Play on words

Atlantic Fringe Festival celebrates 23 years with a charcuterie board of entertainment, sampling buskers, sci-fi, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and comedy.

"It really is interesting that we see themes emerging regardless–some brooding shows, some sketch comedy, more sci-fi than we expected," says Atlantic Fringe Festival chair Kevin Kindred. "That's not by design, it's just a sign of what artists want to do, and what they think audiences will look for."

With zany acts like Scott Sharplin's ZomRomCom, a zombie romantic comedy, and Zoe Erwin-Longstaff's Half Girl/Half Face, a take on today's social media craze, the Atlantic Fringe Festival gives performers and playwrights opportunity to test the waters with a live, eager, open-minded audience.

Also, the fest broadens our community, offering theatre productions in unlikely venues. This year Atlantic Fringe Festival expands its theatre map to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the Museum of Natural History and Plan B Gallery on Gottingen.

"I've never seen live shows in any of those spaces, so I'm excited for the festival to inject theatre into spaces like that," says Kindred. "We're also trying to build up the festival's capacity to allow artists to promote their productions with a Fringe Talk Show."

For festival director Thom Fitzgerald, the Fringe is the cornerstone of live theatre in the region. By nature, there is no selection process, curation is unpermitted, and artists are showcased at a first-come, first- served basis.

"The fringe movement grew out of rebellion to the stuffy art curators in Edinburgh, Scotland," says Fitzgerald. "Vanguard artists who were frowned upon by the Edinburgh Theatre Festival had their own festival in ad-hoc venues nearby. Decades later the Edinburgh Fringe is one of the largest cultural events on the planet."

Fitzgerald believes in the freedom of the fringe. It's a forum where artists make the art they want to make, play they parts they've longed to perform. Essentially, it's a free-for-all with a flavour for every taste bud. "Most fringe festivals around the world have buskers. Locally we have always had the Busker Festival earlier in the summer, but we've always been approached by buskers," he says. "This year we decided to go for it, close down the street, celebrate outdoor street theatre as well as indoor stages. It's what Fringe is all about."

With an emphasis on local acts, this year's Fringe also offers some incredible global talent, including Tayo Aluko's Call Mr. Robeson, a play about activist Paul Robeson. "I feel that in the life of this one remarkable man, people can learn a heck of a lot about modern world history and politics," says Aluko. "Paul Robeson, like many activists in history and right up to the present day, have been cynically misrepresented in the media."

Based in Liverpool, England, Aluko has crafted a warts-and-all story about a man who worked hard for a better world, despite being dismissed by society, and prevailed as a civil rights activist.

"The play contains a lot of music which I sing live, and people wanted to hear 'Ol' Man River' will not be disappointed," he says. "Audiences will also get a chance to hear some impressive examples of Paul Robeson's oratory, which precedes and rivals that of people like Dr. King and Malcolm X. Above all, they can be edutained and inspired."

For Aluko, fringe festivals are integral to his craft.

"Fringe gives me a chance to take my art to far-flung places, and also to see and be inspired by other performers from all over the world," he says. "I also get to meet hundreds of really interesting and kind people."

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