devoted spectators.
It was during that time that I got the chance to have a brief tete-a-tete with Amy Blackmore, the festival’s lively, amiable executive and artistic director, a role she has served with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm since 2011. “I’ve been going to the Fringe Festival since I was 17. And during one of my visits to the beer tent, someone out of the blue asked me for my opinion about one the shows. And for a 17-year-old going to their first festival, it meant a lot to me. It showed how the Fringe Festival is so together and more like a community,” she said. From there, she worked her way up the fringe ladder, assuming such roles as an associate producer and later assistant to her festival director predecessor Jeremy Hechtman.
Ms. Blackmore really takes in practically every aspect of the Fringe Festival, and is a constant presence at many of the festival’s events and shows, whether it be the late night 13th Hour showcase, free shows at Fringe Park, or the way out Drag Races. However, one of her favourite times during the festival is not one of the more high profile events. “It’s usually on a Sunday night around 11 p.m., when it’s one of the least attended periods of the festival,” she said. “Me and a number of my staffers decide to attend a show, have a few drinks and surprise and encourage whatever the act that is on stage that night. It’s one of my favourite Fringe rituals.”
She also admitted that she is looking forward to trying out a new venture that is being launched at this year’s festival called the “Fringe Menu”. A collaboration between the festival and 13 restaurants and clubs along St. Laurent Boulevard, the “Fringe Menu” will offer specially created food items and cocktails that will be offered for the duration of the festival.
I also had the chance to have a brief conversation with Paul Cargnello, who is this year’s Fringe Festival official spokesperson. “I am the first musician to be the festival’s spokesperson,” he said. “I have performed at the Fringe a number of times, and I love the fact that so many performers can occupy a public space like Fringe Park for people to enjoy.”
This year, besides making the usual public appearances and speeches that go with the job of spokesperson, Cargnello and his band Skinny Bros. will have the honour of headlining the opening concert at Fringe Park (located at Parc des Ameriques on St. Laurent and Rachel) on June 8 at 8 p.m. Also, he composed the festival’s very first official theme song called “Get Into the Fringe”, which was released to the public last week. However, Cargnello has a novel way to keep his theme song fresh year after year. “I’m pitching the idea to the Fringe Festival people that the musical style of the theme song change every year. One year it will punk reggae; the next year it can be jazz or blues or whatever,” he said.
It is now 6:45 p.m., and it’s time to make our way up to the main Café Campus venue for the Fringe-For-All. As me and my friend and fellow local media person Becky make our way to our favorite table (second row centre) in the reserved media section, we are greeted with the usual assortment of promotional flyers, cards and odd items that buries the table top, in order to help convince us to see their shows (my favorite is the pocket packs of Kleenex tissues that are used to plug the solo comedy show “0 Days Without Crying”).
Armed with my list of acts that are scheduled to appearat the Fringe-For-All, me and Becky are ready to witness, savour, comment, be amazed or shocked at what shows will bring off enough fringe buzz for us in order to make that effort to make the trip(s) to the selected venues where they will be playing.
Nearly four hours later, with my list marked up with check marks, Xs, question marks and stars (which denote my must-sees), here are a selection of Fringe shows that have me convinced to make that trek: “The Monkey King Gets His Staff”, “Illustrated Lady” (in which Fringe veteran Sophie Croteau will get audience members to decide which tattoo designs will be done on her body … live onstage!), Ellie MacDonald’s solo comedy show “Crazy Bitch”, “The Detective, the Dame and the Devil”, “Precinct: An Improvised Cop Story” (free Krispy Kreme donuts notwithstanding), “Leave the Therapy Take the Canoli” (free canolis notwithstanding), and yes, even “0 Days Without Crying”. Of course, like any devoted fringe goer (five years and counting for me), I have to leave some open slots to allow for positive word of mouth and fringe buzz for those shows that I haven’t given any thought to, but will constantly hear that I cannot miss (provided that there will be tickets available).
Let the fringing begin! #fringebuzz