Friday, March 26, 2004

Theatre Friday: Watch out, Fringe Festivals. Car Stories is back.

Donovan King, artistic facilitator at Optical Theatrical Laboratories, e-mailed me last week with news that is either good or bad depending on who you are. The Canada Council for the Arts has awarded him a $20,000 grant to "create Car Stories, an interactive performance piece to take place in an urban setting." With the cash, King plans to bring his activist theatre piece from Montreal, where it has been running for three summers now concurrent with the Fringe, to Ottawa and Toronto this summer.

Car Stories -- here's OTL's page about it -- is a play that takes place in cars with the audience members watching from the back seat. When I saw it in Montreal in 2001 -- while it was still actually part of the Fringe Festival -- it was a lot of fun, interactive and exciting.

(The Car Stories project, by the way, is based on a Dublin Fringe show called Car Show.)

Anyway, Car Stories is (in)famous in Montreal because it was the first show ever to be kicked out of the Fringe. The reasons why this happened depend on who you talk to. King believes that pressure from The Gazette's then-theatre critic Pat Donnelly resulted in him being kicked out. Most everybody else -- including the majority of the original cast -- cites other reasons, usually King's erratic behaviour during that Fest or the numerous noise complaints that Car Stories received during its run.

Others believe that the whole brouhaha was orchestrated by King as a giant "play." He is dedicated, after all, to "culture-jamming, Viral Theatre, Sousveillance Theatre, meme-warfare, Electronic Disturbance Theater, and Global Invisible Theatre." (In fact, by taking the bait and writing about the grant he won, I think I am caught in the crossfire of some meme-warfare.)

In any case, ever since that summer, Mr. King has protested the Fringe, mounting Car Stories near the Fringe, calling the show "too Fringe for the Fringe." Every year he clashs with the police and the Montreal Fringe's staff...

My personal opinion is that King's 'Reclaim the Fringe' project is bunk, more personal vendetta than anything. Canada's Fringe Festivals remain the most accessible way of getting your play put on. Most of the artists in the Fringe simply find him annoying, someone who is trying to spoil everyone else's fun. But I'll let him speak:
All we are asking as artists is to be treated with respect. You can see the mandate of the infringement festival online, as an attempt to reclaim the spirit of the real Fringe. We did not launch this campaign to be fececious; we are still, in fact, waiting our ticket sales from Car Stories '01. Is is so much to ask that a "fringe" festival behave as such? Is it so much to ask that artists be put first in an event like this one? What Pat Donnelly did was a disgusting abuse of power. The Fringe should not be controlled by the corporate media, especially when it is the only anglo Daily in town. I know there has been a lot of skepticism on the part of the corporate media, which is not entirely surprising, but trust me when I say that this year we are going to make our views heard loud and clear. The media can do what they like - whether they chose to report or not is their perogative, but silence is now louder than words. Even the Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia has recorded the facts as Canadian Theatre History.
(The Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia entry he refers to was, of course, written by himself.)

Anyway, if you are involved in the Montreal, Toronto or Ottawa Fringe, I'd gird myself for full-out war this summer. Donovan King is back and he's armed with $20,000. (Yep, I called the Canada Council to check. It's real)

(And if you have any interest in participating in or lending you car to Car Stories in any of these cities, King would love to hear from you. Caveat Emptor.)

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