I Love You, Fringe Fest

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Posters from Fringe past. Photo via WinnipegFringe.com.

My fiancé and I go to a lot of theatre together. We’ve gone to Broadway, national tour shows, local theatre company productions, but I’ve never had the pleasure of taking him to the Winnipeg Fringe Festival before. Fringe is, naturally, probably my favourite of all the Winnipeg summer festivals. The Exchange comes alive with food trucks, live entertainment, and tons of people excited to experience Winnipeg artists showcasing their hard work. What could be better?

Fringe is also one of my favourite times of the year because of how cheap the show are. $10 (or less, depending on the show, and if you’re a student, senior, or in costume) gets you in to any show you want. Jeremiah and I went to two shows, and at $40 total, that’s usually less than I pay for one ticket for myself.

But how do I introduce him to something I hold so dear? Although he goes to lots of shows with me, he doesn’t always enjoy them as thoroughly as I do. (After we saw Phantom, he asked a weeping Diana “why are all these women crying?” during “Wishing”.) And that’s completely fine. Everyone is entitled to their own experience, and I’m more than happy to bounce opinions and thoughts off each other after the show. In fact, our healthy discussion and differing opinions is one of my favourite parts of the night. Well, thankfully, we found the best of both worlds at venue 18.

We enjoyed back-to-back improv shows at the Gas Station Arts Centre. First, we saw Outside Joke‘s improvised musical (my pick), followed by the DnD Improv Show (my pick for Jeremiah, who is part of a tabletop gaming group), both of which were wonderful. I’ve seen a few improv shows before, but having being a complete newbie to DnD and tabletop gaming period, I was a little lost at first – especially since DnD’s show’s storyline continues with each night. But the DnD crew did a good job of assuring the large cast of characters didn’t get mixed up and when there was a dice check or battle of any kind, the crowd went wild. Both OJ and DnD did a wonderful job, and if you’re looking for a real-life answer to your Whose Line Is It Anyway? fix, either of them will fill it.

Tonight, I accompanied my family to Into the Blue, a beautiful play written by (and starring) Ben Townsley about two theatre owners whose theatre gets punched by a meteor. The meteor (and the hole in their ceiling) serves as the centrepiece as Jack and Jean (played masterfully by Sarah Flynn) navigate through unexpected events in their lives and heaps of space metaphors (which I am all for – I talk about the potential supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy all the time). Although this play was completely different from the experience I had at GSAC, it still filled my little theatre nerd heart with the satisfaction that it so craves and that only live performances can sedate.

Have you seen a show at Fringe yet? If not, why not? It’s the least expensive and best theatre date you’ll have all year. I personally recommend all three shows that I’ve mentioned in this post, but there are many (MANY) shows of all genres you can go see. Check out the show listing and make these next four days – the last four of the festival – the best all month.

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Move On: Replacements and the Nature of Broadway

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Lin’s done with his locks. And we should be too. 

I have a friend who’s fairly new to the musical game. Every time I show him something and he likes it, he attaches to it and listens to it or watches it over and over again. And when I try to show him other performers or a different interpretation of it, he doesn’t like it. After watching the trailer for FOX’s live production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, he mentioned that he didn’t know abut how he felt having a woman as Frank-N-Furter. He’s true to the original. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Usually.

Yesterday, three of Hamilton‘s original Broadway cast members left the show: Phillipa Soo, Leslie Odom Jr., and the show’s creator and spokesman, Lin-Manuel Miranda. This is pretty much how any successful show works. Performers come, they set the standards, they sweep the awards, and then they choose not to renew their contracts after a year. It’s rare that actors in featured roles choose to stay longer than that (especially if they were fortunate enough to be in Hamilton and no doubt have offers flying in from every which way). It’s like if you had a job that you liked, and you were good at it, and you enjoyed it, but you did the same thing every single day. You would probably want to leave before the first three features of the job got stale and you started to resent the job.

