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The Fringe is back with shows through Theatre Orangeville's new Summer Arts Festival

By Constance Scrafield

As the Citizen recently reported, Theatre Orangeville is bringing a Summer Arts Festival, an all encomposing celebration of the arts at the Mount Alverno Resort on Heart Lake Road from August 10 to 14.

Albeit that Covid has not gone away, events are open and there was a real desire at Mount Alverno Resort for another event with Theatre Orangeville (TOV), after the success of the Christmas Festival last year.

“We put our heads together,” said David Nairn, “and came up with this plan for an all-inclusive arts festival as something for the community.”

More recently, it was announced there are now two more attractions to tell you about: the return of Fringe.

Theatre Orangeville's executives saw over 50 Fringe shows in Toronto as part of the partnership between TOV and Fringe, begun in 2018, with the last Fringe shows in Orangeville in 2019.

Mr. Nairn had high praise for the actors of Fringe, saying they are “the most humble and excited group we've ever met, the loveliest people.”

Performances of Fringe plays are sometimes daring and a bit more edgy, a diversity of artistic practice. As David Nairn explained, Fringe tends to be created by younger “creators,” giving audiences the chance to see diverse points of view.

Of those 50 shows, they came home with five or six choices to decide which two are the best. It is the stories themselves that “touch the heart. It's a gut feeling,” he said.

The first show is Chels Stands Alone, a one-woman comedy written and starring Chelsea Larkin (Just for Laughs, Second City).

“It's very funny,” Mr. Nairn promised. “Very vulnerable, real but so funny.”

The second is John Who, by Ken Pak, about a playwright writing his play and the influence of his “muses.” The more serious play, John Who is a contrasting piece “because our audiences want variety.”

As a note of interest, there is no other partnership between a country professional theatre, as is Theatre Orangeville and Fringe. There is no other opportunity for Fringe actors to perform outside the city nor for audiences to see the shows without going into town. 

The Citizen connected with Ken Pak, playwright of John Who.

He told us, “Actually, this is my return to live theatre. I'm a TV actor for 20 years and this is a great way to come back.”

Frankly, it was boredom that made Mr. Pak return to theatre. “I wanted to be back to the stage for a long time and Covid gave me time to write John Who.”

With an agent who preferred to place him on the screen rather than the stage, Mr. Pak has been on Netflix, Amazon, CBC, all sorts of roles.

However, “there's nothing quite like the theatre,” he averred. “Most of my friends are theatre actors. I had to finally grasp that, the biggest difference, theatre has to be a passion project; one day of commercial can easily pay a month's bills.” 

Steeled by the desire, Mr. Pak wound up meeting six companies from Fringe and the one thing so encouraging to him is the passion.

“That artist's community,” he said. “Film is much more business ­– theatre is love of the arts. We're excited about going to Orangeville; a couple of our actors have been to TOV and done shows there; family friends in Caledon have been and they rave.”

What else appeals so much is the break for the peace and quiet.

“Money can't be the issue here,” was his comment.

Naturally, his agent has arranged auditions for him to continue his television career and Ken Pak talked about two more plays he is working on.

A working title, Jesus goes to North Korea, is told of his grandfather and grandmother escaping from North Korea. His grandfather was a minister there.

Said Mr. Pak, “We need to remember our lineage.”

Dementia plays a part in John Who and Mr. Pak commented about that, “A lot of my friends are going through that with their parents. My drama coach had just recently lost her father.”

He admitted, “My first draft of John Who was terrible, five plays rolled into one, until I latched on to the idea of family and community theatre. One thing I was so scared of was not be flippant or clinical, something more personal. I was able to make it for John Who but it's not a depressing show.”

The charm: how does a writer write a play in the midst of chaos?

Chelsea Larkin who is bringing her Chels Stands Alone, talked to the Citizen, saying, “With comedy, you have no idea how it's going to land. A lot of pop culture, movies, that is kind of the message. If you are weak, you should change and be brave.

“That's not as easy as it sounds. I want to show that the place you are now is trying to be brave and to find joy in the journey. I'm trying to laugh. I was very small as a kid and I tried to compensate.

“I have a twin brother; everybody seemed to like him better than me. So, I was acting bigger than I was. When you're little it doesn't seem as hard as being bigger.”

Ms. Larkin assured us that she is going to be “the real me. I'm 5'1,” she said, “but I have really big hair.”

All theatre is a leap of faith: “I hoped that people would watch the show and think 'I do that too.' Right after my first show, they were inspired and sent me 'thank you for sharing.' Yet I made them laugh too. I was hoping that would happen. It kind of gives me courage to do the show again-”

Chelsea Larkin has a “lovely director” [Stacey McGunnigle] who asked her if this is the message, for everyone to “accept yourself.”

“No!” she exclaimed, “The message is to try.”

Talking about issues deflates them and she found that a lot of people came to see her show – including some of her favourite comedians. She knows some of the truth is scary. In the beginning, she was very afraid to do the show.

“But people liked it and now I can do it,” adding, “I hoped that people would feel the same and enjoy. Just when they cry, I make them laugh.”

She mentioned the she used to work as a mascot and went to children's wards and be funny to entertain the children.

Ms. Larkin's stage manager is going to come with her and help with the technical details.

The excitement is that for the first time here at the Summer Arts Festival, she told us,

“This one is fully mine. I'll plan more fully and [Stacey] works similar comedians, kind-of guiding me. I've been doing comedy eight years in a row, [sporadically] as a teen and a kid.”

She said, “I love a new crowd. A new city. I'm really looking forward to it.”

Putting herself on the line, making us reflect, maybe shed a tear, laugh for sure?

Chelsea Larkin is a hero.
Ken Pak and Chelsea Larkin were awarded Theatre Orangeville's Best of Fringe to be featured during the Theatre Orangeville Summer Arts Festival at Mount Alverno Resort on August 12 and 13.

As Ken Pak remarked, “We can't wait to come. It's part vacation/part work!”

For all the details and to buy tickets for some of the events over the four days, check out

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