Montreal World Fringe Conference Denial is an Outrage

I will be attending the Montreal Infringement Festival this year and simultaneously protesting the World Fringe Conference. Everyone who tried to attend the conference from both the Montreal and Buffalo Infringement Festivals have been denied without reason.

Why do we scare you so much? If you want to have a well run festival you must know the counterculture you have excluded. Fringe artists are supposed to be cutting edge and on the fringe of new and exciting artistic expression. They must pay money to be part of the festival. Politically motivated acts are not welcome due to the chance of pissing off sponsors. Censorship and corporate sponsorship are evil.

The Montreal Infringement Festival was created by Donovan King in 2004 after the St. Ambroise (a beer company) Fringe censored the artist in 2001. The sponsor Can-West Global, a media company that owns the Montreal Gazette was to blame.

The theatre critic from the Gazette wanted a free ticket to Car Stories (experimental politically charged interactive street theatre where the audience moves and becomes the show) and after being told “no” caused a stink and decided not to cover the festival until the artists were ejected. The festival not only kicked the artists out but also refused to pay them their ticket sales after a sold out week or reimburse the registration fee associated with the Fringe trademark.

The following year Infringement spread to Buffalo. Infringement is a non-profit, non-hierarchal, grassroots art festival. It is a revolution that brings together independent, free spirited, and often controversial and experimental expression.

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Donovan and I Montreal Infringement 2014

Donovan King attended the World Fringe Congresses in Edinburgh in 2012 and 2014 . He was invited as a representative of the infringement festivals. This year he the conference is in his hometown and he was denied access.

This is a blatant disrespectful slap in the face. Donovan was excited at the prospect of attending the 2016 Congress to continue the conversation in his home city and to try and finally resolve issues.

He has written and performed pieces that criticize the Fringe Festival and its ethics. Other artists have combined efforts to artistically challenge their exclusion from the St. Ambroise Fringe through culture jamming. The festival has responded with the complete exclusion of activist artists.

The police are called whenever there is a protest, even though the right to protest in Canada is protected by their constitution. Instead of communicating we are shunned, this cultural battle that has gone on for well over a decade and it must end now!

This year for the 3rd World Fringe Congress Donovan proposed a workshop on strategies to help ensure safer artistic festivals after unfortunate instances of sexual assault and discrimination against disabled people at recent Fringe Festivals. We need to create policies to ensure safety and inclusion of all people in our festivals.

He wrote a letter to the new Fringe CEO, Ms. Shona McCarthy, in response to the rejection of Infringement representatives:

“I find it really unfortunate that my colleagues in Buffalo are being rejected simply for being associated with me. It is important to remember that these artists simply wanted to do Fringe theatre until they were threatened by the Fringe in NYC, who claimed to control a Fringe trademark. Instead, they started an infringement festival, just like we did because of the Canadian trademark that prevented us from doing a populist form of arts we have been doing since we helped found the Fringe in Montreal. We are about as Fringe as it gets – if people won’t let us play in their ‘official’ festival, we are going to do it ourselves, just like the artists who invented the 1947 Fringe Festival in the first place.”

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Infringement Festivals accept and celebrate all artists

The Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF) also threatens unfounded legal action against any independent artists who try to use the word Fringe without their permission. This is the antithesis of creative expression. There is an exclusion of artists actually on the fringe of societal norms.

The Infringement Festivals do not fit corporate agendas and are not allowed to voice creative solutions to critical questions. In order to spark our own counter conversation there will be a World Infringement Congress on Saturday November 19th in Montreal.

Infringement is about community, inclusion for all, challenging unjust politics, celebrating diversity, and changing the world through artistic expression. Buffalo comrades should make the trip.

My last performance with Candy Ass was incredible
My last performance with Candy Ass Cabaret

I will be exposed and covered in corporate logos for the world to see and performing with The Candyass Caberet at the historic Cafe Cleopatra. I have been one of the visual arts organizers, a participating artist, and performer in the Buffalo festival for years and am also proud to say that I won the 2017 poster contest.

I am dedicated to the conservation of artistic integrity worldwide. My paintings have been ripped off walls and people have walked out of my performances. If people are offended then you are doing it right.

