What’s new at this year’s Fringe Fest

A first-time festival director and after-hours fun, for starters.

Shows are starting constantly in the Gottingen Street Fringe hub. - STEPHANIE MACDONALD
Stephanie MacDonald
Shows are starting constantly in the Gottingen Street Fringe hub.

This year's Atlantic Fringe Festival, spanning the city from September 1-11, brings some additions worth applauding. On its 26th birthday, Halifax's longstanding accessible and community oriented theatre fiesta is branching out.

For starters, Fringe has a new director. After festival leader Thom Fitzgerald stepped down last year (he now sits on the board of directors), Lee-Anne Poole assumed the role. This isn't Poole's first rodeo—she performed in the Fringe Fest when she was 15 years old. Since then, Poole has had a long and varied relationship with the festival, taking on many roles: Volunteer, performer, playwright, stage manager and staff member. She's well-seasoned to the Fringe world, and this go-around, she has a few ideas to make the festival even more magical.

"There's a lot that is like every other year," says Poole about 2016's edition of the giant city-wide festival of performance. The Fringe is happening for 11 days, in over 15 venues, totalling more than 350 performances. There will be touring artists from all over Canada and a few from the United Kingdom.

And this year when the curtains close, the entertainment won't stop. Late-night socials aplenty are peppered throughout the festival. "They're like network-y hubs," says Poole of the events, which are aimed at Fringe performers but open to the public. After an electric dance night and a screening of Nancy Kenny's On The Fringe documentary last week, one highlight from closing weekend is Tour Wars, an Al Lafrance-hosted evening of stories from the Fringe circuit Thursday, September 8, 7pm at Good Robot.

Also new this year, the fest features daytime workshops, run by Fringe performers. Covering all kinds of theatrical arts—from comedy to stage combat, playwriting to personal storytelling—the workshops are priced by the artists, with fees ranging from 10 to $100. If you've ever wanted to try performance art or build on a skill, now is your time. Kids won't miss out, either. In partnership with the Central Library, Fringe offered free theatre programming for children last weekend. "That's something that in future years we'd really like to expand on," says Poole of the all-ages activities.

The Fringe Festival has forever strived for accessibility. It's mandated to select performers on a non-juried, first-come first-served basis. Artists set their show prices and receive 100 percent of the profits, and the fest allows full artistic freedom to its participants. But Poole thinks this effort can go a bit further.

"A lot of people are intimidated to go see theatre sometimes. You're entering into a dark room," she says, "it's rude to get up and go pee." In recognition of these first-timer concerns, The Company House will host nightly comedy and direct address shows (where the performer speaks to the audience). Poole hopes the chill atmosphere of the Coho, and the audience's proximity to a bar, might invite Fringe novices to dip their toes.

If you needed more reasons to take part in the city's annual performance extravaganza, now you've got 'em. Convinced? Yeah you are! Tickets can be purchased online through Ticket Halifax, and at the box office inside The Bus Stop Theatre. Each individual venue will also have tix available a half hour ahead of show time.

In this guide we'll brush you up on what you should know, from reviews to must-sees. Should you thirst for more, including info on workshops, special after-hours events and the festival program from A-Z, The Coast's online listings have your back.

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