When we speak of the Hamilton art scene, we often insinuate that is has sprouted out of nowhere. However, the art culture in Hamilton is rich in history, with the Hamilton Fringe Festival being an important facet in the culture. The Fringe, as it is called, is celebrating its eleventh year in existence.
The festival, which runs from July 17 to 27, celebrates art, non-partiality, freedom from censorship, and accessibility. It allows stories to be told and experienced through dance, spoken word, music, and drama while receiving a hundred percent of the profit. Fringe festivals are a longstanding tradition worldwide, allowing both veterans and emerging artists to share a stage. The festival aims to enrich the experience of both performers and audience members by opening up non-traditional spaces for stories to be told and innovative approaches to art to be discovered.
The repertoire of shows that will be performed at the twelve festival venues is somewhat overwhelming, however, when reading over the synopses of some of the plays, a few of them stood out in my mind. In an attempt to follow in the footsteps of the festival and dig beyond the surface, I asked the directors of five shows a few questions in hopes of answering the question, “why see this play?”.
Little Black Afro Productions
Luke Reece, co-founder and artistic director of Little Black Afro Productions is passionate about all forms of art. When speaking about his love for theatre, Reece states, “In my final year of high school, I wrote and directed my first play and it was on opening night that I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I made those people feel, with my words and my placement of people onstage. I had crafted it together. The summer after my first year at York studying Theatre, I started Little Black Afro Productions. Two years later, here I am, still doing it, still loving it, and still making audiences feel.” Carbon Copies explores the theme of memory through spoken word, photography, and language. The story runs approximately sixty minutes and centers around a character named Aaron who is taken through the important moments in his life while developing a roll of film. This play aims at exploring how the moments we experience help shape us into the people we become. “Everyone sees something different when they look back at their past, whether it’s through a foggy memory or a crystal clear photograph. It’s important to recognize that both bad and good things have happened, and if bad things are happening to you in the present, good things will follow again. I think that this show also shows that you can still rediscover the youth you had in your childhood in different ways as an adult. Take the past for what it is, look ahead, and make some new memories,” says Reece.
Bending Reality Productions
The Bell Ringer started as a production for the fourth year Theatre and Film Studies Honours Performance Series, conceived by Concetta Roche, Taryn Crankshaw, Cameron Love, and Jessica Marshall but quickly grew into something more once they realized the impact it had on their first audiences. “After having seen the production performed onstage at McMaster, it helped us to see how much potential we had to push the material further. The one thing that people kept telling us after the show was that they were “left wanting more.” It was a nice reinforcement that the material we produced was engaging and appealing to our audience… I feel like the two productions are very different in the sense that now we have a better understanding of the characters and the show as a whole because we have gone through this process twice,” said Crankshaw. The play is an adaption of Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame that deals with body issues through the eyes of a male, the physical and emotional desires of non-able bodies people and featuring a non-able bodies lead in a way that strays from the common portrayal in the media. “Our key themes in The Bell Ringer are disabilities, male body image, and desire. We took social justice issues from Victor Hugo’s book and wanted to see if the topics were still relevant 183 years later,” said Marshall. Coming together at McMaster, the founders of Bending Reality Productions fell in love with the story as they did with the art of theatre. “We all agree that theatre is a part of us that keeps growing our love and passion for the arts,” said Roche.
Big Bang & Company
Fast Food Love: The Musical! was written around the title song, ‘Fast Food Love’ after director Carly Popenko came up with it on a whim. From there, she had to ask herself important question to figure out what story needed to be told. “What did I want it to say? Who did I want to say it to? And most importantly, how did I want to say it? These are tough questions to filter through, but for me, unless you go through this planning process in the beginning, your story has the potential to wander off track, or more relevantly, end up in the deep grease fryer,” said Popenko. Fast Food Love: The Musical! is filled with quick and punchy music, hovering around 2 minutes long, so that people who may not love the musical genre like Popenko can still enjoy it. “To me, music has the power to speak to our emotional core. There’s something about combining the human voice, which is such a personal, unique experience, with instrumental sound. It takes the lyrics’ message to new and exciting heights. However, as an audience member, I do find it daunting when a show is comprised completely of songs alone. I tend to lose focus, and eventually, stop paying attention to the wonderful lyrics that are moving the show forward. This is why it was important to me write Fast Food Love: The Musical! as a musical for people who don’t necessarily like musicals. The musical offers a lot of social commentary about the detrimental effects of capitalism in the form of chain stores, due, in part, to Popenko’s affection for independent businesses. “There’s something to be said for independent businesses, with restaurants in particular. They bring a certain charm and appeal to a city, and ultimately, help to drive the increase of its tourism. The restaurants on Hamilton’s Locke St., Ottawa St., and James St. North are great examples of that,” said Popenko. The musical also discusses themes of North American fast food culture, and maintaining sustainable eating habits.
Tickets are no more than ten dollars, but in addition to a ticket, a four dollar “festival backer” button that can be purchased at any of the venues is required for entrance. With the revitalization of Hamilton art culture as it is seen today, it is important that accessible and inventive initiatives such as The Fringe continue to thrive and local artists continue to be supported. Show times for all plays can be found at hamiltonfringe.ca.