A Call to Action to Help Update the Education and Tourism Systems in Tiotà:ke / Montreal!

December 8th, 2018

This is a Call to Action to help update the Education and Tourism systems in Tiotà:ke / Montreal!

As a licensed tour guide and History teacher, I have recently been working on updating Montreal’s Tourism Industry and Education System because it is unbearably colonial, Eurocentric and mis-representative of First Nations, women and Other marginalized communities. This unfortunate situation is a direct result of the Quebec Department of Education still insisting on mis-educating the general population with its recently debunked “History” curriculum.

Indeed, since the early 1600s, European colonial cultures have been revising historical facts to promote colonial projects on Turtle Island, and this continues into the present. One needs only look at the 1606 Theatre of Neptune in New France as an early piece of Eurocentric “education” and revisionism, or the more recent Residential School System as a later part of the same colonial project.

It is time to stop this deceitful and colonial power imbalance dead in its tracks, if anything because the racist and sexist “History” curriculum renders everyone except white colonial males invisible, marginal or outright misrepresented, including women, First Nations, Black, Irish, Jewish, LQBTQ, Disabled, Impoverished, Refugees and Other important communities. This results in not only mis-education and generalized ignorance, but can lead to racism, sexism, homophobia, intolerance and hate against misrepresented and marginalized communities.

For example, Montreal by-law G-2 creates a monopoly/cartel of mostly white colonial tour guides (A.P.G.T.) within the City’s boundaries. There is not even one First Nations guide operating legally on the un-ceded Indigenous territory of  Tiotà:ke.

In the past, the A.P.G.T. has received complaints about racist language and discourse among its 98% white tour guides. For example, on May 18, 2017, a letter of complaint, from a conscientious local citizen, was sent via email to the A.P.G.T. and Tourisme Montréal.

Good afternoon,

I live in Montreal and work in Old Montreal.

Tuesday of this week, as I was walking by the statue of Maisonneuve in front of the church, I could hear an English speaking tour guide telling his group (of about 20 tourists) about the ‘savages’.

He kept on talking and repeating ‘savages’ (with emphasis) and then I realized he was referring to our First Nations people.

I was at first very ashamed that we (Montreal) are referring to our native people this way- and the impression it must leave with the tourists. After all, we invaded their land and they were just defending themselves.

I did not react at that time- so I did not see which/if any ‘badge’ the tour guide had, therefore I am unable to say for whom he worked.

But I feel it is your responsibility to make sure ALL tour guides do not continue to refer to our natives as ‘savages’.

I will return every day during my lunch hour to that square- with my camera so if I see/hear this sort of language again- I will be able to film it. (if I do film this, I will send you a copy).

I sure hope that you are able to remedy this situation asap. Because it is not kind nor fair and I am embarrassed to be associated this.

Please advise your employees not to refer to them as savages.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this.”

The racist A.P.G.T. guide was repeatedly pointing at the 1895 Maisonneuve Monument, which occupies the heart of Montreal’s tourist district in the center of the Place d’Armes. Surprisingly, this racist centerpiece of Montreal’s Tourism Industry was recently refurbished in 2009 instead of removed and placed behind glass in a museum, where it belongs as a colonial relic of the past. 21st Century norms demand nothing less.

This tour guide’s performance is as disgusting as the racist statue that prompted it! I can only imagine him, frothing at the mouth like a rabid, savage animal that has yet to be captured by the S.P.C.A., as he delivers this outrageously racist monologue!

It is not easy trying to update outdated systems such as Education and Tourism, but it is a crucial first step towards decolonization.

I recently visited  Kahnawà:ke and had an amazing experience with guide Dwayne Stacey of Kahnawà:ke Tourism, who is also a History and Archaeology teacher at the Kahnawà:ke Survival School. His tour was very authentic and Indigenous – the exact type of experience 2.0 (next generation) tourists are thirsting for!

Please join me in these important updates by requesting to join the 2.0 (Montreal Tour Guides/Guides touristiques de montréal) Facebook Group where we are actively discussing these issues with the view of taking future action to ensure the updates are not snarled by colonial viruses and whatnot.

2.0 is not only for tour guides and those wishing to guide, but also for postcolonial educators, activists, journalists, co-conspirators and supporters of Truth and Reconciliation initiatives and decolonization. If we build strong enough alliances and bonds, we can urgently update these systems sooner rather than later.

Sincerely,

Donovan King, MFA, BEd, BFA, ACS, DEC

Irish Montreal Excursions

 

MEDIA

Please have a look at some recent media reports about these issues:

CBC Radio One – Daybreak with Mike Finnerty. Interview with Donovan King of Haunted Montreal. November 2, 2018.

The Eastern Door. Guide Wants Full History Of City During Tours. Lachlan Madill. November 2, 2018.

CityNews Montreal. TV interview with tour guide Donovan King, November 2, 2018.

Montreal Times. Montreal Haunted Mountain Tour. Deborah Rankin. November 6, 2018.

CBC Indigenous. Montreal tour guide wants more Indigenous history incorporated into industry training. Jessica Deer. November 8, 2018.

McGill Tribune. Montreal tour guide highlights indigenous history. Leyla Moy. December 5, 2018.

University of Calgary Alumni Association. Careers in Motion: King of Montreal’s Hidden Histories Donovan King, MFA’04. Deb Cummins. December 11, 2018.

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The Rigged “Election” or Why the Queens of Fringe Censorship must step down (A salty, Irish-Montreal theatre “rant”!)

November 23rd, 2018

 

[TRIGGER WARNING! Sharp Irish-Montreal humour may offend corporate “Fringe” Managers!]

As an Irish-Montrealer and Fringe theatre artist with both critical thinking skills and a serious trans-generational mental disability (Major Depressive Disorder, a.k.a. “the common cold of mental illness”), I have the proud honuor of being the most censored and excluded Fringe practitioner on the planet! This is no small cultural accomplishment, so please allow me explain how it all happened!

[BTW, if you discriminate against the Irish, LGBTQ, disabled or Other communities, go feck yourself and go read the latest issue of Cosmo instead of this salty, Irish-Montreal Fringe “rant”, you fecker! Major Depressive Disorder transforms you into a “half-living ghost” and is triggered by excessive stress and/or by arseh*oles who discriminate against Others. ;o) ]

Let’s begin with some backstory, shall we?

In 1991, I helped establish the pre-trademarked Montreal Fringe Festival, a grassroots event intended to empower local artists, promote independent and D.I.Y. approaches to the arts, and, of course, to provide more interesting, zany and activist performances for Montreal audiences.

At the time, there were only two regional playhouses in Montreal that offered English-language traditional theatre which was, to be frank, often as boring as shite. With 5 English theatre schools pumping out graduates every year, most actors left for the greener theatrical fields of Toronto, New York, London and L.A.

Knowing that Montreal is in many, many ways more exceptional than these cities, I decided to promote independent approaches to culture and the dramatic arts in Montreal to stem the Anglo brain drain. I even wrote a free guidebook called Doing Theatre in Montreal in association with the Quebec Drama Federation (QDF), a beloved minority-language theatre organization I have belonged to since the early 1990s.

Today, however, I am “banned for life” from the awkwardly named “St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival (TM)” and don’t feel safe enough to attend events at the QDF any more.

This unfortunate and bizarre situation all started when I spoke out against the 1998 trademarking of the Fringe, a grassroots arts festival I had helped create to empower artists, not exploit them. This trademark was introduced by the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals without any discussion among stakeholders, democratic debate, or adherence to cultural standards in place at the time. It was widely interpreted as an insidious corporate takeover of a grassroots, populist festival – the once rebellious, inclusive, activist and diverse Fringe.

