The LINK, June 8, 2004, p.18
BY TRACEY LINDEMAN-JARVIS
From the drunken days of American Prohibition to the near-constant show-downs between protesters and riot police, Montreal has a history of rebellion as long as the list of festivals that take the city by storm throughout the lazy, hazy days of summer.
The Fringe Festival has always been one of Montreal's biggest summer events, but with expansion, a more corporate nature behind the festivities has emerged. Enter the Infringement Festival, the anti-Fringe Festival fringe festival. With their battle cry to "reclaim the fringe," the people behind the Infringement claim that conflict-of-interest corporate sponsorships and the trademarking of the Fringe name will be the downfall of the famed Montreal festival.
"The spirit of the Fringe is what it was when it originally was here; it was a place for artists of any stripe [...] without the financial means to put on big shows, to do theatre and to express themselves artistically," Infringement Chaos Organizer Jason C. Mclean said. "The unfortunate thing is that, along the way, that got lost and what was the Fringe basically became a corporate festival which is Mainstream, Jr."
Mclean said that the notion of creating a counter-Fringe festival had been kicking around for a while, but that it only really began coming together this past January. However, the man behind the Infringement, Donovan King, has a history with the Fringe. His play, Car Stories, is the only play to be kicked out of the Fringe Festival.
On arts writer J. Kelly Nestruck's Internet blog, King asserted that Car Stories was exiled from the festival because of a run-in with former theatre critic for the Montreal Gazette, Pat Donnelly. In King's explanation, Donnelly wanted a free ticket to see Car Stories but the "box office characters" refused, playfully insisting she pay her way. According to King, the theatre critic "flew into a rage," and the Fringe promptly threw the production out citing "noise complaints" as their reason, and banning King from all future Fringe activities.
McLean said that the real reason Car Stories was done away with was because The Gazette threatened to withdraw their corporate sponsorship of the festival. The Infringement has vowed to avoid conflict-of-interest sponsorships and to make sure that those who invest In the new festival are ethical in practice.
"By being part of the festival, we're basically vouching that they're a good company," said Mclean. "They will obviously be mentioned on our website and our publicity because that's where they should be. But they will not be able to dictate what we do; they have no say in the artistic matters of some of the groups."
Though some may see the creation of the Infringement as Donovan King's revenge on the Fringe, Mclean dismissed this notion, explaining that "the real reason why we're doing the Infringement Festival is just to give artists another option, another choice."
Mclean conceded that fringe festivals are probably the most accessible artistic outlets available, but that realistically, they aren't exactly accessible with their fees and waiting lists.
However, the name "Fringe" attracts many festival-goers to Montreal, guaranteeing audiences for its performers. Also, Fringe Festival organizer Patrick Goddard assures that though artists have to pay to be in the Fringe, that they get to keep 100 per cent of their box-office profits, which he estimates can reach an average of $1125 for a five or six-show run. The price range for artists depends on how long the show is, Goddard said. For a 15-minute show that runs five or six days, it costs the performers $375, while an hour-long performance costs $625.
Though this may not seem like the financial big-time, the Infringement's Mclean stated that the cost alone prevents many deserving artists and thespians from taking part In the Fringe. "It's unfortunate that is what is the most accessible thing out there, and that's why the Infringement Festival is needed," he said. The Infringement is free to participate in and there is no screening process - a novel concept.
Among some of the performances at this year's Infringement, the controversial Car Stories will run the whole course of the festival. Briefly, Car Stories takes place in various locations around the Plateau area of Montreal. The journey begins in the back of St-Laurent bar Le Bifteck, where an urban guide greets three spectators at a time. From there, the guide takes them to parked cars where the small group of spectators pile into the back seat to observe the performance taking place in the front and passenger seats.
McLean has performed in Car Stories previously and is enthusiastic about having it run again this year. The Canadian Council for the Arts has given a $20,000 grant to produce the interactive theatre piece, much to the elation of the Infringement organizers.
"It's one of the most ingenious shows I've ever been a part of or ever witnessed, and I don't say that lightly. It's real theatre in real cars [...j in the urban wonderland that we all live in, Mclean said. "What's really interesting is that the spectators, as far as towards the actors in the show, are spectators, but towards everyone else in the street, they're part of the show."
Other performances at this year's Infringement Include Kayhan Irani's We've Come Undone, S. Bear Bergman's You'll Never Piss in This Town Again, as well as local acts like the Dead Dolls' Capitalism Cabaret, David Fennario's Mysteries of Montreal and Matt Jones' Guichet. Also, a flash mob will appear in a metro car one day during the festival and transform it into an impromptu party.
McLean said that Montreal seemed like the Ideal location for an anti-corporate festival because It Is already a left-leaning, politicized city. However, he would love to see the festival spread to other cities throughout Canada and North America. He explained that because the Infringement is attempting to recapture the true spirit of the Fringe, that if people in another city would like to create something like the Infringement festival, that they are more than welcome to set up shop. As a democratically run festival, he would like to see grassroots organizations pick up the idea and create an Infringement to suit their own needs, and not be another notch in a franchise's belt.
However, the Infringement will remain a Montreal phenomenon until then, and McLean thinks the city is more than ready for it. "The time is right for something like this to happen, the time is right now, the time is this summer, June 10th-20th. It's going to be a whole new ballgame…
For more information about the infringement, visit http://www.infringementfestival.com. For the Montreal Fringe, go to http://www.montrealfringe.ca
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re-posted by rod