Hearing about the Montreal Fringe festival from its participants provides a window into the work, the chaos, and the passion of this annual brouhaha. Once chosen by the Fringe lottery gods, cast and crew plunge into action (or inaction). Props, sets, costumes, promotional material, tech crew, directors, dramaturges, actors, last minute actors come together to take that script (if there is one yet) to performance level. I spoke to Veteran Fringe Festivaler Lar Vi about putting together her show The Making of “Warm Mess”, which features her hippie-dippy rock-n-roller character Hamhock Velvet. It’s Vi’s third time mounting a show in the Fringe and her perspective on working with a script that saw the stage once in Solos Fest is telling about the nature of the artistic process.
The show focuses on Hamhock Velvet’s 50-year retrospective of his renowned album Warm Mess. “He’s doing a radio interview and goes back in time, recounting how the album came together. It’s got a cosmic, bizarre adventure story behind it with little clips of songs,” Vi explains.
The Making of “Warm Mess” was mounted once at SOLOS Fest. “It was the closing show [at Solos Fest] this past year,” Vi explains. “It’s going to be radically transformed. It’s now a two person show. I did all the songs a capella for SOLOS Fest. Now, my roommate Les who is an incredible music producer (aka Leskalade) is making backing tracks for the songs. It’s definitely up a notch.” The decision to make it into “more of a production” comes from the benefit that time offers. “I’ve had time to think about it. In the first version, I was performing while speaking to pre-recorded vocal tracks. I wanted it to be more dynamic,” she says.
I ask for a full report of what stage the show is at. Vi complies. “The script is written, and being adapted for two people. There’s a lot of space for pumping up different parts and having more fun with the characterizations of the characters. Without pre-recorded vocals, there’s more of a relationship between the two characters. It has more texture and adds a layer of depth and engagement. We’re also reproducing songs in a way that there are more musical elements.”
Not only is re-mounting a show a chance to make changes, but coming back to the Fringe affords its own relief. Well, just a little bit of relief. “Doing it a third time, you know how certain things happen, but each show is its own journey and own work,” Vi says. “I’m more familiar with how Fringe works and how to manage the timeline. Managing time is the most important thing.” This year, Vi indicates that managing time has been especially crucial. “I’m in Montreal Sketchfest, so maybe that was biting off a bit too much. As soon as that’s over, it’s just Fringe for the next month. I think it will be enough time.”
Some things are already done for The Making of “Warm Mess”. “I had poster ready way in advance this time. I did the show already, so I’m familiar with what’s possible with tech and re-writing a show with tech in mind,” she says. She points out that not knowing the logistics of sound and light can affect the performance.
I ask why Vi chose to recycle a show rather than write a new one. “I thought it would be nice for a change, because it’s such a grind from Sketchfest to working on a new show,” she says. “I’ve been writing new Sketchfest material and it’s a lot of pressure to go from that to writing a new Fringe Show.”
More than that, she wanted to maximize The Making of “Warm Mess”‘ potential. “It’s also nice to give a show the best performance it can have,” she says. “With SOLOS Fest, you only get one show and you put in all this work for one show. It can go into the universe just like that, but this show had the potential to be more.” And, as she says, there was much she wanted to do: “to make the effects better, to have new songs, to have better song production.”
She sums up, “I think I wanted to make sure the script wasn’t the number one stress and make project as a whole better. This year I have that in mind.”
This doesn’t mean Vi will never do a debut performance at the Fringe again. “I would debut a show at the Fringe. It’s exciting. I think after this Fringe, I can let this show go and make and debut something new,” she says.
As an artist, each show is a chance to grow as well. “I feel like I’m always trying to develop my sense of writing narrative and drive and engagement,” she says. She mentions that her last two shows at the Fringe had heavier emotional weight to them and explored deeper questions. “I just want to have fun and do this silly weird exciting stuff,” she says. “I want people to come and have a good time. I keep thinking how can I make this more bizarre?”
I also ask her if she’s got her crew together. Here there are some challenges. “Mat Langlois, who worked on sound for my last three shows moved to Toronto,” she says. But other things seem to be in hand. She has her second cast member in mind. “For the director, in past shows I worked with Marc Rowland for The Shadow Waltz (2014) and Brent Skagford for Total Liquidation (2015), who are both super talented improvisers with Easy Action and teachers at Montreal Improv. I trust their advice and the work they’re doing. They also have a great sense of narrative and theatrical staging. Brent is the one who suggested that this show should be a two-hander instead of speaking to pre-recorded tracks. I’ll ask for their feedback, overall it’s a collaborative effort It’ll be more solidified in the coming weeks.”
“Right now, it’s a month before Fringe starts,” Vi says. “It’s the time of this anticipation and excitement, of wanting to be organized. This is the stretch where if you can be organized and get things together, the next two weeks should flow with that momentum. I’m just excited and looking forward and getting press materials out for this week and working on the music.”
I ask if she has anything else to add. “I love the Fringe environment and community. It’s a great way to present work and see work by people from all over the world. I grew up in Winnipeg. Fringe is big there and I would go and see shows all the time. I was very inspired by seeing what is possible in indie theatre and always wanting to contribute.”
Get ready for Montreal’s Fringe Festival from June 9 until June 20. General info including schedules and tickets HERE. The Making of Warm Mess is at the Mainline Theatre (3997 St. Laurent) from June 9 to 19. $12/10. Tickets and showtimes HERE.