Just forget the words and sing along

Monday, October 15, 2012

The End of Athabasca's Fringe Festival

A chalk sidewalk drawing promoting Athabasca's Fringe Festival.  A pink heart with the words Fringe Love

Athabasca used to have a Fringe Festival.  It boasted that it was the second smallest Fringe Festival in Canada.  (The smallest was -- and maybe still is -- in Abbottsford, BC.)  It was held in the last weekend of July every year.  Being so close to Edmonton, a few theatre groups from Edmonton would use it to try out their shows before entering them into Edmonton's Fringe.  Venues including the Nancy Appleby Theatre, the Legion Hall, the United Church, and Athabasca's old Community Centre.

The Fringe was held for nine years, from 1998 to 2007.  In my time in Athabasca, I was lucky enough to cover the last two.  Even when I showed up the second-last, I could tell that the festival's days were numbers.  Like a lot of volunteer organizations, the volunteers were starting to dwindle.  And, there some in the community that the rules of a Fringe festival were too restrictive.

As I recall, there are some rules you have to follow to call yourself a Fringe festival.  A couple of the rules I remember is you book the acts on a first come, first serve basis, and you can't say no to anyone.  With rules like that, some of the town's conservative elements felt we got "stuck" with some very explicit and risque shows, and wanted to change it to a more generic arts festival, and thus have more control over the programming.

For its final year, Athabasca's Fringe decided to take a cue from the Edmonton Fringe and adopt a theme to rally around.  They chose to unveil that theme in a big event with music and everything.  I was still the station's reporter, so I was there to cover it.  The theme for Athabasca's Fringe in 2007 was "it's MY Fringe."  People were encouraged to send in their ideas on how it was their Fringe.  It all seemed rather good.

2007, however, turned out to be the final Fringe.  The board said they were ready to step down and move on to other things, and no new volunteers took up the torch.  Well, that's not true.  The new volunteers reformed it into the "Athabasca Arts Alliance" with the goal of promoting arts year round, but I think that organization has now faded away and died.

A poster for Athabasca's Fringe Festival, proclaiming the theme it's my FRINGE, and showcasing some scenes from past Fringes.

For the longest time, we've had this poster for the final Athabasca Fringe Festival sitting in the back room at work.  I saved it from the trash heap many times.  I liked the Fringe, and I'm not sure you can tell from the photo, but it's mounted on a piece of plastic, making it very sturdy.  I just always found it too nice, and a nice artifact from Athabasca's recent past, to just throw it away.

For a while now, I've considered it donating it to the Athabasca Archives.  I've got a friend who's currently pursuing a Ph.D. in history, and she constantly tells tales of the neat things she finds in archives while doing her research.  So, I wanted to add my own neat thing to an archive.  I ran this idea by my friend, and she said, "Uhh...you'd better talk to your town archivist, first, and make sure it's the kind of donation they want."

About a week ago, some of the bosses came to visit, and they went on a cleaning and furniture re-arranging blitz.  I saved the poster from the scrap heap one last time, and figured if I was going to donate it, it'd better be now.

So after work, I tossed it in the back of my car and swung by the Athabasca Archives.  I showed it to the archivist, and she said she's love to have it for the town's archives.  In fact, she even said she had recently spoken with some people researching theatre history and who were amazed when they found out Athabasca used to have a Fringe festival and were looking for documentation on it.

I'm glad I found it a good home, and I hope this very fun part of Athabasca's recent history will be remembered.

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