Hot off the heels of a sold out run at the 2022 Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, world class magician and Fringe Artist Keith Brown will be performing a show on Friday December 9 in the Backstage Theatre. Explore Keith’s personal connection to Edmonton Fringe in the Q&A below…
Tell us about Keith Brown & Friends? What can audiences expect from this one-night-only show?
Keith Brown (KB): This show will be something Edmonton hasn’t seen before. No need to wait till summer – fringers can get their fill of Fringe magic now! This variety show will feature an array of awesome local talents.
At once elemental and unearthly, musician Jay Gilday’s voice is a raw and gorgeous siren of the Canadian north. Jay Flair performs mind blowing magic that will make you laugh and cry; from circus stunts to sleight of hand, her show is full of mind-melting moments. Dayna Hoffmann and Max Hanic spark joy with physical comedy, dance and clown.
I’ll be hosting and performing magic, too. If you saw my show this summer, this will be different. No table magic, but a bunch of my favourite standup tricks!
I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. Don’t miss this show!
How would you describe Edmonton Fringe to someone who’s never been before?
KB: Edmonton Fringe figured out the formula. They know how to provide an astounding audience experience and how to treat the artists well. They know how to merge those two experiences together.
You get to see wild and wacky things of all different calibers and skill levels. Edmonton Fringe is this wonderful place where you can see some of the best artists in the world honing their craft. You might also see a complete f*cking gong show that you will talk about and remember longer than any of the amazing shows that you saw.
How did your magic career begin?
KB: I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. I do it because I love it. I hope the audience loves it as much as I do. When I was a teenager, I’d practice six to eight hours a day, sometimes under the desk at school.
Someone offered me money to perform magic when I was 13. And I never looked back. My brother was putting on a hip hop show at a local pub down the street from our house. I’m thirteen years old and in a bar. There’s a bunch of guys rapping and making hip hop music. And people are like, why is there a 13-year-old here? And why does he have a deck of cards?
The pub owner hired me for this charity event. I was supposed to work until midnight, but I had to call my parents to say: “Hey, it’s going really well, can I stay here till close?” My parents had to put the phone down – do we let our 13-year-old stay in a bar until 2am? He’s down the street, he’s not drinking, he’s making money, he’s doing something he likes. They agreed: “Yes, you can do that.”
That’s how it snowballed. I was working at the pub three nights a week. Then I started meeting people who were doing magic for a living. My parents come from a small town in Ontario, they’re the kids of immigrants who came over during the war, they have regular jobs: “My kid wants to be a magician?!” When I started meeting people who did magic professionally, I’d introduce them to my parents. I showed them all the ways you can make a living doing magic.
There wasn’t a specific moment where I decided I was going to be a magician. It was more like: I AM a magician. It felt natural. It just made sense.
How did you get your start as a Fringe Artist?
KB: I found Fringe because of magician Nick Wallace. He was doing the London Fringe Festival. He was performing at the Covent Garden Market. I was 15. It was a really good show. There is stuff still burned in my brain from that show! He was one of the first magicians I ever saw who told good stories on stage. He had his own unique vibe, atmosphere, character, and was a working professional magician.
My dad and I asked if we could buy him lunch. We went out to lunch with Nick and his brother. We did magic tricks together and talked magic. I remember that at the end, Nick tried to pay and my dad said: “No, you’re helping my son out. The least I can do is buy you lunch.”
Since then, Nick and I have become friends and colleagues. He was the one who encouraged me to apply for the London Fringe Festival to do my own show.
Finding Fringe when I was a teenager felt like finding a space where I could see myself. Where I could be seen and be heard. Where I can do my show, work on my chops, and get better.
Can you tell us about the first time you performed at Edmonton Fringe?
KB: I graduated university in 2014 and did my first Fringe Tour: Orlando, my home town London, Winnipeg, and Edmonton. I did a Bring Your Own Venue (BYOV) in La Cite Francophone. All the money I made in Winnipeg I sunk into that venue...and kissed it all goodbye. I didn’t make a single dime in Edmonton until my fourth time there.
Your second time at Edmonton Fringe, you performed as a busker, right?
KB: Yes. And I do not busk!
I brought my regular indoor show. It was not good as a busking act. I’d only get through 10-15 minutes of material and then the audience would leave. So, I’d just do trick one again. And I’d only ever make it to trick three. And then the same thing would happen.
What I did learn in busking: you must establish your credibility. Hey, I’m something worth paying attention to. I’m not just some guy, this is what I do for a living. What you wear affects the audience’s perception. I had two suits at the time. A $100 suit and a $1,000 suit. I was wearing my $100 suit outside (because it might rain or get hot,) and I’d only ever get tipped fives and tens. And then near the end of the week, I put on my nice suit and people started giving me twenties.
Even after that experience, you persisted. You kept coming back to Edmonton Fringe.
