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By D. A. Blackburn
With the summer festival season in full swing, one of Windsor’s newest theater companies steps out of the margins and onto the Fringe.
The Actor’s Theatre of Windsor, founded in 2006, by Mona el Baroudi and her husband Gordon Mackenzie, is a fledgling company dedicated to creating opportunity for professional thespians in and around Windsor, and to creating economic growth through community outreach. The 10-day Windsor International Fringe Festival, which kicks off on July 18, is ATW’s most ambitious project to date, and is by its nature designed to fulfill the mandates set fourth by el Baroudi and Mackenzie.
“Our commitment at ATW is to make the downtown core thrive. So we really wanted to commit to something downtown, and we also thought that there’s no better time than now, economically,” said el Baroudi. “There is this unusual amount of theater in Windsor, and there’s lots of opportunity to perform in community theater, but for young people considering this as a profession, by definition, they have to leave the area because there isn’t really professional work.”
Fringe festivals, a phenomenon with origins at the Edinburgh Theatre Festival in Scotland, took Canada by storm in the 1980s, providing small companies and independent artists the opportunity to stage innovative and experimental works by collaboratively shouldering expenses and attracting large audiences to a festival with multiple productions.
Shows are selected on a first-come-first-booked basis – or by lottery at large fringe festivals – with no artistic control or censorship by festival organizers. The result is a type of incubator for young artists and new works, allowing fresh performers and seasoned veterans to work together and learn from each other.
“The fringe mentality lends itself to more avant-garde or, theater-outside-of-the-ordinary, or just theater that’s unexpected,” said Michael Carnow, director of “A Trois,” one of the 26 shows featured in the Windsor Fringe. Michigan’s only entry into the festival will be performed six times over an eight-day period.
Carnow, a 23-year-old Royal Oak resident, embodies the very idea that makes fringe events so appealing to artists. Having graduated from Brandeis University just last year, the festival affords him his first opportunity to direct professionally, with very limited risk.
“As a young director, it’s sometimes difficult. You have to really work to earn peoples trust. When you work as an actor, you just go to an audition, and get cast. As a director, it’s much more difficult to get your foot in the door, so I saw this as a way that I could direct and I can answer to myself,” said Carnow.
Artists entering productions in the Windsor Fringe have a financial outlay of just $520, so it takes just 55 paying customers to recoup expenditures. All profits from tickets are returned directly to artists, with festival costs covered by the purchase of a $3 Windsor Fringe button, mandatory for entrance into any of the regular Fringe performances. Patrons under 14 years of age can gain entry into children’s productions without a button. A variety of local restaurants are also offering discounts to guests sporting Windsor Fringe buttons.
Festival organizers have also partnered with local artists to create four free events in conjunction with theatrical offerings. Chalk and Chocolate, Visual Fringe, Buskin to the Beat and the Windsor International Buskers Festival give the festival a multi-media appeal, and provide guests the opportunity to sample visual and performance art along with main stage productions.
‘Windsor International Fringe Festival’
At multiple venues in downtown Windsor, Ontario. July 18 – July 27. Show tickets: $9 adults, $5 for children 13 and under; discount passes available. Some events free. For information: 519-258-9887 or http://www.windsorfringe.com.