The 2021 Edmonton International Fringe Festival is going ahead Aug. 12-22 but it will look different than in years past.
The hyper-local, live-digital hybrid event will have fewer indoor venues, reduced capacity and other safety measures in place.
“Fringers can expect to mask up, keep their distance and support one another in a safe return to live events,” artistic director Murray Utas said.
“Audience sizes will be limited to ensure everyone has lots of extra elbow room. All venues will be thoroughly sanitized before and after each performance.
“Access to ATB Park will be timed and ticketed to ensure we’re able to deliver the full Fringe experience and a spacious, safe event.”
The theme for 2021 is Together We Fringe: A Fringe Theatre Event.
This year marks the festival’s 40th anniversary.
“Fringe will look and feel very different this year,” Utas said. “In fact, this year’s event will more closely resemble the very first Fringe Theatre Event in 1982 than the festival we knew and loved in 2019.”
In 2019, there were more than 250 indoor shows; this year, there are 53.
“We’re not going to kick the doors wide open,” Utas explained. “We’re not going to say: ‘We’re going to go 100 per cent capacity,’ even though we can. We want to keep that space.
“I think people are ready to come back together but we want to respect that they’ve been apart for so long.”
The Fringe is going to have fences around the festival site and tickets will be required to enter.
“We’re not encouraging gatherings or crowds in any kind of way; everything is ticketed,” Utas said.
Masks must be worn during indoor shows and when in close contact with vendors or performers. There will be more outdoor options — including an outdoor stage in the park for live bands — as well as on-demand and livestream content streamed on Fringe TV.
“We are safely, mindfully bringing the community back together again.
“There are countless ways to fringe with us this year no matter whether you’re ready to return to smaller-scale live events or want to share in the experience from the other side of your screen,” Utas said.
There are even some performers who just aren’t ready to come back to the stage yet, he said. The smaller size means fewer artists will be featured in this year’s event.
“There’s so many that won’t have an opportunity in some ways, which is sort of not great, but at the same time, all the artists that have been on board and all the artists who are waiting to come back next year are saying: ‘We get it and we’re with you and we respect that you’re doing it this way.'”
While the province lifted most public health restrictions on July 1, Utas says the Fringe wanted to find a balance between safety and celebration, while respecting everyone’s different comfort levels.
“This is an opportunity for us to connect artists and audiences again and be safely together after a long and isolating time.”
“Our industry was literally shut down completely,” he added. “Artists did some work online and figured out some digital stuff but we’re not film, we’re not Netflix we’re not any of that, so it was really wonderful to see them dig in and create but they have just been waiting to get back on a stage and connect with people.”
Circus performer and hula hooper Amanda Syryda — who goes by the stage name “Amanda Panda” — is thrilled to be back in front of a live audience.
“It feels really great to be in-person.
“I actually managed to land quite a few virtual gigs during the pandemic, which was nice because it kind of kept my skills up and kept me motivated, but being in-person is really exciting.”
Taking her act to the outdoor stage is “energizing,” Syryda said. She’s even got some of those “beginner nerves.”
“It’s the perfect way to kind of ease back into performing. The audience is there, they’re already excited I feel everyone’s just going to be really positive and energetic.”
Cabaret-style Cuban dancers Leo Gonzales and Cecilia Ferrera were all ready to perform at Fringe last year before the pandemic forced the cancellation. This year is a welcome return.
“We’re so excited,” Gonzales said.
“This has been a dream come true,” Ferrera added. “Suddenly the skies are open, the sun is shining and we are ready to perform for Edmonton.”
Utas feels the 40-year milestone is coming at a significant time.
“For our city, for Treaty 6 area, what it means to the community, and coming back now out of this place that we’ve been in and kind of honouring where we came from, I think there’s real resonance in that. I think it will speak to people’s hearts.”