This 21st Century cultural war between capitalist and anti-capitalist ideologies and forces began in 2001, when my experimental theatre performance, Car Stories, was unceremoniously ejected from the St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe (TM) on orders of a corporate media sponsor.

In 2004, we created the Montreal Infringement Festival in response to the exclusion and corporate manipulation at the trademarked Fringe, and the cultural war has been unfolding ever since all across the planet!

As the trademarked Fringe in Montreal did cultural battle with the infringement, in Buffalo, N.Y., the infringement went on to become the city’s largest, most diverse, and activist festival, featuring marginalized artists from Black, First Nations, LGBTQ, disabled and critical educator (e.g. feminist, postcolonial, anti-capitalist, queer, etc.) and Other communities.

According to cultural expert, LGBTQ ally, and Buffalo News journalist Colin Dabkowski, the infringement is “one of the most important cultural movements to emerge in the City of Buffalo in the past 50 years. If you doubt it you haven’t been paying attention.”

Meanwhile, behind the scenes in the United Kingdom, an entrepreneurial woman named Holly Payton-Lombardo was plotting the ultimate corporate co-opting of the world-wide Fringe movement on a massive scale for personal profit along with her ultra-loyal assistant Cath Mattos. The best way to describe the late capitalist scam is as an international “Pyramid Scheme”, with Payton-Lombardo and Mattos at its very summit, raking in large fees from hundreds of corporate and trademarked Fringe festivals across the planet (on the backs of Fringe artists, who must pay-to-play at these unethical corporate events).

Together, the two late capitalists created the World Fringe Congress (WFC), an event organized by their World Festival Network. This organization “acts as a liaison between festivals and implements cross-festival ideas and relations, such as award schemes, tours and funding opportunities.” They also offer “consultancy, start up and advice to new festivals” for hefty fees. Both organizations were officially founded by Holly Payton-Lombardo, as a “professional” arts administrator with plenty of corporate experience at UK Fringes. Indeed, according to her profile:

“Holly has worked in the festival business since 2001, rebranding the ‘Brighton Festival Umbrella’ and founding the Brighton Fringe, which she then managed for 7 years. She has worked as a Festival Venue Director and in the Senior Management Team of Edinburgh Fringe Society as well as for many UK international Festivals.”

When originally questioned whether the World Fringe Congress would be a good place to debate questions about corporate influence on the Fringe Festivals, especially in Canada, and to discuss the future direction of the Fringe, Payton-Lombardo replied with a dubious lie:

“…the Congress will recognise that there are many models of Fringe and many different ideas within it, without recognising any one model, concept or Fringe as more valid than another.”

Payton-Lombardo invited me to the original Edinburgh World Fringe Congress in 2012 and again in 2014 in an attempt to indoctrinate me with corporate ideology and to co-opt the infringement festivals I had initiated, in addition to over 100 Fringe Festivals from around the planet. Because I have critical thinking skills, I was able to protect myself from Payton-Lombardo’s attempt to magically transform me into one among a flock of corporate “Fringe” sheep while simultaneously challenging her capitalist discourse and sales pitch with anti-capitalist analysis and education.

The New York Times reported at the time:

“Between sips of wine Donovan King begged to differ. “The Fringe has become mainstream junior,” he said in an interview. Mr. King was referring not only to Edinburgh, he pointed out, but to most Fringe festivals, which he feels are too dependent on sponsorships. “I think it’s a corporate sellout and it needs to be reformed,” he said. Mr. King runs the anti-establishment Infringement Festival in Montreal as a reaction against the Montreal Fringe, a sign that the Fringe festival movement has already spawned an opposition party.”

Payton-Lombardo evidently did not appreciate the democratic opposition, as was made obvious in 2016 when the corporate World Fringe Congress was relocated to Montreal, my home city, and placed in the “care” of the trademarked Fringe festivals, held in a capitalist lock by the the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF).

The CAFF World Fringe Congress rejected all infringement festival delegates who applied, including members from marginalized communities (First Nations, Black, Irish, disabled, LGBTQ, etc.), prompting an official letter of complaint to Shona McCarthy, CEO of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the ironically anti-democratic organization charged with managing the World “Fringe” Congress.

An alternative, anti-capitalist World Infringement Congress was also offered, which was very 21st Century: diverse, inclusive and involved lots of critical thinking (see links below, if you don’t believe me)! It did not discriminate against marginalized cultures and even invited corporate “Fringe” managers to attend to explain their position in a proposed friendly democratic debate, which in a very cowardly and un-Canadian way they absolutely refused to even consider.

I also had an awkward conversation via video-link with Payton-Lombardo and Mattos on their invention of “World Fringe Day”, a day to cheer-lead the growth of the Fringe (and more potential profits for the top of the Pyramid Scheme).

More recently, our team also asked the WFC to implement a Safe Space Policy to prevent future exclusion of marginalized communities.

The WFC, as represented by CEO Shona McCarthy, refused, despite the fact some of our disabled members cannot participate without a Safe Space Policy for health, safety and medical reasons.

Infringement artists were therefore unable to attend the WFC in Edinburgh in 2018, because the unsafe, toxic and poisonous environment created by CAFF in 2016 in Montreal would have had detrimental effects on the health and safety of our disabled members.

The sick fact is that the CAFF destroyed our intellectual and cultural bonds with our Fringe colleagues by spreading false rumours, such as the bizarre idea that the Montreal Police Force had instructed CAFF to exclude and censor infringement members, including accredited teachers, educators and professors in addition to marginalized artists. Indeed, I received an email on October 4, 2016 from fellow Fringe academic Dr. Xela Batchedler (a.k.a. “Dr. Fringe”), who informed me that marginalized infringement organizers were being excluded by CAFF “because someone at the Montreal Fringe was advised by police…” According to CAFF, infringement artists were suddenly “too dangerous” to attend a corporate event like the WFC, despite previous inclusion in 2012 and 2014 without incident.

Now, just a few short months later, a hotly-contested election campaign was recently held between four Fringe Festivals who were all battling it out for the right to host the next two WFCs in 2020 and 2022. The contenders included Grahamstown (South Africa), Roma (Europe), Adelaide (Australia) and the much-despised CAFF “Fringe” (TM) in Disney-homeland, Orlando, Florida (U.S.A.). The election was held on November 23, with all Fringe Festivals worldwide being granted one vote each.

During the election campaign, when I publicly expressed concern to Holly Payton-Lombardo (on the “Fringe – the Social Managers” secret Facebook page) that if the trademarked Orlando CAFF Fringe were to win, they would likely exclude all artists from marginalized infringement communities again, she started to get angrier and angrier.

In fact, as a licensed English and History teacher and Master theatrician, I would characterize Payton-Lombardo’s reaction as a full and dramatic Chernobyl-like meltdown. In what could be described as “the best Fringe drama of the 21st Century”, critics would surely give the “performance” a 5 star rating!

To thicken the Fringe plot, when Trumpesque Orlando “Fringe” Manager Michael Marinaccio objected to legitimate criticism during the election debates, Holly Payton-Lombardo responded by refusing to allow several other infringement festival managers to be included on the secret Facebook page for political debate during the democratic election.

The Orlando “Fringe” manager, who was demanding the exclusion of all infringement festivals, then began to discriminate against me personally due to my disability, apparently with “absolutely no irony”.  I found these statements to be particularly ignorant and abhorrent, especially because pro-Fringe trademark Marinaccio was actually calling for me to be censored because I am disabled. In doing so, he simultaneously made a mockery of the disabled Fringe community, much like Donald Trump frequently does of the entire disabled community across the U.S.A. and planet.

