30 YEARS OF FRINGE MEMORIES Compiled by Thom Fitzgerald (Executive Director for years 21 to 25)

With the 30th Halifax Fringe Festival upon us, particularly in light of the global pandemic, this seems like a good time to take a look back at the history of the Fringe Festival in Halifax. Billed as the Atlantic Fringe Festival for its first quarter-century, the Fringe was launched in 1991 and organized by Ken Pinto, who stayed at the helm for the first 20 years. My thought was to track down and collect memories from performers, directors, and producers from all 29 previous editions of the Fringe. Finding those artists, or even knowing who performed in the festival decades ago, required a few trips to the Halifax Central Library for a dive into the newspaper microfiche, so I offer my thanks to the librarians for heading down to the bowels to retrieve those old reproductions of The Chronicle Herald and The Coast. Ultimately I was able to contact artists from every annual edition of the Fringe, and I’ve assembled excerpts of their Fringe Festival experiences. Of course there are thousands of memories beyond what’s compiled here. Ranging from the heartfelt to the ridiculous, from all these memories a living biography of the festival emerges, a sort of portrait of a community’s artistic dreams, creative triumphs, and human mishaps that are the very heart of the Fringe.



I have always prided myself on being a quick study…until I performed in the show Life on Flat Earth for the Halifax Fringe. Essentially an hour-long, single-scene two-hander, something about the play defied my ability to retain my lines and to not jump huge sections at a time, even (I’m ashamed to admit) after we opened. We strove to perform the show as it was written and directed to varying success (that is to say, little success)…until one night when everything suddenly clicked. Every line was funny. We were word-perfect. The audience was OURS. We were 20 minutes from the end of this dream performance…when the power across the city went out. The audience had to leave. We were heartbroken. At the time, a power outage interfering with a performance seemed so huge, so monumental… If only we knew what was coming (and I’m not just talking about the hurricane a couple days later).



During one of the performances we had hecklers sitting in the front row. We became slightly derailed as they became more vocal, but we improvised our way around their comments and eventually they quieted down and settled into the show. After a few moments of cessation it felt like we had won them over…then one of them started to snore and the other got up and left.



The show took place around the Bus Stop Theatre, going down Creighton Street and ending in the Common. At one point we would belt “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic. On our last show we heard someone screaming from their apartment “Stop!” They came rushing out of their apartment: “Why?!” they called to us. “You come by my house every night and I just want to know WHY?” “It’s a Fringe show!,” we replied. “Oh,” they responded, and scurried back inside. We were also accused by a man on the street of being KKK members in our white ghost costumes so we quickly dyed them blue.



Having the opportunity to perform a workshop version of It’s A Girl! for the Halifax Fringe allowed me to showcase the initial work that Alexis Milligan, myself, and Transitus Creative prepared. It helped acquire valuable feedback from the community. It allowed me the privilege to work with other artists in the community to to develop and rework the show which was eventually performed at the Mayworks festival, Prague Fringe, and high schools across New Brunswick with TNB. Oh yah—and it was loads of fun!



“We lost by two people?!” is the most memorable phrase from the Fringe for me. This is because they are the words that came of out my director, David Woods’, mouth once he heard Once: Afriville Stories missed the Overall Fringe Hit award by two tickets. This was shocking to him, but was even more so for me because, I didn’t think the Halifax audience would be as supportive as it was for a story many people didn’t know about. Which was also told primarily through storytelling and monologues. So when I see all the support Halifax has shown toward Eddie Carvery, along with the awareness that has been brought to the story and injustices of Africville, it makes David Woods saying “We lost by two people?!” feel like a prelude to the victories Africville’s story would achieve. 



Halifax welcomed me and embraced my show, Ginger Nation, with an open heart. The Halifax Fringe is a vital exchange between visiting and local creators with curious audiences. I formed lasting friendships and collaborations from my experience. I drank beer and ate Covered Bridge chips til the morning. And thanks to the Dartmouth market, I now import my soap from the east coast! I can’t wait to return.



