Random Dude: Thoughts on life from Dustin Sacks
Fringe Festival and Infringement
Posted on September 6, 2007 @ 6:02pm tagged with

The Vancouver Fringe Festival opens today! The fringe is dedicated to showcasing independent and experimental theater performances that you probably wouldn't have a chance to see otherwise. It's been voted Vancouver's Best Arts Festival five years in a row by Georgia Straight readers!

CBC covers some controversy some artists are raising, which isn't a new thing for fringe festivals. Canada has the dubious distinction of being the birthplace of the reactionary (and moronic) Infringement Festival.

I looked around to see if I could find some dedicated fringe bloggers, but couldn't find anybody unfortunately (I'll keep looking). Without Annette has been blogging the Montreal Fringe for the past few years, and it's definitely gained them increased notoriety on the circuit there.

Lucky timing, an inside connection, and a last-minute drop-out combined to make me a part-time venue captain at Performance Works! So I may be able to spread some insider buzz...

UPDATE: I posted my 2007 Vancouver fringe festival picks.

< Betty's coming back  Day 2 fringe festival report >

The Pundits Say (22 comments)

I saw a bunch of shows at the Victoria fringe, and will possibly see some in Vancouver. You can find some newspaper reviews from victoria online, but here's some buzz straigtht from the horses ass:

Cody Rivers: Always great and they're also super nice guys to boot. Funny and unique, great physicality. This is one show I would recommend to anyone with a pulse. I might take one of my neices to go see them.

Scratch: These guys do some great duo improv which I think you might be into.

Dir Roten Punkte: High energy fun Clown Rock (Clown in the theatre sense). It's up to you if that sounds appealing or not. I know some people who weren't that impressed, but I think they did a great job despite Victoria's predominantly reserved crowd.

Pajama Men: Talented and funny guys. Especially good if you haven't seen them, or haven't seen them in awhile (like when they were known as Sabotage), but it's diminishing returns for me; I wish they would play with the structure of their show from year to year. Still enjoyable though.

Anorexican looks intriguing, but I don't really know anything about it. I've seen her do some good improv, but I've never seen her scripted stuff.

One show that I notice absent from Vancouver is Giant Invisible Robot. This is a heads up for next year: GO SEE IT!


You can ask for an email if you want to know a couple of shows that I found dissapointing (although none truly awful). I've got no need to slam 'em in public. However, I will say something up about Timekeepers: decent show, but they are douchewads -

http://www.canada.com/victoriatimescolonist/news/go/story.html?id=5a03a6bc-d419-4c1b-9d30-b4e5982a99cc

It's too bad that the article left out their possibly-Borat-inspired "evil gypsy" comment, because that was the funniest part to me.
  - comment by Alex on September 6, 2007 at 08:26pm

I love this festival! Would encourage everyone to visit it at least once
  - comment by Jay Banks on September 7, 2007 at 05:35am

Why is the infringement (infringementfestival.com) moronic? Shouldn't Canada be proud of inventing something like this?
  - comment by Sandy on September 7, 2007 at 09:25am

So you call the infringement festival "moronic"
I think it's moronic for artists to have to pay as much as 6oo$ to be a part of the Montreal Fringe Fest.
  - comment by Gary on September 7, 2007 at 09:33am

Paying even 700$ for a venue with equipment and a technician spread over 7 shows is 100$ a night. That's more than a fair rate considering the quality of some of the venues available. Of course, you might end up in a not-so-hot venue but even the worst venue is usually good enough to be worth the price. I've always felt like the artist got what they paid for. I suppose the same can be said for festivals with no entry fees.
  - comment by vinny9 on September 7, 2007 at 11:50am

Yeah, but what about paying half that for a bring-your-own-venue or "off-Fringe" event where the festival gives you nothing except for a listing in the program.

Don't forget that the Fringe was itself created as an alternative to the far-too-commercial and exclusive Edinburgh International Festival.