Alex Brightman (currently starring in School of Rock, which earned him a Tony nod) has discussed this problem when he played lovestruck munchkin Boq in Wicked for two years. To paraphrase, he said that one night, he looked out onto the stage to connect with another actor, and got nothing in return. Everyone’s eyes were dead. He was offered a contract extension, but chose not to, for exactly the reason I stated above.

There’s nothing wrong with loving or being interested in an actor’s performance and wanting to see it. But Hamilton has become such a cultural phenomenon – possibly more than any musical has ever done, thanks to the perceived one-on-one communication that social media provides users – that it has so many new followers that maybe haven’t ever even seen a musical before. And as exciting as that is, that the family is growing, that’s also scary, because most of those new fans are teenage girls. To borrow from the great leader of the Black Parade, teenagers scare the living shit out of me.

Listen. I was a teenage girl. I was a young girl when *NSYNC was still a thing. I know what it’s like to love a band or an actor passionately. I know what it’s like when that band breaks up and you feel like your world is being torn in two. I distinctly remember listening to Justin Timberlake’s first solo album Justified on my combo FM radio/CD player before the *NSYNC split wondering if the other band mates knew that he made the album. I was seven or eight and didn’t have a great grasp of the record industry. But as much as I liked the music and liked Justin, it felt like he was cheating on them. Do teens and youngins still feel this way about their favourite artists? I’d love to know.

I’ve said on more than one occasion that teenage girls rule the world and I’m certainly standing by that statement. Teen girls decide what pop culture trends are going to be on the radar – The Beatles, One Direction, Snapchat, and apparently, Hamilton. They decide what they like and start a fanbase, and then in order to sell their own respective products, the media follows. Because when teens like something, their parents buy it. And unfortunately, teen boys aren’t encouraged to strongly express their feelings like girls are. So here we are. Please the teen girls, have a massive success on your hands.

This sounds great. A genuinely wonderful, quality show is popular and getting all the attention and success it deserves. So what’s the deal, Diana? Why is this blog post so long? Well, reader, teen girls are just that: teens. They haven’t quite learned how to operate socially yet. They don’t realize that the internet is forever and even if they’re comment number 1400 on an Instagram post, sometimes it still gets read by that celebrity. They don’t realize that celebrities are people, and they are not people you are friends with. And now, these unsettling trends are moving over to Broadway.

People are calling Lin or Daveed Diggs “daddy” on posts (that’s gross, y’all). Lin got literally chased by running fans after a show. The cast are harassed on social media when they don’t show up to sign Playbills at the stage door. People make “fan accounts” and use actors’ names as their usernames and post pictures that they don’t always want posted, which was the case when a Phillipa Soo fan account posted a family picture that wasn’t previously public.

This likely doesn’t happen (or at least, not to the same extremes) with other Broadway shows. But shows that have the privilege of a long run do all have one thing in common: the original cast leaves, and new casts come in. For me, this is the most exciting part of theatre. Every year or so, we get to see new actors interpret the story in their own way. That’s the whole point of creating a show. It’s like George Washington says (in the musical. Maybe in real life too, I’m a blogger, not a historian) when Hamilton is penning his farewell address and begging him to serve past his eight years: “If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on. It outlives me when I’m gone.”

This show in particular is all about interpretation and re-interpretation. Lin picked up a book and read the first treasury-secretary as Tupac. Do you really think the real Alexander Hamilton pictured a hip-hop musical about his life 200 years after his death? Probably not. (Like Lin says, Hamilton would probably be more occupied with electricity than a musical if he was transported to the modern era). What teens don’t understand is that Broadway is not about cementing a production and keeping it that way for years and years to come. Eventually, there will not be a single person onstage at the Richard Rodgers that there was at the start. And that’s the point.

The point of Hamilton is that once we’re gone, our story is not in our hands anymore. “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” The real Hamilton had no idea what would happen after he died before his 50th birthday. He had no idea that one day his story would be reimagined and be spread out across the world to people who had no interest in American history before. Hamilton is going to be in new hands soon, and we’ve got to remember that interpretation and re-invention is what makes it so great.

Sondheim writes, in Sunday in the Park with George:

Just keep moving on.
Anything you do,
Let it come from you.
Then it will be new.

Give us more to see.