Doug Pettigrew, Lee-Anne Poole, and I were stuffing our faces in McDonald’s. I was going on and on about wanting to be queen of everything and always wanting to be in charge, and lamenting that I wouldn’t be around to call the shots and boss people around at my own funeral. We all paused and looked at each other, and suddenly I had a vision—and that was the birth of My Funeral: The Dry Run.



Our show opened the 2014 festival and the next morning the reviews came out and were over-the-top glowing. It was clear from the get-go it was going to be The Doppler Effect’s most successful show. I was elated for about ten minutes and then that was replaced with existential dread as I spent the day wandering around Halifax worrying I had peaked, and nothing I would do would match that. I learned a lot about myself that day, not the least of which is I hate success almost as much as failure. Oh art…you teach us so much.



In 2013 I remounted my 2007 show Law & Order: Musical Victims Unit, and I don’t know why, or why I didn’t change it to Special Musical Unit which makes more sense. Our venue was the basically secret theatre at the AGNS, which that year was hidden behind massive scaffolding. On the first night one of the leads still didn’t know his songs so he wrote all the opening lines on his arm and rolled his sleeve up incrementally throughout the show, and looked really fucking cool doing it. At that same show I realized at a very inopportune time—live—that when I’d transferred the backing tracks from my thumb drive (remember those) to the tech’s computer, I ejected it before they were fully copied, so the final song and its final line—”The story is everything,” the credo of one Dick Wolf—stopped suddenly. But the whole cast, undeterred, sang a cappella, in unison, through to the end, and it was perfect. And that’s probably why I did it.



The show was a semi- biographical adventure of a menopausal woman who goes on a vision quest seeking inner peace and self- realization. Arriving late by motor boat and dropped off somewhere in the woods she follows the instructions and exercises outlined in the brochure that was sent by the Vision Quest Retreat Organization. She finds herself alone with a small Pine tree to commune with as day turns to night. One of the exercises I loved performing was Create Your Own Self-Criticism Doll from found nature items. I was to collect items and fashion them into a doll and throw the doll into the ocean, releasing all the self-hate. My character pitches the doll out and she stands, arms stretched out in happiness until two seconds later a huge wave smashes over her leaving the doll at her feet! That in fact really did happen to me on a real retreat years before.



I took the train from Toronto up through Quebec and the Maritimes to gorgeous, magical Nova Scotia where this Yankee ended up with the Overall Fringe Hit Award in 2012 with my solo play Confessions of a Mormon Boy. I played two lovely venues to rave reviews and sold-out houses as I saw all the historical sites/sights I could— including Peggys Cove! And I met some of the most beautiful humans and fellow performers on the planet. Thank you, Halifax, for inspiring me. I hope to return to one of the best  fringes and cities in the world having since played Melbourne, Sydney, Cape Town, etc. Halifax is a special, unique realm of smart and heART!



Always the nice person. I usually only get to play the nice, reasonable and measured person so imagine how excited I was to be asked to rip loose and play the role of an over-dominant, foul-mouthed prison inmate with an attitude. Fake tattoo and all, I rehearsed the language so every F-bomb sounded smooth as silk, as if I had created the words. First show, we could hear that there was a fairly good crowd out there. It was hot, hot, hot, but I was ready. This was the meanest, most crude character I had ever had the opportunity to play.  The curtains open, front row sits my partner’s 90-year-old mother, turning up her hearing aid. 



That show was one of the most incredibly challenging jobs of my performing career. One would think it was challenging because I had to be naked for the photo shoot with Zack, a man I had just met three minutes before stripping down. Or maybe that whipping out my testicle and squeezing it for a self examination on stage in front of seventy people would be it. But for me these were not the most challenging parts. It was literally trying to play basketball on stage— a feat for the life of me I will never be able to master. Trying to throw a ball into a hoop terrifies me beyond belief.



The 2011 Fringe was the culmination of seven or eight years writing, workshopping, and producing my first play. Steal Away Home is a poetic and musical exploration of womanhood and self-love. I was involved in every aspect of its production, and as a new playwright this gave me key insights into what goes on behind the scenes, and ultimately what it takes to get a play from page to stage. More than a festival, the Fringe is a vital training ground and a champion for local theatre and theatre artists.



