2016 Edmonton Fringe: Grounds review

At least they changed some of it this year.

One of the most interesting and ironic things about the Fringe grounds is for a festival whose plays are entirely anti-conservative, there's nothing in this universe more conservative than the layout of the Fringe grounds themselves. A couple weeks ago Martok and I were out on Whyte Ave for drinks just before the Fringe grounds were being setup, and he had great sport verbally describing the layout end-to-end. Ever since the year they had that "eco-carnival" I've been concerned with the incredible shrinking Fringe grounds, though Martok's complaint was that the grounds don't mix it up at all. (To be fair, his suggestion that we shut Whyte Avenue down for 12 days and expand the grounds to include the street itself is crazy and I want no part of it)

The taco in a bag stand? Exactly where he described it, along with the mini-donuts and the green onion cakes. That (Brown) Indian food place "Zarika" or whatever it's called is a few feet moved from its location last year. The same hippie bead places dot the landscape just north of the main only stage. The fences and barriers connecting the Orange Hall "line" with the walking path between the main only stage and south beer gardens are still illogically designed to create a massive bottleneck the moment more than one stroller is thrown into the mix. There are a couple food trucks north of the ATB Arts barns and the usual food "trailers" along Calgary Trail, and then Fat Franks is in front of the Walterdale. Bruce Jenner changes genders more often than the Fringe Festival changes its grounds layout.

Though they did make a couple notable changes this year. A whopping one of them is a reorganization. The rest are...wait for it...subtractions.

The north beer gardens has moved from its traditional spot to just north of the train tracks, and now you can sit next to trees but not under trees. Instead of getting some nice natural shade, instead you can do the same gag as the north beer garden: sit under a heavy (and noisy) tent if you want to avoid sun and/or rain, otherwise you're out in the sun almost the entire day. You get a bit of grass this way. I can't say I like it, though it's at least different. So what did they do with the old beer gardens area? Something cool? You should probably know better by now. They put the daily discount tent there, and a Subway food truck selling their lousy new Korean BBQ, and Telus has a mini-tent there, and...no, that's about it. They opened up some space and didn't do anything interesting with it. Maybe that will be next year?

There are some subtractions, of course, and I'm not sure if New Asian Village just chose not to take their traditional spot along Gateway Boulevard or if they were forced out. The "freak show" tent that was just north of the north beer gardens is definitely gone and that's definitely something the Fringe was responsible for. Don't tell me there weren't any bearded ladies available, one of them has been walking the grounds almost constantly.

So another year, another drop in the number of things to do and see at the Fringe grounds. I've already talked with one friend who, upon learning the Butter Chicken from New Asian Village is no longer available, decided to skip the Fringe this year. The site itself seems eerily reminiscent of the Republican Party in 2012: not wanting to rock the boat, they tepidly put forth a slightly smaller and more low key candidate than they tried the last time and hoped it would work better. And just like 2012, it didn't and left us with another four years of disaster. Say what you will about Trump, but he's the party swinging for the fences, being bold, and trying something different.

The Fringe Theatre Festival keeps telling us that's who they are. And then every year they give us the Fringe grounds equivalent of Mitt Romney.

(click here to return to the 2016 Fringe portal page)