I wish could say that I was surprised, but the CAFF’s trademarked Fringe Festivals have a disgusting history of discrimination against the disabled who cannot or refuse to accept the hidden myriad of late capitalist strategies designed to feed Payton-Lombardo’s deranged and international “Fringe Pyramid Scheme”.

Shortly thereafter, as I was trying to educate the Orlando Fringe Manager about mental health in the 21st Century Arts & Culture industry (I am a mental health advocate), Holly Payton-Lombardo actually blocked my ability to communicate with my peers, including Marinaccio, during the election debates until November 24 – one day after the election was officially over!

Next, Payton-Lombardo began to use disturbing Orwellian language on the Facebook page I and other infringement managers were banned from:

The term Orwellian connotes official deception, secret surveillance, brazenly misleading terminology and manipulation of recorded history by a totalitarian or authoritarian ruler. In Payton-Lombardo’s message to “Fringe” managers, which excluded all infringement managers, she embodies the character of “Big Brother” in George Orwell’s literary masterpiece 1984. As in the book,  she rules the “Party”, employs the “Thought Police” to persecute individualism and independent thinking and enjoys an intense cult of personality.

George Orwell himself refers to the bizarre administrative concept of “Doublethink” (the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct, often in distinct social contexts). Payton-Lombardo employed this dubious technique by expressing many, many clear hypocrisies to her corporate “Fringe” peers while simultaneously excluding activist infringement managers from responding.

For example, Payton-Lombardo claims that every Fringe Director she has ever met believes artists are the most important people, but the media links below demonstrate the opposite – artists and students being excluded from trademarked Fringe Festivals. She also states that “infringement festivals and artists have a valued place in all society and World Fringe”, despite excluding all infringement festivals in the democratic debates. In another piece of “Doublethink”, Payton-Lombardo claims nobody in the corporate Fringe network has ever excluded people based on “nationality, health, sexuality or socioeconomic status” (she conveniently forgot to mention political convictions, another enshhrined human right prohibited from discrimination), and yet she just excluded infringement organizers who identify with Black, Irish (post-nationality races), disabled (health) , LGBTQ (sexuality), and impoverished (socioeconomic status).

Payton-Lombardo then actually contacted other infringement festivals behind my back in an attempt to label me as “mentally ill” and discourage their association with me in order to join the corporate “Fringe” flock.

Unfortunately for Payton-Lombardo, infringement festival organizers all have sharp critical thinking skills and show solidarity in the face of exclusion, discrimination or oppression as a matter of basic principle. This piece of exclusion and cyber-bullying was, of course, forwarded to me by alert infringement managers.

Things got nastier and nastier when Fringe actually tried to hack my personal Facebook page, which my cyber-security experts repaired and tracked the cyber-hacker to Orlando, Florida.

Once the Fringe’s cultural assault was completed, it appears that Holly Payton-Lombardo finally banned every infringement manager from membership in the WFC, from voting, using the political platform of the Facebook page or attending future WFCs ever again.

This deplorable act of exclusion, racism and censorship essentially rigged the WFC election by eliminating legitimate cultural criticism during the campaign debates. Meanwhile, appeals to Fringe CEO Shona McCarthy to restore democracy and decorum went unheeded.

I decided, as a professional educator, that I had had enough of this oppressive nonsense and so sent Payton-Lombardo a CEASE & DESIST order:

The unethical rigging of the WFC election gave the trademarked CAFF Orlando “Fringe” an enormous advantage over their opponents because all criticism against them had been silenced, forbidden and eliminated, furthering Payton-Lombardo’s deranged “Pyramid Scheme” goal of a pro-capitalist network of trademarked Fringe Festivals that pay her annual fees to be included.

Perhaps not surprisingly, on November 30, 2018 the WFC’s predictable election results were announced by the Head of Participant Services (Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society), Rachel Sanger:

Due to the vote-rigging demanded by the CAFF Orlando Fringe, they actually won the WFC election to host the Congress in 2022. This is very unfortunate because both Adelaide and Orlando Fringes have been criticized as being hyper-corporate, derivative of white colonizer culture, and reeking of white privilege, like most Fringe Festivals in North America, Europe and the Antipodes.

Sadly, the Black and Indigenous Fringe of Grahamstown, South Africa, won’t be hosting the Congress due to the discriminatory, hyper-capitalist and racist vote-rigging, which put them at a major disadvantage over Orlando during the election. The Roma Fringe of Europe, which frequently represents marginalized and persecuted communities, is also excluded due to the vote-rigging.

The racist behaviour and exclusion of marginalized artists from the WFC election, including disabled Black artists, by corporate “Fringe” managers is extremely disturbing. It can perhaps be best described as an obvious case of White Fragility. According to race scholar and sociologist Robin DiAngelo:

“White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes
intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include
the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such
as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors,
in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.”

This theory corresponds with the racist actions of Payton-Lombardo along with the silence and lack of solidarity towards marginalized and excluded Fringe artists by other corporate “Fringe” managers, almost all of whom are white.

DiAngelo describes this alienating dynamic as such:

“Whites have not had to build tolerance for racial discomfort and thus when racial discomfort arises, whites typically respond as if something is “wrong,” and blame the person or event that triggered the discomfort… This blame results in a socially-sanctioned array of counter-moves against the perceived source of the discomfort, including: penalization; retaliation; isolation; ostracization; and refusal to continue engagement. White insistence on racial comfort ensures that racism will not be faced. This insistence also functions to punish those who break white codes of comfort. Whites often confuse comfort with safety and state that we don’t feel safe when what we really mean is that we don’t feel comfortable.”

In addition, it would appear the corporate “Fringe” Festivals want to encourage more diverse audiences to supplement profits, but certainly do not want more diverse management of the festivals.

In response to the cultural scandal, a Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF) spokesperson released the following statement:

“You are chasing an empty story. That UNESCO link look impressive until you actually click on it and read it thru, you will see that it is just a statement on Donovans blog saying he wants to ask UNESCO to do something about something. UNESCO has nothing to do with this conversation and knows nothing about this matter. Putting their name in your article when they have never made a statement or even gotten a request to make a statement would be very dishonest of you as a journalist. It is to be expected from Donovan who is much more concerned with attacking Fringe than he is with running a theater festival, but for a journalist to lead with that pointless link displays a lack of journalistic rigor. If you can’t read past that click bait you have no business calling yourself a journalist.

Try googling Infringement festival and you will find that Montreal Infringement does not come up anywhere in the first or second page, only Buffalo. Also on the first page is this site http://www.infringementfestival.com/ I urge you to do your due diligence and look at that site, specifically the Brooklyn section, my hometown. you will quickly see that there is no Brooklyn Infringement festival only lifestyle ads. this clearly shows that Donovan has no interest in actually running a Fringe festival as he does zero to market this festival for that participating artists. On the actual Montreal Infringement site http://infringemontreal.org/ details are “still coming” about the 2017 festival, so there is that.

The member (not currently running a festival so not a member) requesting a safe space, is only requesting a space safe for himself, he has no real interest or understanding of the concept of safe spaces, and he also has no interest in running a Fringe festival, only in infringing on other peoples time and energy. Donovan has personal issues that I hope he can deal with, I do wish him the best. But now that this “controversy” has hit my inbox I feel I must respond to say how much of a non issue this matter is outside of Donovan’s own mind.

