Chinook Theatre / Fringe Theatre Adventures

Historical Timeline

1977: Chinook Theatre is founded in 1977 by Brian Paisley and partner Ti Hallas in Ft. St. John, B.C., providing theatre for young audiences as it tours to high schools in northern B.C. and Alberta.

1980: Chinook Theatre relocates to Edmonton, operating first out of premises on 95th Street, then from rented space in the basement of Whyte Avenue’s Princess Theatre.

1982: Chinook Artistic Director Brian Paisley is given $50,000 by Summerfest to put together A Fringe Theatre Event in Edmonton’s Old Strathcona District. Inspired by the Fringe in Edinburgh, Scotland, the first Edmonton Fringe offers 200 live performances in five theatre venues.

1983: 83rd Avenue’s former Fire Hall No. 6 becomes the makeshift headquarters for the Return of the Fringe. In December, after $200,000 worth of renovations, Chinook Theatre officially opens its doors.

Tikta‘liktak, a play by Brian Paisley, tours the United Kingdom. (Note: Tikta‘liktak was published in Eight Plays for Young People, edited by Joyce Doolittle.)

Chinook Theatre begins to commission emerging playwrights to create work for Chinook’s touring productions for young people. Playwrights include Ken Brown, Lyle Victor Albert and Michael D.C. McKinlay.

1988: Judy Lawrence arrives in Edmonton to become Assistant to the Producer (Brian Paisley) for the Edmonton Fringe.

Dorothy A. Haug joins Chinook Theatre as TYA Artistic Director, inheriting the job left vacant by the resignation of Chinook founder Brian Paisley who remains as Fringe Producer until 1990 (The Fringe That Roared). 

Under the direction of Dorothy A. Haug, the company adds a presentation and workshop series for young people (Now You See It, Now You Do It) and plays host to collective weekends for young playwrights and inner-city drama groups. 

During the Fringe Festival, Dorothy A. Haug oversees the KidsFringe, sponsored by Crayola, located in King Edward Park playground with a petting zoo, the Animaze, the Nylon Zoo and the Crayola Craft Tent.

For the first time, the Fringe sells festival tickets in advance. 50% of all available seats are offered for advance sale up until the day before performance. Those not sold in advance are available, with the remaining 50%, at the venue on the day of the performance. 

1989: The Fringe Theatre event faces a financial crisis and requests an additional $200,000 in funding. Brian Paisley calls on the City of Edmonton and the provincial government to increase its financial contributions to the theatre event. The province comes through with some much-needed cash. 

1990: Though in 1990 Brian Paisley is still Fringe Producer, Judy Lawrence becomes Fringe Director, and by 1991 assumes sole Fringe-producing responsibilities.

1991: Fringe Benefit, the first incarnation of the annual Fringe Cabaret, is created by Judy Lawrence and Gerald Osborn. The Cabaret features works by Stewart Lemoine, Lyle Victor Albert, Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie, and many others and is held at the Riv Rock Room in the Riviera Hotel. Tickets are $10.

During X Marks the Fringe, conservative forces in the Soviet Union stage a bloodless coup to depose president Mikhail Gorbachev. Twenty-two young soviet actors, in Edmonton to perform a Russian adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, are stranded in Canada, unsure if they will be allowed back into their country. Members of the Edmonton theatre community open their homes to them.

1992: At The Fringe Also Rises, a number of artists decide to do site-specific performances utilizing spaces other than the officially-sanctioned Fringe venues; i.e. A Midsummer Night’s Ice Dream at the Granite Curling Club. Festival Director Judy Lawrence coins the term B.Y.O.V. (Bring Your Own Venue) and a whole new way of fringing is born. (NOTE: The term B.Y.O.V. catches on around the country and is used at a number of other Fringes for years to come.)

In December, Judy Lawrence implements a quota system for accepting Fringe applications: 50 local applicants, 30 Canada/US, and 20 overseas (with a waiting list that mirrors those numbers). Prior to this time, the Fringe application list was blind to place of origin (which, it was decided, gave local applications an unfair advantage).