Between 1947 and now, it got trademarked, pricey and lost it's way, so the infringement Festival came along to recapture some of that DIY, activist spirit.

If you think that's "moronic" then maybe you're thinking a little too much about the bottom line, which makes sense.

When there's a $600 entry fee, it forces artists to think about how to make their money back before what their show's going to say or artistically convey.
  - comment by Jason on September 7, 2007 at 03:54pm

Every year there's a packed waiting list of groups who were willing to put up the money, but there wasn't enough space. They all know it's worth it, even though it costs some dough.

The selection procedure is still totally random (i.e. fair). The diversity of acts plus the awesome community of players, workers, and volunteers always make for an amazing festival.

If you can't have fun at the fringe, you're a moron. Thus, the infringement is moronic.
  - comment by dustin on September 7, 2007 at 04:08pm

I won't argue that the BYOV aspect of the Fringe is of questionable value. It's something I'm not a fan of. I already think the Montreal Fringe has too many acts. The audience simply isn't there to support almost 100 shows. The BYOV just dilutes it even further. As a performer, I personally don't see the appeal. You would likely be better off using your own venue when you don't have to compete with the full Fringe.

The vibe at the Fringe is still pretty independent. I mean, there are people who will sneer at the troupes using colour posters (gosh, they must be loaded!). If you find the Fringe not hardcore DIY enough, then you have the the other 50 weeks of the year to revel in. And as for activism, art can entertain, it can move, it can inform and just about whatever else you care to ascribe to it. Decrying a festival for its lack of activism is calling for a limited palette of independent art.

As for thinking about the bottom line at the Fringe, acts will always want to have as many people as possible see their show so even without an entry fee the motivation already exists to maximize one's audience. To say that it "forces artists to think about how to make their money back before what their show's going to say or artistically convey" is really overstating the case. What it does do is force artists to not sit on their ass and hope people just show up. It takes a solid show _and_ hard work to have a successful run (and I don't mean fiscally). That's a valuable, practical lesson for many of the amateurs who participate.
  - comment by vinny9 on September 7, 2007 at 05:09pm

So some artist who doesn't have $600 for a registration fee, and therefore "can't have fun at the Fringe", but does have a great show is a moron?

What about an artist who does have the money but would rather have fun at the infringement, away from major (sometimes unethical) corporate sponsorship. Are they a moron, too?

Is someone who lives in a community where there isn't a CAFF-sanctioned Fringe Festival, but there is an infringement (ie. Buffalo, NY, Lake Eustis, FL, Bordeaux, France) a moron too for participating?

I have nothing against the artists that wait on a list to play the Fringe year after year - some of them offer very good, original work.

I'm just happy that for them and everyone else, there's another, equally fun and significantly less expensive option out there.
  - comment by Jason on September 7, 2007 at 05:34pm

Oy. That escalated quickly. Ad hominems, like calling people morons, seem unnecessary. I think a little civility would go a long way.

The fringe tries to be inclusive, but why not accept that some people do not feel included and have wanted to create something alternative to the alternative. A difference in perspective or principles does not necessarily imply someone is a moron, and it doesn't behooves anyone to imply as much. To each their own.

phew! This teapot is getting windy!
  - comment by alex on September 7, 2007 at 06:35pm

As a long-time and enthusiastic employee of the Edinburgh Fringe, I object to its being characterised as having "lost it's way" (not least of all because it should be "lost ITS way," jeez!).

Though it's true that there are a number of big name, commercial acts that work the Fringe these days, without the guaranteed cash flow of someone like a Stewart Lee or an Ed Byrne (who usually charge £15/$30 a ticket, but sell out anyway), many venues would be simply unable to take on the financial burden of the twenty other nobodies who sell two seats a night. A great show is a thing of beauty, but it alone won't pay for a technician to do the lights every night for a month, or for box office staff to sell the tickets, or for ushers to get the audience in (never mind for the printing and distribution of flyers, posters, programs, etc.).

