Fringe Toronto goes digital and introduces profit-sharing model

Mag Ruffman, Steven Jackson and Tom McGee are among the 56 acts presenting pre-recorded content over 12 days in July


The Toronto Fringe will go on – and online – this summer.

The Fringe as we’ve traditionally known it may be cancelled, but it’s going on in a different way this time.

This July, it’s launching the Fringe Collective, a profit-share, opt-in, collaborative, DIY digital platform that runs from July 1 to 12, the dates the regular Fringe was to have run.

The Fringe Collective consists of 56 companies who were slated to present work  at the 2020 Toronto Fringe Festival. It will include pre-recorded video, audio, written and interactive content.

“We had a moment after cancelling the festival where we were prepared to just do nothing and wait until next year, but then we realized we still had an opportunity to unite our artists and our audiences in a different and exciting way,” says Lucy Eveleigh, the Fringe Toronto’s executive director, in a press release.

“It won’t be the same as sitting together and experiencing live theatre but, given the circumstances, we think this is going to be a really special alternative.”

Artists who were still in the original 2020 Toronto Fringe Festival as of April 7 were offered the chance to opt-in to the Collective and share a creative offering a slot is still available to them in the 2021 Toronto Fringe Festival.

Some confirmed Collective artists include: Steven Jackson, whose play The Seat Next To The King was a big hit at Fringe 2017 Andrew Seok, whose musical Unravelled played last year Mag Ruffman, of The Road To Avonlea and many home-improvement shows Stella Kulagowski, whose burlesque shows, like last year’s Mayhem At The Miskatonic, are always a huge Fringe draw Laura Piccinin, one of the creative forces behind the Fringe and Next Stage Theatre Fest’s Every Silver Lining Tom McGee, whose Shakey-Shake and Friends shows delight kids and adults alike and this year’s Fringe New Play Contest winner Amin Shirazi.

All profits obtained by the Toronto Fringe will be split as follows: 30 per cent will go to the administrative costs of the Fringe, and 70 per cent will be shared equally between the 56 companies in the Collective. 

All offerings will be grouped into four “acts,” and each act will include content from a cross-section of the companies and will be available for audiences to enjoy for three days.   

Act 1: Available  from July 1-3  

Act 2: Available from July 4-6  

Act 3: Available from July 7-9  

Act 4: Available from July 10-12  

Acts will be hosted on a private page on fringetoronto.com. Audiences will access content via a Tip-What-You-Can model, with a suggested tip of $13 per act (the price of a typical Fringe ticket). Listings will be available in a  digital Fringe Collective Program Guide PDF, downloadable from June 17. 

In addition, the Fringe will present live programming as part of a POSTSCRIPT Live series, modelled on the Fringe’s popular patio, POSTSCRIPT. All these digital events will be live-streamed and free for all. More details will be released on June 17.  

What does this mean?

By breaking the festival up into four three-day chunks, it will mean audiences won’t be overwhelmed by too many choices all at once. Choosing from among 14 acts to see in three days (if we divide 56 acts by 4) is manageable. The three-day window will add a sense of urgency to the proceedings, but will also allow enough time for buzz to build, since those acts will presumably be available to watch any time in that 78-hour window (and not just on, for instance, Wednesday at 1 pm and Friday at 9:45 pm).

The economics of the event are shrewd. As the pandemic continues, more theatre companies are asking for donations or minimum admission, acknowledging that while delivering free content is fine and well, it’s not giving back to the artists who sorely need the money at this time. The Fringe has always been about giving back to the artists, and so this Tip-What-You-Can model is fitting. Furthermore, the fact that all the companies share equally in the profits is fair. Higher profile names might attract more viewers at first, but as always the Fringe is about the discovery of new and untested artists. (The festival, as per usual, is unjuried.)

The fact that all the content will be pre-recorded makes sense. As we’ve all seen over the past two months, live-streamed events can be a gamble (out-of-synch sound, blurry connections). The smoothest offerings have all been mostly pre-recorded.

There will still be a live component in the POSTSCRIPT Live events. Hopefully, the hosting site will include a chat function, where Fringe lovers can talk about what they’ve seen, catch up with friends and share a virtual drink – always one of the highlights of the real Fringe experience.

@glennsumi

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