15 artists to watch at the 2019 Toronto Fringe

With more than 150 shows, it’s impossible to see everything at the city’s biggest annual stage event. Just make sure you see these 15 (actually 22) folks, who will get you buzzing while waiting in line. Tickets are available at fringetoronto.com. And starting July 4 through the end of the fest (July 14), check out NOW’s reliable reviews at nowtoronto.com/stage.

Michael Ross Albert

A prolific and award-wining playwright who had two shows at the Fringe last year – the large ensemble art studio showdown The Grass Is Always Greenest At The Houston Astrodome, and the taut two-hander homeshare nightmare Anywhere – Albert is wholly focused this year on The Huns, his latest “menacing” comedy, set in an office after a burglary.

Three employees will doubtless turn barbarous, because that’s what Albert does to his characters he ramps up the stakes and forces them to turn the screws on each other. The stalwart cast (Jamie Cavanagh, Breanna Dillon and Cass Van Wyck) is well equipped to take full advantage of Albert’s typically witty dialogue. Other pluses? Albert has Andy Trithardt designing and Marie Farsi directing.

Opens July 5 at Streetcar Crowsnest Guloien Theatre

Dale_Boyer_Amanda_Barker (1).jpg

Amanda Barker and Dale Boyer 

Barker (right) and Boyer are two of the cleverest, funniest writer/performers in the city, with combined credits that include Second City Mainstage, SPANK! A 50 Shades Of Grey Parody, Night Of The Living Dead Live and the former Fringe hit Release The Stars: The Ballad Of Randy And Evi Quaid. Now they’ve joined up to pen Clotheswap, about a group of women who come together to swap clothes and exchange their truths at a soon-to-be-sold mid-century house. 

The cast includes Boyer’s former Second City castmates Karen Parker and Ashley Comeau, as well as rising stand-up comic Cassie Cao. Audience members are encouraged to swap clothes and donate items to Sistering and Dress for Success. These clothes could set off improvisation in the show.

Opens July 3 at the Textile Museum of Canada (ticket includes museum admission)

Jess Beaulieu

Photo by Andrew Johnson

Jess Beaulieu

Comedy and feminism are inextricably intertwined for Beaulieu. Her popular weekly stand-up showcase (and acclaimed podcast) The Crimson Wave, which she co-hosts and co-produces with Natalie Norman, “is feminist friendly, LGBTQ-positive and includes zero rape jokes.” And she’s an in-demand host and headliner for events like Truth ’n Lies Theatre’s Feminist Debaters and Toronto’s Slutwalk. So it makes perfect sense that The Crimson Wave’s first foray into Fringe, with Beaulieu as writer and co-star and Norman as producer, tackles the Emotional Labour that women shoulder in their relationships with men, which Beaulieu describes as “a load of exhausting, rage-inducing bullshit.”

Beaulieu may be angry about the show’s subject matter, but she can be at her funniest when fired up, as anyone who’s ever seen her stand-up bit on shark-mating habits can attest to.

Opens July 3 at the Factory Studio

Joel Cumber

Joel Cumber 

Anyone who saw Cumber last year in Colleen Dauncey and Akiva Romer-Segal’s hilarious musical Rumspringa Break! at Next Stage will know what a delight he is as a performer: wide-eyed, energetic and fully present for every moment in a show. Allison Wither and Laura Piccinin’s Every Silver Lining seems a more serious outing, so it will be interesting to see him display some dramatic depth.

The show, inspired by the creators’ experience of losing closing friends in their youth, is a coming-of-age musical about how young people experience life, loss and grief. Cumber plays Jeremy, a funny young man who gains empathy after the loss of a friend. The cast of musical theatre emerging artists includes Jada Rifkin, Taha Arshad, Daniel Karp, Dale Miller and Alison J. Palmer

Opens July 4 at the Al Green Theatre

Carolyn Fe

Photo by Byron Abalos

Carolyn Fe

After her nuanced and deeply moving performance last year as a Filipino maid in Audrey Dwyer’s Calpurnia – a role that won her an award by the Toronto Theatre Critics Association – Fe is back in a couple of shows. In the fall, she’ll be part of Jo SiMalaya Alcampo’s Hilot Means Healer, the opening play in Cahoots Theatre’s season. But first comes the Fringe play Through The Bamboo, co-written by real-life husband-and-wife team Byron Abalos and Andrea Mapili

The all-ages play draws on Philippine mythology and features women, young and old, as its central characters. Fe plays a woman whose death inspires her granddaughter to go search for her in a fantastical land. The Factory Theatre’s artistic director, Nina Lee Aquino, directs Fe, Karen Ancheta, Marie Beath Badian, Lana Carillo and others in this show that’s in the same style and spirit as The Wizard Of Oz.

