Laughter, friendship and fond memories are what Kevin Waghorn hopes patrons and performers take away from this year’s Ottawa Fringe Festival, which kicks off today in downtown Ottawa.

With the theme “Kamp Fringe,” the theatre and arts festival includes acts from both near and far, and a wide range of styles, covering themes of love, sex, death, and rock ‘n’ roll.

And as eccentric as some of the shows can be, Waghorn insists that — just as all kids can find that one thing about summer camp that makes them want to come back year after year — audiences find something to love at Kamp Fringe.

“To those who have never ventured to a Fringe show, I guess I would say come check it out because it’s not as weird as you think it is,” Waghorn says with a laugh.

“There are 52 shows to choose from, and so many varied and interesting shows, so it’s easy for everyone to find something they’ll like.”

The festival is designed to have 50 per cent local productions, 35 per cent national and 15 international, but the content and creativity of those shows is entirely up to the artists, Waghorn explains.

Local companies such as the Ottawa School of Speech and Drama, Vision Theatre and Mutatis Mutandis will produce shows, along with companies from across Canada and as far away as New Zealand and Australia.

As with all festivals that are part of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals, the shows at Ottawa’s Fringe are selected in a non-juried process, and all ticket revenue is returned directly to the performers themselves.

For Nadine Thornhill, a local theatre artist whose show Wedding Night will make its premiere at the festival, that freedom to explore art creatively in such an open environment is what makes the Fringe such a supportive environment.

“We are very excited to have (Wedding Night) premiere at the Fringe. It’s the kind of show that’s meant to be light and funny, but might make people think about relationships and modern society too,” explains Thornhill.

After she became a mom, and took a hiatus from acting, Thornhill says she needed some creative outlet, so she decided to pen her first play. Co-directed with her friend and artistic colleague Danielle Gregoire, and featuring a cast of local performers, the play focuses on the highs and lows one couple goes through once the vows and toasts have finished, and the newlyweds are alone together in the “honeymoon suite.”

Thornhill says the play is accessible, with a traditional narrative structure and modern, real characters.

“Mine is a bit more mainstream than some I guess, but one of my favourite things about the Fringe is that you do have these wildly expressive and avant-garde forms of theatre you can’t see anywhere else,” she explains.

The festival also exposes audiences to international shows, and Waghorn said he was thrilled to have a record number of international performers apply this year.

“I think the buzz is growing about our festival because artists hear that our audiences are generous to performers. They like coming here because it’s a good size festival — not too big or too small — and the logical stop on that Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto circuit,” says Waghorn.

Gemma Wilcox, an artist from London, England, will make her second appearance at the Ottawa Fringe, with Shadows in Bloom — a multi-character, solo work that is actually a follow-up to last year’s acclaimed show, The Honeymoon Period Is Officially Over.

Wilcox said she was thrilled to be a part of Ottawa’s Fringe last year, and is eager to experience the friendly festival atmosphere for the next 10 days.

“It is a great Fringe to see lots of shows, without getting overwhelmed, and to really connect with other artists. I also love the venues and the easy accessibility of them, not to mention the beautiful city,” says Wilcox.

Touring a show overseas and across North America can be challenging physically, mentally and financially for many theatre artists. Wilcox says she’s made a successful run of it so far with the help of a zero per cent interest credit card, saving air miles and gratefully accepting donations.

“If you are a solo artist, who also knows how to market, design, promote, as well as have a good show, you can do quite well,” she explains.

Regardless of whether they are coming from down the street or across the ocean, Waghorn says he is continually impressed by the creativity and artistic commitment he sees from both Fringe performers and patrons.

“The geography of having all our venues within a few blocks supports a close community and the lines get blurred between patrons and performers, which I think makes it a really positive atmosphere for everyone.”

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