For more than a week, the Saskatoon Fringe Festival will add a splash of the arts to the city’s streets.
The festival, presented by 25th Street Theatre, begins on Thursday, July 28. After a couple summers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers are excited to welcome visitors both new and old to an ever-expanding summer festival.
“It’s refreshing that we get to be back and doing this again,” 25th Street Theatre artistic director and Fringe artistic and executive director Anita Smith said.
The 2020 Fringe Festival was cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2021 festival went ahead with many public health regulations still in the minds of the public.
But the festival has continued to grow in the wake of the cancelled 2020 event. Eighteen in-person theatre shows, a bevy of talented buskers, and numerous local artisans and food vendors will fill the space along 11th Street and W.E. Graham Park behind École Victoria School.
“We can do so many things in this setup that we couldn’t do on Broadway,” Smith said. “This year, we get to take the lessons we learned last year and say, ‘let’s try this instead.’”
Erik de Waal, a long-time performer from South Africa, said he was thrilled to be back on the Canadian theatre circuit.
“Ever since I started coming here 20-odd years ago, I’ve become really fond of the Canadian audiences,” he said. “I find the Canadian audiences quite adventurous … theatre-goers here go and see a wide spectrum of things, and they’re quite willing to listen to ideas that might be uncomfortable, might not be easy to listen to.”
When lockdowns were beginning around the world due to the pandemic, de Waal was at home in Cape Town, South Africa. After years away from the theatre, de Waal admitted coming back to the stage was hard.
“My first show in Winnipeg after two years and nine months not being onstage, I was scared out of my mind,” he said. “The first five minutes on stage was really hard … and then I fell into the rhythm of it.”
de Waal will be performing two shows in Saskatoon: a children’s show called “African Folktales with Erik de Waal,” and a “grown-up” show titled “Daddy’s Boy” based on his own life experiences with his father.
As he puts it, bringing together local and international performers is a critical part of a theatre festival that’s meant to showcase what’s up-and-coming in the modern theatre world.
“For a lot of theatre, Fringe is where it starts,” he said. “You’ve got the opportunity to try new things and try new ideas … and audiences are willing to engage with those ideas.”
Smith echoed de Waal’s sentiments, calling the Fringe an entry point for artistic talent in the community.
“That’s the best part about the Fringe,” she said. “This is your chance as an artist to lead the pack and say ‘this is a show I’m really interested in and this is how I want to do it’ … if you want to know where theatre’s going, come to the Fringe.”
There’s a post-Saskatoon Fringe show this year, as well. The award-winning international Fringe show “Josephine” will be performing a one-night-only “Fringe fundraiser” show to help raise money for 25th Street Theatre after the Saskatoon Fringe on August 7 at the Broadway Theatre.
The Saskatoon Fringe is bringing the arts to the streets of Saskatoon. And Smith hopes it will be a way for the community to connect for years to come.
“Our site features music and visual arts and theatre … I hope we are a gateway experience to people participating in the arts throughout their lives,” Smith said.
The Saskatoon Fringe Festival runs from July 28 to August 6, 2022. Information for all shows, tickets, and the full festival program can be found at 25thstreettheatre.org/saskatoon-fringe/.