Edmonton production company says cancelling Fringe play was done ‘without consultation’

Fringe Theatre Executive Director Adam Mitchell speaks about the removal of support for the show Who Goes There? written by playwright David Belke on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. Belke has been convicted of possession of child pornography. Ian Kucerak / Postmedia

An Edmonton production company said Wednesday it will postpone its play involving a man convicted of child pornography charges, claiming the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival violated an agreement by cancelling the production last week.

The play, Who Goes There, was written by local playwright and educator David Belke, who was convicted on child pornography charges in 2017 and served six months in prison and one year probation.

The festival had entered into an agreement with 3 in 1 Productions and show sponsor Holy Trinity Anglican Church on August 1 to “in order to maintain a safe space for everyone” while Belke was present on-site.

But festival leadership decided to cancel the show on Friday for violating its safer spaces policy following significant community backlash to running the production.

“The cancellation was implemented without consultation with Holy Trinity or the play’s company, thereby violating an extensive and restrictive policy regarding Mr. Belke’s involvement,” reads a Wednesday news release on behalf of 3 in 1 Productions.

“It is the contention of all connected with Who Goes There that Fringe management failed utterly to support that agreement, and have acted in bad faith.”

The agreement prohibited Belke, who Holy Trinity has been working to rehabilitate since his conviction, from being on-site before 3 p.m. after children’s shows at the Fringe end, among other restrictions.

“We took the steps to mitigate as much risk and as much perceived risk as we could. We heard from our artists and our community that that was just not far enough,” Fringe executive director Adam Mitchell told media outside the Varscona Theatre on Friday afternoon.

The play, which 3 in 1 Productions had previously intended to run outside of the Fringe’s purview, has now been postponed until late fall due to the inconvenience this caused other productions taking place at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church.

“We are dismayed and appalled that Who Goes There, a sweet and honourable play, has suffered this fate at the Fringe Festival,” said the release.

The Fringe has stated that it will be reviewing its safer spaces policy in the coming months, and that this decision does not preclude Belke from participating in the festival in future years.

— With files from Jason Herring