Go to the Fringe Festival, live on the edge

Jamie O'Meara

No fest loves irony like a Fringe fest, and the St-Ambroise Montréal Fringe Festival has no shortage of irony in its diet. Despite the “fringe” designation, and free-thinking artistic presentations that sometimes challenge notions of what boundaries can and should be, the Montréal Fringe Fest celebrates performance with an inclusive spirit and welcoming atmosphere that draws artists and audiences from an extraordinary diversity of humanity. Plus it’s a hella good time.

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Fringe elements

Known as “the party Fringe” on the Fringe circuit, the St-Ambroise Montréal Fringe Festival (May 28 to June 17) turns 28 this year. A home for both emerging and established artists, the fest will host some 800 creative and cutting edge performances featuring over 500 artists spanning all artistic disciplines – theatre, dance, music, comedy, puppetry, film, magic and more – at more than 20 cultural venues around the Plateau Mont-Royal and Mile End as well as downtown. Proudly bicultural, shows are in English and French, sometimes both. For Fringe info (Fringefo?), go here.

It's like winning the lottery

At the core of the Fringe are the shows, predominantly independent theatre of all strains and stripes (comedic, dramatic, musical, solo, non-vocal, non-clothed, you name it). And because the Fringe is inclusive, uncensored and unjuried (each year, the names of those wishing to perform are drawn from a lottery – there are no restrictions), the range of shows is truly A-Z. Imagination gets let off the leash at must-see shows this year with titles like Game of Crohn’s (apparently “everything comes out okay in the end”), Dance Side of the Moon (a “reimagining of the greatest concept album of all time” through dance), Kafka’s Metamorphosis: The Many-Legged Musical! (in which someone finds out they’ve “caught the musical theatre bug”) and Skipping Ur Mom’s Funeral and Eating Pizza Instead (self-explanatory). And best of all, prices are a win for everybody: no ticket costs more than $10, and there are several different multishow passes on offer that reduce the price even further. Check out the full programme here.

Fringe after dark

Nighttime is when Fringers let their, um, fringe down. There are an eclectic and entertaining array of nocturnal activities on tap including Drunk Live Reading: Bridesmaids (May 30), Fringe Social: Pinball Karaoke at new MTL pinball palace North Star (May 31), the always-popular Fringe Slowdance (June 1), the Fringe All-Star Improv Jam (June 11), and one of the highlights, the Fringe Halloween Party (June 15), to name but a few. During the Fringe, when the shows are happening, the nightly “13th Hour” variety show and dance party (so named because it begins at 1 am) at MainLine Theatre is a must-see staple that ensures the Fringe lives up to its party reputation. They take place from June 7 to 14 and 16, and admission is free.

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Take your foot off the gas and park it

The Fringe Park is the social hub from which all fringing emanates. Situated in the leafy, tree-lined Parc des Amériques in the heart of the Plateau, here is where artists and audiences mix and mingle and trade info (or “Fringe buzz”) about what shows to go see. Home to the lively, much-loved beer tent, the Fringe Park also features street eats, a ticket booth, a swag stand, shaded relaxation areas and daily live music, including a June 10 teaser for the excellent and renowned Montreal Folk Festival on the Canal, June 14 to 17. In fact, many well-known Canadian artists have graced the Fringe stage at one point or other, including Wolf Parade, K’naan, Jean Leloup, Plants and Animals, Wintersleep and Islands.

New in the park this year is the Mini-Fringe, for little ones aged 12 and under, featuring the Mini-Fringe Variety Show (magic, music, dance and silliness), storytelling, makeup, balloons and more, June 10. Movie Mondays on a Tuesday, Circus Day, Passovah Fringe Pop (a Pop Montreal and Passovah co-presentation) and the Quebec Provincial Air Guitar Championships (!) are also among the many goings-on. And in the “Do. Not. Miss. Dept.,”of particular note is the highly anticipated annual Drag Races competition, for many the pinnacle of Fringe Park activities every year, and hosted by famously fabulous Montréal drag queen Mado Lamotte.

And when festing makes you peckish or works up a thirst…

If your appetites extend beyond the artistic, try the Fringe Menu. Several eating and drinking establishments in the Plateau and Mile End are offering custom Fringe “specials,” such as Curry Mahal’s Fringe Vegetarian Thali, Bishop & Bagg’s Cocktail Fringe Negroni, Patati Patata’s Fringe Classic Breakfast, Pizzeria Magpie’s Pizza #Fringebuzz, burlesque show-bar The Wiggle Room’s Honey Mint Bourbon Lemonade cocktail, Fletchers' ridiculously healthy Fringe Salad and, at the other end of the spectrum, famous 24-hour poutine emporium La Banquise’s Fringe Poutine. Bon appétit au Fringe!

Jamie O’Meara

Jamie O’Meara, blogger

Jamie O’Meara is a writer for The Montreal Gazette, C2 Montréal, Moment Factory and more. He also manages the PR Team at the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival and is the former Editor-in-Chief of alt-weekly newspaper HOUR Magazine.

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