Fringe introduces culture to cowtown

By Rob South

Last weekend was an important one, but not because it was Labour Day or the last weekend of summer. Last weekend was important because Calgary started to build its own Fringe Festival tradition.

Much has been made of how we needed a Fringe festival because our neighbours to the north have the best one in North America. But the truth is we need a Fringe. Not because of some sick sense of sibling rivalry but because we need to make sure our city grows not just in wealth and population but also in cultural appreciation. The unjuried and uncensored nature of a Fringe creates an environment that generates new ideas about story structure, humour and character development. While it’s true only a small fraction of the population will go to the Fringe to experience these new ideas, they will, like all ideas, spread.

The flavour, spirit and energy a Fringe creates helps establish and maintain a lively counter-culture. This is important because countercultures in Calgary are all too often drowned out due to our love of the mainstream. And whether you love or loathe the mainstream (for the record, at the time of writing, my co-editor mocked my love of Bruce Springsteen), the undercurrents of counter-culture inject new ideas into the mainstream.

This is not to say all the ideas at a Fringe festival will be brilliant and offer innovative cultural insight–some of it will be crap. I saw by far the worst play of my life at Edmonton’s Fringe. It was a one-woman play on the immaculate conception that ended with the virgin mother rejecting God and breaking into song about a carpenter’s Mikita power drill being her saviour. I would not have had a problem with the play’s deconstruction of Christianity if it had done it with a modicum of intelligence, like Kevin Smith’s Dogma, but this play was ill-thought out and poorly acted. But again, that is part of the point of a fringe: you experience the bad with the good. The contrast makes you appreciate quality when you get it.

Fortunately, all the plays I saw at this year’s Calgary’s Fringe were entertaining, but of course that is pure luck. The organizers of Calgary’s first Fringe festival should be congratulated for their effort. With time and support, Calgary’s fringe will grow in size and impact, and we will all be better off for it. So do yourself a favour next year: make sure you get out there.

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