Oak Bay set to shine in Fringe Fest 2011

For the first time, Fringe Fest will take to the stage in Oak Bay

Left to right: Andrew Barrett

It took 25 years, but the Victoria Fringe is finally coming to Oak Bay.

The popular theatre festival has added the Canadian College of Performing Arts to its list of venues as part of its silver anniversary.

“I think it’s great whenever possible to take theatre to places where you don’t always get to see theatre, especially the type of theatre that the Fringe does,” said Janet Munsil, the festival’s producer. “There’s quite a lot of musicals produced in Oak Bay but it’s great to be able to bring some smaller-scale shows.”

The inclusion of Oak Bay on the venue roster follows other recent expansions of the traditionally downtown-based festival to Quadra Village and Fairfield.

It’s a necessary move if the event is to continue to thrive, Munsil said.

“If the Fringe is to grow, to stay downtown would be difficult. There are so few venues.”

The decision to expand into Oak Bay was not a difficult one. According to audience surveys, 15 to 18 per cent of the approximately 20,000 people who buy Fringe tickets live in the municipality.

In addition to bolstering the festival’s profile outside the downtown core, the move could be a boon for a number of Oak Bay businesses.

The CCPA is housed in St. Mary’s Anglican Church, and is just a short walk from several bars and restaurants.

“It’ll bring business to Oak Bay Bistro, Blighty’s, the (Penny Farthing) pub,” said Penny Farthing manager Nikki Havers. “The more action we have here, the better it gets for the community.”

The new venue will host six different shows over the course of the 11-day festival, including one of the school’s own productions. Sizzle! will feature hit songs from a variety of contemporary Broadway musicals, performed by CCPA students and alumni.

It’s a win-win arrangement, said college director Ron Schuster.

“I think we may open up some new audiences,” he said. “We’re well-known in Oak Bay, but we’d like to be more well-known in the region as well as nationally.”

School officials recently negotiated a new one-year lease agreement with St. Mary’s, which they’ve called home since opening in 1998.

However, they are still seeking a long-term home, which means the venue’s Fringe future beyond this year is still up in the air. But Schuster is hopeful that the relationship will continue.

“Of our top five locations that we’re still working on, two are still in Oak Bay, which is great because we love Oak Bay,” he said.

Schuster wouldn’t reveal many details of the negotiations, but said that one possible option would see the CCPA remaining in its current location beyond the current lease.

Regardless of where the college ends up, Munsil is hopeful the Fringe will return to the municipality in future years.

“We would talk to the church, and there are also a few other potential spaces in Oak Bay. We’ll see what the response is.”

The Victoria Fringe runs from Aug. 25 to Sept. 4. For a full list of events and a schedule of show times, visit www.victoriafringe.com.

editor@oakbaynews.com

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