1993: Due to the new quota system for Fringe applications (only 50 local slots available), the first overnight lineup for Fringe slots occurs in early December.  Applicants begin lining up around 9 PM on a Sunday night in order to have their applications processed at 9 AM Monday morning. Applicants are allowed to spend the night in the Bus Barns wash bay, huddled together for warmth (very Les Miz).

David Cheoros, a placement student from Waterloo University, is brought on board to run the Fringe Box Office. Throughout the ’90s David returns to the Edmonton Fringe as a volunteer, a patron, an artist, and eventually as Festival Director.

1994: Chinook Theatre leaves its home in the former firehall and relocates to the Bus Barns permanently. The Varscona Theatre Alliance, a group of Edmonton theatre artists, takes over the building and renames it the New Varscona Theatre

To secure the long-term survival of the Fringe, Chinook Theatre presents a business plan to the City for $1-a-year lease for 20 years on half of the city-owned Old Strathcona Bus Barns. Over the previous eight years, the Bus Barns had become the heart of the Festival with three Fringe theatres, administration and production shops. The purpose of the proposal is to transform the run-down Bus Barns into a multi-use arts and culture centre with two year-round theatres. 

Initially, there is some concern that, once Chinook signs the lease for the Bus Barns, that the City will evict the Varscona Theatre Alliance from the former firehall space to make way for a restaurant or retail space. Alderman Michael Phair and various members of the media go to bat for the Varscona and they are allowed to take over the lease on the city-owned building.

1994: A controversial play touring Fringes across Canada comes to FrankenFringe Pt. 13. The play, about female empowerment, contains no nudity, no sex, no violence. Its title, however, contains a coarse word for female genitalia. There are police warnings regarding postering and concerns from various sources. Fringe Director Judy Lawrence responds that the Fringe doesn’t jury and doesn’t censor its productions. “We’re a forum for artists to produce their own work independently and test their ideas. That’s what we’re there for.” From this point on, the cover of the Fringe program always contains a warning; i.e. from 1994: “Beware: may (probably does) contain language and/or ideas construed as thoughtful, radical, controversial, provocative, offensive, child-like, half-baked, ill-conceived — the list of possibilities is endless.”

The first incarnation of the Chinook Theatre School is announced. Six classes are offered for young people ages 6 to 16. 

After six years at its helm, Dorothy Ann Haug steps down as Artistic Director for Chinook’s Theatre for Young Audiences.

On a cold Saturday evening in December, two days before Fringe applications are scheduled to be processed, Fringe applicants for the 1995 Fringe (14 Karat Fringe) line up outside the Bus Barns. At midnight, Fringe officials take pity on the crowd (which include Fringe veterans David Belke, Marty Chan, Cathleen Rootsaert, Ken Brown) and open the building. More than 100 people camp inside the theatre offices, playing games and watching videos, waiting for 9 AM Monday morning when their applications are processed.

1995: Fringe Festival Director Judy Lawrence now serves as Executive Director of Programming and Development. 

Chinook Theatre renames itself FringeTheatre Adventures to “better reflect its wide-ranging activities and adventurous spirit.”

A 20-year, $1-a-year lease on the Old Strathcona Bus Barns is signed. A new logo is introduced, a splashy variation on the Jester first introduced during 1990’s The Fringe that Roared.

Renovations to the Bus Barns are underway, paid for by a $100,000 provincial grant (primarily upgrades for offices, heating ducts, washrooms). Plans are afoot for a $2 million five-year fundraising campaign to construct two permanent theatres in the facility. 

Ron Jenkins; actor, writer, director and Fringe veteran, joins the Fringe Theatre Adventures staff as Artistic Director (TYA) and renames the series Fringe Theatre for Young People (FTYP). Ron Jenkins expands the programming to include productions for high school students.

For the first time, the Edmonton Fringe sets up a lottery to apply for 1996 Fringe slots. Fifteen local slots are set aside for the Fringe lottery while the remaining 35 local slots are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Once again, the non-lottery applicants participate in a weekend camp-out in order to have their applications processed.

Due to lack of sponsorship, the KidsFringe located in King Edward School Playground is cancelled. The Link, the Fringe thoroughfare east of 103 Street, which “links” the main Fringe site to Kind Edward School Playground, is also gone but the main Fringe site expands northward to include a city park north of 85 Avenue.