Naked was my first experience sharing my writing with the public. Like the main character Vanessa, I was practicing the art of vulnerability, of being emotionally naked. The Halifax Fringe Fest provided the perfect place to do just that, and I remain grateful for the opportunity to take a risk in front of possibly the world’s most supportive audiences. There’s a special kind of energy to the Halifax Fringe Fest, bolstered by the sea air and driven by the resiliency of its organizers and creatives, which enables artists to be bold, practice courage, and try. It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since I crawled into a Styrofoam tub that my dad made and put on a show with my best friend, and yet, here we are. Happy 30th Anniversary, Halifax Fringe. I’m so glad you’re here.



Written by Pam Calabrese MacLean, and directed by Lee J. Campbell, the show was one of those wonderfully rare collaborative projects. It was overwhelming the response that this gentle, quiet, damaged character brought forth from the audience. It spoke deeply to many who came up to me afterwards weeping tears of gratitude. The character of Eva had allowed them safely to revisit their own stories, or the stories of those close to them. She had spoken the words out loud, giving their experiences validity. I had no idea this little play would have that kind of an impact.



The original full-length production of Gay White Trash was in 2005 at the 34-seat Crib Theatre on Gottingen Street. Despite critical acclaim, sold-out houses and several Merritt award nominations, I couldn’t find a way to fund a bigger production. I got engaged in 2008 and decided I wanted my husband to see this play, as it is a big part of who I am. The cast readily agreed, we were accepted, my fiancé created a mullet extension for my character and hundreds more people were able to see the show and left laughing and crying—my fav reactions! The Fringe is great for independent artists as a place to showcase and develop their work, virtually risk-free. The 2008 production saw the addition of live musicians on stage and Marty Burt brilliantly stepped into the unforgettable role of letch Kendall for the late, and very, very great and Lexx Gigeroff. The Fringe has afforded me the opportunity to stage work that most likely would never see the light of day in a mainstream theatre and I’ve always been rewarded by incredible audiences, festival support and yes, even a respectable amount of collective cash for all involved.



I invited around four people. It was more of a chance to have an outlet to say and explore the things that I previously didn’t have the opportunity to do. It was a testing ground. The piece itself was satirical, and it set the tone for the work I am doing now. A few people I admire as well as some work colleagues showed up (who had never seen any work of mine), and we were able to talk about the social issues explored in the show. It became a short film. I wrote more, made some movies, and, best of all, got to see the work of and meet an emerging poet that was a guest in the performance right before. She was gifted. I mean, gifted. That was El Jones.  So what I thought was going to a quiet little throwaway was, in fact, the starting block for what I’m running on now. Now. If only I had recorded the show, I would know what it was like. Note to self: Memorizing your play instead of writing it down is not the best idea.



Fringe 2006 marked my first magic show at the Fringe; since then I have performed two more solo magic shows under the Fringe banner. I remember that first show, high atop the turret tower of the Khyber Centre for the Arts. I was taking the step from confident Birthday Magician (BM) into full on Theatrical Wonder Whisperer (TWW). I opened by pulling a rabbit out of a hat…box. Jokes, my wonderful rabbit, was happy to help with the show—he always got lots of good treats when he got put back into the green room/cage. Although I can’t recall any more specifics about the show I do know that some of what I learned on that hot, sweaty, delight of a stage has stayed with me and is part of every magic show I perform today. Thank you Fringe, you’re magical without doing a single trick.



 I was performing in The Closed Door with Taz Anderson, a mock-masterclass in acting written by Luke Brown and starring Brian MacQuarrie as Taz, with Maureen Armour and myself as his chipper assistants. Brian and I were third-year acting students at the time, so it was a “barely veiled” metaphor for our own experiences at Dal. The show was well-received and we loved performing it. Brian was hilarious as Taz, and insisted he have a fanny pack filled with sparkles to occasionally fling through the air with his tagline, which is now lost to memory. As a result, the stage would be COVERED in sparkles every night. To make matters worse, we were performing on the Neptune Studio Stage, alongside what would become the Fringe Hit of the year: Play of the Living Dead, which used fake blood and LOTS OF IT. So not only was the stage sticky and horrible at all times because of the blood, it was also luminescent with sparkles that were impossible to clean. This became a point of faux contention between the troupes, with lots of complaining backstage about who had to go on after who that day. The poor technicians did their best to mop the deck between shows, but despite all efforts, every night saw bloody acting students and sparkly zombies. A true Fringe collaboration.



