Nanaimo Fringe producer Chelsee Damen was probably the busiest person in town during the two weeks of the festival. Her stories about losing her toothbrush at one of the venues and barely sleeping for a few weeks only illustrate the rare moments when she couldn’t be seen running back and forth between the museum and Harbour City Theatre venues, or videotaping Hub concerts at The Vault Café.
The Navigator: Did the Fringe surprise you in any way this year?
Chelsee Damen: The outpouring of support and enthusiasm this year went well beyond what we’ve experienced in the past. There was truly a sense that we have put down some roots and connected with the community. I was delightfully overwhelmed by media and public inquiries in the weeks leading up to the festival. And though that led me to believe we were going to have a great crowd this year, it was still surprising to look out over a full house at the preview show and have it sink in that the event we prepared all year had arrived and all those eager faces turned up. Fringe is all about bringing the community together, and in the theatre that night I was elated to see that the vision we started with four years ago is taking shape.
What was the biggest challenge for you and the volunteer crew?
In eight days we had 48 plays, over 30 performances in the hub, a preview show, the Best of Fest award, and a design jam. What I found challenging was not being able to be everywhere at once. Thankfully, we had an incredible staff and a big team of keen volunteers, so I knew my teammates were looking after things all around the festival. With so much going on at various locations I could only ever experience a part of it. The volunteers and staff have the tough job of sticking to a tight schedule and careful coordination. It was an exciting and sort of insane experience, and I feel like the people who help make Fringe happen are family.
How would you summarize your whole experience this year?
There’s nothing like seeing a play or two, and then heading over to the café to talk about the plays with a bunch of friends, and neighbours, and the performers. I was always running into people just coming from or going to a show, or discussing the festival lineup. For two weeks, we were all sharing something. It was exhilerating and strange, and we were all in it together.
What is the plan for next year? Will you stay in your position of festival producer?
I plan to produce the Fringe next year. I helped create the event in 2011 and have been deeply invested in it. I hope to always participate in Nanaimo Fringe in some capacity. Fringe is a project I am passionate about and I aim to share that more as we develop. I would love to see my role eventually become a partnership with one or two other people—partly because I aspire to have room in my life for other projects, and also because I think it would add new dimensions to Fringe planning. Collaboration is a value we have worked on building in our organization over the past year, and one I see us continuing to focus on in coming years. None of this would have come about without a village, and I imagine that village growing. Our board of directors, staff, volunteers, relationships with other community groups, and engagement with the public have made so much possible. As we grow, I want that engagement and communication to grow also.
The festival may be over, but you can still support Nanaimo Fringe later this month when performance poet Jem Rolls comes to Nanaimo September 28th.
— Nanaimo Fringe Fest (@nanaimofringe) September 11, 2014