1996: To address decreased revenue sources and increased costs in producing the Edmonton Fringe Festival, the first annual Angels of the Fringe Campaign is launched with a goal to raise $110,000. Supporters of the Fringe are asked to donate $100 to become Angels of the Fringe. For their donation they receive a designer Angel hat, recognition on the Angel Wall, entry to a one-time only Angels Meet the Arts Party, and the Fringe’s undying gratitude.

The KidsFringe returns, thanks to the generous support of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). It is relocated to Adventure Park, 85 Avenue and 104 Street, and includes a story-reading tent, Imagination Market and the Ornamaze.

1997: Under Ron Jenkins’ directorship the company receives its first Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Award (Outstanding Production for Young Audiences) for Toronto at Dreamer’s Rock by Drew Hayden Taylor.

David Cheoros is hired as Fringe Festival Director.

Ron Jenkins leaves the company.

1998: Darryl Lindenbach succeeds Judy Lawrence as Executive Director. Darryl Lindenbach is from Prince Albert where he has been CEO of DMD Entertainment and artistic director/executive director of Odyssey Productions.

Darryl Lindenbach reinvents the Fringe Theatre School. The company wins another Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Award for Compleat Works of Wllm Shakespeare (Abridged), directed by Kevin McKendrick.

First-come, first-served Fringe applicants are forced to line up four days before applications are scheduled to be processed. An over-zealous individual pitches a tent on a Wednesday night to be first in line and no amount of discouragement will send him away (he is being paid by an applicant to stay there until the applications are accepted). This jump-starts the lineup. Once again, Fringe officials take pity on the applicants and open the building but at a certain point, the over-zealous individual starts abusing other applicants and is sent away. From this point on, all future Fringe applications are via lottery.

1999: FTA receives an Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Award for A Hero for All, Marty Chan’s first play for young audiences, directed by Stephen Heatley

Darryl Lindenbach creates Imagine, a summer arts program that exposes youth from across Alberta (eventually western Canada) to the rigors of mounting a fully realized production under the guidance of a team of theatre professionals. Young people audition as actors, musicians and technical personnel. The first Imagine production is Fame: The Musical.

Gerry Potter, founder and former artistic director of Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre, joins the FTA staff as Artistic Associate — Fringe Theatre for Young People, the Imagine Program, Fringe Theatre School. One of Gerry’s responsibilities is to  commission new works and adaptations for FTYP (i.e. Dodo by Cathleen Rootsaert, Coyote Sings to the Moon adapted by Anna Marie Sewell from the book by Thomas King).

FTA premieres Tololwa Mollel’s The Flying Tortoise, adapted by the author from his children’s book. 

2000: Fringe Theatre Adventures unveils its $8.2-million fundraising plans to gut the existing 49-year-old Arts Barns and replace it with a slick 450-patron multipurpose community space, a 250-seat theatre, two rehearsal halls, office spaces, classrooms and workshops. $3.1 million has already been donated by the corporate sector, including $1 million from TransAlta. The ‘Make a Gesture for the Jester’ campaign encourages the public to purchase tiles that will form the shape of a colourful jester with tile prices ranging from $250 to $10,000. The names of these patrons will be featured on a stained glass-like Jester Legacy Wall that will be permanently housed in the renovated lobby.

2000: FTYP launches its first official subscription series. Shows include The Short Tree and The Bird that Couldn't Sing, Cinderella (FTA’s first presentation of an Alberta Opera production), The Monster Club (actually two different plays with similar themes; one geared for elementary schools, one for junior and senior high).

2001: At A Fringe Odyssey, FTA introduces the Family Stage, a new indoor theatre venue with six shows especially for family audiences. These shows are selected by a lottery conducted separately from the regular lottery. The original Family Stage, located upstairs at the Academy, is sponsored by Weyerhaeuser (2001, 2002). The Family Stage relocates to the Strathcona Centre Community League (2002, 2003) and then to the PCL Studio in the TransAlta Arts Barns (2004). In 2003 Global Television assumes sponsorship of the Family Stage.  

