Every year in August, my husband and I take the High Level streetcar across the river to Edmonton’s famous Fringe – North America’s oldest and largest theater festival. Before we had kids, we’d have our pick of all 200 shows staged at 52 venues during the 11-day theater binge. Sometimes, we’d go just to find our favorite curry truck and watch the street performers that fill the busy streets and alleys. This year, we’re back at it – we’ll take the streetcar, get butter chicken and find the kids some puppets.
Edmonton’s Big on Theater
Alberta’s capital city has a thriving theater scene with dozens of professional troupes performing year round. And since the first North American Fringe in 1982, Edmonton has become home to the biggest celebration of theater on the continent and one of the best in the world.
The festival attracts artists from basically everywhere and supports over 1,600 stage performances – mostly theater, but also performance art, dance, improvisational comedy and puppets. Plus hundreds of street performers come to juggle fire, play music and acrobatically entertain hundreds of thousands of visitors to the festival site. The productions are selected by lottery and are not curated or censored in any way by organizers – so be ready for art on the edge.
How to Fringe
Don’t miss the opening day performers’ parade through the one of the city’s coolest and most historic neighborhoods, Old Strathcona. This is a good time to pick up a program guide, grab a beverage and start making your picks. You can buy tickets ahead of time online or wait until the day of the show and maybe luck into a same-day discounted ticket. My best advice is to take a chance and try something different – a superhero-themed musical? Why not?
You’ll find lots of food trucks set up for the festival – sweet elephant ears and green onion cakes are classic deep-fried festival indulgences. Or chow down on chocolate-dipped bananas while watching street performers on the main strip. For the little ones, there are plays, musical performers and storytellers – plus crafts and games – at the Kids Fringe area.
On Saturdays, just down the block, you can buy locally grown everything at the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market – the city’s largest indoor market. You’re also in the middle of Edmonton’s bustling entertainment district with restaurants, pubs and bars all up and down Whyte Avenue.
Sister Fringe in Calgary
If you’re in Calgary at the end of July and beginning of August, check out the Calgary Fringe in historic Inglewood. It’s Calgary’s oldest neighborhood with more than 100 shops and restaurants, lots of live music venues and a gorgeous walking path along the Bow River.
Over the annual nine-day Fringe, more than two dozen productions offer 160 performances across various Inglewood venues. The performers are a mix of international and local artists – and like all fringe festivals, all box office proceeds go directly to the artists. The host venues are within walking distance of each other and neighborhood shops and restaurants give discounts to festival visitors. Buy tickets online – in 5, 10 or 20 packs or for an individual show – starting in July or pick them up at the door.