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On the Edge Fringe Festival a staple of North Bay's Arts and Culture Scene

'This really is for everybody. You can be a completely experienced theatre actor or you can be just starting out and have this as your first show'

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Since 2014, The On the Edge Fringe Festival has been a staple in the arts and culture makeup of North Bay.

“North Bay is such an incredibly supportive community that it would not have worked without the people in the community here,” says Kelsey Ruhl, the Artistic Director.

“We take over the Capitol Centre and create four venues within there and we have artists from all over the world that come and perform.”

And it really is artists from all over the world as Ruhl points out.

“We have a duo from Argentina who are Pointe Tango dancers,” she says.  

“They came all the way here from Argentina and had such a great experience their first time here that they are wanting to come back in 2022. The person who billeted them, took them on the Chief Commanda and took them hiking and I just love knowing that they got just as much of a tourism experience out of it, on top of being able to perform at our festival.”

In addition to being the Artistic Director, Ruhl is heavily involved in the theatre scene year-round in North Bay.

“I was taken to a lot of musicals as a child and while that was a very special thing I did with my family, it never really clicked in to me that I wanted to be the person on that stage until a little bit later when I was getting involved with my high school drama program,” says Ruhl, who ended up taking Theatre Arts at Canadore College.   

“I knew I loved it, but I wondered if there was a place for me in the arts,” she says.   

“The people that I met through that program were so self-starting and so encouraging and North Bay is such a special place as far as creating arts, and so I was able to network with people and learn from them and that’s how I carved my path.”

Right out of college Ruhl got involved in a group that eventually became the Proscenium Club.

“We started making our own productions and there was a core group of us who were really heavily involved in it,” says Ruhl.  

“From there we just started to really get the hang of what it’s like to run a theatre company and at the same time we realized that there were so many other people that wanted to do the same thing but didn’t necessarily have the support that we did within North Bay and that is when we came up with the idea to start a Fringe Festival.”  

The festival would provide the platform for artists of all disciplines to come to North Bay and perform their work.

But you don’t have to be a performer to be involved with the Fringe Festival.

“Growing up, I didn’t think I could be an artist,” says Tara Windatt, the Festival Administrator.  

“When I was a kid, all of my friends could draw really well and at that point, I thought ‘well if you can’t draw, you can’t be an artist.’ I did take a high school drama class, but I’ve always been super shy and I never wanted to be in the spotlight. I went to university to pursue a history degree and then I met my partner who just so happens to be an artist.”

Windatt says through that relationship she started to get more heavily involved in the local arts scene.

“He really helped get me involved in everything. He started working at the White Water Galley in 2008 and I was on the sidelines of that. Then he was one of the co-founders of the On the Edge Fringe Festival, so I was on the periphery of that for many years and I just kind of fell into this role.” 

Windatt adds, “This really is for everybody. You can be a completely experienced theatre actor or you can be just starting out and have this as your first show.”  

Windatt says there are some challenges in running a festival, but after eight years most things become routine.

“A lot of things just kind of click now. We do a lottery in the fall. We contact a lot of the artists early in the year,” she says.  

“The major challenge is in securing revenue. We rely on government grants, especially right now with no ticket revenue during Covid. Some years are a little leaner than others, but we have been able to keep this thing going.”

And those government grants have also led to them being able to offer summer jobs to youth and young adults.

“We were recently approved for 16 Canada Summer Jobs positions,” she says.  

“We have a coordinator position that would help us run the festival. We are going digital this year so we are offering artists the chance to pre-record their works so we can post them online. Some of our youth positions will help us with that as well. The other side of that is the Artist Training Program, where we lead them through the process of developing and producing their own show.”  

Ruhl says year after year they manage to find talented and committed people to not only run the show but also perform. She says the uniqueness of a festival like this is the performances are extremely varied.

“One thing that really drew me initially to doing a Fringe Festival is that it is completely uncensored,” she says.  

“We don’t have any say in what the artists perform or put together, and sometimes you can get some really wild stuff. But that’s the beauty of art.”

With the Festival going digital this year, Ruhl says it adds another element to the overall production of the festival.

“The artists have been so creative and innovative in how they have adapted to the digital world,” she says.  

“We’re seeing this around the globe at every fringe and it is so different putting something together that is going on a screen instead of in front of a live audience that you are used to bouncing reactions off of. It’s definitely been an adjustment period in trying to get used to this new way of doing it, but there’s been some amazing pieces that have really come out of having to go digital that would have never been created if we had not been in this situation.”

Ruhl says the live crowds will be missed this year as residents of North Bay are very receptive to live theatre.    

“There’s really something to be said about being really talented and performing on a stage but it doesn’t mean anything if there is nobody sitting in the audience to watch that performance happen,” she says.

“We definitely have to give a lot of credit to the Gateway Theatre Guild who really built up a strong community theatre foundation for many years. And I think that has really created generations of families who really respect the theatre and who want to go out and do that together.”

If you have a story idea for Jobs of the Future, send Matt an email at [email protected] 

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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