Subseries Fonds 2-2-0424 - Productions

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Fonds 2-2-0424

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Text and graphic: 0. 6 m.

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(1978 -)

Administrative history

Fringe Theatre Adventures began in 1978 as Chinook Touring Theatre, a theatre for young audiences (TYA). Founded in Fort St. John, British Columbia, by Brian Paisley and Ti Hallas, its mission was to "open an archway to accessible theatre adventures by and for the community." Paisley and Hallas moved the company to Edmonton in 1980, scheduling tours all over Alberta from offices in the basement of the Princess Theatre on Whyte Ave., before moving into the renovated Fire Hall No. 6 on 83 Ave in 1983. The 83 Ave. site contained offices and a 175-seat theatre for in-house productions and for rental to other artists, as well as for use by the Edmonton Fringe Theatre Festival which Chinook had initiated the previous summer. The name changed to Chinook Theatre Society in 1986 and then again, to Fringe Theatre Adventures in 1995, marking the ascendency of the what had by then become the company's better known and more dynamic contribution to Edmonton local theatre. In 1995, the company also moved its operations into the old bus barns in Old Strathcona, renaming the complex the Strathcona Arts Barns, and embarking on a long-term plan to create a year-round theatre and cultural centre, complete with a permanent theatre to replace the temporary risers and facilities used for the Fringe. The Arts Barns were leased from the City of Edmonton by Fringe Theatre Adventures for twenty years. The move was seen as necessary not only to create a larger theatre, but also to prevent commercial redevelopment plans for the bus barns, which were central to the continued healthy operations of the Fringe Festival. Over the years Chinook's TYA program produced a combination of original works such as Paisley's Tikta'Liktak, James DeFelice's Merchants of Dazu and Ballad of the Bird Prince and Clem Martini's Swimmers and Gambetta Rise, and adaptations such as Tartuffe and The Odyssey, along with productions of playwrights such as Dennis Foon. The touring program was popular in smaller centres outside Edmonton, but attempts to secure a local audience and identity were less successful. A "Youth and Adult Audiences" season was launched in 1985-86, with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Sharon Pollock's The Komagata Maru Incident. However, a second such season for 1986-87 was cancelled because of tight budgets overall. At other times, Chinook would bring its touring show into its home theatre, but lack of a regular season or predictable schedule seemed to forestall audience loyalty, despite quality productions. If the TYA program did not establish a strong local presence, the Fringe Festival did. The Fringe was established in 1982 on a $50,000 grant from SummerFest, to replace the cancelled Northern Light Theatre Shakespeare in the Park season. Paisley had been to the Edinburgh Fringe the year before, and recognized the potential of many of the empty buildings in the Old Strathcona district as potential theatre venues. The district was just at the start of a revitalization project, of which the Fringe Festival became a prominent component. Such a summer festival would also help secure year-round work for the Chinook staff. The premise for the Fringe was simple enough. Chinook would set up theatre spaces, equipped with lights and sound, and with a technician. Artists would book performance space from Chinook, and perform whatever they wanted, taking whatever gate they could get from whatever audience they could attract. There would be no pre-selection or refereeing by an overseeing artistic director, just nine days of artists free to find their audiences. The original Fringe had five venues, but as the Festival grew, it peaked at fourteen venues by 1993 and 1994, before "shrinking" to thirteen. Total attendance figures passed the half-million marks by the early '90s, though much of that was for the ambience and the street festival and outdoor shows that grew up alongside the indoor venues, rather than for the theatre offerings themselves. The 1985 Fringe was particularly noteworthy in the evolution of the Festival, as that was the year it became possible to talk of "Fringe hits," shows that could make a reasonable return for the artists, and attract enough audience to be restaged after the Festival itself was over. In that year, for example, Life After Hockey, by Ken Brown, went on to a national tour. Although local performers have always been a feature of the Festival, performers also began to come from all over the country, and from the U.S. and abroad, raising audience expectations and the overall quality of stagecraft. However, there seemed to be a parallel diminishing of experimentation and innovation, as artists searched for the money-making production. Eventually the Festival became a popular model and anchor for a string of similar events across the country, and spawned imitators in the U.S. However, over time the anomalous, at times schizophrenic division of labour between the TYA and Fringe operations strained the administrative and operation energies of the company, especially when the Fringe became more than a few months of summer fill-in work for the staff. Ironically, perhaps, "Chinook" theatre was overshadowed by its "marginal" offspring, and the parent company was renamed for its more famous and demanding child. Paisley remained as TYA Artistic Director until June 1987, and as Fringe Producer until 1989. He was succeeded as TYA Artistic Director in 1988 by Dorothy Ann Haug, who remained in that position for six years. Judy Lawrence, originally hired as Assistant Fringe producer in 1988, became Festival Director in 1990, and the overall Executive Director in 1995. David Cheoros became Festival Director in 1997. Lawrence resigned in January 1998, and was succeeded by Darryl Lindenbach. When Chinook / Fringe Theatre Adventures took up permanent residence in the Arts Barns, it sublet the 83 Ave. space over to a consortium of eight independent companies, many with Fringe histories. The plan was to buy time for the consortium to prove itself, and to help establish the viability of two professional theatre venues in the district. The objective was to try to keep the 83 Ave. space active as a theatre, once a permanent theatre was developed in the Arts barns, and to prevent it from being redeveloped for some other enterprise. After a shaky start, the consortium stabilized around Shadow Theatre and Teatro Quindicina, and the Die-Nasty improv soaps, producing out of what was renamed the "New Varscona" theatre. The future of the New Varscona remains in some doubt at the time of this writing, as the space is on a month-to-month lease and redevelopers from time to time make inquiries to the City about the property. To date, strong lobbying of City Council by theatre and business interests in the district, and by the Old Strathcona Foundation, has helped keep the site a theatre.

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Sub-series consists of records documenting the productoin and promotion of various Chinook Theatre plays.

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  • English

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Created by RFROGNER 4-28-2011. Updated by MACS 5-13-2011.

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