Fringe is mayhem and drama wrapped up into performance and every year there are a couple of standout performances on the circuit. This weekend the Calgary Fringe Festival kicks off its 2012 run and we had a chance to touch base with four shows with buzz heading their way west. First up Loon.
A LOON AND HIS MOON: The Wonderheads are back and have brought with them their spectacular show Loon. It’s been described as a magical living cartoon, heartwarming and unusual. It’s wowed the crowds in Winnipeg (getting 5 stars from the CBC and just about everyone else) and it’s set to take the stage this weekend at the Calgary Fringe Festival.
Photo courtesy of Wonderheads
Loon is a story of a man, the moon and a dream. Meet Frances, a cinema janitor with the weight of the world on his shoulders. That is until he finds a box filled with forgotten things that brings his dreams to life.
“The style of Loon is very unusual -– it’s performed in full-face mask and without words,” explained Kate Braidwood, one of the two Wonderheads masterminds (the other being director Andrew Phoenix) and the head behind the mask. ”Sometimes this scares people away, but we like to compare it to watching a living cartoon, or live-action Pixar. It’s a really magical, imaginative form, and people are often surprised at how much story is possible to convey through gesture alone, how the mask itself seems to shift and change expressions, even though technically, it can’t.”
And they’re thrilled to be bringing Loon to Calgary, it’s their third time here (two Fringes and the International Festival of Animated Objects) and they took home Best of the Fringe from last year’s Calgary Fringe Fest for Grim and Fischer. With Loon, they wowed the crowds last week at the Winnipeg Fringe. Although Loon didn’t qualify for Best of the Fest in the ‘Peg for 2012 (they were a Bring Your Own Venue performance and only official Fringe venue shows are eligible), the CBC gave it their own honourable mention with Outstanding Out of Town performance and five stars.
“The response has been wonderful,” said Kate. “Grim and Fischer, the show we toured last summer, was received so well that we were definitely nervous about the possibility of that sophomore slump. But we’ve just come from a close to sold out run in the Winnipeg Fringe and our audiences have responded really well to Loon.
“The style itself is so unusual and rarely seen on North American stages, so it’s an opportunity to see something really different. But style aside, it’s also an enchanting story. It features our hero Francis and his unlikely adventure in looking for love, and it’s about things we can all relate to: love and loneliness and the stuff of childhood dreams.”
It’s like a Scooby-Doo mystery, but with improv. In Peter n’ Chris and the Hungry Heart Motel, Vancouver duo Chris Wilson and Peter Carlone set out in this send-up of mystery-solvers everywhere. But one difference, the hotel manager did it.
“The response has been amazing,” said Chris. “We just sold out our whole run in Winnipeg, and we’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback from patrons and reviews. It’s feeling like this year in particular, our hard work from the past three years on the fringe and comedy festivals is paying off.”
They were honoured with a Best of the Fringe last week in the ‘Peg and (bragging time according to Chris) the duo won Audience Choice at the Toronto SketchFest, got nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award and won the Just for Laughs – Best Comedy in Montreal.
And why should people come out and see them? To have some laughs. Not to mention Peter is from Calgary and thinks our city is awesome (he’s happy to be back and Chris thinks it’s pretty nice so far) and it’s always good to see a hometown boy being a success. A Peter n’ Chris show is about having fun.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say we are that much different than other fringe shows. However, if the majority of fringe shows are one man shows, then we are different because we have way more people on stage than that. Like, one more than that. There are two of us, so if my math is correct that’s at least 33.3 per cent more people on stage than the average one-man show,” joked Chris. “We consider our shows to be sketch comedy, but have a more narrative structure, where you follow two characters journey for an hour. So that make us different than a lot of the sketch comedy out there as we are basically performing an hour long sketch, but makes us similar to fringe shows, as you could just classify that as a comedic play.
“We love physical comedy though. Our plays have a lot of choreographed dance numbers and chase scenes. We try and put as much physicality into our plays as we can. We might differ from other shows, in that our plays are just joke machines. We set up a situation and then cram as many laughs-per-minute as we possibly can. Not to sell ourselves short, but you’re not going to find a deeper meaning to life in our shows, but hopefully you laugh consistently for an hour and have a nice time. That’s our main goal.”
The Last Man on Earth is something old made fresh again. The Keystone Theatre specializes in creating works that have the aesthetic of a silent film, but live on stage. In Last Man, Gormless Joe (Phil Rickaby) is the last innocent man on earth and the Devil’s (Stephen LaFrenie) goal is to corrupt him. With the help of his minion (Sarah Joy Bennett) the Devil sets out to entice but all Joe wants is the girl (Dana Fradkin). All this is set to a live soundtrack performed by pianist David Atkinson.
“Audiences have been great. We have had enthusiastic responses with every performance,” explained Phil Rickaby who plays Gormless Joe. “The show was one of the Best of Fest in Winnipeg, and the theatre has been packed for each show. People who have seen the show continually tell us how much they enjoyed it, waiting to tell us after the show, or stopping us on the street, tweeting us.”
“The Last Man on Earth is a play in the style of a silent film. In the show, we attempt to create a silent film aesthetic, making all props and set pieces, costumes and even the actors’ faces in black and white, all in an attempt to create the feel of a silent film live on stage.”
And why should people see it?
“To see a show that’s like nothing you have seen before,” replied Phil. “To have a good laugh for an hour.”
STANDING OUT: Johnnie Walker stars in Redheaded Stepchild, a story that will have you laughing and crying at the same time, about a 12-year-old boy and his impending fate at the hands of the bullies.
Photo courtesy of Nobody’s Business Theatre
It’s funny, it’s poignant and it will tug on your heartstrings. Redheaded Stepchild introduces us to Nicholas, a 12-year-old boy who has a head of fiery red hair and all the problems being different brings.
“I think people come to the show expecting it to be funny. We’ve got a funny poster and funny promo images and it’s definitely a really funny show, but it also gets people in a more emotional place that they weren’t necessarily expecting,” explained Johnnie Walker Co-Artistic Producer of Nobody’s Business Theatre and the man that brings Nicholas to life. “So many time we’ve had people approach us after the show and say they were coming to the show for a laugh and wound up being moved to tears.”
Redheaded Stepchild was the gem of the Winnipeg Fringe and really came into its own.
“We’ve performed the show before in Toronto and for a brief run at Uno Fest in Victoria, but nothing quite prepared us for the way we’ve been received in Winnipeg. We’ve had five-star reviews, won Best of Fest, sold out almost every show, and were featured on the cover of Uptown Magazine. In fact, the only critic who gave us a four-star review was interviewed at Fringe Live! and declared (unsolicited) that he had made a mistake and should have given us five stars. (Seriously, check it out),” he said. “I’ve had people come up to me on the street constantly to say congratulations and even ask for an autograph once or twice. The response has been wonderful!”
And it’s a show that has something for everyone.
“It’s also a show that appeals to a broad age range, which is neat. I wrote the show for an adult audience, but we’ve found that it also really works for younger audiences, and it’s great to see it connecting differently with different generations,” explained Johnnie. “We have a line in the show that everyone, at some point, has been either a bully, or a redheaded stepchild. And while obviously not everyone in the audience has gone through the experience of going through adolescence with red hair and a weird step-mom, I think that there are parts of the story that anyone who has ever felt like an outcast will be able to relate to. Also, there’s wigs and action figures and lip-syncing and lots of other fun stuff.”