There was a venue at the 2007 Ed Fringe that tried to be more inclusive by not charging its acts an advance. It went bust three days before the Fringe started and most of the shows, by that point, couldn't find other venues and had to go home. Is that a better result? A modest down payment upfront (and $600 Canadian is modest, believe me) has less to do with evil money-grabbing corporations than it does with pragmatic ones.
  - comment by goodladd on September 7, 2007 at 09:14pm

You don't need to be a performer to have fun at the fringe. If you can't put up the money then go see some shows. Volunteer and you can see things for free.

The Montreal fringe sets an excellent mix of offering widely accessible venues and ensuring there's some really good shows.

If you can't hack the $600 entry then come do some street theater near the fringe. You're missing out on the fabulous fringe community by taking your ball home to a separate infringement. That's what I think is moronic.
  - comment by dustin on September 8, 2007 at 04:33am

dustin,

You don't need to be a performer to have fun at the Fringe, or at the infringement either. Volunteering and seeing shows can be a total blast.

You do, however, need money to participate as an artist in the Fringe. Even to perform street theatre and have it included in the program costs you the BYOV fee (roughly half). At the infringement, you can both volunteer and perform for free.

goodlad,

I was really talking about how the CAFF Fringe Festivals have lost the spirit of the fringe that began in Edinburgh in 1947, but since you brought the current Ed Fringe into this, I think it's only fair to point out that the fees paid to the venues are not the only expense for artists. You've got to pay the "Fringe Office" £277.30 just to get into the program (and that's the early bird rate!), you've got to pay to apply and you even have to pay for information on how to apply.

You need some pretty serious backing to put on a show there, which many artists just don't have.

dustin and goodlad,

It seems to me that only allowing those with cash to participate as artists is really more mainstream junior than fringe, but I realize that this format might be just right for some artists, so more power to them.

I'm just glad that those who don't fit that mold (either through lack of funds or desire to be in a less heavily corporate environment) have another place to go where they can get themselves out there and have just as much (and probably more) fun doing it.
  - comment by Jason on September 8, 2007 at 07:34am

I was really using the Ed Fringe as illustrative - I think it's possible to maintain the ethos of Fringe theatre and still acknowledge that you need to put some money in to get a good result out.

If we're talking about a commercial behemoth like Ed Fringe, I'd say £300 is a pretty reasonable outlay considering what you get. The Fringe Office are a fantastically talented group of people who spend most of the year planning and working hard to make sure that when the 1,600 shows all turn up on August 1st, audiences know what's on and how to get there. I think it's a bit much to expect them to do this pro bono.

And let's be honest, even if you're not paying to participate in a Fringe, it's not like all your other expenses magically disappear when you enter an Infringement. Costumes, props, publicity, gas, accommodation, food, etc., etc.; nobody, as has been already stated in this thread, should be going into Fringe theatre worried about the bottom line. That includes acknowledging that most Fringe theatre (Infringement or not) is more likely to cost you money than make you money.

Finally, I'm going to agree with Dustin's point that you're better off trying to find ways to do free things at an existing Fringe than starting your own. At this year's Ed Fringe, the Forrest Cafe (which is right in the centre of Fringe Ground Zero in Edinburgh) had free shows all day, every day; the Laughing Horse Free Festival integrates itself with the Fringe. By capitalising on the warmth and goodwill of an audience that is already there (not to mention tired of paying money for things) you can have a lot more success than if you get huffy and go have your own party somewhere else.
  - comment by goodladd on September 8, 2007 at 08:20am

I remember an article on CMAQ from a few years ago, and dug it up. I think it offers a compelling argument as to how the Fringe has lost its way.

http://www.cmaq.net/fr/node.php?id=17309
  - comment by Jean-Francois on September 8, 2007 at 01:12pm

Here's my main problem with the Infringement festival:

It comes across as very negative with a "chip-on-its-shoulder" attitude. Its entire existence appears to be based on what it is not, i.e.: the Fringe. This vibe might be intended to be counter-mainstream but to my eyes it simply seems bitter, angry and indignant; that's not what I personally look for in an arts fest.

