News / Winnipeg

Winnipeg Fringe Fest announces new review system, plans for 30th anniversary

The Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival happens July 19-30 with 190 plays in 31 venues.

MEtro file

One of Canada’s premier fringe festivals is aiming to democratize reviews by building a Yelp-like website for theatre-goers to share their thoughts.

The Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival unveiled new developments Monday ahead of the 30th anniversary of the festival July 19-30.  

Executive producer Chuck McEwen said the new review portal, www.Fringe.Exchange, was inspired by similar offerings from other North American festivals, like the Minnesota Fringe Festival and the Ottawa Fringe Festival.

"It’s still great for the public to go to a media review site and find out what one person thought of a play on a critical standpoint. But to get maybe 20, 30, 40 patron reviews to either support that point of view or contradict that point of view … it’s about time we gave audience members the chance to do that online and share their love of the shows,” McEwen said.

The website will give reviewers the option to leave written comments and to give one to 10 hearts for each show, rather than use a five-star rating system.

"Out of 10 gives you a bit more room to be maybe more accurate. Because out of four or five, sometimes it’s hard," McEwen said.

Veteran Winnipeg Fringe performer Jane Testar – who takes the stage with sketch comedy troupe Hot Thespian Action and improv group Outside Joke this year — said she’s not a fan of the star ratings.

Jane Testar (centre) will perform at Winnipeg Fringe with Outside Joke and Hot Thespian Action at the Gas Station Arts Centre.

Supplied/Outside Joke

Jane Testar (centre) will perform at Winnipeg Fringe with Outside Joke and Hot Thespian Action at the Gas Station Arts Centre.

"I kind of even wonder if we should be doing the star system anymore. I like the reviewer giving a very short summation of what the show is about, what stood out to them and if there was anything they thought could be improved or wasn’t quite up to snuff," she said.

"There are those people, the five-star chasers, and that’s the only shows they see. They don’t want to take the risk of seeing something that’s not stellar, even though that’s the whole point of the Fringe is to try and see different things that you wouldn’t normally see."

CRUMBS improv artist Stephen Sim said he values "any way people can get the word out and talk about the fringe," no matter the medium.

Stephen Sim performs with the improv comedy group CRUMBS at this year's Winnipeg Fringe.

Supplied/Stephen Sim

Stephen Sim performs with the improv comedy group CRUMBS at this year's Winnipeg Fringe.

"The buzz and word of mouth of actual fringe-goers has always been important. A good review in the paper or CBC can get you a new audience, but the word on the street is going to bring you audiences, too," he said.

Winnipeg Fringe is also debuting a New Play Contest to encourage Canadian playwrights to submit work early and win a spot in the next year’s festival.

This year’s local fringe has 190 shows at 31 venues, with plenty of live music, beer tents and food trucks focused around Old Market Square.

Ticket prices range from $10-$12 per show, or $5 for kids 12 and under. Package deals include a seven-show pass for $63 or a frequent fringer pass (14 shows) for $123. 

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