News center
Distinctive after-sales support

Sexy, sassy, silly, serious: Montreal Fringe is all that and more

Jun 25, 2023

"For a theatre buff like me, the Fringe creates incredible amounts of joyous stress. The adrenaline rush of 90+ bilingual shows at my fingertips, coupled with a very tiny window in which to see them all, is enough to make my poor brain short circuit. I don't like the angst, but also, I kind of do?"

Twitter Facebook Pinterest LinkedIn

Year after year, when the Montreal Fringe Fest comes along, I stress myself silly trying to catch as many shows as I can. You see, for a theatre buff like me, the Fringe creates incredible amounts of joyous stress. The adrenaline rush of 90+ bilingual shows at my fingertips, coupled with a very tiny window in which to see them all, is enough to make my poor brain short circuit. I don't like the angst, but also, I kind of do?

I can't possibly share all my favourites and what caught my eye, but I’ll do my best to give you a taste of this year's fest. With most shows running about 60 minutes and only $18 a pop, you can catch a couple of them on any given night. Don't forget to hit up the Fringe Park (Parc des Ameriques) for some free live music and a drink, with all the proceeds going to support the Fringe.

I’m an unabashed Leonard Cohen fan, so when I see a show entitled EVERYBODY KNOWS, everybody knows I’m going to line up for tickets. Speaking over the phone with a very enthusiastic Rita Sheena, she explains that her English show is an evocative one-woman dance theatre performance that uses 12 Leonard Cohen cover songs to tell a story with multiple characters. It's basically visual storytelling.

"In 1992, I heard The Future album, and it knocked me off my seat," Sheena says. "Then later, during the pandemic, I heard this Cohen cover album by the Swedish pop duo First Aid Kit. They covered about 30 of his songs and it just begged for a musical, it was just very virtuosic and theatrical. As I worked through the show, different characters emerged. The pandemic was a very lonely and depressing time, but in that moment when I was on stage, I felt alive again."

Like most Cohen fans, Sheena has a favourite era. "Mine is Cohen in the ‘90s," she says. "Jazz Police, I’m Your Man, The Future — those albums are amazing. He's absurd, he's whimsical, he flirts with death. And he does it all in jest, which I think is such a smart and absurdist way of trying to explore the purpose of life, something we’ve been trying to do our whole careers, our whole lives."

Sheena's show has been described by critics as marrying "sensuality with feminism." She feels there's something revolutionary about a female artist in their 40s, a soloist, being on stage, expressing through her body, when women her age are often made invisible.

"Art, and especially dance, is a political act," she says. "Think of religions that ban dancing… even to be sovereign in your body is a political act. Art and revolution are so closely tied."


Based on a true story, this French Fringe show by Pourquoi Pas! tackles the little-known story of New Jersey's "Radium Girls." A quick glance at previous productions reveals this troupe's focus are topics of oppression and injustice, reminding us that art can be a great educational tool.

Back in the 1920s and ‘30s, more than 3,000 young women in the U.S. were working in factories, painting glow-in-the-dark numerals on watches and military equipment. The reason the numerals glowed? The paint contained radium. Employees were being slowly poisoned with radiation and these women started becoming gravely ill and dying.

In 1925, five of the women filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Radium Corporation, based in Orange, New Jersey. Good corporate citizens that they were, the company employed all sorts of tactics to delay the hearings, hoping that most of the women would be dead by the time their case went to court. It's a sad story, but also a story of fighting for justice and safe workplaces; a story that deserves to be told.

1930 Vengeance au New Jersey

I wrote about immigrants and kids of immigrants being othered in my book, so when Toronto-based comedian, playwright and director Aliya Kanani brings her one-woman show talking about her tales of "fitting in, sticking out and standing up," and her experience with 30 countries, 10 schools and 6 languages, I know this is going to be right up my alley. Even her show's title, Where You From, From? is the familiar microaggression those who’ve been othered have all heard at one point or another.

Aliya Kanani: Where You From, From?

Eleanor's Story: An American Girl in Hitler's Germany traces nine-year-old Eleanor's path from the U.S. to Germany, where her family moves in pursuit of work during the Depression.

"My grandmother was an American child of German immigrant parents," Ingrid Garner tells me via Zoom from Los Angeles. "During the Great Depression, when they were struggling to make a life in America, her father was offered a job in Berlin. They boarded a ship on Aug. 28, 1939, headed for Germany and, mid-Atlantic, Hitler declared war. By the time they arrived, they couldn't return and were stuck in Nazi Berlin as enemy-aliens for the entirety of the war and for about a year afterwards, during the Russian occupation."

The story is adapted from her grandmother's award-winning WWII memoir. Her grandmother, by the way, is alive and well and was in the background during our interview making Garner breakfast, and even came up to the camera to say a quick hello.

Garner believes that this true story, with its themes of social and political turmoil, is all too familiar to today's diasporas of Syrian, Ukrainian and other international refugees, especially women and children in wartime who are routinely the most vulnerable.

"I’ve travelled all around the world with this story, and no matter where I go, there's people of all ages who relate to this story," she says. "It's a universal truth of coming of age in conflict. It just grows more relevant every year that I perform it."