While some may present the Infringement as an alternative to co-exist alongside the Fringe, this argument might carry more weight if it wasn't scheduled during the same time as the Fringe. This squarely puts the Infringement Fest in an either-or position with the Fringe fest.

I submit that if the principles of the Infringement have their own merit, change the name and scheduling dates and let it flourish in its own space. If it truly is a superior alternative, it should eventually outstrip the Fringe itself on its own terms. I would genuinely welcome a second arts festival, perhaps even one in the midst of winter when there's not much going on and indoor events only need to be heated to draw people.
  - comment by vinny9 on September 8, 2007 at 05:59pm

This is the Infringement lady: http://www.infringementfestival.com/montreal/

This is the Infringement lady on her Blackberry:
http://www.grotto11.com/blog/images/Image.54644.1.jpg
  - comment by chrisdye on September 8, 2007 at 09:40pm

vinny9,

The infringement in Montreal hasn't had the same dates as the Fringe since 2005.

For the past two years, it overlapped only the last weekend, running only music shows at first and saving the theatre component until after the Fringe ended. In Ottawa, it has never even overlapped, in Buffalo there isn't a CAFF Fringe.

While there could conceivably be an infringement in the winter (there will be one in Florida this year) it makes it a little difficult for the street theatre component.

As for the name, the festival gives a chance for anyone to artistically infringe on the corporate monoculture or anything else they find oppressive.

Some might take issue with the CAFF trademarking the word Fringe, while others would rather culture-jam corporate spam like reality ads and billboard trucks (the main focus of the Ministry of Culture-Jamming this year in Montreal), others would rather perform a comedy about Dracula dealing with global warming, while still more would rather have fun in a not-so-pointedly-political way like holding an impromptu parade, making origami or just rocking out.

goodladd,

Of course expenses like props, costumes and food don't disappear (accommodation expenses can, as the infringement does try to find out of town acts a couch to crash on, as do some CAFF Fringe Festivals). For some artists, it's hard enough to meet those expenses without having to pay to be in the festival's program as well.

When the supposed counterculture, or fringe, has become a "commercial behemoth" it's good to see that people don't have to be part of it (even on the outskirts, for free) to have fun artistically, or can be part of it and part of another festival maybe more up their alley as well. The Fringe doesn't have exclusivity over what is fringe, despite CAFF trademarking the word for North America (something the Ed Fringe hasn't done - which I applaud)
  - comment by Jason on September 9, 2007 at 03:11am

I stand corrected on the dates. I was checking this year's infringement dates against next year's fringe dates.
  - comment by vinny9 on September 9, 2007 at 10:37am

I think infringement is very different fron Fringe as a concept. Fringe is trademarked, infringement violates the trademark; Fringe is supposedly on the border, infringement crosses the line; Fringe supposedly exists as an alternative to the corporate, infringement attempts to change the whole system. In other words, while it is certainly related to the now-tame and overly-corporate "Fringe", infringement is perhaps more relevant to the 21st Century than the original "Fringe" concept in 1947.
  - comment by Jean-Francois on September 12, 2007 at 11:44am

I've changed the title of this post to more accurately represent the discussions. I also added a link to my reviews of 2007 Vancouver fringe festival shows.
  - comment by dustin on September 14, 2007 at 05:07am

little late in the day - but I will add my tuppence worth - last year (07) i looked into doing the ed fringe (since it is but a couple of hundred miles away). The financial obligation for a month in ed turned out to be the same as doing 4, count 'em, 4 CAFF festivals (including flights). Needless to say - i came to canada in late july and returned to england early october - for the same freakin money. Ed just isnt worth it unless you are there to be talent spotted (which does happen - but you have to have an agent). As a footnote - needless to say - I'll be back in canada this year (you guys also have a summer!)
  - comment by monkey chap on January 1, 2008 at 10:34pm

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