I had two shows that year: A sketch comedy that garnered this remarkable promotional soundbite from Stephen Pedersen’s review: “The corn pops all over the stage.” (yeah, we used it). And my first playwriting, Warp & Weft. My co-creator, Lizon Richard, worked as a flight attendant, so we often collaborated over the phone when she was away. #artmakingatadistancepioneers. My one regret is promoting it as “A chick flick for stage.” Please do feel free to groan. Thank goodness for lessons, for growth, for friendships, and an enduring relationship with the Fringe and my dear Halifax theatre community. Miss you much, mates!



Our venue was the upstairs room in the Khyber: A small room with no air conditioning and it was VERY hot. The show sold out most nights and so we were packed in this tiny space (with wonderfully enthusiastic audiences) performing this extremely physical show, where Anna and I spent the whole hour jumping and cartwheeling and tap dancing and by the end every night our “girl guide” costumes were literally soaked through with sweat. We looked like we had been performing in a sauna.



I have had the great fortune of performing in the Fringe Fest a number of times. One show that sticks out was a play called Maelstrom written by Jessica Marsh. It sticks out because I was terrified. I was trying to show that I could do drama and play serious. I wasn’t convinced I could. (Still not, actually.) I was, back then, mainly doing comedies. I remember Ron Foley MacDonald (reviewer) likening my acting style to William Shatner. I was thrilled. He meant it as an insult, but I was just happy to be mentioned in print alongside The Shat. We performed in St. Matthew’s Church Hall, surrounded by circus equipment from the circus school. A glorious representation of the whole world of Fringe—a crazy, Shatner-esque circus. That Fringe experience led to us turning two of the seven monologues into short films (Wake and Bone Deep). The Fringe was like a petri dish for creativity. Warp factor 6, Ensign.



 I was going to talk about driving all night and all day and showing up to do q2q and my first show within 24 hours. We had broken down I don’t know I’ve been coming for my sister’s wedding and it was just the most sublime thing because I don’t think I slept two hours and it was kind of almost an out-of-body experience for me like my connection to the text in the show and the back flying by the seat of my pants sort of thing that I could just stay just enough on top of and it was spectacular as a sensation. Or I could talk about going for drinks after with my parents and my aunt and uncle and my dad having to do the Heimlich manoeuvre on my uncle Ross because he got some beef stuck in his throat sorry I’m doing voice to text as I’m walking right now I hope this isn’t too annoying



 I worked with an actor named Craig Gunn on weird little two-hander from the Polish absurdist writer Slavomir Mrozek called Striptease which featured a “hand of supernatural size”  that beckoned the characters to remove their clothes piece by piece over the course of the show. (In the tradition of the Polish absurd, it was a metaphor for authoritarian rule.) To promote the show, we built giant foam hands with a pointing index finger, which we wore in such a way that the “fist” part of the hand covered our lower torsos and the index finger stuck out the front while we stood inside the contraption, otherwise naked apart from underwear hidden under the “hand”. We wore the hands to the Fringe launch but I was really not conscious of how phallic the index finger looked. Everybody thought they were just three foot penises. And of course, we ended up getting a colour photo in the arts section of the paper.



When I met Bill Forbes and Cyndi Locke for beers, all I had was a title, A Fine Pack of Boobies, that I took from a Hunchback of Notre Dame comic book and the basic plot of “two audience members find themselves onstage and can’t leave until they live through three horror plays”. It was a few days before the Fringe applications were due, so the three of us threw together a silly blurb, submitted the application, and forgot about it. Then we were accepted and given the Neptune Studio Theatre! Bill, Cyndi, and I had two months to write and rehearse the script, share directing duties, build the sets including Bill’s astounding seven foot tall lighthouse for a werelobster puppet show, and make the special effects, props, and costumes. It was truly the most highly caffeinated, creative, and fun summer I’ve ever had!



