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Anesti Danelis, Sex T-Rex, Nam Nguyen, Alia Ceniza Rasul, Jonathan Wilson and others are among the must-see artists at this year's festival
The Toronto Fringe is back – in person! After two years of reduced digital editions, the city’s largest theatre festival is back in a big way this month (July 6-17), with more than 80 shows from Canada and around the world, performed at 11 venues across the city.
One of the joys of Fringing has always been discovering new talents – as usual, the programming is unjuried. But you also want to guarantee some sure things between discoveries. To give you a head start on compiling your must-see list, here are 10 artists (actually 13) who have proven track records. Get tickets and more info here.
Ironically, Fringe faves and genre aficionados Sex T-Rex (Bendy Sign Tavern, D&D Live!) mounted their first sketch show at the Toronto SketchFest, just days before the world went on lockdown. It was, predictably, amazing. Now that same show – called Sketch T-Rex here – is back and expanded, with a bunch of new material and puppets for the company’s first ever hour-long revue.
July 7-16 at the Factory Mainspace
A few years ago, Nguyen presented an earlier version of his show A Perfect Bowl Of Pho, which tells the history of the Vietnamese diaspora in Toronto, told through its foods, including the eponymous soup but also banh mi. Funny, postmodern and poignant, the show is filled with clever, catchy music (by Wilfred Moeschter) and lots of tasty stories, such as one chronicling the history of the Banh Mi Boys restaurant chain in Toronto. Don’t go on an empty stomach. July 7-17 at Ada Slaight Hall
Nguyen puts on another hat – or rather a lab coat – in Shreya Jha’s musical Statistics, which contrasts the struggles of two female scientists: Rosalind Franklin, whose work leading to the discovery of DNA was largely ignored, and a contemporary premed student. Nguyen plays Francis Crick, of Watson & Crick, who were awarded the Nobel Prize for “their” discovery. July 6-17 at Ada Slaight Hall
Multitalented musical satirist Danelis has performed several times at the Fringe, but it’s as an internet sensation that you probably know, and love, his work. Whether it’s through his TikTok series satirizing freelance life or the one questioning the lyrics to well-known songs, he’s mastered the art of capturing a concept quickly, hilariously and unexpectedly. That should come in handy for his new solo show, a musical comedy concert satire of the so-called “wellness industry” – something we should all be able to relate to after the last two-and-a-half years.
July 6-16 at the Al Green Theatre
Perry’s Fringe credits include the sold-out hit Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl shows (Confessions Of A Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl, Adventures Of A Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl) and, for the Fringe’s sister festival Next Stage, From Judy To Bette: The Stars Of Old Hollywood. Speaking of Old Hollywood, in Steven Elliott Jackson’s (The Seat Next To The King) new play, Perry plays Alla Nazimova, a proudly bisexual film pioneer and Broadway star who is trying to create a film version of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, all while working with past and current lovers and trying to get around censors. Perry is obviously ready for her close-up.
July 6-17 at the Factory Mainspace
Growing up, Alia Ceniza Rasul identified as a “Moro,” a Filipina Muslim. But she also attended Sunday School. Now she’s finally coming to terms with these seemingly conflicting identities in a play. Three years ago, Rasul was part of the breakthrough Fringe hit Tita Jokes, which featured a killer Filipinx ensemble cast. Can’t wait to see how Rasul handles a solo show.
July 6-17 at the Tarragon Solo Room
Cirque du Soleil wraps up its latest show this week, so if you’re in the mood for some amazing physical feats… well, you’ll have to wait until they return with another show. In the meantime, Carson Pinch and Taylor Davis explore the limits of the human body in their new sketch show. Pinch (The Sketchersons, Carson Fears Fear Itself) is an always watchable, nimble comic with a great deadpan delivery. Because he and Davis promise they’ll do some flips doesn’t mean they’ll do them well. But you’ll definitely laugh at their attempts.
July 6-16 at the Ada Slaight Hall
Besides being one of the funniest Second City mainstage alumni and a killer improviser, Rasmussen has emerged as a fine director and discoverer of talent. She’s helmed two of my favourite recent shows – the Canadian Comedy Award-winning Extravaganza Eleganza, and Dead Parents Society. The latter featured Jackie Twomey as one of its members; in this new show Twomey is joined by the Second City and Bad Dog Theatre’s Devon Henderson. The pair have been performing for years as TwoSon, so expect terrific chemistry, smart, funny sketches and that final polish from Rasmussen.
July 7-17 at the Robert Gill Theatre
Johnston, a multi-talented performer, choreographer, writer, director and Spice Girls Impersonator, has been involved in some of the most enjoyable Fringe productions in recent memory, including Summerland, Maddie’s Karaoke Birthday Party and Be Kind Rewind. Now she’s set to make a splash with this show in which she and a bunch of guests (including Masini McDermott, Carter Hayden, Mateo Chavez-Lewis) perform songs from (in?) a bubble bath. The tunes, by Johnston and frequent collaborators Anika Johnson and Suzy Wilde, are sure to be a delight; get ready to soak it all in.
July 7-17 at the Streetcar Crowsnest Guloien Theatre
Second City alum Wilson is the creator of one of the best plays in Toronto Fringe history, My Own Private Oshawa, a queer solo show that ought to be remounted more often. His other theatre credits include The Lion King, The Normal Heart and My Night With Reg. In this savage satire, he and Daniel Krolik (Box 4901, Release The Stars: The Ballad Of Randy And Evi Quaid) play two veteran gay actors who, in a mock seminar, teach straight actors how to play gay… and win awards.
July 7-16 at the Tarragon Extraspace
Besides writing and occasionally performing in his own shows (Situational Anarchy, White Heat) and writing articles that go viral, Renaissance man Isador has built a solid career directing and dramaturging complex shows that go on to huge critical acclaim. Think of Explosions For The 21st Century, Take D Milk, Nah? and, most recently, She’s Not Special. Now he’s directing Chris Graham’s autobiographical show about illness, grief and humour. Graham is a coaching lead at TEDxToronto, so he obviously knows a thing or two about shaping narratives. But expect Isador to help make the story into something uniquely theatrical.
July 6-17 at the Robert Gill Theatre