– CAFF Spokesperson Erez Ziv, FRIGID New York”

* Please note that according to excluded infringement managers, 13/15 infringement festivals run underground for Health and Safety reasons (e.g. Campus Policies, active Conflict Zones, post-Conflict Zones, fear of retaliation by “Fringe” trademark holders, medical reasons, etc.) At this time, only the Buffalo, New York and King’s College, Nova Scotia Infringement festivals operate in public and they did not apply to vote in the WFC election because managers consider the WFC “illegitimate”.

Due to these numerous problems caused by corporate and trademarked “Fringe Festivals, there is a much needed call to action for immediate change.

As such, Holly Payton-Lombardo (Corporate Founder, World Fringe Congress) and Shona McCarthy (CEO, Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society) must resign immediately from their official Fringe positions due to anti-Fringe and anti-democratic Election-Rigging, among a host of other unethical practices (e.g. cyber-bullying, discrimination against the disabled, use of Orwellian language, the continual creation and maintenance of unsafe and Kafkaesque spaces, homophobia, racism, human rights violations  – Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly – exploitation of “white privilege”, etc.)

The rigged election results must also be cancelled due to racist, ablest and homophobic exclusion of legitimate Fringe managers, resulting in white colonizer culture “Fringe” Festivals (including one with a trademark) winning in the most unfair and unjust of ways.

Thirdly, the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF) must abandon its “Fringe” trademark, implement Safe Space Policies, stop excluding artists and students from doing populist Fringe Arts, and apologize to the infringement festivals and global Culture community for being a bunch of discriminatory and late capitalist arseh*oles.

And last, but certainly not least, to protect the Fringe for future generations of artists and spectators, it is high time for the official Queens of Fringe Censorship to immediately step down – and hopefully go find meaningful employment at their local McDonald’s fast food “restaurant”.

That way instead of bullying, harassing and excluding legitimate Fringe artists with critical thinking skills and destroying the Fringe in the name of late capitalist profits, they will be relegated to making french fries for hungry McCustomers.

It would be poetic justice at its very finest!

 

Infringefully Yours,

Donovan King, MFA, B.Ed, BFA, ACS, DEC

(* Also proudly mentally disabled, but still able to pay actors union wages and taxes to the government, unlike the able-minded CAFF members who charge artists to play while vacuuming up tax dollars and unethical corporate sponsorship money. Break the stigma against mental health discrimination! As a Mad Pride member, I am very proud to join the ranks of other artists with mental illnesses, including, but not limited to: Georgia O’Keeffe, Ludwig van Beethoven,  Sylvia Plath, Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh, and many other influential thinkers. These especially include Irish artists traditionally labelled as “crazy”, such as ghost storyteller Sheridan Le Fanu,  Tarrantinoesque playwright Martin McDonagh, Dracula author Bram Stoker and, of course, Irish punk-folk musician Shane MacGowan!)

(In my humble opinion, if you are not at least a little bit “crazy”, you have no business being at any real Fringe festival.)

(Just an Irish-Montreal giggle! I know these chuckles bite hard, but please don’t take offense if you are a corporate “Fringe” manager!)

p.s. Please consider forwarding this post to your local journalist, blogger or advocate for anti-racism, anti-capitalism, mental health advocacy and pro-LGBTQ inclusion in the culture, plus members of the planetary Fringe community, of course!

If you would like to dialogue about these issues, please shoot me an email at optatif@gmail.com. Unlike tone deaf corporate “Fringe” managers, I am open to dialogue, inclusion, diversity and academic analysis about the multiple problems caused by a corporate “Fringe” in the 21st Century that is designed to exclude marginalized and disabled voices in the name of late capitalist profits.

Do you want to help update the corporate “Fringe” to 2.0 (the real Fringe, based on the original 1947 mandate in Edinburgh)?

If so, please complain to the organizations listed below. Tell them:

  1. To cancel the WFC vote due to election irregularities.
  2. To cancel all Fringe trademarks world-wide.
  3. To include infringement artists in the WFC and on its Facebook page.
  4. To stop raping populist events like the Fringe in the name of late capitalist profits.

Contacts:

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society: customerservice@edfringe.com

World Fringe Congress CEO: holly@worldfringe.com

Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF) Executive Directors and Fringe trademark holders: exec@fringetoronto.com, stacey@portfringe.com, director@ottawafringe.com, director@fundyfringefestival.com

CAFF Orlando Fringe Festival Senior Management: paula@orlandofringe.org, lindsay@orlandofringe.org, tech@orlandofringe.org, fred@orlandofringe.org, genevieve@orlandofringe.org, outdoorstage@orlandofringe.org, boxoffice@orlandofringe.org, jae@orlandofringe.org, volunteer@orlandofringe.org, visualfringe@orlandofringe.org, jae@orlandofringe.org

 

LINKS:

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UNESCO proposal to protect the Fringe:

http://www.optative.net/blog/world-fringe-day-artists-call-on-unesco-to-protect-festival/

 

EXAMPLES OF EXCLUSION AT THE FRINGE

 

Newspaper article about legal threats against students in Nova Scotia, Canada:

http://watchmagazine.ca/2012/01/beyond-the-fringe/

 

Article and video example of exclusion at Montreal Fringe:

https://www.forgetthebox.net/montreal-fringe-border/?fbclid=IwAR2pyUGLy-xKEkdO2J7QXV1iFoibEK1xSrWFnCsR7-QWRi0vHsmqlfTF1zo

 

Media example of exclusion at World Fringe Congress (Montreal, 2016):

http://www.dailypublic.com/articles/11092016/girl-buff-buffalo-infringement-scorned

 

Media example of an artist being “banned for life” from a now-trademarked “Fringe” that he had originally helped establish:

http://www.concordia.ca/cunews/offices/vpaer/aar/2017/06/26/king-of-montreals-hidden-histories.html

 

WORLD FRINGE CONGRESS – Edinburgh, Scotland, 2012 & 2014

 

Blog (long read) about 2012 WFC and anti-capitalist analysis:

http://www.optative.net/blog/world-fringe-congress-to-welcome-infringement-festival/

 

Blog about 2014 WFC and anti-capitalist analysis:

http://www.optative.net/blog/critical-report-from-the-world-fringe-congress-to-hit-europes-fringes/

 

WORLD INFRINGEMENT CONGRESS – Montreal, Canada, 2016:

 

Letter of Complaint about exclusion to Edinburgh Fringe CEO Shona McCarthy

http://www.optative.net/blog/controversy-strikes-third-world-fringe-congress-rejected-artists-protest-exclusion-with-letter-to-fringe-ceo/

 

Keynote Speech by Der Kosmonaut (Kasai Dear):

http://der-kosmonaut.blogspot.com/2018/06/der-kosmonaut-keynote-address-at-world.html

 

WTF? (What the Fr*nge?!) Presentation by Donovan King

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpKmPor2kk8

 

RESOURCES:

Cultural criticism of trademarked “Fringe” as Uber of the Arts in media article:

https://medium.com/@adendate/fringe-is-uber-a-model-dependent-upon-the-exploitation-of-artists-64c51ece8e7c

 

Infringement Testimony and Media:

http://www.dailypublic.com/articles/07272016/girl-buff-infringe-every-day

 

Example of a University describing an excluded Fringe artist as an “innovator”, “thought leader” and “expert in the field”:

https://alumni.ucalgary.ca/stories/donovan-king

 

 

CityNews TV interview with tour guide Donovan King, November 3, 2018.

November 4th, 2018

CityNews Montreal TV interview with tour guide Donovan King, November 3, 2018.

CBC Radio One – Daybreak with Mike Finnerty. Interview with Donovan King of Haunted Montreal. November 2, 2018.

November 2nd, 2018

CBC Radio One – Daybreak with Mike Finnerty. Interview with Donovan King of Haunted Montreal. November 2, 2018.

