Hamilton Fringe Festival is back in action this week, taking place on 14 different stages across the city, featuring more than 350 performances by more than 60 artistic companies.
Starting Wednesday evening until July 31, the festival will feature live theatre, dance and musical performances.
A free kick-off event, starting at 7:30 pm at an outdoor stage at Theater Aquarius, will have audience members watch 60-second previews from festival performers.
Festival director Christopher Stanton told CBC Hamilton the opening night is a great way to help people decide which performances they will decide to go see throughout the rest of the festival. The evening will be formally opened by Mohawk elder and knowledge keeper Allan Loft, will be hosted by Hamilton storyteller Carlyn Rhamey and feature a performance by Toronto-based Oji-Cree singer-songwriter Aysanabee.
As for the rest of the festival, here are some things you need to know:
The festival is an accessible, all-ages event
While each individual performance has an age suitability, there are a multitude of family and child-friendly events during the 12-day long festival, including the Family Fringe Hub and a Family Fringe Carnival Day.
Free family-friendly programming including daily arts-based workshops is available at the family hub at Bridgeworks outdoors starting at 12 pm on weekdays and between 10:30 am and 2:30 pm on the weekends during the festival.
Kids Club Camp is also offered for the first time in-person this year, where five to 12-year-olds can be registered for a week of drama, dance and music. Kids will have the chance to catch performances, interact with local guest artists daily and participate in a final talent show.
Outside of the Family Fringe Hub, there is festival programming throughout that is available to all ages, Stanton said, however, each show does get its own rating determined by the individual performance groups.
Hamilton Fringe also aims to be accessible so everyone can enjoy it, said Stanton. That means some events, such as those at the outdoor stage outside Theater Aquarius or some at the family hub, are free.
“I have a young family in Hamilton and I know a bunch of us on staff do. So we’re always so cognizant of when a festival feels like it’s not really for you – and there’s nothing worse than that feeling,” Stanton said.
“We want to have a place where you can bring your kids out to carnival day, on Saturday in the afternoon, then stay for the evening and get some babysitters and watch some plays that are meant more for more mature audiences, with a little bolder happy,” he said.
The festival website lists the accessibility of each space that features a performance this year. It also features “relaxed performances,” meaning those at reduced audio and stage levels, some with American Sign Language interpretation and some with subtitles or captions.
It’s back in-person after 2 years
2022 marks the first year that the Hamilton Fringe has been back in full-force for in-person events since 2019 and there is a lot of excitement in the air, Stanton said.
“I’m just thrilled that we get to be in a space together sharing experience with a live experience, with audiences,” he said.
“It’s that being together with other people, experiencing a show and that kind of communal experience,” he said. “That’s what live theater for me is about and it’s what keeps me coming back.”
Tickets can be purchased or reserved online or at the main box office at Fringe Club up to one hour before the individual performances and in-person at the performance venues until just before show time.
For shows with a ticket fee, the cost for audience members is $12 for general admission, $5 for kids under 12 years-old and free for kids under five.
Fringe Festival patrons, including passholders, will have to make a one-time purchase of a ‘Fringer Backer Button’ to access paid, ticketed in-person events for a cost of $5 plus fees.
Children under 12 do not require the button and buttons are available online and at all venues.
14 stages will host events, but virtual is still an option
The Fringe Club outdoor stage at Theater Aquarius acts as the main hub for the festival and offers free programming during the course of the festival at 190 King William Street.
On top of the free performances at this venue, the Fringe Club also hosts a licensed patio, panel discussions, food, crafts and a marketplace.
The Player’s Guild of Hamilton and The Zoetic are some of the other spots to indulge in some Fringe Festival performances and all show information can be found online on the festival site.
There are also performances at spaces the performers themselves chose.
The Movement Museum is one of the performances featured in the Bring Your Own Venue (BYOV) portion of the festival.
While performances on the festival stages are selected through a lottery system, BYOV allowed for artists to suggest their own performance venues.
Alyssa Nedich is one of the directors of The Movement Museum which will be hosted at the dance studio of the show’s co-director, Josh Taylor.
The show features an “experiential guided tour” of movement. “The audience gets this experience where they walk through as if they were in a museum, but rather than statues, art and all those wonderful things you normally see, they get to see physical movement exhibits,” Nedich said.
