We sat down with Fringe Theatre’s Artistic Director, Murray Utas to chat about the first offering of our 2023/24 Fringe Season: Fringe Revue.Fringe Revue is playing one night only on December 8, 2023 live, in-person in our Westbury Theatre. Tickets are available now!
Q & A With Fringe Artistic Director, Murray Utas
What is Fringe Revue, and how is this show different than past versions of Fringe Revues?
I woke up one night and I was like: oh my god. I’m a big fan of the Muppet Show, of the Variety Show, and I thought to myself: ‘What if we did something like that?!’
Fringe Revue – spelled R – E – V – U – E – represents such an interesting art form, but it’s also a hilarious pun. How often are we, as Artists, in relationship with ‘reviews’ – spelled with a ‘ I – E – W – S?’ We all know what 3 ½ stars means!
A big part of my Fringe philosophy is learning from our history so we can move forward gracefully and intelligently. I don’t think you can go forward without looking back. Now, I don’t think you should ever live in the past…but you can visit. So, one of my intentions with Fringe Revue is continuing to honour the history of Fringe while paving the future. And Fringe Revue, our take on the variety show, is a big part of our history.
Where does the idea for a Fringe Revue come from? What excites you about it?
I have a lot of different thoughts in my head at any given time. Sometimes it’s a lot of opportunities I need to solve for; sometimes it’s a lot of joys all simmering on the stove.
One of these thoughts often circles back to that thing we all know by various names: ‘the great pause’ that disproportionately affected our industry. COVID-19. We’re still seeing a backlog of creative work, new work waiting for a spot in the limelight. These backlogs are as long as two or three years. In a lot of ways, we’re only just starting to see the beginning of this backlog. So, as I was scratching my head, suddenly it clicked for me: Fringe Revue! The whole vaudeville model of a show. Contracting a bunch of Artists, bringing together a bunch of cool people, and making something out of it. It’s a very old model, but I think bringing it back, amping it up, and giving Artists the opportunity to thrive under the creative umbrella of Fringe Revue for a one-night-only show sure to knock your socks off…well. That certainly excites me!
It just so happens that this idea also jives with everything I love about Fringe – bringing community together, finding and facilitating launch pads for Artists and their careers, and making good art, y’all. When I say Fringe Revue’s going to be great – I mean that. I think it’s going to be really exciting.
Talk a little bit about collective creation and process. How is collective creation different from a ‘conventional’ theatre process?
I think I can trace my philosophy on collective creation back to something my computer systems technology professor said: “if you’re stuck on a program, the best thing you can do is bring a set of fresh eyes to it.”
I think theatrical collective creation processes are very much like that at their core.
In the Fringe Revue process, I’ve engaged Artists whose creativity is as much at the table as mine. It’s about asking the question: do you have an idea? Or: how would you solve this problem? What can we do? Then we stitch that together to make a show. It’s similar to how those 70’s variety shows were made.
The first thing me and the writing team will do is get into a room and pitch some sketches to each other. From there, we’ll build on the pitches that make sense – we’ll take ‘em and run with ’em. This leads organically into the next phase of the project, where a head writer will distill the ideas, and sew them together with continuity in mind. How do these sketches combine in a way that adds up more to than the sum of their parts?
What I love about collective creation is this: it’s open source. You come in, you do the work (in Revue’s case, you make your sketch pitches), then you negotiate, because not every sketch is going to necessarily make it in. You’re really going to make the case for your piece to hang in there. But where this is beautiful, and where the hard work pays off, is at some point you have to learn to let some of your ideas go for the greater good. Our head writer will represent the intention of the script as the actors delve in and do all their actor-ly work in the rehearsal hall. It’s all negotiation and collaboration in a collective creation! And it’s all fun. It’s a hard engine to prime, but once it is, it’s rewarding work.
Who’s involved in Fringe Revue?
It’s an embarrassment of riches. I threw it out to the world: who can I bring to this project? I knew in this iteration, because this is the prototype for what tour annual Fringe Revuew show will become, that this first team was very important.
In the writers’ room we have Nikki Hulowski. That human being is such an incredible writer, understands sketch like there’s no tomorrow, and is unafraid to have deep conversations.
Next up, someone with experience and a great sense of humour in spades: Sheldon Elter. And you know I love a throwback! Sheldon was part of this troupe doing their thing in the Living Room Playhouse years ago. I was one of eight people in that audience who loved what Sheldon and that troupe were doing. And those shows became such a journey for them – it turned into a TV show! So, to have that knowledge in the room is amazing. But Sheldon is also a musician. You know if Sheldon’s involved, there’s going to be a song that makes it into a scene. It’s just going to happen.
Another person who will be featured both on the writing team and in the ensemble is Sam Stralak, core member of sketch troupe Marv n’ Berry. Sam’s such a talented performer. He brings a passion for experimentation. He offers a sense of adventure: let’s try this, let’s try that. It’s always: ‘let’s see what happens!’
Our musician/writer/incredible performer who rounds it all out is Lindsey Walker. She told me: “I don’t want just to score this; can I write, too?” And I said: “Yeah! But just so you know: I’m gonna make you act, too!”
The first person I asked to join the acting ensemble is someone I’m a super fan of. I thought to myself: I wonder if I could get Helen Belay to come back now that they’re out east…. So, I pitched the gig to her (with no pressure!). It was a very short turnaround before they said yes. And – sidebar – I don’t know if you’ve heard her sing – but WOW…that voice!
Todd Houseman was next on my list. Todd is an actor, an improvisor, a sketch comedian, a playwright, a storyteller. He’s really blossomed so much. Sure, he’s out journeying, but he’s coming home for this. Todd is someone worth showcasing!
So that’s iteration one of Fringe Revue. What’s still TBD is the musical performance – stay tuned for that! There’s a surprise around every corner. Guess you’ll just have to come to the Revue to find out!
Do you have any final thoughts?
This is meant to be a wild experiment where we put Artists first – it’s meant to showcase the brilliant talent and creativity local to Edmonton. Sure – we come alive at Fringe every August, but y’all, there’s something happening at Fringe 365 days a year.
As we say: Everyone is fringing and fringing is for everyone.
Come party with us. This Fringe Revue is gonna be one for the history books.
The 2023/24 Fringe Season has something for everyone. What is the Fringe Season, you ask? Well, we’re glad you did. Fringe Season is our way of sprinkling the magic of Festival throughout the year. It’s a celebration of daring work by incredible Artists curated by our Artistic Director Murray Utas. If you like to Fringe in August, we know you’ll love our Season.