Opens July 3 at the Factory Mainspace

Laura Anne Harris

Photo by Alejandro Quintero

Laura Anne Harris

Harris excels at bringing to life characters who are bright and bubbly outside but struggling within. Pitch Blonde, her biographical take on Hollywood star Judy Holliday, became a Toronto Fringe hit in 2011, establishing Harris as a strong, quirky solo performer. For her next Fringe outing, The Homemaker, she morphed into a French-Canadian housewife. Every performance featured nuanced acting and freshly baked cookies. She’s also made her mark as an astute Fringe director.

A few years back Harris found herself relocating with her husband to his grad school in the U.S. This and her job as a relay operator for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in a changing America are the basis for her new show, Destiny, USA. It promises to be her most personal show yet.

Opens July 5 at Streetcar Crowsnest Studio

Jay &amp Eytan (Jay Wells L'Ecuyer, Eytan Millstone)

Photo by Shawn McPherson

Jay & Eytan 

Ever since their viral videos as Catholic boys’ school rappers Rick and Chuck, Canadian comics Jay Wells L’Ecuyer (right) and Eytan Millstone have managed to smartly and hilariously send-up millennial manhood. Now based in Brooklyn, the pair continue to create sketches that, in their honesty and attention to detail, capture a certain cultural moment with complete confidence and relatability.

Their albums, including So Busy So Tired and All Growed Up, are produced by Comedy Records, which explains the title, Comedy Records Presents: Jay & Eytan. After the show you’ll definitely want to download them. Some sketches deserve to be classics. 

Opens July 3 at the Randolph Theatre 

Helen Knight in the Art Of Kneading at the Fringe 2019

Helen Knight 

One of the big surprises of the recent theatre season was watching Knight’s knowing, caustically funny Mary Tudor in Soulpepper’s The Virgin Trial, a performance that won her the Betty Mitchell Award for best supporting actress when Kate Hennig’s work played in Calgary. 

Now Knight is back with The Art Of Kneading, an autobiographical solo show inspired by growing up in a low-income, single-parent household. Besides blending three stories, the writer/performer also makes bread onstage. It promises to be a funny, emotionally cathartic play – kneading/needing, get it? And let’s hope Knight requires taste-testers. It can be hard to get a balanced meal during the Fringe. 

Opens July 5 at the Annex Theatre

Jeff Lillico

Jeff Lillico 

The Dora Award-winning actor Lillico is one of those performers who is excellent in both musical theatre (Grey Gardens, the recent Hook Up) and regular plays (Tom At The Farm, Bang Bang). There’s a purity and openness about his work that is distinctly his own. 

He will doubtless be drawing on that for Unravelled: A New Musical, which weaves together the stories of Romeo And Juliet, Orpheus And Eurydice and The Gift Of The Magi. It’s written by Andrew Seok, whose choral musical Echoes – about the effect of war on soldiers – was a Fringe 2016 highlight. The show takes place in an unusual setting: the sanctuary at Grace Toronto Church – an added attraction. 

Opens July 4 at Grace Toronto Church

Aaron Malkin

Photo by Chelsey Stuyt

Aaron Malkin

Two years ago, Malkin and Alastair Knowles brought their masterful physical comedy and clown skills to the Fringe as James & Jamesy. Just remembering them making their way through the audience walking on the backs of chairs still makes us giggle with glee.

Although they worked together to create their new show, Dandelion, this time Malkin takes the spotlight alone, adding in live science experiments. (Seriously what could go wrong?) Fatherhood is at the heart of this show, which was inspired by his young son and Malkin’s own wonder about what happens to the imagination as you get older. We can’t wait to find out.