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Buffalo stands with Montreal to protect Infringement

I was surprised when I saw a giant ad and schedule for the Rochester Fringe Festival in a local Buffalo art publication. This is Infringement territory! We celebrate diversity and the pure unedited brilliance of local artists.

Try to tell me that what we are doing is wrong, that bringing the community together and celebrating the beauty of unity, artists of all walks of life and experience standing side by side making the world stronger, exposing children to art, collaborating with our neighbors and connecting to out of town artists who will soon become family.

Authentic and exhilarating politically charged art, discrediting idea of art as a commodity and fighting for the rights of all humans, and challenging mainstream ideas. No budget, totally volunteer run, guerrilla music, burlesque, dance, theatre, visual arts, poetry, comedy, and under the radar art that defies all categorization.

It is my everything, a citywide sprawling sweet escape from reality. I will fight for the integrity of this festival and others like it to the end.

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4 comments

  • In response to your opinion on The Infringement Festival not being allowed to attend the CAFF conference.

    First of all- Infringement Fest is NOT the Fringe. Just because you have “Fringe” in your title does not entitle you to be a part of CAFF. Just For Laughs doesn’t suddenly say “Hey, why can’t we attend the CAFF conference?”

    Secondly- Why on earth would anyone invite Infringement when all you’ve done for 15 years is oppose and slander the Montreal Fringe?

    Thirdly- Stop dissing Fringe!! Yes, back in 2000 (or whenever that was) it was a shame that Montreal censored you. But that was a long time ago and the staff has changed. Also, Montreal is but one of many Fringes (and a not very well attended one at that) and one decision over a decade ago does not reflect CAFF in any way whatsoever.

    And lastly- yes, OK there are corporate sponsors. But look at the big picture. Those are in place so that next-to-homeless artists like me are more able to scrape some money together and tour the circuit, living the life in complete opposition of a corporate buffoon.

    I needed to get this off my chest. Please, Infringement Festival, grow up. Stop insulting that what gave you life

  • I’ve heard that you were invited to USAFF, and decided not to attend.

    You say, ” Try to tell me that what we are doing is wrong, that bringing the community together and celebrating the beauty of unity, artists of all walks of life and experience standing side by side making the world stronger, exposing children to art, collaborating with our neighbors and connecting to out of town artists who will soon become family.” But yet decided a neighbor of yours (Rochester Fringe) is wrong for inviting you to their fringe. I’m not sure how your artists will connect with out of town artists if you ban free speech inviting your artists to come to another fringe. I’m not sure how they can connect with your artists if they can’t let your artists know they exist (other fringes). We appreciate what you believe, we believe it too. Just don’t exclude other fringes from your community because you are angry at not being included elsewhere. You need to be inclusive – including other neighborhood fringes. You can make the world stronger by collaborating with your neighbors – as you yourself say.

  • Hi Jon Patterson, I’d like to respond to your comment.

    Firstly, the infringement festival was invited to the World Fringe Congress in 2012 and 2014 in Edinburgh because it is considered Fringe material in the eyes of everyone globally except the CAFF, who trademarked the word “Fringe” in Canada in order to exclude artists who refuse to play by their rules (e.g. pay to play, using artists to advertise corporations, etc.) In fact, after hearing about the CAFF excluding artists from the Congress in 2016 in Montreal, the CEO of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, Shona McCarthy, made it a point to attend the World Infringement Congress, which is inclusive, to personally invite infringement artists to the next Congress in Edinburgh in 2018.

    Secondly, criticism is not slander, just as conversation is not harassment, as was pointed out by the cast of Hamilton the musical when Donald Trump accused them of harassing his vice-president elect. We welcome and encourage dialogue and conversation, which is why we hosted a World Infringement Congress to give voice to those artists who were censored at the CAFF World Fringe Congress.

    Thirdly, criticism and conversation are healthy in both the arts and democracy. There are still many unresolved issues regarding the trademarked Fringe, such as artists not being paid their ticket sales. I can appreciate that you do the Fringe and enjoy your box office sales, but what would you do if they refused to pay them to you? Would you say nothing or would you start criticizing? Furthermore, the decision not to pay artists their ticket sales most certainly reflects on the CAFF because they never insisted that the money be reimbursed to the artists, essentially violating their own mandate.