She describes it as a celebration of enjoying movement at its core, showcasing a variety of artists in the exhibition.
“Having that experience to watch artists a little closer up I think can be really cool. So much of dance is experienced on a stage,” she said.
Site specific work like The Movement Museum is the type of event that allows a certain kind of creativity that Nedich said she finds “really fascinating and playful.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing how the audience can interact with that,” she said.
BYOV is a feature of this year’s festival that allows audience members to take-in synchronous and asynchronous performances from home – something that was adapted from offerings during pandemic restrictions.
“This year, we put a call out to folks and just just to see if people were still interested in doing virtual work again this year because we got to know the form and we got to know it pretty well over the last two years,” Stanton said.
Stanton said that because there was still an appetite for some virtual performances, festival coordinators wanted to maintain their priorities around equity and accessibility.
“Thinking about how we could invite everybody into this in a way that they feel comfortable and good about things – knowing that there are going to be folks that are not ready to come into a theater yet with other people – we wanted to offer an option to people who felt compelled to, you know, sit it out again this year [and watch from home],” he said.
For the BYOV performances, there’s a sliding scale for tickets in a pay-what-you-can-afford model for pricing. Audience members for these shows can choose to pay $5, $12 or $20 for their show ticket, with all of the money going back to the artists who have created the pieces.
Record number of Hamilton performers, from students to lawyers
“This year we have the most Hamilton based companies that we’ve ever had, which is fantastic,” Stanton said.
While this is something that Stanton said the Hamilton Fringe Festival has been trying to platform for a long time, it’s finally happening in a big way this year.
“There’s definitely a real hum of little Hamilton companies that are coming up, which is really exciting,” he said.
Stanton said there is also a wide range of performers involved in Fringe festivities as the performances are selected based on a lottery system, so anyone can apply to perform their work.
“There’s students coming right out of school that are in the festival, there’s 20-year veterans that are doing it,” Stanton said.
“But there’s also people that are tax accountants in their day-to-day life and they’ve had a play that they’re just like, ‘I want to see what this looks like on stage,’ and everybody’s invited, everybody’s welcome ,” Stanton said.
The festival will also feature companies from all over Ontario and across Canada, with companies from Edmonton, Vancouver and Quebec putting on this year’s show.
Steven Morton is in Hamilton from Calgary to perform his show Drag me to the Opera as Aida Cupcake.
While Morton debuted his piece at the Calgary Fringe Festival in 2021, he said that this will be the first time that Drag me to the Opera is being performed outside of Alberta.
“My whole thing with this show is that I feel like in our day and age, opera has become quite unapproachable,” Morton said.
“Particularly grand opera, that is performed in a different language, can be very difficult to digest for someone who has never been to an opera before,” he said.
Through his piece, Morton has created and performs the show as drag persona Aida Cupcake in a way that tells his own story and hopefully allows a window into the world of opera.
“I wanted to create a show that could introduce people to opera that would be like really fun and really enjoyable, a good starting point,” Morton said.
“Then hopefully, eleven people have got a little bit of a taste for it, they can go approach it.
Drag me to the Opera is Morton’s way to show audiences the fun side of the genre and “kind of pokes a finger at opera,” in a very tongue-in-cheek way, he said.
A new ‘mini bar’ features short ‘bursts’ of theater
For those who are looking to take in some festival offerings but may be more keen on shorter performances, they can visit the Fringe Mini Bar at the Casbah Lounge.
“That’s a new venue partnership and we’re really excited to be there for the first time,” Stanton said. A ticket for one performance at the Fringe Mini Bar is $7 and if you want to see all four, you can buy the Fringe Mini Bar Flight Pass for $20.
While a mini series is not a new concept for Hamilton’s Fringe Festival, there’s a new home and format for these kinds of performances this year.
“We’ve been trying to find the format that it wants to best find a home in and we got pretty excited talking about laid back style of pub theater tradition in the UK and Ireland,” Stanton said.
“Where you go you have a pint, somebody puts on a show and you’re still getting up and going to the bar and grabbing a pint while the show is going on.”
He said this is a nice, relaxed and easygoing format for audiences to take in a group of four shows that are each 20 minutes or less as a “short, sweet burst of theatre.”