I was 20 years old. I produced my first show at the Fringe with 8 of my friends. We performed pieces that I choreographed. “Letters from The Front” was inspired by love letters from World War II between my grandparents. This work created for the fringe re-surfaced again 17 years later when the Halifax Dance Young Company reconstructed the piece and performed it on Remembrance day at Pier 21 during the CANADA 150 celebration year. You never know where these little seed shows will go!  



 Atlantic Fringe Festival was a great learning experience for me when I was 19. I always loved theatre in school and being able to co-write/co-direct/co-star with my friends was a treat. Though our play Hunting The Wildebeest was considered by the administration too risqué to do at our school, we were able to truly express ourselves and bring laughs to our Fringe audience every show. I’ll never forget when we were asked to address our controversial play on the news. We really felt like mini-celebs and total rebels! I will cherish those performances.



True Love was an interdisciplinary work for two singers, one dancer, and myself, which we performed at what was then the du Maurier Theatre at Neptune, a primo venue. At fringes, you typically get a couple of normal curtain times plus a few truly odd ones, which can be challenging in multiple ways. That year, we had one show at 11:20pm, goddess help us. At showtime, there were exactly two people in the audience. We sang and danced and acted our hearts out for the two ladies nonetheless, and after our bows, walked right into the house to thank them. They had applauded as long and loud as two people possibly could.



Ryan Rogerson, Rosalie McDougall, and I had worked on a show in the Fringe the year previous and it went super well. We kinda pulled Something Light and Fluffy together quickly (surprise surprise) and I think we were all feeling stressed about it so we kept trying to “break up” with one another at various times—but the other cast members wouldn’t allow that to happen. We also didn’t exactly know how to market the show so we thought if we created a image of us half-naked people would at least be intrigued and hopefully come to the show (although it had nothing to do with the content).



Mostly I remember sweating in a tiny black box room in August while a looped recording of “Hawaiian Christmas” (our one preshow tune) played over and over and over. I also think I slapped Kevin Curran in the face for one of our sketches, only I didn’t know then you weren’t supposed to really slap someone on stage—neither did he. So I slapped him night after night and then we’d finish our show and take off to see other Fringe shows. Happy 30th anniversary, Fringe! you are so important as a space for creative growth, risk, and development!



The Herald did an interview with me and my mum, who also had a show in the festival that year. Ariadne was the first thing I made after graduating and my second stab at devising a show from scratch with a group of people. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but we were happy with it and left wanting more. I’ve been devising shows with friends/collaborators ever since. Our venue was an abandoned storefront in Scotia Square, which felt pretty DIY at the time. Flash forward to 2019: The last show I made with Zuppa for Eastern Front, tiny, was also staged in an abandoned store in Scotia Square. So, basically, nothing has changed since 1996.



Every journey begins with a baby step and this is true whether it’s a soul-refreshing stroll through a park on a lazy, hazy summer Sunday afternoon or the commencement of some life-altering event. In a way, the Fringe Festival experience has, for me, always embodied both of those possibilities. There is a unique energy charge that permeates the Fringe experience—anyone who has ever participated in a Fringe Festival will attest to that—and some of the results which have flowed from various Fringe Festivals have eventually taken their place among the most acclaimed successes in the theatrical canon. The collective motivation swirling through all Fringe Festivals is: it’s all or nuthin’ time! I have a poignant recall, on this 30 anniversary of the Halifax Fringe, of the fledgling first steps of World Without Shadows, Lance Woolaver’s beautiful homage to Maude Lewis. It was presented as a staged reading at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia during the early days of the Fringe. I took on the role of Ev, Maude’s husband and George Boyd, on a very rare occasion when he traded his playwright hat for that of an actor, read the part of Big Juny, the role which I subsequently assumed in the acclaimed Ship’s Company and Neptune Theatre productions led by the brilliant Niki Lipman in a definitive portrayal of Maude. Happy Happy Anniversary, Halifax Fringe, and thanks for the memories!