KB: Finally, I was drawn in the Fringe Lottery. That time, I made enough money with my show to pay for all the prior years when I’d lost money. I’ve never had so many people come to my show before.
How do audiences support Fringe Artists?
KB: There are so many community members who you meet and forge a connection with. The local patrons who come back year after year. Edmonton Fringe not only has the ability to cultivate community through the artists, but also through the patrons.
Fringe fosters this community of people who want to support the arts, who want to have a good time, where they get to see stuff out of the ordinary, whether that’s a magic show or a clown show or a storytelling show. You get to see stuff that isn’t at the big theatres.
Some of my favorite shows I’ve ever seen have been at Fringe and they cost me less than $20. Fringe provides such value to the patrons. There is such amazing gold hidden in Fringe. You gotta seek it out and sift it out. You might find a new thing. There is something for everybody.
Then the pandemic hit…
KB: I’ve been doing magic my whole life. Because of the pandemic, I was not performing live. This was the longest stretch of time not performing, and least magical I’ve ever felt. It was a huge struggle. I didn’t get to do this thing that I’ve done my whole life. A large part of my identity is associated with that, and it was taken away.
You performed a show at Together We Fringe: A Fringe Theatre Event in 2021.
KB: I hadn’t gotten to perform for a year and a half. It was really nice to just have the opportunity. Edmonton audiences showed up. They got it. Even during a pandemic, they were like: “let’s go support the artists. We need storytelling.”
Edmonton was my first show back. They showed me a lot of love. All I did was do my show and people talked about it. It was the first time I got to perform professionally since the pandemic. I didn’t do any promotion. It was the second best year I ever had. It was exactly what I needed.
I took card tricks that I’d been doing since I was 13. I was doing old stuff and stuff I’d never shown on stage before. It was very validating. I needed that so badly, deep down in my soul – it hadn’t been fed in over a year. It was incredibly hard, but those little moments? I was living off that high for so long.
And on top of that, you were running a Bring Your Own Venue (BYOV), right?
KB: Yes, my friend Jon Paterson and I did that together. We were so busy running the theatre. I didn’t have a typical experience. I was a producer and a venue manager and tech supporting six other Fringe shows. Pretty much all my time was dedicated towards other people. I got to run lights for a bunch of high school kids. They wrote this play and had a cast of 12 kids. To hear their enthusiasm and excitement, to see their vision coming to life after so long – that alone was worth it.
How does Fringe Theatre support Festival Artists?
KB: Edmonton Fringe is this wonderful melting pot of the arts that makes it accessible to local audiences but also provides opportunities for artists. This is where professionals make their livelihood, and where emerging artists try something for the first time. The spectrum Fringe provides is very interesting.
Edmonton Fringe provides you with a venue, show times, program, website, and provides a wonderfully supportive community to the artists. There are all these great opportunities and resources. Edmonton Fringe is the only Festival where I had to complete a Consent Culture training course. They are a leader in the community and it really shows. Not just by the artists who show up but the audiences who show up to support the artists.
They provide a great support system. All the staff is readily available to help us out. You know that they’re in your corner. They just want you to do the best you possibly can.
How does it feel to be a part of the Fringe Community?
KB: We’re doing this wacky thing. We basically ran off and joined the circus. Artists often say: “Welcome to the Framily. The Fringe Family.” We’re all trying to do the same thing. We’re all trying to be seen, to be heard, to make a dollar, to do our art in this space. As much as we are competitive, we are in this together. We help each other. We support each other.
As many Festivals as I’ve done, there are other artists who’ve been around the block 20+ years. And all of these people, whether volunteer, administrator, or artist, who have been there longer.
Everyone has these little tidbits of information, these little nuggets of gold, that they can impart to you.
I have this weird profession. Not everyone knows magic. It’s not easy to get good information, let alone good mentorship. As much as you can help someone, you’ve got to let them spread their own wings and do their own thing and learn at their own pace. That’s what a lot of my mentors and teachers did. There have always been people who have answered my questions and given me the time of day.
I’m still learning. My friends still push me to be better. We can all learn from each other. If I can help you out and you can help me out, we raise the bar overall. We don’t have to fight over the same piece of pie, we can just bake another pie. There’s abundance out there. If you have opportunities that others don’t, you don’t build a higher fence, you build a longer table.
I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be here today without Fringe. I would be a fraction of who I am as an artist without Fringe.
Do you have a favourite Edmonton Fringe memory?
KB: This summer was the first time my parents ever came to Edmonton Fringe. It’s one thing to tell people about Edmonton Fringe. It’s another thing to actually experience it. It was nice to get taken out of my typical Fringe experience and be a guide to them.
We hope you enjoyed reading Keith’s story. When you support Fringe Theatre, you help artists like Keith to find their voice. Your support today will provide opportunities, tools, and resources for Fringe artists to be seen and heard at the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival.
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