 

More Media:

The Eastern Door. Guide Wants Full History Of City During Tours. Lachlan Madill. November 2, 2018: https://www.easterndoor.com/2018/11/02/guide-wants-full-history-of-city-during-tours/

 

CityNews Montreal. TV interview with tour guide Donovan King, November 2, 2018: http://www.optative.net/blog/citynews-tv-interview-with-tour-guide-donovan-king-november-4-2018/

 

Montreal Times. Montreal Haunted Mountain Tour. Deborah Rankin. November 6, 2018: http://mtltimes.ca/Montreal/entertainment/montreal-haunted-mountain-tour/

 

CBC Indigenous. Montreal tour guide wants more Indigenous history incorporated into industry training. Jessica Deer. November 8, 2018: https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/montreal-tour-guide-wants-more-indigenous-history-training-1.4895920?fbclid=IwAR0bAYWkvOqHNMUFOuuK_5tlMtgDseV52k37nXEg17fbKsixR4TJkG3C1rA

 

World Fringe Day: Artists propose plan to call on UNESCO to protect festival

July 10th, 2017

On July 11, Fringe Festivals around the world are celebrating “World Fringe Day”, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Fringe in Edinburgh in 1947. The festival was born when artists were told they couldn’t perform at the Edinburgh International Festival, so they protested by doing their shows on the “fringe” of the event. Their brave and defiant gesture sparked a whole new way of doing the arts: rebellious, independent, artist-run, inclusive, and Do-It-Yourself. Their original mandate was simple: anyone can play on the fringe – with no administrative cost.

Ironically, the same artists who established the Fringe Festival 70 years ago would not be allowed to play at most of the 200+ Fringe Festivals that exist today under the same conditions. Many Fringe Festivals have policies that force artists to pay often-hefty fees to administrators in order to participate. Critics have questioned these policies because they exclude artists who cannot afford to perform.

Due to these policies, the Fringe, once an inclusive festival run by rebellious artists, is now overseen by administrators and often doesn’t resemble the original creation. For example, an organization called the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals trademarked the word “Fringe” in 1998 and now threatens legal action against artists and students who attempt to do Fringe arts without their permission. Furthermore, there are a host of other questionable practices at Fringe Festivals that do not match the original intentions of the artists who founded the Fringe in 1947.

In response, artists at the Montreal Infringement Festival, one of the rare festivals that still follows the original Fringe mandate of 1947, propose asking UNESCO to protect the Fringe, including artists, spectators and communities that participate in the festivals (and those who are excluded from them).

UNESCO is responsible for coordinating international cooperation in education, science, culture and communication. Concerning culture, UNESCO strengthens the ties between nations and societies, and mobilizes the wider public so that each child and citizen: “may grow and live in a cultural environment rich in diversity and dialogue, where heritage serves as a bridge between generations and peoples; and can enjoy full freedom of expression; the basis of democracy, development and human dignity.”

To achieve its goals, UNESCO’s is mandated is to safeguard important elements of human culture. As such, the organization places at-risk cultural practices on a List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity to “help demonstrate the diversity of [cultural] heritage and raise awareness about its importance”.

To prevent co-opting by corporate interests and the resulting exclusion, the artists are planning to request that Fringe Festivals be included on the list. To preserve the integrity of the Fringe, their goals include:

1. The end of exclusion at all Fringe Festivals worldwide;

2. The cancellation of all trademarks on the word “Fringe”;

3. The inclusion of artists in key decision-making processes at all Fringe Festivals.

Artists founded the Montreal Infringement Festival in 2004 in reaction to excessive corporate interference at the St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival. In 2001, an experimental play called Car Stories was kicked out after a corporate sponsor was offended. When the festival refused to refund artists the hefty fees required to participate or pay them their ticket sales, the artists vowed to fight back against what appeared to be the co-opting of the Canadian Fringe Festival movement by corporate interests.

For 14 years, artists have staged the Infringement Festival as an alternative to the trademarked Canadian Fringe Festivals. As keepers of the original Fringe mandate of 1947, they ensured that artists never had to pay to play and that nobody was ever excluded or censored.

In 2012, Infringement artists were invited to the inaugural World Fringe Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland. At the Congress, Infringement founder Donovan King wrote a critical analysis about problems facing the Fringe internationally. In 2014, he was invited again and followed up with a workshop entitled “A World Fringe Philosophy” where he outlined some of the more problematic issues facing Fringe Managers. He also performed a show at the Edinburgh Fringe called Critical Report from the World Fringe Congress, which has also played in other cities in the U.K., Ireland, the U.S.A. and Canada.

In 2016, a decision was made to hold the World Fringe Congress in another city and Montreal was selected. Hosted this time by the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals and the Saint Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival, the Congress had an application form for the first time ever. When Montreal and Buffalo infringement festivals applied to send delegates, they were rejected, despite the fact they are among the few festivals that still follows the mandate of the 1947 Edinburgh Fringe.

Not only were their critical voices absent at the Congress, but their entire festivals were missing from the World Fringe Fair, a showcase of festivals around the world. For the excluded artists, the 3rd World Fringe Congress was Kafkaesque: having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical bureaucratic quality in which people are oppressed by nonsensical, blind authority, resulting in anxiety, alienation, exclusion and powerlessness.

Buffalo burlesque artist Cat McCarthy reacted to the exclusion with an article in The Public Voice, where she asked:

“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.”

Professor Alan Filewod, an academic expert on Fringe Festivals in Canada at the University of Guelph, stated:

 “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.”

Infringement founder Donovan King wrote a Letter of Complaint to Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society CEO Shona McCarthy and hosted both an infringement festival and the first-ever World Infringement Congress to challenge the exclusion. He also invited members of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals to a debate about the Fringe trademark, which they refused to attend.

While ultimately the censored artists were excluded from the 3rd World Fringe Congress in Montreal, the CEO of the Edinburgh Fringe and several other international Fringe Managers did attend the World Infringement Congress. The artistic and cultural dialogue was successful: the excluded artists were invited to the next World Fringe Congress in Edinburgh in 2018 by the CEO. The invitation was heavily applauded by members of the audience.

In addition to planning to call on UNESCO to protect Fringe Festivals worldwide, the Montreal Infringement Festival is also celebrating World Fringe Day with a party and open mic at Bar Bifteck, the site where the Infringement Festival was born in 2004. Last but not least, the festival is releasing footage of the 2016 World Infringement Congress for those who missed the event and want to learn about the issues.

As the keepers of the Fringe mandate of 1947, Infringement artists plan to honor the brave souls who challenged exclusion and played on the fringe 70 years ago, sparking a whole new way of doing the arts. They also plan to question why there is so much exclusion at Fringe Festivals today when it was originally designed to be inclusive.

The irony that the World Fringe Congress excluded the only artists who follow the original mandate of the 1947 Edinburgh Fringe is a clear demonstration that UNESCO needs to intervene to protect human culture from corporate manipulation. As such, the Infringement artists are hopeful that UNESCO will look favorably on their upcoming application to protect the Fringe for future generations.

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Infringement Festival to challenge “Fringe” trademark with first-ever World Infringement Congress

November 9th, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Infringement Festival to challenge “Fringe” trademark with over 50 artists and first-ever World Infringement Congress

MONTREAL, November 10, 2016

Based on the original Edinburgh Fringe of 1947, the Montreal Infringement Festival will welcome over 50 local and international artists for its 13th edition, including burlesque, film, dance, music, and theatrical spoken word performances and events! Running from November 15 – 20, the festival has moved from June to November to coincide with the 3rd World Fringe Congress, a gathering of Fringe Festival managers from around the world, to spark a conversation.

