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I’m back with my Five Fave Fringe Shows So Far series. This year’s festival has 89 artists, over 600 performances, and 11 days to take it all in.

This is my favourite time of the year to be in Vancouver, and particularly at the Fringe Festival. Since moving to Canada eight years ago, I’ve been involved with the Fringe in one form or another.

There’s so much quality theatre that often gets overlooked due to larger productions, out-of-town talent that doesn’t make it out this way, or the frenzy of events that call our attention week in, week out. The Fringe circuit is an excellent chance to take in these shows, often allowing for several in the course of one evening.

Check the Fringe Festival schedule for what’s on. The Fringe Festival runs through September 15 on Granville Island and at assorted venues throughout the city. If you miss out, you can also catch the Pick of the Fringe from September 18 to 29, with shows at Performance Works and the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at SFU. The Pick will be announced at the Fringe Awards Night on September 15, 9:30 pm at Performance Works.

As in years past, I reserved a (large) handful of shows ahead of time and as of this post have seen a dozen shows.

Penny Ashton
[Penny Ashton]

Promise and Promiscuity is a one-woman tour de force filled with cleverness, lots of pink, and a battle of societal class in the Victorian age. This tale has been updated to include the modern world, to great success. Follow Miss Elspeth Slowtree as she portrays over half a dozen characters with grace. All music in this production was recorded specifically for the show, and lead actress Penny Ashton has travelled all the way from New Zealand to bring this musical to Vancouvershire. I’m not familiar with Jane Austen’s writing (shame on me) but was able to follow along as an Austen newbie all the same. A riot of a show.

“Ever have…one of those days?”. In Radio: 30, Chris Earle poses that single question. As we soon learn, he’s a radio spot advertising guy whose gift is his smooth, friendly, and convincing voice. Another voice, that of Mike (his recording engineer), is the only other character in the one-hour moving tale of being in the radio ad biz. Earle is a genius at moving the audience, sharing the back end of his life in between takes. The piece is a great commentary on modern society, including themes of love, emptiness, blindly nodding along with the status quo, and loss of confidence.

Chris Earle
[Chris Earle]

The entire set fits on one Oriental rug and includes a mike, chair, headset, and music stand. Earle’s got great comedic timing and has this show down pat. Don’t miss out.

Another standout performance is Travis Bernhardt’s Unpossible! Travis is a popular fixture on the Fringe circuit, however this is the first time I’ve caught one of his shows. What took me so long? He’s the master of illusion, balancing humour with magic.

Billed as “a captivating collection of infuriating implausibilities and diabolical deceptions”, the entire show is actually one big magic trick, but I won’t spoil your journey. I don’t know how he does it, but the entire audience was equally impressed watching Travis work through his skillful tricks. Check out this mind-bending show at Performance Works (there’s only three shows left).

Tonya Jone Miller
[Tonya Jone Miller]

Threads is a the story of an Indiana farm girl who leaves her comfort zone to teach English at a Buddhist University in Saigon during the war-torn 1960’s. With two red suitcases serving as her only props and set, Tonya Jone Miller weaves a heartfelt, gripping set of stories – often humourous – as she adapts to a very foreign culture.

Sitting in the front row, I felt transformed into Tonya’s world, one filled with poverty, desperation, and the aftermath of war. The show’s title refers to connections made that run like a thread through your lifetime. The circumstances of life, and how one chooses to face them, are front and centre in this one-hour production that rewards the audience with a realistic picture of war-torn Vietnam. Tonya interviewed her mother (who lived in Vietnam) for source material. I’ve got the feeling that this one will make Pick of the Fringe.

My fifth pick for this list is a production with a theme closer to home, Sorry ‘Bout That. From the moment I’d read the press release, I was intrigued. Taming a bear in the city isn’t easy, even for a fictional bear sponsorship program that’s featured in this one-hour play introducing Little Bear (a furry character played by Julie Cohn) to urban life. The play’s light-hearted tone does in fact bring the struggle between man and beast into the limelight. While Little Bear gets her paws into situations that are only natural for a young bear, the trainer (Julie, played by Anjali Rai) tries hard to stay positive, with hope that assimilation will succeed and more bears can be introduced to the program.

The play’s program suggests that the story can also be compared to that of an immigrant assimilating into a new culture. Something as natural as finding a damp squirrel for a late-night snack may seem normal in a bear’s world, but it’s out of the question for ours. Little Bear is put to the test a LOT, and at times just can’t avoid her behaviour, particularly when frightened. Just wait and see what trouble Little Bear gets into during the show. I would also recommend this show for younger audiences to help gain an appreciation for our local bear population.

As a production, Sorry ‘Bout That. has potential. And we could all learn a thing or two about how bears might view our world.

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