FTYP presents The Hobbit, its most successful production to date, adapted by Kim Selody. (The presentation of the play coincides with the release of the first installment of The Lord of the Rings films.)

Gerry Potter resigns as Youth Programming Director.

David Cheoros resigns as Festival Director. 

Miki Stricker, co-founder of the Calgary Fringe Festival, becomes Associate Producer (Festival) of Fringe Theatre Adventures. 

2002: The Annual Fringe Cabaret morphs into an event called ‘Bite Me.’ Tickets are $50 and, in addition to a preview of upcoming Fringe plays, patrons are served dinner donated by various restaurants throughout the City.  

In the fall of 2002 the long-planned renovations on the Arts Barns begin. A substantial amount of the 51-year-old building is demolished to make way for the $8.5-million theatre complex. Fringe office workers relocate temporarily to Queen Mary Park School. Theatre classes are suspended and the 2002/2003 FTYP theatre season is presented in several locales (Myer Horowitz Theatre on the U of A Campus for You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and the Kaasa Theatre in the Jubilee Auditorium for Lulie the Iceberg and Coyote Sings to the Moon).

2003: Fringe Theatre Adventures’ $8.5-million theatre complex is completed in time to host the 2003 Fringe Festival (Attack of the Killer Fringe). New offices, studios, a shop to build sets, a spacious lobby and box office, dressing rooms and a new multi-form theatre make up the shiny new building dubbed as “funky industrial” by outgoing Artistic Producer Darryl Lindenbach. Due to unforeseen expenses, plans for a second theatre space have been dropped (though one of the studios has been earmarked as a potential intimate space for independent theatre groups). 

Al Rasko, former general manager of Northern Light Theatre, succeeds Darryl Lindenbach as Executive Director.

2006: Due to illness, Executive Director Al Rasko resigns. Veteran FTA Board Member Hugh Wyatt is appointed Acting Executive Director for several months.

Long-time arts administrator Julian Mayne (Edmonton Symphony, Winspear Centre) succeeds Al Rasko as Executive Director.

Immediately after Hi Yo Fringe Away, Festival Director Miki Stricker resigns to take a job as supervisor of events for the City of Toronto.

Toronto native Thomas Scott arrives in Edmonton to become Artistic Director. His duties include many of the responsibilities of the former Festival Director as well as selecting productions for presentation during the FTA regular season. 

2007: For the 2007/2008 season, Fringe Theatre Adventures expands its programming beyond Theatre for Young Audiences. In addition to traditional kids’ fare like Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel and the Sterling Award-winning Nami Nammersson, adult-oriented shows are added to the mix: Fringe veterans Mump and Smoot in Something, the 10th anniversary production of Rick Miller’s MacHomer and Firefly Theatre’s all-ages production of Duck Duck Bang featuring aerialists, dancers, stunts and live music.

Live and Let Fringe, the 26th annual edition of the Edmonton Fringe Festival, goes online with 100% of tickets for festival productions available through the FTA website. Tickets are no longer sold at the venues but are available through the Central Box Office and six satellite Box Offices located throughout the Fringe site. There are some initial technical problems as the Box Office staff work to master the new system and the Fringe-going public acclimatizes itself to the changes.

2008: Fringe organizers refine the new ticketing system for 2008’s The Big Kahuna. Satellite Box Offices are set up in front of the majority of regular Fringe venues. 

Fringe veteran Ron Pearson spearheads the first-ever Fringe Midway located between the TransAlta Arts Barns and 85 Avenue. The Midway contains sideshows, mind readers, comedians and interactive theatre. Admission is $2 and up; payment at the door.

During the 2008 Fringe Festival, The Varscona Theatre opts out of being used as a lottery Fringe venue. Instead, as a BYOV, they decide to program their venue themselves with eight productions including fan favourites DIE-NASTY and Chimprov. Former Festival Director David Cheoros programs the Strathcona Public Library with five productions. Though most BYOVs are located within walking distance of the main Fringe site, L’Uni Theatre on 86 Avenue and 91 Street hosts three productions and New City, downtown on Jasper Avenue, features a new work called Anime, geared to teens and 20-somethings. 