The Infringement Festival was created in Montreal in 2004 after the St. Ambroise Fringe kicked out experimental theatre show Car Stories in 2001, allegedly on orders of a corporate sponsor. The festival, which aims to challenge corporate interference in the arts through dialogue and by creating alternative models, has popped up in other cities and is currently one of the largest festivals in Buffalo, New York.

Infringement artists were represented at the first two World Fringe Congresses in Edinburgh, in 2012 and 2014, after receiving letters of invitation. While artists from Montreal and Buffalo infringement festivals had hoped to continue to dialogue with Fringe managers about important issues in the arts, their applications were rejected by the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF), hosts of the 2016 Congress being held in Montreal. CAFF has the word “Fringe” locked in a Canada-wide trademark and uses this fact to exclude people from participating in Fringe arts.

To counter the exclusion, not only is the Infringement Festival being offered as an inclusive space, but will also hold the first-ever World Infringement Congress on Saturday, November 19, to examine issues that tend to get glossed over at the original event and to provide a platform for the excluded artists to voice their concerns.

Furthermore, the Montreal Infringement Festival has issued a debate invitation to CAFF to engage in a Canadian parliamentary-style debate about its trademark on the word “Fringe” and the resulting exclusion of artists.

Through these strategies, the Montreal Infringement Festival aims to challenge the Fringe trademark and spark an important dialogue about finding concrete ways to protect artists and culture from excessive corporate interference.

Montreal Infringement Festival Website: infringemontreal.org

 

Media contact:          Donovan King     optatif@gmail.com     514-842-1467

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***

Pour diffusion immédiate :

Le festival Infringement défiera la marque « Fringe » avec le premier Congrès mondial Infringement.

MONTRÉAL, le 10 novembre, 2016

Fondé sur le Fringe originel d’Édimbourg de 1947, le festival Infringement de Montréal accueillera plus de 50 artistes régionaux pour sa 13e édition, incluant des événements et des spectacles de burlesque, de danse, de musique, de films et de spoken word. Allant du 15 au 20 novembre, le festival a été postposé de juin à novembre afin de coïncider avec le 3e Congrès mondial du Fringe, un rassemblement des gérants internationaux du festival Fringe dans le but de discuter.

Le festival Infringement fut créé à Montréal en 2004 après que le Fringe de Saint Ambroise eut expulsé le spectacle expérimental Car Stories en 2001, prétendument sur l’ordre d’un commanditaire. Le festival, qui vise à défier, par le dialogue, l’ingérence des entreprises dans les arts en créant de nouveaux modèles, s’est démarqué dans d’autres villes et est un des festivals les plus en vue à Buffalo, New York.

Les artistes de l’Infringement ont été représentés aux deux premiers congrès mondiaux du Fringe à Édimbourg en 2012 et 2014 après en avoir reçu l’invitation. Bien que les artistes du festival Infringement de Montréal et de Buffalo aient espéré de continuer le dialogue avec les gérants du Fringe autour des sujets importants dans les arts, leurs demandes ont été rejetées par l’Association canadienne des festivals Fringe (AcfF), hôtes du Congrès de 2016 à Montréal. L’AcfF a verrouillé le mot « fringe » dans une marque de commerce canadienne, empêchant son utilisation dans les arts du Fringe.

Pour contrer cette exclusion, l’Infringement ne s’est pas seulement offert comme espace inclusive, mais comme accueil du premier Congrès mondial de l’Infringement, qui aura lieu samedi le 19 novembre, pour examiner les problèmes qui ont été mis de côté lors de l’événement originel, et pour permettre aux artistes exclus qui veulent se faire entendre d’avoir une plateforme pour le faire.

De plus, l’Infringement de Montréal a envoyé à l’AcfF une invitation à s’engager dans un débat de type parlementaire concernant la mise en marque du mot « Fringe » et l’exclusion des artistes conséquemment. Par ces stratégies, le festival Infringement vise à défier la prise de la marque de commerce Fringe en cherchant un dialogue important sur les manières concrètes de protéger les artistes et la culture des excès de l’ingérence commerciale.

RENSEIGNEMENTS MÉDIAS : Donovan King, optatif@gmail.com, 514-842-1467

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Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals invited to debate its trademark on the word “Fringe”

November 9th, 2016

In true democratic tradition, the Montreal Infringement festival has issued an invitation to the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF) to engage in a debate about the trademark on the word “Fringe”, Canadian Parliamentary-style:

_______________________________________________________________________

Dear CAFF representative,

The Montreal Infringement Festival would like to invite the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals to a Parliamentary-style debate about the Canada-wide trademark on the word “Fringe”.

Because all infringement artists were excluded when applying to the 3rd World Fringe Congress, we feel it is important to dialogue with your organization in hopes of eventually resolving long-standing issues between artists and Fringe administrators. To quote excluded Buffalo infringement artist Cat McCarthy:

“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.”

It is a question worth looking at. Canadian parliamentary-style debate is an important way of examining contentious issues in the democratic tradition of our country. Opposing teams of two debaters each follow a set of rules and make their case before the Speaker, all within strict time limits. The purpose is to hash out issues with the goal of their eventual resolution.

While we are open to having this debate when it is convenient for you, we have reserved some time at the World Infringement Congress on Saturday, November 19 from 3:15 to 4 pm at the Old Bank Arts Space in the working class neighbourhhood of Point Saint Charles (1900 Wellington Street) where there will be a captive audience of people. There will be two seats reserved for your organization in case you decide to take us up on this challenge.

The Infringement Festival believes that dialogue and debate are the best ways to resolve contentious issues and to set sensible policies that protect artists, spectators, communities and culture from excessive corporate interference in the arts. As such, we hope you will engage us in this important debate.

To make arrangements, please email me at optatif@gmail.com.

Sincerely,

 

Donovan King

Montreal Infringement Festival

_______________________________________________________________________

Ottawa Citizen

 

Controversy strikes Third World Fringe Congress: Excluded Artists Protest with Letter to Fringe CEO

November 1st, 2016

 

The 3rd World Fringe Congress, a gathering of Fringe festival administrators from around the globe, is running from November 16 – 18 in Montreal after being held twice in Edinburgh, Scotland (in 2012 and 2014).

Normally a low-key affair whereby Fringe managers discuss different issues surrounding the festivals, controversy has struck the Congress after various artists in both Montreal and Buffalo were rejected when they applied.

rejection-from-world-fringe-congress

The excluded artists represent infringement festivals, Fringe-like Festivals that cannot operate under the name “Fringe” due to legal threats. Infringement festival representatives were invited to the Edinburgh World Fringe Congress in 2012 and 2014, but in 2016 their applications were all rejected by the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF), hosts of the 3rd World Fringe Congress.

fringe-managers-censored

The CAFF has the words “Fringe” and “Fringe Festival” locked in a trademark and threatens legal action against anyone attempting to do Fringe theatre without their permission.

An open letter of complaint has been issued to CEO Shona McCarthy of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, asking her to overturn this unfortunate decision. Infringement artists feel that trademarks should have no place in the world of Fringe arts, as they result in the exclusion of artists and compromise what was once an artist-driven festival, all in the name of corporate interests.

Ironically, it would appear that the history of the Fringe is repeating itself. The artists who were excluded from the CAFF-hosted World Fringe Congress are now setting up shop on the fringe of the event. The exact same thing happened in Edinburgh in 1947 when artists’ invented the Fringe Festival. After being rejected by administrators of the Edinburgh International Festival, they decided to play on the fringe of the official festival. This act of cultural resistance spawned a global movement whereby Fringe festivals have appeared in hundreds of cities around the world.

