8) EDMONTON HERITAGE FESTIVAL
On the first weekend of August, Edmontonian head to William Hawrelak Park for the annual Edmonton Heritage Festival; a celebration of international cuisine. All around the fields are endless booth showcasing the cultures of different countries from mythology of Greece to the athleticism of Hong Kong martial artists. A variety of these booths present the history of their respective countries.
Many booths also showcase their music and dancing on a few stages. One stage will have a Russian dance and another will have China’s lion dance.
But the high point is the food. With the purchase of a few tickets, you get to dine on a wide variety of dishes from around the world. And believe me, the choices are endless, with small dishes like vegemite on toast from Australia and Peruvian churros as well as unique meals like Albanian Qofte & Bread and Indigenous Buffalo Skewers. This just a sample of the many choices to choose from.
Start with some Herring from the Holland Pavilion.
Try the delicious Iraqi VIP Meal then head to the Arab Heritage Pavilion to watch a retelling of Arabic mythology. Then try a desert of Mango Loco from Guatemala.
Edmonton has a huge improv community, with multiple improv groups and even a few improv theatres. One of the most famous is Rapid Fire Theatre, whose alumni includes voice actor Mark Meer (Mass Effect) and geek icon Nathan Fillion. At the end of their theatrical season, they gather improv groups from around the world to compete in Improvaganza, their improv festival.
Many local improv groups compete with Improv groups from other countries to go one on one against each other to win a giant ass trophy built from other trophies . Each night, two improve groups challenge each other to a series of improv games to score the most points from the judges.
After the competition, one improv group is given one night to showcase their talents. So far this festival’s seen hilarious groups stemming from New York, Portland to Amsterdam and London. The most memorable ones are the improv groups who go by a theme. There was one featuring a former couple whose improv centres on breaks. There was one British improv group who improvise their own Shakespeare play.
Improv groups come from as far as Amsterdam to win the trophy that will prove a challenge to pack for the trip home. For further fun, they team up with other improv groups for The Big Stupid Improv Show. Some even take the time to offer some pointers via improv classes
If you want more details, you can read my review of last year’s Improvaganza.
If you’ve nothing to do on the evenings of this performance, you can purchase a full pass.
6) FOUND FEST
theatre creators think outside the box (or in this case, the auditorium) in the FOUND FEST, a festival that proves the world’s a stage. Theatre productions step outside the theatre to put on productions in unusual locations. For example, you could interview suspects in a variety of locations to solve a murder mystery. You catch a standup routine about mental illness in a therapist’s office. Or stop in a bathroom and listen to the struggles of a transgender non-binary person. And at the end of the day, you head to the backstage theatre for a small concert.
If you’re looking for something a little more unique and challenging, I’d recommend getting a ticket to a play for an audience of one. Yep, there are plays that only play for one audience member at a time. These plays take you out of your comfort zone and offer a closer connection to the characters.
5) INTERNATIONAL STREET PERFORMER’S FESTIVAL
And now for a celebration of the fools who dream, foolish as they may seem. They reject the conventional 9 to 5 job and takes to the streets to showcase their talents for the nearest passerby. They are the musicians and magicians, circus acrobats, face painters and makers of balloon hats. They are Buskers; forsaking the more secure life to risk living off their talents. All they ask is for a little tip in return.
They are the buskers of the world and for a week, they arrive in Churchill Square (This year’s festival was held in William McIntyre Park due to construction) to show off their talents. This year saw acrobats like Reuben DotDotDot swing from atop a poll and New Zealand’s Elton John/Austin Powers hybrid Vinyl Burns balance an electric guitar atop his chin (and spin it). This year’s also seen James Jordan’s sleight of hand with the classic cup and ball tricks and Jaardu demonstrate the magic of India (complete with a Muppet cobra). This year even has a freak show with a headless woman and world’s fanciest porta potty.
The tricks might not seem as impressive as the likes of Chris Angel, but what sells the performances are the personalities. With personalities ranging from self-deprecating to larger than life, each street performer knows how to hook random pedestrians and keep them watching for a half hour.
With multiple buskers performing across the park at the same time, you can step away and catch another performance. You get some quick entertainment with a half hour run time for each performer. Or you watch some of them gather for the nightly revue.
Don’t forget to tip these artists.
For one August weekend, the halls of MacEwan University are taken over by Animethon, a celebration of Japanese animation, mangas and video games. There’s endless fun to be had with detailed cosplays, competitive video game competitions and shitload of shopping.
