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'What The Fest?!': Hamilton Fringe Festival goes virtual

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Image: Lloyd Dirks/Unsplash

For the past 16 summers people have been flocking to the Hamilton Fringe Festival, an action-packed 12 days of non-juried performances that showcase over 50 companies in more than 400 performances of musicals, dance, comedies, magic shows, dramas and music.

This year, COVID forced the festival to rethink and reinvent itself. Organizers were up for the challenge and last night launched the first virtual What the Fest?! From July 21-26, artists will perform live shows that will also be made available online for ticketholders until August 9.

There are shows for adults and kids, and even a free daily online series of live and prerecorded events. If you really want to impress a date or celebrate a birthday in style, you can "skip the glitches" and order up a theatrical curbside delivery of a live performance for your special someone.

The mini-festival launched online this week with five live performances ranging from 20 to 35 minutes in length -- although one or two seemed like they were a never-ending story.

I highly recommend "Great Blue Dram," part of the "virtual piano bar" series. James Medeiros performed a fabulous selection of Broadway hits. Medeiros has a wonderfully adaptable voice and way of making you feel like you're sitting in his living room with him, his piano and your favourite drink.

Medeiros performs the music of James Bond on Thursday, July 23, followed by an evening of Britney Spears on Saturday, July 25.

Conspiracy of Michael, written and performed by Stephen Near is a monologue dealing with education, grief and parentage, but mainly the impact fear has on our decisions and lives. This play makes you think.

Waiting For Mark, performed by Diana DiMauro, Joel Haszard, Annie Massey, Rob Scavone and Harold Tausch centres around four mismatched people meeting up in a chat room discussing their lives and the issues of the day -- until Vlad arrives to take them home with the help of Mark.

Strange Bed Fellows, was strange, to say the least. Ilene Elkaim, Ryan Terera, Ray Rivers, Valeri Kay and Ridhi Kalra tell the story of a middle-age couple returning to Canada from the U.S. when their car breaks down, forcing them to quarantine with a random couple and their adult daughter.

It's a simplistic plot rehashing old and new issues through the lenses of youth and age. The daughters relied far too heavily on the f-word, which didn't compensate for thin material.

When Karen Met Katnis – Femmepire was created and performed by Kitoko Mai, Claud Spadafora and Jesse Horvath. Apparently, the Hunger Games are not over, and somehow it involves Harry Potter.

I will never know the outcome, because I struggled through 14 minutes before shutting it down. The highlight of this effort was the over the top use of "WTF" (and this doesn't mean What The Fest?!) -- I counted 20 times -- and a misogynist joke that would have been better left unsaid.

All-in-all, not worth 20 minutes of my life.

What The Fest?! has made the best of a terrible situation and is providing a much-needed break from endless Zoom meetings and webinars and the daily grind of boredom. But it would be so refreshing to see writers and performers take a page from artists who performed 20 minutes plays during the regular fringe festival.

A couple of favourites that would be excellent online are plays like No Dick Pics Please or any of the stories from The Hamilton 7.

Still, I'm forever hopeful and will be tuning in again tonight.

Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

Image: Lloyd Dirks/Unsplash

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