Opens July 5 at Randolph Theatre

Tatyana Mitchell

Tatyana Mitchell

One of the newest faces at the Fringe, Mitchell graduated from Humber last year and has already charmed us when we discovered her playing the put-upon character Nana in Obsidian and Nightwood’s recent hit at Buddies, School Girls Or, The African Mean Girls Play.

Equally able to tackle drama and comedy, Mitchell will be super-busy this Fringe doing just that. We look forward to catching her in two productions: the more serious Deep End, a site-specific show at Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre Pool, and the workplace comedy Above & Beyond. She’s sure to make a splash in both.

Above & Beyond opens July 4 at Robert Gill Deep End opens July 6 at Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre Pool

Charlotte Moore

Photo by Zak Kearns

Charlotte Moore

A legend of Canadian musical theatre, a Dora Mavor Moore award winner (they’re named after her grandmother) and a Shaw Festival veteran, Moore hasn’t slowed down at all as she finishes her third decade of professional performing. While in rehearsals for Spend Your Kids’ Inheritance in June, she produced and performed her own solo cabaret of Sondheim standards at Toronto’s Jazz Bistro. 

She’s previously performed a cabaret of all-original Canadian musical numbers, and even recorded an album of them, so it’s not that far-fetched that this booster of homegrown musical theatre is appearing in a Fringe show.

She has a strong ensemble around her, and a veteran director (at Fringe and elsewhere) in Andrew Lamb, and we’re excited to see what she does with the book by Catherine Frid (a playwright previously known for dramas like Homegrown and Half Full).

Opens July 4 at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse

Mark Brownell and Sue Miner, Pea Green Theatre

Pea Green Theatre Group

Sue Miner and Mark Brownell helm the charmingly named Pea Green Theatre Group and this year marks their tenth Toronto Fringe outing – the first happened way back in 1989, the fest’s inaugural year. In 2014 we raved about their enchanting adaptation of Jerome K. Jerome’s classic 1889 British travelogue Three Men In A Boat, which sold out pretty much every performance in the tiny Annex Theatre.

This year they bring back the Victorian splendour with the sequel Three Men On A Bike, happily housed in the larger Tarragon Mainspace. This follow-up gets most of the old gang back together. The three men include Matt Pilipiak and Victor Pokinko, joined this time around by David DiFrancesco. Nina Okens will do her costuming magic and J. Rigzin Tute will keep us humming period tunes. There’s sure to be an abundance of wit and whimsy with any mode of transportation they choose.

Opens July 4 at Tarragon Mainspace

Tracey Erin Smith

Tracey Erin Smith

The effervescent founder of SOULO Theatre has made an art of mining her own life for themes she turns into autobiographical shows. She’s also expert at helping others find creative ways to tell their own stories onstage. Smith has been a regular Fringe presence since 2006’s The Burning Bush, with its stripping-rabbi central character. In 2017 she created and directed The Clergy Project, which brought together a priest, a minister and a rabbi recounting their journeys to the pulpits. But not every experience with Smith involves organized religion.

Finally ready to confront memories of her father’s incarceration when she was just a child, Smith has created her newest play, The Big House. Research included visiting a maximum-security men’s prison in California. We saw an early storytelling incarnation that left us spellbound. With Sarah Garton Stanley directing, you can be sure it’ll dig deep to unshackle many universal truths. 

Opens July 4 at Factory Mainspace

The Tita Collective

Tyra Sweet

The Tita Collective

Winners of this year’s Toronto Sketchfest Producers’ Pick award, these five Filipina performers are all alumnae of the Carlos Bulosan Theatre, and have lots of other bona fides, too. Isabel Kanaan and Belinda Corpuz co-starred in Factory Theatre’s Prairie Nurse last season Alia Rasul was in the cast of Generally Hospital, a Patron’s Pick at last year’s Fringe and all of the cast have varying degrees of double- or triple-threat backgrounds (Kanaan has appeared in musical sketches two years in a row on CBC Air Farce’s New Year’s Eve special).

For Tita Jokes at the Fringe, they’ll be bringing a polished and expanded version of the show that so delighted Sketchfest audiences, one that originates from their contemporary centering of themselves as Filipino-Canadians.

Opens July 4 at Tarragon Mainspace

@glennsumi @gracingthestage @somanydreams

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