Cringe Festival?

Sometimes seeing bad shows at the Toronto Fringe can be a good thing


When the Fringe Festival has 148 shows to get lost in, how do you know what to see? For many theatregoers, NOW’s roundup of reviews is an essential starting point. Four Ns, five Ns – you don’t want to see something terrible, right?

Well, maybe you do.

Seeking the worst of the worst last year, I tried my best to curate a 2014 Cringe Festival, seeing every one-N show I could. Curious about the critically maligned, neglected inevitabilities of the Fringe’s lottery system, I sat through shows that ranged from misguided expressions of theatrical hubris to blatant displays of stage inexperience, and had a blast doing so.

Don’t get me wrong – these productions were dreadful. But what’s fascinating is that none of them have left my mind, and all of them gave me stories to tell, beer in hand, behind Honest Ed’s late into the night. I felt overwhelming emotion for the artists behind these earnest yet failed attempts, and my festival narrative felt uniquely iconoclastic. That’s the point, right? After all, this year’s Fringe slogan challenges you to “choose your own adventure.”

I’m not a glutton for punishment. It’s just that memorable theatre is better than forgettable theatre, and if you’re like me, the two- or three-N shows are so often mentally defenestrated moments after the lights come up. Not so with the bombs, reliably exploding so spectacularly that it’s a shame more people aren’t there to witness the fallout.

Have you ever sat through a performance so painfully awkward it would make Andy Kaufman blush? Have you ever bonded in excruciating silence with another patron – a complete stranger – over how truly bad a show is?

If not, try looking at these productions as simply “exceptional.” Like the five-N shows, the one-Ns are outliers, on the fringe, and you shouldn’t ignore them. Whether they challenge audience etiquette, contain puzzling artist intentions or impress with genuine theatrical sincerity, these train wrecks often say more about human nature than many properly mounted plays. And I guarantee that at a certain point, your night will become its own picaresque Fringe show in itself.

Isn’t that what live theatre is all about?

So do some turkey hunting: hit the one-N shows. Gobble up their NOW reviews with a grin, knowing that every line of critical bile is a guarantee of an unforgettable night.

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