The grounds of the Edmonton International Fringe Festival are noticeably quieter this year after a long hiatus due to COVID, but a couple of blocks east of Gateway Boulevard, performers and patrons alike continue to line up for scones and shows in the beautiful gardens of Holy Trinity Anglican Church (HTAC).
Holy Trinity has been a popular Fringe venue since the parish became a BYOV (Bring Your Own Venue) in the mid-late ’80s. The 2022 Fringe season features seven different shows, from a children’s musical to adult comedies to a Puccini opera. Every day but Sunday, Fringe audiences can see shows on the Sanctuary Stage and in the lower hall on the de Villars Jones LLP Stage until August 21.
The parish’s reputation for hospitality and held-over performances is well-earned. An impressive roster of dedicated volunteers, many of whom have been greeting Fringers in the front of the house, the Green Room Tea Room, or in the “Klub Kunitz” (named for long-time volunteer coordinator Dwane Kunitz and family) Concession Tent.
Members of the congregation keep the actors’ fridge stocked with food and refreshments, and performers sometimes brave the heat of the unairconditioned 1913-church to access the wifi.
“This community feels like home to a lot of people, says Holy Trinity, Old Strathcona Rector the Rev. Danielle Key. “On August 6, we had a wedding for a couple who met while performing here.”
Front of house manager and parish arts administrator RJ Chambers says volunteers, whether they are members of Holy Trinity or the local community, “share a concern for people’s wellbeing and a love for the facility.”
The Fringe ministry is a win-win for everyone as revenue goes to the parish for community outreach programs. Current initiatives include a Christmas Hamper program at neighbouring King Edwards School and weekly meals through Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS). The youth gather at HTAC every Friday night to cook and eat together.
While Chambers says the “every day, steady pace” of the Fringe is a lot of work, “it’s also a lot of fun.”
Bill and Lynn Strickland, parishioners at Holy Trinity, say they enjoy the volunteer experience. “It’s a great opportunity to help out the church and participate in a community event,” says Lynn.
“It’s a lot of fun to volunteer because the event is so well run,” says Bill. “It’s easy and rewarding to help out and well worth the time.”
While the Stricklands await the arrival of patrons under the shade of the tent on the church lawn, several more volunteers prepare for the afternoon show to let out in the cool of the tea room in the church hall basement.
“People say the tearoom is special,” says Gloria Letwin who began volunteering at the Fringe more than a decade ago as “something to do when my kids were all grown.” She was enjoying a refreshing cup of hibiscus iced tea with Danielle Key and tearoom volunteers Wynne Whitten-Holmes, Emily Key and Noella Bradbury. “It’s a quiet oasis to relax and get away from the heat and the traffic,” Letwin says.
Fifteen-year-old Fringe volunteer, Emily Key says she is “kind of getting used to” waking up at 6 am to catch a ride to work with her mom. Emily says she likes “getting to know new people while serving them in the tea room. It’s been pretty fun for me, and I’ll definitely do it again.”
Throughout the Fringe, Danielle Key has observed many intergenerational relationships forming, such as the bond between long-time Fringe volunteer Noella Bradbury and Emily. Bradbury says the younger volunteers have many creative ideas for everything from arranging flowers on the tables to serving cold drinks like iced tea. For the first time, the tearoom is also serving gluten-free scones and Danielle, who is celiac, says they are “amazing.”
“Umm that’s good,” says first-time tearoom visitor Irene Robb sampling clotted cream with her scone. Robb and her friend Janet McKernan were taking a quiet break between shows. “We loved picking our beautiful teacups,” she adds. McKernan found the gesture “very welcoming.”
No doubt, it takes work to offer the level of hospitality Fringers have come to expect at Holy Trinity. In looking ahead to next season, both Chambers and Key hope the addition of more paid positions, perhaps through the Canada Student Jobs program, will reduce the volunteer workload.
You can see a schedule of the remaining performances on the Fringe website.