Montreal Fringe festival what to do today

Montreal can finally get its Fringe on again

This celebration of arts from all corners of the creative spectrum kicks into high gear on June 9, taking over the heart of the Plateau through June 19.

Ahhh, it feels good to get our Fringe on again. Known as a festival made for artists by artists, the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival is back and ready to surprise and entertain Montrealers enjoying the return of blissful summer weather. 

As the first Montreal Fringe Festival to take place in its full form since 2019, this unique 20-day celebration of arts from all corners of the creative spectrum is going down through June 19. The next several weeks of full-on fringing will include acts from the worlds of theatre, puppetry, music (including a performance from rapper Socalled on opening night), comedy, dance, storytelling and even burlesque. Given that it’s the first Fringe since The Before Times™, this year’s edition has thus far adapted smoothly to our pandemic reality.

“The part that we’re really excited about is the fact that we’re able to persevere through them,” says Amy Blackmore, the festival’s executive and artistic director, who also says she’s “overwhelmingly excited” about its return. 

“We’re still looking for volunteers, and we still need donations. But the artists are ready to go. They’re ready to perform. For our big opening night concert with Socalled on June 9, I have a feeling I’m going to walk into the beer tent that day and start bawling, because I’m going to be so happy to be back. Not having a Fringe beer tent for the past couple years has been really tough. We really rely on its income, but also because it’s where our community gathers to talk about shows and meet other people.”

Montreal Fringe
Flying on the G by melelaleow, Montreal Fringe 2022

Monday, May 31 marked the beginning of this year’s fest, with the opening Fringe-for-All show at Club Soda (full of short teasers of this year’s performances), which was preceded by a VIP cocktail for industry figures. As for what most separates this edition from previous ones? Blackmore credits the increased sense of drive among the performing artists, in part since they aren’t bound to any censorship rules and receive 100% of their box office ticket sales. Though that part of the Fringe experience stays the same, the festival is committed to developing a sense of “radical hospitality” at the festival going forward — including banning flyers (the first Canadian fringe festival to do so) and going ticketless to protect the environment. 

“We’re going to be saving 40,000 flyers from going into the recycling bin by doing that,” she adds. “Everything’s online… Fringe has definitely been growing up in recent years. I think we’re really starting to come into our own as an event. I’m expecting audiences to really feel that when we’re there.”

There are tons of excellent events and performances for fringers of all tastes, even if they buy a pass not knowing what they’re going to see beforehand. In Blackmore’s case, she’s excited for literally everything at this year’s festival, since she discovers the programming the same way the general public does—by buying a pass, since the money fully goes back to the artists. 

“I’ll probably start with a three-show pass, and then I’ll pick something I know I’m going to love,” she says, later naming The Awkward Ballerina as one of the shows she’s most excited for this year. “I’ll pick something somebody’s recommended to me, and then I’m going to pick a show at random.

Tymesha Harris performs Josephine Baker in JOSEPHINE (Montreal Fringe 2022). Photo by Roberto Gonzalez

“There’s a show called JOSEPHINE, a burlesque cabaret dream play, coming from the States. I actually saw that show at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival a couple years ago, and it blew me away. It’s about the life of Josephine Baker, and it’s a one-woman show. There’s also The Family Crow: A Murder Mystery, which is a puppet show. I really love puppetry, and Fringe is kind of where I get my puppetry fix. My background is in theatre, but I come from the dance world. This year, there’s so much dance happening. It’s going to be a little bit of an escapist Fringe.” 

77 companies from around the world — some from as far away as France and the United Kingdom, including English performance poet Jem Rolls — will be involved in this year’s festival. If you’re reading this and have never had the Montreal Fringe Festival experience, Blackmore has some ideas for where your journey should begin. 

“I would start by doing a Plateau Astro (walking astronomy) tour. That’s a tour in Jeanne-Mance Park where you get to look in a telescope and learn about what’s up in the sky,” she says. “Then I’d come to the beer tent (in the park at the corner of Rachel and St-Laurent) on our opening night to see Socalled play, and to really feel the spirit of Fringe. 

“Everyone’s going to be there. Artists will be there. It’s a great way to meet others, find out who’s at the festival, browse the posters we have up in the park, and make some choices. The three-show pass is a good entry, but you can’t stop at three. Also, the drag races with Mado Lamotte, which are taking place June 18 next to the beer tent — Mado brings her queens, we bring our own and it’s a big drag race where someone gets crowned at the end.”

This year’s festival also includes events held both in-person and on-demand, including 12 episodes of the Fringebuzz Lab podcast, hosted in English and French (each of them are already available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts).

Ultimately, Blackmore is proud of the reflection the festival has done over the last two years, and how it’s influenced this year’s programming. Having run the festival as long as she has, she views fringe festivals as being something that can change the world.

“We’re seeing fringe festivals pop up internationally. The movement is real, it’s great, and it’s a lot of fun at the end of the day,” she says. “There’s a lot of generosity around our event, because it’s a people power kind of festival.” ■

This article was originally published in the June issue of Cult MTL.

For the complete 2022 Montreal Fringe program, please visit the festival’s official website.

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