An Ode to a Festival That Never Was: Amy Blackmore on This Is Not a Fringe Festival

We are in the midst of a global pandemic. With death rates on the rise and public gatherings of more than ten people banned to prevent the spread of COVID-19, performance artists and festival organizers are trying to make the best of a bad situation despite cancellations of their events.

One of the artists trying to make the best of things is Amy Blackmore, the Executive and Artistic Director of the Festival St-Ambroise FRINGE de Montréal, The MainLine Theatre, and Ceci N’est Pas un Fringe…This Is Not a Fringe Festival, an alternative, socially distanced theatre festival developed when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of the annual Montreal Fringe Festival.

The Fringe was postponed rather than cancelled because this year would have been the festival’s thirtieth anniversary. Given that participants are chosen by lottery, the artists set to participate in the now-postponed festival were offered the option of formally withdrawing along with a refund of their participation fee or have their participation deferred to next year’s event.

I had the opportunity to speak to Blackmore about This Is Not a Fringe Festival on the phone earlier this week. As I suspected, it was developed as an alternative to the regular Fringe Festival.

“The Fringe just means so much to so many folks and we don’t want to abandon our community,” she said, adding that This Is Not a Fringe Festival is not meant to replace the St-Ambroise Fringe. “We’re not pretending to be the Fringe. You can’t Fringe without all the artists. It just doesn’t work,” she laughed.

In the spirit of Fringe, Blackmore and her team, which includes Kenny Streule, the event’s producer, put together a lineup to satisfy fans of the festival and “fill that Fringe need.” Unlike the regular Fringe, the lineup of This Is Not a Fringe Festival is smaller and a lot more curated, selecting artists based on their experiences running past St-Ambroise Fringe Festivals.

Where the Fringe often has over a five hundred artists participating, This Is Not a Fringe Festival only has about 150 artists involved. The festival was developed and curated paying close attention to what’s been happening online since the theatres have closed due to the pandemic.

The artists for the event were found via a couple of calls for submissions as well as through people Blackmore and other organizers met over the years of running Fringe, mainly festival alumni.

Like Fringe, This Is Not a Fringe Festival has a wide variety of programming. They divided it into a series of strains, with the main one being the Signature Series: a series of events in the evening running from June 11th to the 21st with one or two shows a night.

Performances include an opening concert with Paul Cargnello, Crowd Karaoke and Being Brown is my Superpower in partnership with Fringe Live Stream. Another exciting event is the Fringe fundraiser Lip Sync Bingo in collaboration with House of Laureen. Some of the events are free, others are pay-what-you-can.

“It’s very open this year in terms of money because everyone is in a slightly different situation, we’re finding, so we’re trying to be flexible with that.”

When I asked Blackmore how payments to the pay-what-you-can events would be facilitated. She explained that it would vary from event to event, and that in many cases, just like the now-postponed Fringe Festival, audiences will be able to buy tickets through the MainLine Theatre website.

“Every event has its own needs, so instead of having a blanket approach to everything, we’re trying to really honour that,” Blackmore said, explaining that because This Is Not a Fringe Festival is not as large as the regular Fringe, they are actually able to do that.

In addition to the Signature Series, This Is Not a Fringe Festival also has a strain of events called The Daily Dose in which every day at 11am audiences can get a daily dose of Fringe as the festival release a series of videos. Said videos include a contemporary dance video, a magic act, storytelling videos in collaboration with Confabulation, as well a series of online activities and challenges organized by the Festival Tout Tout Court. Blackmore affectionately refers to this strain as “art in small packages” that people can take in when it’s convenient for them.

As a recent participant in Festival de la Bete Noire’s last Sunday Night Live Scream before the summer, I was curious as to whether the event would be a series of videos submitted by artists or whether it would be live streamed events. Blackmore explained that it would be a combination of both, with, for example, The Daily Dose as a series of videos submitted to them, and some of the events are live streamed. The festival will be a combination of Facebook live streams, YouTube, and Zoom Hangouts depending on what they are.

“I think what people can expect is the spirit of the Fringe, the spirit of our event. I’m expecting folks to participate and have conversations with us,” Blackmore said, mentioning a series at This Is Not a Fringe Festival called The Transformation Series, five talks Blackmore is facilitating on the five current topics including what it’s like to make art during a pandemic, green theatre-making, and work-life balance.

When I asked Blackmore what she felt the overarching theme of the event is, she spoke of resilience and hope.

“It’s an ode to a festival that never was.”

Ceci N’est Pas un Fringe / This Is Not a Fringe Festival is running from June 11 to 2020 in participation with Fringe Live Stream, MainLine Theatre, and Festival St-Ambroise FRINGE. Tickets and info available through montrealfringe.ca

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