However, there are now complaints that corporate interests are beginning to compromise Fringe festivals by trademarking them. Despite the fact that artists created this festival as a protest against exclusion, they are now forbidden to play without paying hefty fees in jurisdictions like Canada.

To highlight these issues, Montreal artists will be hosting the 13th annual infringement festival from November 15 – 20, offering unadulterated, independent infringement arts that are not tainted in any way by corporate interference.

infringement-logo

Promising no restrictive trademarks, cross-branding, visual pollution, lotteries, unfair deals for artists and audiences, censorship, etc. typically found at other Canadian festivals, the infringement festival, is based on the original Edinburgh Fringe of 1947. Its purpose is to put the power back into the hands of the artists and spectators and to curb damaging corporate practices at Fringe festivals.

There will also be the first-ever World Infringement Congress, whereby festival administrators are being invited to conduct and/or attend progressive lectures and workshops in a more formal setting. Scheduled on Saturday, November 19, the day after the World Fringe Congress ends, this is an opportunity for Fringe managers at the Congress to explore some of the corporate problems that are compromising festivals in Canada and across the globe.

There will also be a free performance of WTF?! (What the Fr*nge?!) on Thursday, November 17 at 8 p.m. at the Rusty Shuttle Gallery (3655 Saint Laurent, Loft 411) for those who cannot attend the World Infringement Congress. This performance-lecture analyzes various problems, often corporate, that are compromising Fringe Festivals across the planet and invites Fringe Managers to reflect on their own approaches to running a Fringe Festival. The performance will be held at the Rusty Shuttle Gallery (3655 Saint Laurent Boulevard) and all Fringe managers are welcome, including the members of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF) who banned all infringement artists from attending the 3rd World Fringe Congress.

Excluded artists hope that through dialogue some of the more contentious issues compromising Fringe Festivals in Canada and across the globe can be addressed with the view of resolving them in the future.

 

 

 

 

Open Letter to Edinburgh Fringe CEO regarding exclusion at World Fringe Congress

October 31st, 2016

Dear Ms. Shona McCarthy,

Firstly, my congratulations on your recent appointment as the CEO of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. I wish you all the best in your role and hope we can work together to resolve some longstanding issues at the Fringe.

My name is Donovan King and I am a professional actor, cultural worker and a school teacher from Montreal.

I attended the World Fringe Congresses in Edinburgh in 2012 and 2014 after being invited as a representative of the infringement festivals. Infringement festivals are Fringe festivals that have been threatened with legal action by people claiming to hold a Fringe trademark, so have used the name infringement to avoid being sued. The word “infringement” simultaneously questions the trademarking of the Fringe, a grassroots festival that was created by artists for artists as a protest against exclusion during the original Edinburgh Fringe of 1947.

I am writing you today in regards to some serious problems with the third World Fringe Congress, being held in my home city of Montreal. I would like to explain why I feel you should intervene as the CEO of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. The story is a bit complicated, so I have tried to make it as clear as possible.

Backstory: Fringe politics and trademark issues in Montreal and Buffalo

Fringe politics is a very common topic among artists in Montreal due to the trademarking of the word and subsequent exclusion of artists, which has resulted in a major cultural battle for over 15 years now. In a nutshell, artists who are unhappy with the trademarked St. Ambroise Fringe have been challenging it artistically through culture-jamming, whereas the St. Ambroise Fringe has responded with the exclusion of activist artists, including calling the police on them whenever they protest (despite the fact that in Canada our right to protest is protected by our Constitution). Instead of engaging in dialogue with critical artists to resolve thorny issues, the St. Ambroise Fringe has consistently attempted to exclude them and paint them as dangerous.

The infringement festival was created in 2004 in Montreal after the St. Ambroise Fringe kicked artists out of the festival in 2001, allegedly on orders of then corporate sponsor Can-West Global, a media company that produced newspapers such as the Montreal Gazette. When the Gazette’s theatre critic was offended by a critique of her behaviour (she had demanded a free ticket to the experimental play Car Stories), she stopped reviewing the entire festival until the offending artists were ejected.

This corporate sponsor was in a clear conflict-of-interest as both a media outlet reporting on the festival and a corporation financing it. To make matters worse, the St. Ambroise Fringe refused to pay artists their ticket sales after a sold out week or reimburse the hefty registration fee they charged to be associated with the Fringe trademark.

The infringement festival spread to Buffalo the following year after local artists there were threatened with legal action from the NYC Fringe, who claimed to hold a Fringe trademark. According to Dr. Xela Batchelder, the world’s leading academic on Fringe theatre, this was a falsehood – the NYC Fringe has never held a Fringe trademark.

Furthermore, the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF) also threatens legal action against students and independent artists who attempt to use the word “Fringe” without their permission.

As I hope you will agree, the idea of a Fringe trademark is the very antithesis of the original Fringe. It results in the exclusion of Fringe artists and students from participating in a form of populist arts and forces them to rename the festival if they want to carry on with their artistic activities. A trademark on the word “Fringe” is extremely problematic and damages the festival by compromising its authenticity and preventing artists from performing – all in the name of corporate interests. It is an issue that needs to be urgently debated, in my opinion.

Issue: Exclusion at third World Fringe Congress

Getting back to the World Fringe Congress, I had the pleasure to attend in Edinburgh in 2012 and 2014 after being invited by the founder, Holly Payton-Lombardo. My work at the Congress included writing a critical analysis about problems facing the Fringe internationally in 2012, followed by a workshop in 2014 called “A World Fringe Philosophy” where I outlined some of the more problematic issues for Fringe Managers. I even did a show at the Edinburgh Fringe called Critical Report from the World Fringe Congress, which has also played in other cities in the U.K., Ireland, the U.S.A. and Canada.

I was very excited at the prospect of attending the 2016 Congress to continue the conversation in my home city and to try and finally resolve some of the issues, such as the Fringe trademark in Canada that prevents artists from participating or the fact that ticket sales still have not been paid, 15 years later.

For the third Wold Fringe Congress, I had also intended to propose inviting a workshop on strategies to ensure safe(r) festivals after incidents of sexual assault and discrimination against people with disabilities at CAFF Fringe festivals came to light recently. The fact that people feel unsafe at Canadian Fringe festivals needs to be addressed, in my opinion, with the goal of creating policies to ensure the safety of all participants.

Unfortunately, the CAFF-hosted World Fringe Congress has rejected all local Montreal infringement delegates from attending without providing much reason.

rejection-from-world-fringe-congress

This, despite the fact I helped set up the original Fringe Festival here (before it was trademarked), and then established the infringement festival to try and challenge the perceived co-opting of our Fringe by corporate interests. To be excluded in my own city is really hurtful, to be honest, especially after I invested all that time and money going to Edinburgh in 2012 and 2014 to be included in the important discussions.

I didn’t realize that the St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe’s exclusion of artists would extend to the World Fringe Congress.

fringe-managers-censored

Furthermore, to make matters worse, everyone who applied from the Buffalo infringement festival was also rejected. 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 Fringe Festival in the first place.

Ironically, this is the exact same thing that happened in Edinburgh in 1947, but now the Fringe is cast in the role of the Edinburgh International Festival that it had originally protested against.

The American artists from Buffalo didn’t do anything objectionable and don’t deserve to be excluded. I find their treatment by the St. Ambroise Fringe and CAFF to be extremely disturbing, to be honest. These artists have never even attended a Canadian Fringe Festival, let alone culture-jammed one. Why are they being banned from participating?