While the subject matter is heavy, Garner says she brings levity to the multimedia show, playing 15 different characters.

Eleanor's Story: An American Girl in Hitler's Germany

I’ve honestly never seen a Nisha Coleman show (in English or French) that I didn't love. Like last year's French-language Cornichon, where she shared with us how she fell in love with the French language, the talented Montreal storyteller has a gift for intimate, observant, vulnerable, often very funny first-person narration that make you see life slightly differently.

This year's Fringe schedule says that her true-life stories will delve into themes of mental illness and suicide and attempts to "solve the problem of living" by learning to be alright with being alive. Even if those subject matters are a tad heavy, I know Coleman — who recently published a children's book, Dear Humans: A Letter from the Animals — will tackle them with all the sensitivity and slightly quirky human touch she's known for.

Alright: Solving the Problem of Living

If you find the idea of a rock opera about a man who has a third leg (where, you guessed it, his penis should be) utterly absurd, then perhaps you need a little more Fringe fun in your life so you can stop taking yourself so seriously.

The show is exactly what it sounds like: a campy adult musical with lots of cheeky fun. I first saw it back in 2015 when it premiered, and even though I don't care for musicals much, even I was charmed by its raunchy sex jokes, its costumes and a storyline that involves villains and circus freaks. It's just a whole lot of fun, and who can possibly be against that?

Johnny Legdick: The Fabled Rock Opera

I saw a two-minute snippet of La Ballerina Maladroite (The Clumsy Ballerina) at the Fringe-For-All and it really looked promising. Written and performed by Kristin Govers, by Two Left Feet Productions MTL, it's basically the true story of growing up with cerebral palsy, wanting to be a ballet dancer and having to reinvent that dream. It explores Govers’ challenges and triumphs as a child and young teenager.

La Ballerina Maladroite

Described to me by a friend whose opinion I trust (and who caught the show Sunday night) as having a "Ted Lasso vibe," and "so tender and heartfelt," playwright Paul de Tourreil's show is about "true love, toxic masculinity and the perils of both." This is the first solo show for the Frankie Award-winning storyteller, and as far as I’m concerned, we can all use a little more tenderness and Ted Lasso vibes in our lives, so I’ll be adding this to my list.

9 Lives, 8 Near Misses

If you failed to catch last year's sold-out performances of Pointe Tango, a seductive duo of ballet-trained dancers who dance this sexy mix of Argentine tango and ballet, now's your chance. Choreographers Alexander Richardson and Erin Scott-Kafadar (a real-life couple off the dancefloor) are just sensational to watch perform. Last year's show, Tango, to the Pointe, met with rave reviews. With their rapid-fire moves and oozing sensuality, not to mention good looks, I have no doubt this show will be just as smoking hot.

Tango in the Dark

As an allophone Quebecer and the kid of immigrants, I am always intrigued by local productions that tackle inter-generational struggles in diaspora communities and the social clash between children and their parents and grandparents, who not only belong to other generations, but, often, other worlds. Lily Chang is the writer, director and producer of Leila Roils the Seas, inspired by real events and people.

The show is a family dramedy set in Taiwan about the special bond and generational, socio-cultural clash between a Taiwanese-Canadian woman and her Taiwanese grandmother who is in a coma and is nagging Leila in spirit form to help her transition into the celestial realm of Pure Land Buddhism. But Leila is agnostic and wants her grandmother to stay.

Featuring an all-Asian cast, the show deals with the impacts of loss (of one's family homeland, culture, language) and features taichi, Chinese opera movements and multiple languages.

Leila Roils the Sea

If you want to try something different, this might be for you. It certainly caught my eye. Choreographer Tiera Joly Pavelich invites us on a poetic wandering amongst the trees and the stars. Billed as an intimate nighttime dance performance on Mount Royal (and more specifically, the woods), the event is "bring your own flashlight" and non-language specific. The walk to and from the performance is about 25 minutes in moderate uneven terrain, so be sure to dress comfortably. The nightly performances run throughout the fest, with a 9 p.m. and an 11 p.m. show.

Lush Wanderings

One final Fringe-related suggestion! After years on the Fringe circuit, playing to rave reviews, Tymisha Harris is now gracing the Segal Centre stage with her performance of Josephine Baker, the first African-American international superstar and one of the most remarkable figures of the 20th century. It's a dazzling retelling of Baker's revolutionary life as a singer, movie star, WWII spy, civil rights activist and so much more. The multi-award-winning biographical musical combines cabaret, theatre, burlesque and dance and has been choreographed by So You Think You Can Dance's Sean Cheesman. The show is on until June 18 and I’d hurry to snag some tickets before they’re all gone.

Josephine: A Musical Cabaret

Like every year, I’m only scratching the surface here and there's so much more happening until June 18. I encourage you to go to the Montreal Fringe website, read the descriptions and reviews and find something that speaks to you. See you at the Fringe tent! I’ll be the one frantically trying to move my schedule around to squeeze in one more show. ■

Read more weekly editorial columns by Toula Drimonis.

Twitter Facebook Pinterest LinkedIn

Read more weekly editorial columns by Toula Drimonis.