Vancouver Fringe Festival a place of discovery

Mythical mixing of all proportions | Photo by Léonie Armstrong.

Mythical mixing of all proportions | Photo by Léonie Armstrong.

If it is culture you are looking for, the Vancouver Fringe Festival has it, and has it in spades. Whether you want laughs, story telling, self-revelations – or all three rolled into one – the festival is set to deliver. We’ve chosen three shows that are the work of homegrown talent and deal with culture as their predominant theme. speak Puerto Rican, right? | Photo courtesy of Monica Mustelier

So….you speak Puerto Rican, right? | Photo courtesy of Monica Mustelier

“Skating on thin lies”

Growing up Moni

(Havana Theatre, September 6–14)

Growing up Moni is anything but lies. Instead, it holds up for ridicule the stereotyping, comic awkwardness and cultural ignorance that author Monica Mustelier has encountered when it comes to ‘mainstream’ thinking and people’s lack of understanding of other cultures.

“Oh, great lobster….in the 5 star hotel we stayed in,” is the response Mustelier commonly receives when she tells people she is Cuban. Understandably, the conversation usually comes to a premature ending. The final straw comes when your boyfriend’s well-meaning mother teaches you salsa dancing, just because you are Latin looking.

All too familiar with the struggles of being a first-generation Canadian with proud parental and cultural ties to Cuba on her father’s side and Spain on her mother’s side, and yet at the same time a native Vancouverite able to cite Commercial Drive as her old stomping grounds, this one-woman-show is a reflection on the personal journey for identity.

Told through nine different characters, five of which are the progresssively maturing characters of ‘Moni’ herself, plus her ‘politely rascist’ guidance counsellor, Mr Mcphee, her quirky and outlandish Jewish agent, Miriam Goldstein, and her Mami and Papi, Growing up Moni combines funny and clever anecdotes from Musteler’s own life with a backdrop of multimedia storytelling techniques.

“Skating on thin lies” and not “ice” was the way her Spanish-speaking mother understood the expression, but it makes you think – accidental or otherwise – that perhaps there is a kernel of truth there. Mustelier makes you realise it is about enjoying the journey, and laughing at the situation, at yourself, at the stereotypes we form and which are formed about us, but above all having a sense of humour.

“Fighting for balance”

What lies beneath the surface? | Photo by Jeff D’Hondt

What lies beneath the surface? | Photo by Jeff D’Hondt

A False Face

(False Creek Gym, September 5–15)

“Be happy with winning a battle, don’t expect to win the war,” says Kitsilano-raised and now Toronto-based playwright Jeff D’Hondt. “Trying to cheat death and colonial rule are one and the same thing, essentially unavoidable truths that cannot be easily overcome.”

The title of A False Face comes from the idea of a mask and the ambiguity it possesses. It is also a direct reference to Aboriginal spirituality and tradition. While masks can appear threatening, used in the right hands they are tools for healing. But where tradition can be a force for good, it also has the potential to be manipulated, as much by those to whom it belongs as by those who are trying to oppress them. Discerning truths can be a process of self-revelation and can require courage to pull away the mask.

Drawing on D’Hondt’s 20 years of experience in the field of social work, A False Face revolves around two principal characters, both professionals in the mental healthcare field, who experience turbulence as their own lives follow distorted and uncomfortable paths. A commentary on the evolution of the self, insight and even acceptance, the play deals with gaining perspective on your experiences, taking yourself to task and dealing with dark forces.

As searching and introspective as his play may be, one thing D’Hondt is definite about is the need to look forward. While glossing over uncomfortable histories is not the answer, there is a lot of hope left. Be sure to learn lessons and take strength from that.

“Calling citizens to art, not to arm!”

Unexpected Guests

(Net Loft, September 5–15)

With a great curiosity and love for stories and moved by the abundance of possibility for dialogue in the sharing of origins, Victoria’s Léonie Armstrong blends her own ancestral oral traditions with the First Nations traditions of her geographical birthplace and lets the spectacle unfold. Armstrong’s work seeks to break the fourth wall, involving the audience not merely as passive spectators, but as an integral part of the play. The choice of venue reflects that, mimicking a longhouse or marketplace where people traditionally come to be together and share.

“There is no point in telling [a story] if there is no one there to hear it,” says Armstrong.

The audience is invited into the Net Loft to witness a showdown between the trickster Raven, a symbol of the force of creation, and the Celtic goddess Morgan, a force of destruction. They may symbolize polar opposites, but when it comes down to it and fear and resentment of the ‘other’ subsides, perhaps they share more in common than they realized?

The play addresses the quest for meaning and identity, a constantly renewing process, taking place in the here and now, weaving together Celtic and First Nations story-telling. The play entices the audience into a magical world, re-entering a time of story-telling, common to all cultures.

More to discover

These shows are just a few of the gems nestled in the Vancouver Fringe Festival line-up. Everyone has one – a culture, I mean – so take in others, explore your own and indulge in the nurturing of the senses that theatre brings.

More information and showtimes can be found at