2009: Stage a Revolution, the 28th annual edition of the Edmonton Fringe, shatters box office records with a final ticket tally of 92,100.

The Government of Canada invests over $400,000 to support the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival through the Marquee Tourism Events Program, an initiative to provide funding for marquee tourism events in support of the visitor economy.

The Festival’s plan is to direct this injection of funding into enhancing its marketing and promotion initiatives both in Canada and abroad.

The name for the 2010 Fringe is announced as It’s All Gravy. At the media launch, Executive Director Julian Mayne says, “C’mon, it’ll grow on you.” It does not and eventually the name is changed to We’ll Show You Ours (a slogan that is being used in conjunction with the Marquee Tourism Campaign).

2010: Heavy smoke from wildfires in British Columbia settle over Edmonton just in time for Fringe. Health officials put out an air-quality advisory. Fringe ticket sales and site attendance are affected accordingly.

2011: Fringe Theatre Adventures introduces the Presenting Partnership Theatre series as a part of Arts at the Barns year-round programming.

FTA receives $30,000 from the TransAlta Festival City Grant Program to cultivate the international artistic content of KidsFringe through a collaborative exchange with the Art Creation Foundation for Children in Jacmel, Haiti

  • Mike Ford, Operations Director and local writer Patti McIntosh travel to Jacmel, Haiti, to work with the ACFFC Children’s Theatre Company. Over a four-week period, the team collaborates with the ACFFC, building a stage on an empty field, designing and creating a backdrop, rehearsing two traditional Haitian folk tales, writing and rehearsing a song and an original play about life at the ACFFC.
  • After a year of planning, nine young artists from Jacmel, Haiti, travel to Edmonton to participate in the 2011 Fringe as part of the Art Creation Foundation for Children (ACFFC)

The 30th Anniversary Edition of the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival is dubbed Fringeopolis; a theme which, according to Executive Director Julian Mayne, “represents the city within a city that comes alive each August: a metropolis born on the creativity, artistic talent, innovation and experimentation our festival was founded on.”

Sustainival, the first eco-friendly carnival, makes a big splash at Fringeopolis. Rides include the Gravitron and the Tilt-a-Whirl, all running on vegetable oil. Entertainment includes a DJ lounge and games with eco-friendly prizes.

Fringeopolis blows all previous ticket sales away as it breaks the 100,000 mark for indoor ticket sales selling 104,142 tickets to its 140 indoor shows. Attendance is boosted by good shows, solid reviews and perfect Fringing weather. Overall on-site attendance is estimated at 575,000.

2012: After six years, Julian Mayne steps down as Executive Director of Fringe Theatre Adventures.

Arts veteran Jill Roszell succeeds Julian Mayne as Executive Director of Fringe Theatre Adventures.

After six Fringes, Artistic Director Thomas Scott leaves Fringe Theatre Adventures.

Murray Utas, veteran actor/playwright/theatre administrator, joins Fringe Theatre Adventures as the new Artistic Director.

2013: Fringe Theatre Adventures’ 13-year lead partnership with TransAlta comes to an end.

Fringe Theatre Adventures and ATB Financial announce an exciting new partnership.  ATB Financial becomes the proud Lead Partner and Sponsor of The Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival and The Arts Barns — one of Edmonton’s premier theatre facilities — is rechristened the ATB Financial Arts Barns. This five-year commitment sees ATB Financial making a significant investment in these two areas of Fringe Theatre Adventures’ operations, for a mutually beneficial return.

2014: In recognition of his years of service to FTA, Mike Ford was presented with a lasting tribute of a tile to be placed on The Legacy Wall in the ATB Financial Arts Barns, spring of 2015.

Mike has played a key role in the operations and management of FTA for many years and has devoted countless hours to the success of our organization. His dedication and commitment is appreciated and we wish him the very best in the future.

2015: While the Varscona Theatre (home to Fringe Theatre Adventures from 1983-1995) undergoes a $7.5 million rebuild, the Varscona’s resident companies (Shadow Theatre, Teatro La Quindicina, Die-Nasty) move into the Backstage Theatre, a space created specifically for them in what was once known as the Undeveloped Space or during the Fringe as the cabaret space.