The biggest difference between staging a fringe festival in the Fraser Valley and in Port Alberni?
“I think the audiences here last year were the most appreciative audiences I’ve ever seen,” said Gwynne Hunt, who organized the first Alberni Valley Fringe Theatre Festival in 2013.
“People were really ready for something different,” added Hunt, the festival’s artistic director.
She noticed one other difference between the responses in the two communities.
“We found in the Fraser Valley that the local shows were better attended, and here the out-of-town shows were better attended. Really, the shows were so well-attended; it was really great to see.”
She said the crowds were no smaller in Port Alberni than they were in Abbotsford, a city of more than 100,000 people.
About 1,000 people attended 19 shows in the 2013 Port Alberni festival, Hunt recalled.
“The shows were reasonably attended. Some people did really well and other people didn’t do as well, but that’s typical of any Fringe.”
The alternative theatre festival got good support from the local media in its first year in Port Alberni, Hunt said.
The number of shows this year has dropped to 12 because most of the out-of-town performances run for 90 minutes, Hunt explained. That limits the number of shows that can be presented at the main venue in the Capitol Theatre.
A couple of small shows will be held at the Bavarian Centre, around the corner from the Capitol on Fourth Avenue.
Hunt estimates she helped the non-profit Art Matters Society to produce a fringe festival for 17 years in Abbotsford and Mission in the Fraser Valley.
After Hunt moved to Port Alberni two years ago, she was asked to do the same in her new community.
It went well last year, gained the approval of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals, and is back for a second year from June 19–22.
Hunt, a playwright and former editor, “loves the instant feedback you get from writing, performing and putting your works on, all within a matter of months.”
She likes the fact that performers don’t have to be approved by a jury before appearing at the festival.
“We don’t judge whether their work is good, bad or ugly.”
Performances at the Capitol include A Capital Offense, a light-hearted romp by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey; Zelda: The Last Flapper by the Portal Players; The Hatter, with pro actor Andrew Wade portraying The Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland; Dancing With Fish, about a lifelong friendship between two eccentric men, by the Sunshine Clown Company; and the New Bitts of Tease Cabaret, billed as burlesque at its best.
Advance tickets are available at the Main Artery at 4969 Argyle St. For more info call Hunt at 250-723-7883.
By Mark Allan
Special to the News