You have the classic traits that makes conventions like these so enjoyable. First, there’s an endless array of cosplays to stare at in awe. There’re photo ops galore with all the cosplays people wear of anime characters including Izuku and his classmates from My Hero Academia as well as American cartoons like Star Butterfly and the Paladins of Voltron. There are even some clever twists to classic characters, especially a samurai version of Mario. It all cultivates in the cosplay contest. Even if you don’t know the source material, you can’t help but admire the care and attention placed into designing this costume. Besides, when do you ever get a chance to see men dressed like sailor moon?
In between those photo ops, you can check out an anime or two at one of few rooms dedicated to showing the first four episodes of a variety of animes courtesy of Crunchyroll. This way you can get a sample of a series before you make a 36-episode commitment. With the anime convention comes the opportunity to get autographs and photo ops with voice actors, English and Japanese. This year’s guests included Jamie Marchi (Witchblade), Monica Rial (Cardcaptor Sakura) and Daisuke Sakaguchi (Baccano!). This year also brought us ROOKiEZ is PUNK’D, the rock band behind them songs of shows like BLEACH and Blue Exorcist.
Of course, you might want to purchase a DVD for them to autograph. That’s a good time to head to the vendors room and take in the booths selling a wide variety of mangas and anime DVDs. If you want something else to showcase your love for your favourite movie/show, there are artists selling canvases your beloved characters. My personal favourite are the Pokémon Patronus. And then there’s the adorable plushies.
But then again, your interests may lean more into gaming. That’s where the game rooms come in. Screens galore offer opportunities to play videos games hours on end for free. They bring a wide variety of consoles, so players can spend all day playing Fornite, Super Smash Bros and Dragon Ball Fighter Z. This year, they take us down the history of pc with a shitload of computers going as far as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak working in a garage. If you’re confident in your skills, you can enter gaming competitions, usually being Super Smash Bros or League of Legends.
If you’re not into video games, they have rows of tables where you can play card games and board games. Where’ there’s card games, there’s competitions of Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon. A lot of fun to be had.
On top of Japanese culture, the convention also dedicates some focus on K-Pop, with panels and vendors dedicated to this craze.
This year is they’re 25th anniversary and they are celebrating in a big way. The convention’s been moved to the Shaw Conference Centre, and they are taking advantage of the whole building to make this celebration huge. They have floors dedicated to different aspects of the cons (one for gaming and vendors, one for the main event and one for panels and anime shows.)
Try the following:
-Maid/butler café. Guests are treated to a fancy hour of delectable dessert and fancy music while they try to guess which maid/butler is a vampire.
-AMV Competitions. Editors cut their favourite animes to the tune of a song. Here you get to see Goku dance in tune to Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”
-The 404s. This improv group delivers on hysterical panels dedicated to geek culture. Usually, they do a show there they improvise a missing episode of an anime or two. But that’s nothing compared to Last Pants Standing; a competition where they perform improv games to see who loses their pants last. If that wasn’t enough, the losers perform an improv segment on a floor of Legos and mousetraps. Blindfolded.
3) TASTE OF EDMONTON
Have you ever had that weekend where you wanted to go out for dinner but couldn’t decide where to eat? I know I do. Every late July, the options are made easier with Taste of Edmonton, a festival celebrating restaurants within the city. Over the course of 10 days, local restaurants gather around Churchill Square (this year, they’ve moved to Capital Plaza due to construction) to showcase their dishes.
Want a little more variety in your lunch than the usual ham and cheese sandwich? Well, you can purchase 7 tickets and choose between a bison cannelloni from Fantasia Caffe with a Sicilian cannoli from Italian Bakery or cheese fondue in a bread bowl and Canada Maki from Kyoto Japanese Cuisine (among many choices). After work, you can enjoy a dessert of churros.
If you’re looking for a more unique experience (and have a few extra bucks), you can try out a fancy dinner where one the local chefs makes a full course dinner.
Stay awhile and you can catch one of the festival’s free nightly concert, each night with a different set of three musicians. Of course, they save the best for last, with previous main bands including Prozzak, Bif Naked and most recently, Sloan.
When this festival’s on, every night’s a grand night out.
2) EDMONTON INTERNATIONAL FRINGE FESTIVAL
If you’re looking for more variety in your theatrical experience, you get plenty of it from the International Film Festival. Over the course of 10 days, venues across Whyte Avenue (and farther away in a few cases) play host to dozens of stage productions. Theatregoers have hundreds of productions to choose from, with many coming from as far as Australia and Japan.
