If you found your way here, make sure you read part one of my 2013 Ottawa Fringe Overflow first, where I highlight my favourite shows, the shows I felt had potential to be so much more, and why. If you’ve already gone through that, let’s jump right into the rest of my thoughts on the 2013 Ottawa Fringe Festival that didn’t make it into my reviews.
The Big Lesson
For those who didn’t read part one and maybe don’t care about these shows per se, but want to know what I’m talking about, here’s the TL:DR version of the entire overflow:
Make Me Care.
Where The Frenzy of Queen Maeve and The Fight succeeded was that they made me care about the characters. (And not one of the three in The Frenzy of Queen Maeve are terribly likable. )
What I wanted so desperately from The Day We Grew Wings and The Vanity Project was to care about Clara, Narcissus, and Echo.
Your writing lesson for today: Care is the first syllable of character. The cold truth is that there were very few shows at Fringe this year that made me care about the characters I was watching. Let me see who they are, let me see what they want or what they’re struggling with, show me what they’re going through as they try to get there. Do that well and you have the most important thing you can have from an audience – their interest in what’s going to happen next. The more they care about the struggle, the more they’ll care about the conclusion, and the more strongly they’ll remember your show.
It’s interesting to me to think that this was such a problem that I feel the need to point it out, but here we are.
And sure, it’s hard. But nobody said storytelling was easy. Not even Queen Maeve kept me fully interested from A to Z – there were sparing moments that it dropped me out of the action – but I always wanted to see where it was going and when we got to those last few beats I was as shocked by the ending as anybody else.
Oh. Lesson #2 – You don’t need to have a happy ending, but you do need to have a satisfying one. See The Frenzy of Queen Maeve as an example of a tragedy done right.
Two other shows stand out this year because I cared. One was Botched. This was a show that I think had a hard time getting audiences because it was considered to be a show about abortion. What Botched really was was a show about a young girl who happened to be an abortion survivor and who was doing her best getting through life with the shitty hand she was dealt. And I cared. By the end of the show I just wanted to put my arms around Miz and tell her it was going to be all right.
The musical, Barely Even There, also succeeded in making me care. A little bit. The problem was while it made me care about the twelve year old daughter caught in the middle, the show spent most of its time on the parents who I didn’t care much about at all.
There were certainly other shows where I cared at least enough to be interested in the show, or where simply the charm and charisma of the actor(s) was enough to make me care a bit even if the text didn’t support it but there were enough shows this year where that just was not the case. Shows that didn’t give me anybody to care about: Innocent When You Dream, St. Nicholas, Never Fall in Love with a Writer, Imprisoned, La Voix Humaine, Die, Zombie. Die, slut (r)evolution*, Prince of Denmark, Disillusion. So that’s like a third of all the show I saw this year where I didn’t care about a single character. At all.
* As an aside, slut r(evolution) is a largely auto-biographical storytelling show. It’s strange then to say that I didn’t “care” about the “character” but I just didn’t feel that I did. Cameryn Moore never succeeded in pulling me in. Contrast that to Martin Dockery who absolutely owns you from the first time he opens his mouth, and there’s a big difference.
And I guess that brings me to the shows I was most disappointed by. Note that these aren’t necessarily the worst shows I saw, just the ones that hit the most below what I expected of them.
Honorable mention: Prince of Denmark: When I saw TWA do Moonfleece two years ago, I was seriously impressed. These were fairly young kids doing impressive work with strong and grown up material. When I saw TWA do Danti-Dan last year, I wasn’t as impressed, I felt they were holding back a bit, but still enjoyed their good work with strong material. While Prince of Denmark this year had a few good moments (really only the climax of the piece) this was the kind of show we expect from a small high school production. For a group being mentored and coached by one of Ottawa’s professional theatre companies, that’s just a bit disappointing.
Never Fall in Love with a Writer: because it wasn’t remotely dramatic piece. It was like, you know when your friend tells you about their day? No, not your exciting friend. The other one. It was like that. There was a bit of nice prose here and there, I’m sure this would have made an all right short story, but there were no dramatic elements to make it interesting. More, killing the drama further was that it was a one woman-show so there was nobody playing against each other to create any drama or chemistry.
Die, Zombie. Die!: The concept was interesting. A zombie comedy murder mystery. How can you go wrong? (Answer: they didn’t, they sold buckets of tickets, and won best of venue, I think I was in the minority of people who disliked this show.) The problem I had with DZD, as I mentioned in my review, was that they didn’t take anything seriously. Comedy only works when the humour comes from character, not at the expense of it. DZD was just nonsensical silliness with nobody to care about or take seriously. Absurdity can sell, it really can, but only so long as the characters’ situations are serious and they’re taking them seriously. When that doesn’t happen, it all falls flat and amounts to nothing but nonsensical silliness – which is great if that’s what you’re into, but it just a giant disappointment to me.
As For The Rest?
Let’s round this out with some of the usual things people talk about.
- Victoria Luloff, for her charm and exuberance in The Day We Grew Wings
- Tess Mc Manus, for a moving and evocative solo in The Vanity Project
- Victoria Grove, for being simply poetry in motion in Sappho… in 9 Fragments
- Martin Dockery, for being the most animated and engrossing story teller on the circuit. Seriously, if you ever get a chance to see his one-person shows, don’t miss it.
- The three person cast :: Jackie Block, Nathan Howe, Chris Hapke :: of The Frenzy of Queen Maeve for fully bringing me into their world and story.
- Passages, who deservedly won the official Best Ensemble nod from the Fest. This group of dancers shone on stage and put a really wonderful show.
- Around Miss Julie, whose cast spent the last several years training and working together – it’s chemistry that shows and there wasn’t a false beat between them.
- The Bureau of Bat Shit Crazy. So… I’ve completely compartmentalized my own show from my thoughts on the rest of Fest, simply because it’s impossible to objectively make any comparisons. That said, the five-person cast of The Bureau of Bat Shit Crazy :: Laura Hall, Chris Cottrell, Meghan Murphy, Ron Langton, Katie Volkert :: did standout work together and played off each other so well that I’m going to break protocol here a bit and give them a nod they deserve.
Best design, direction and other stuff (aka other things I loved):
Sappho, for the same reason as above. Poetry in motion. Plus a set made from scaffolding, ropes, and sheets.
- Passages, for bringing something refreshingly different to the table – a wonderful highland dance show.
- The Vanity Project, for its striking design and for hanging things from ceiling.
- Day We Grew Wings, for having a fully climbable tree on stage.
- The Fight, for swords, staves, and nail-studded clubs.
- We Glow, because Brad Long and Emily Pearlman themselves are awesome and because they created a wholly unique show that was something worth experiencing.
And that there is all I have to say about the 2013 Ottawa Fringe Festival. From the outside.