Issue: Purpose of World Fringe Congress is being compromised

It is important to remember that founder of the World Fringe Congress, Holly Payton-Lombardo, stated in 2012 the purpose of her creation:  “…the Congress will recognize that there are many models of Fringe and many different ideas within it, without recognizing any one model, concept or Fringe as more valid than another.” Furthermore, Holly stated that the Congress was designed “to create a lasting network and a real sense of how Fringes can work together to achieve all our aims.”

Far from working together to achieve our collective aims, the Congress is now banning artists who do not comply with a corporate model of Fringe. My fear is that the CAFF World Fringe Congress will focus mostly on persuading other festivals to become more and more corporate now that they have silenced all the critical voices through exclusion. If nobody from infringement is allowed to speak to these issues, the legitimacy of the World Fringe Congress must be called into question.

The CAFF has arguably changed the purpose of the Congress to exclude models that are based on the real Fringe Festival of 1947 in favor of more corporate models, which effectively excludes Montreal and Buffalo artists who voice critical opinions. I find it sad and unfortunate that Holly’s creation has been compromised like this and I hope there will be some serious discussion in Edinburgh and pressure applied to restore it to its original purpose.

As the CEO of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, presumably one of your responsibilities it to safeguard and oversee the Fringe’s brand. Many people feel that the Fringe brand is at risk internationally due to the trademarking issue, which has now resulted in the exclusion of some of the most dedicated Fringe artists on the planet. Their voices are being excluded from an important conversation about Fringe festivals and, on a larger scale, about culture itself.

Proposed resolution

The way I see it, if Fringe stakeholders don’t start tackling these issues now, things are only going to get worse and worse. The behavior of managers at both the NYC Fringe and CAFF is very exclusionary and is harming the Fringe’s brand on a global level. It is always the same thing: for financial reasons, the administrators want to have complete control of the Fringe, so they use disingenuous techniques, such as trademarking and legal threats, to try and charge artists hefty fees for participating. This type of behavior should have no place in the world of Fringe arts, where the artists traditionally came first because they invented the festival in the first place.

I hope that the Fringe community is mature enough to hold an adult discussion about the issues I have raised, with the goal of protecting the Fringe and its participants from the types of corporate manipulation and discrimination I have outlined.

Furthermore, it is illegal in Quebec to discriminate based on political convictions, including activism, and the government has strong Human Rights legislation in place to challenge exclusion of various sorts. That being said, I am hoping these issues can be resolved through dialogue.

As such, I am asking you to intervene and to overturn the decision to ban all Montreal and Buffalo infringement artists from the CAFF-hosted third World Fringe Congress. 

Lastly, like the original Fringe artists of 1947, we are challenging our own exclusion. We have decided to take matters into our own hands by creating parallel events.  I would like to invite you to the first-ever World Infringement Congress on Saturday, November 19, in Montreal.

As part of the Montreal Infringement Festival, running from November 15 – 20, the happening will explore important issues likely being excluded from the CAFF World Fringe Congress. In attendance will be some of the world’s leading Fringe artists and academics, local arts activists and community leaders. You are most welcome to attend to be a part of the conversation, as are all the other Fringe Managers. Unlike the CAFF World Fringe Congress, we believe in diversity, inclusion and critical thinking.

 

Thank you for your attention to this important issue.

 

Sincerely,

 

Donovan King, B.F.A., B.Ed., M.F.A.

 

The response:

 

Dear Donovan

Thank you for your email regarding the Fringe World Congress.

As you know, the Fringe World Congress is an Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society event which has twice taken place in Edinburgh.  The purpose of the event is to bring Fringe organisers of the world together to discuss and learn from each other, from an operational, artistic and philosophical perspective.  Although the Edinburgh model – open access, non-curated – is the original Fringe model, it is by no means the only model and that is the essence of the conference.  We ourselves have multiple models within the Fringe which coexist to the benefit of both participants and audiences, and we welcome open discussion and debate without prejudice on the benefits and flaws of differing models and how to manage them operationally.

In terms of the 2016 Congress, which will take place in Montreal, hosted by the Festival St-Ambroise Fringe de Montreal, contractually the running of the event is the responsibility of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals and Festival St-Ambroise Fringe de Montreal which includes the decision on delegate attendance.  As a result, we can certainly voice an opinion on decisions made but ultimately it is a decision for the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals and Festival St-Ambroise Fringe de Montreal to make.

With kind regards

Elizabeth

Elizabeth Burchell

Head of Marketing & Sponsorship

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society

Sent from my iPhone

 

An invitation to World Fringe Congress delegates to the Montreal infringement festival & World Infringement Congress!

October 31st, 2016

Dear friends and colleagues who are members of the World Fringe Congress,

Firstly, I am writing to inform you that unfortunately all infringement delegates from both Montreal and Buffalo were rejected when applying to the 3rd World Fringe Congress, despite being represented in Edinburgh in 2012 and 2014.

rejection-from-world-fringe-congress

An open letter of complaint has been issued to CEO Shona McCarthy of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, asking her to overturn this unfortunate decision, which excludes members who have critical opinions and object to corporate manipulation at Fringe Festivals.

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Ironically, it would appear that the history of the Fringe is repeating itself. The artists who were snubbed by the CAFF-hosted World Fringe Congress are now setting up shop on the fringe of the exclusionary event. The exact same thing happened in Edinburgh in 1947 when artists played on the fringe of the Edinburgh International Festival after being rejected by bureaucrats there.

We would like to invite you to extend your stay because Montreal artists will be hosting the 13th annual infringement festival from November 15 – 20, offering you unadulterated, independent infringement arts that are not tainted in any way by corporate interference.

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We promise no restrictive trademarks, cross-branding, visual pollution, lotteries, unfair deals for artists and audiences, censorship, etc. typically found at other Canadian festivals. Based on the original Edinburgh Fringe of 1947, the infringement festival aims to put the power back into the hands of the artists and spectators and to curb damaging corporate practices!

We will also be hosting the first-ever World Infringement Congress, whereby festival administrators are invited to conduct and/or attend progressive lectures and workshops in a more formal setting. Scheduled on Saturday, November 19, the day after the World Fringe Congress ends, this is an opportunity to step outside the “Fringe manager” bubble and to meet leading academics on the topic of infringement arts and to explore some of the corporate problems that are compromising other festivals in Canada and across the globe.

There will also be a free performance of WTF?! (What the Fr*nge?!) on Thursday, November 17 at 8 p.m. for those who cannot attend the World Infringement Congress. This performance-lecture analyzes various problems, often corporate, that are compromising Fringe Festivals across the planet and invites Fringe managers to reflect on their own approaches to running a Fringe Festival. The performance will be held at the Rusty Shuttle Gallery (3655 Saint Laurent Boulevard) and all Fringe managers are welcome, including the members of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF) who excluded all infringement artists from the 3rd World Fringe Congress.

Montreal is a world-class city and the city’s independent artists plan to give you a world-class welcome, despite the exclusion being propagated by the CAFF.

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To confirm your attendance at the first World Infringement Congress, please email me at optatif@gmail.com. Some financial aid will be available to festival managers in need who demonstrate a commitment to protecting Fringe festivals, artists and spectators from corporate abuse and interference. Please explain your needs in the email and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

The Montreal infringement festival has always prided itself on being an inclusive space and the infringement movement is also very welcoming. While Fringe managers may disagree sometimes with the infringement philosophy, their opinions are still welcome. The overall goal is to seek ways to improve festivals for artists, spectators and communities at large. Here’s hoping to see you in attendance!

Sincerely,

Donovan King

Montreal Infringement Festival