    Fourthly, the infringement festival opposes unethical corporate sponsors because they compromise both the society at large and the Fringe specifically. In the big picture, these corporations are harming the Fringe’s brand, along with the reputation of artists, which is probably why the St. Ambroise Fringe is not well-attended, as you say. “Next to homeless” artists, like yourself, have to pay a lot of money to play at the trademarked Fringe and then are used to promote often unethical corporations. Infringement, on the other hand, does not charge a penny and does not associate artists with any corporation.

    Lastly, as one of the people who set up the original Fringe in Montreal in 1991, I can tell you that that it was a group of dedicated artists who gave the Fringe life. The only reason infringement exists is because the Fringe that we birthed was trademarked and taken over by corporate interests. For you to say “Stop insulting what gave you life” is misguided because we are not insulting the Fringe, but rather criticizing the trademark and other corporate interference at the Fringe that is ruining the festival for a lot of artists. Furthermore, the trademarked Fringe never gave us life. Arguably the opposite is true because I helped start the Fringe in 1991 and only resorted to infringement in 2004 after the original festival had been trademarked and transformed into a marketing opportunity for corporations. The fact is that the infringement signifies a continuity of the original Fringe, dating all the way back to 1947.

    In the real big picture, there is a global movement that values the Fringe so much that artists are now organizing to protect the festival from excessive corporate interference. I’ll leave off with this quote from Canada’s leading academic expert on Fringe theatre:

    “I want to extend the hand of solidarity to all who participate in the Infringement Festival, who gather to fight for the right of freedom expression, and to reclaim the promise of the original fringe: open, accessible, artist-run. The corporatization of fringe festivals is a betrayal of what was the most democratic development in Canadian theatre. I congratulate you for standing against it in the cause of diversity, inclusivity and free assembly.”

    In solidarity,

    Professor Alan Filewod
    University of Guelph

  • I would also like to respond to Jenny.

    Jenny, if the USAFF invited the infringement festival to join, I am not aware of the invitation, but would definitely not blame the Buffalo infringement for declining. The USAFF includes many Fringe Festivals that are named after corporate sponsors and charges artists money to play, which Infringement festivals oppose.

    Secondly, all artists are free to play in the Buffalo infringement festival, including those who pay to participate in the KEYBANK Rochester Fringe Festival. Infringement is inclusive and requires no fees to perform, unlike the KEYBANK Rochester Fringe Festival which charges artists to play, excluding those who don’t have the means or don’t want to pay money to advertise a bank.

    Thirdly, the USAFF was asked to show some solidarity with the Buffalo infringement artists who were denied the right to attend the Congress by speaking up for inclusion and the USAFF refused.
    Why would an infringement festival join a group like the USAFF that allows “Fringe” festivals to be named after banks, excludes artists by making them pay if they want to play and doesn’t stand up for artists who are excluded? Also, I think you might want to look at the festival mandate because the Infringement IS inclusive and never bans free speech, whereas the CAFF World Fringe Congress (which the USAFF attended) just banned the voices of artists who participate in the infringements festival, which is actually based on the original Fringe of 1947. If USAFF is serious about inclusivity, why didn’t they show solidarity and demand the inclusion of the infringement artists at the Congress, who had participated in Edinburgh in 2012 and 2014, incidentally?

    Jenny, if you appreciate what the Infringement festival believes and you believe it too, why are you attacking them online with false claims of not being inclusive, especially when the KEYBANK Rochester Fringe Festival and CAFF World Fringe Congress are actually the ones who practice exclusion in varying forms? I appreciate you interest in having a dialogue, but please don’t misrepresent the infringement festival by claiming it needs to be inclusive. It is inclusive for artists and always has been. If you want it to be inclusive for KEYBANK, you are probably going to wait for a long time.

    It is important to understand that the infringement artists of Buffalo have created an artist-driven, corporate-free arts utopia based on the original Fringe of 1947, albeit on a much larger scale. Obviously they do not want businesspeople coming in and trying to rename their festival after a bank or making artists pay money to play. These corporate behaviors are the very antithesis of the original Fringe and need to be challenged to safeguard an incredible cultural phenomenon that spanned the globe, but is now at risk due to corporate interference. I salute the Buffalo Infringement Festival for doing just that.

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