Domestic Flight was a show of many firsts…It was my first collaboration with a visual artist (Noreen Battaglia), my first attempt at solo comedy, my first hiring of lighting and costume designers (MJ McLeod and Holly Crooks), my first collaboration with a musician which led to my first music video with Rawlins Cross, “Long Night,” where I created my first classical Graham-style modern dance. Presented at the North Street Church, this was also my very first full show! It included three dance pieces, and three musical pieces by my then-husband, Brain Bourne (playing Chapman Stick). The poster photo was shot by photographer Dan Callis with my set fabric flung over the clothesline in my backyard and it reflected my state of mind at the time; I was trying to raise two young boys with a rock and roll husband often on tour whilst trying to have a dance career. Needless to say, I was exhausted! Because I couldn’t afford a babysitter, I had to rehearse the “couch piece” (“Relax with Reveen”) in my backyard. One day, I tried a trick and fell off the couch and hurt my back…when I opened my eyes, I saw the little faces of the neighbourhood children gathered, looking down at me. I groaned and they ran. It’s funny in retrospect.



I had the first piece of theatre I’d ever written in my back pocket: my graduating project from theatre school, a one-man show called Degrees. At the time, I didn’t know anybody, but that Fringe introduced me to work from Thom Fitzgerald, Bernie Stapleton, Mark Critch, Ken Schwartz and Chris O’Neil. My venue was called The Bowels, and I guess I worked my way up from there, ha ha ha. The Bowels was in the back of the Soho Kitchen on Granville Street. When I look at that Guide now, most of the venues are gone: the CBC Radio Room, Café Ole, the Trade Mart, the North Street Church, Rumours. More importantly, some of the people are gone: Michael Weir, Lex Gigeroff, Clive Sweeney, Jean Morpurgo. I kept my stub from that year—the one that gave me discounts to other people’s shows. It called me an Artist, for the very first time. That’s a little thing, but it’s also powerful, and the Fringe validates new artists this way every year—naming them as such, in their growing diversity, inclusion, and daring—and saying to them, “here’s a place where you can stand.”



It was a circus of sexuality! Pornographic mimes, sex anxiety dreams, a vulva cake celebrating the 187th anniversary of my period—the show was a series of comical short pieces about gender and queerness. The audience helped Michael Weir and Thom Fitzgerald fill out “Porn Libs” word games. Jane Kansas played the doctor for my “Erotic Pap Test.” A big mishap, as I remember it, happened during the “Anal-Retentive Bisexuals” sketch. While the stage was dark, Thom and I had to climb into a bed on stage, where I had cleverly hidden part of my next costume—a white tank top. Mardi Cameron (our wonderful stage manager) whipped the lights up too quickly in between set changes so I didn’t have enough time to get that top on. I grabbed the sheets to cover myself, and inadvertently exposed Thom who (I quickly learned) hadn’t had enough time to get his underwear on either. There was a brief tug-of-war over the sheet and then it was on with the show! Accidentally flashing the audience was so successful, word got out and we sold out for the remainder of the run.



In 1992, two 21-year-olds launched a theatre company at the Atlantic Fringe Festival. It was a production of Daniel MacIvor’s See Bob Run, which opened at the Festival. Almost 30 years later, I’m still the artistic director of Two Planks and a Passion Theatre and Chris O’Neill, who performed the one-woman show in 1992, is the executive director of the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts. It’s a great example of how the Fringe has provided opportunities for risk and creation to a multitude of people over decades. No them, no us.



What do we remember about the first Fringe? The circus-like atmosphere on the streets, with people scurrying from performance to performance, asking question like “Should I see such and such?” “Can I find a time when I can see it?” Such a smorgasbord of theatrical fare was a rare treat in Halifax at that time. And the wonderful opportunity to try ambitious shows in unexpected locations—for every performance of Tales from a Tokyo Verandah, we had to rearrange the seating in the Eye Level Gallery to accommodate the wide, narrow, Kabuki-influenced stage we used. Where else would we have the chance to work with young, emerging performers and seasoned professionals, cutting their teeth on new material, under the wonderful and inspiring musical direction of Lisa St. Clair? All this and more, in the beautiful late summer days of 1991. Would the Fringe have a future? Who knew? But even if this was the only time it happened, it was worth it.