You could watch Rapid Fire Theatre’s improv parody of Star Trek or a retelling of Peter Pan from the parent’s perspective. Then again, you could also enjoy a simple magic show. If you can’t pay for tickets, you can watch the street performers across William McIntyre Park. They are of a similar variety as the Street Performers festival with magicians and acrobats attracting the average passerby.
If you want details, I’ve written a review of last year’s Fringe Festival.
Don’t start the evening without a dish from one of the booths around the park. First, try the local delicacy of green onion cakes. Then you can choose from either the wood fried pizza or the barrel cooked chicken.
While the shows do interchange from time to time, there are some who make annual appearances. Here are Fringe Stars I’d recommend seeing:
– Chase Padgett: Rocking all the way from Portland, Oregon, this comedian hosts a series of one man shows that showcases his comedic timing and grace with a guitar.
– RED SHIRT DIARIES: An Improv parody of Star Trek. Need I say more?
– FRUIT FLIES LIKE A BUTTERFLY: From Boston comes this delightful trio hopping across the stage with a cavalcade of musical numbers using a wide variety of musical instruments. You can read my review of last year’s Fringe for more details.
– DIE- NASTY: THE LIVE IMPROVISED SOAP OPERA: Running for 27 years (with alumnus including Mass Effect’s Mark Meer and Nathan Fillion), Each season has the town’s best improv actors improvise an ongoing storyline.
– GORDON’S BIG BALD HEAD: Meer teams with Jacob Banigan and Ron Pederson to improvise their own version of other Fringe Plays.
– BLINDSIDE: Sold out every year, Stephanie Morin-Robert’s critically acclaimed one-woman show centres on her childhood antics with her glass eye.
– Charles Ross’ One-Man Plays: Every year, this actor reenacts films and stories like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. This year, he tries his hands at Pride and Prejudice and Stranger Things.
– SCRATCH: Kevin Gillese and Arlen Konopaki delivers some of the funniest hours of improv I have ever seen.
– GOD IS A SCOTTISH DRAG QUEEN: With a title like this, how can you not want to watch? 20 time “Best of the Fest” award winner portrays God in this hilarious hour.
– YEGDND: It’s a similar formula to Die-Nasty, only with Dungeons and Dragons. A favourite for fantasy fans. It also has a Muppet.
– IMPROV AGAINST HUMANTY: Need I say more?
– Any Monologue by Jon Bennett: Known for his “Pretend Everything is a Cock” Tumblr, Bennett arrives every year with a series of hilarious, yet emotional one man shows about the creation of the page or his father’s near deaths. This year saw his one-man show “How I Learned to Hug”, where he discussed how a bad breakup led to a seven-year aversion to hugging.
And if you want a little trip down history, you can take a ride on the streetcar.
Of all the festivals in Edmonton, none are more anticipated and beloved than the Klondike Days. From the moment the 2-hour parade marches across Jasper Avenue, Edmontonian commence ten days of the ultimate supper party.
It’s a cliché to claim a festival “has something for everyone”, but it defines this festival to a t. There are unique sections for different people.
For the children, there’s a wide variety of carnival rides and games to enjoy all around the festival. So, if they want to either walk through a fun house or win a giant Squirtle Plushie, there’s never a boring moment for them. But wait, there’s more. Inside the Expo Centre there’s Kids Town, a section with a library, a little restaurant and a wide variety of activities to enjoy. There is also an opportunity to get photo ops with their favourite characters, including Paw Patrol and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This year saw an exhibition of animals associated with Wizardry, which included a tarantula, a snake and an owl.
If they’re hungry, families have a wide variety of vendors serving unique fast food. You have the usual corn dogs, burgers and ice cream, but the foodies get to try some unique fast food dishes like deep fried burger or freakishly long French fries. They even have deep fried coffee! But that’s nothing compared to the rib fest. Rib lovers get to pig out on award winning ribs fresh off the BBQ. And trust me, they’re well worth it.
Right next to the Rib Fest is one of two stages, where music lovers can enjoy an evening of rock stars. The other is the front entrance, which sees performances ranging from children magicians to comedian Brent Butt. However, the one next the rib fest hosts a surprising roster of music stars, with this year seeing the likes of the Beach Boys, Walk Off the Earth and Ice Cube.
For those with more rural interests, there’s a wide variety of enjoyment to be had. The first weekend sees the festival hosting a Rodeo, where cow folks from across North America compete. There’s also an area dedicated to farming, where you get up close with a wide variety of farm animals. But if you want a little more taste of Klondike history, There’s Klondike town, where you can play the gold prospector.
I’ve only gotten to half of what the Festival has in store. There’s also a shopping area for shoppers, a casino for gamblers and many more. After all this fun, each night closes with a firework show.