THE FRINGE: Toronto’s Theatre Festival Featuring 148 local, national and international companies at 29 venues. $10 or less, $2 surcharge on advance sales, discount passes. Advance tickets sold up to three hours prior to showtime online, by phone or at the Fringe Club (292 Brunswick). At least half of all tickets go on sale at the venue one hour before showtime. No latecomers. 416-966-1062, fringetoronto.com. Check out NOW’s Fringe reviews at nowtoronto.com/fringe. Rating: NNNNN
If two decades of Fringing have taught us anything, it’s that there are no sure things. Shows with Dora Award winners attached to them can tank, while recent theatre school grads can begin the fest with small houses and be turning people away by the end.
About those sold-out shows, keep in mind the Patrons' Picks, encore performances of the Fringe's hottest tickets at each main venue, skedded for the Fringe’s final day (July 13) and announced on Friday (July 11). If you can wait, a few of the best may even get invited to the Next Stage Theatre Festival in January 2009. But really, who can think that far ahead?
GIDEON ARTHURS: NEW HEAD HONCHO
Even in high school, Gideon Arthurs loved to produce one-act play festivals. Now, as the new executive director of the Toronto Fringe, he’s moved into the big time.
“I couldn’t, in my wildest dreams, have thought I’d have a job like this,” marvels Arthurs, who’s previously taken part in the festival as producer (The Unfortunate Misadventures Of Masha Galinski, The Flood) and director (Ubu Roi).
He’s overseeing the festival’s first Dance Initiative (see #3) and has reworked the Fringe Club programming (see #4) to include comedy, music and cabaret.
“I want to diversify the Fringe Club to reflect all the arts in Toronto, not just theatre, since we’ve learned that most of our patrons are from outside the theatre world. It’ll be an artist- and audience-friendly hive of activity.”
The philosophy underlying the lotteried Fringe strikes a chord in Arthurs, who’s also producing two shows for this year’s SummerWorks.
“The festival presents art that’s populist and anarchic, offering a place for anyone, regardless of background and training, to tell the stories they want to tell. There’s no separation between amateur and professional. For me, that’s the definition of the Fringe, where the shows are sometimes unpolished but always dynamic, and the audience has permission to explore and discover unexpected, hidden gems.”
THE NEW DANCE SHOWS
The loss of the summer festival formerly known as fFIDA has left a big gap in the indie dance scene. That hole’s being partly filled by the Fringe’s collaboration this year with Dance Umbrella of Ontario (DUO), which is also celebrating its 20th year. The result? Nine companies get to compete for your Fringe attention.
They were picked by lottery, so there are lots of unfamiliar names, but there’s plenty of good buzz about Montreal’s Solid State Breakdance and their hip-hop/Lindy Hop show Take It Back (George Ignatieff); Artists’ Play Collective’s The Reservation, choreographed and directed by the exciting Elizabeth Dawn Snell (at Theatre Passe Muraille); and Desiraeda, created by a team that includes the National Ballet of Canada’s Jeremy Nasmith and Dancemakers’ Kate Hilliard (at the Factory Mainspace).
For quick access, the shows are clearly marked “Dance” above the title in the Fringe program. Or just look for the really lithe people stretching outside theatres.
THE BEER TENT
Drink whatever you like, but ale and lager can sure help loosen you up as you flirt with that hot out-of-towner, hit up that powerful producer or simply ask around to see which show’s getting the most (or least) buzz.
Free entertainment – more varied than ever this year, including comedy, dance, music and cabaret – happens at 10 pm, and the fun continues till 2 am at the Fringe Club. Don’t be surprised if you wake up the next morning with stack of flyers and lots of new phone numbers punched into your mobile.
Why does a well-known playwright like Dave Carley get involved with the Fringe?
“I love the festival atmosphere and an audience that will take a chance on anything,” says Carley, who’s done some rewrites of his earlier play Taking Liberties and is also sitting in the director’s chair for the first time.
“Directing is something I can do in the Fringe but probably wouldn’t try elsewhere. If I fall flat on my face, I might as well do it here, where I feel more cosseted than I would in an indie production. When you’re presenting in the Fringe, where the festival takes care of so many production elements, you can concentrate on making the art.”
Carley, whose previous Fringe shows include Into and last year’s hit Conservatives In Love (remounted in the first Next Stage Festival), has two plays on the go this year, Taking Liberties and Opera On The Rocks, with cowriters Leanna Brodie, Lisa Codrington, Krista Dalby and composer David Ogborn. It’s being staged at Pauper’s Pub.
“I love site-specific work, and here you can order pub food and drink your face off during the show,” he says. “Even the servers are part of the action.”
Carley’s contribution to the set of mini-operas is The Sweater, whose narrative involves a role call of the Maple Leafs.
“Part of it hinges on the naming of Mats Sundin,” he complains comically, “who might be with the Montreal Canadiens as of July 1. I wish he’d wait two weeks before making up his mind so my libretto could stay intact.
“But just in case, I’m poised with script changes.”
Taking Liberties runs to July 13 at the Miles Nadal JCC; Opera On The Rocks plays at Pauper’s to July 13.
Lupe (Melissa D’Agostino) is in a bind: she’s desperate to connect with her lover, David, but her estranged husband, Emilio, is stalking her. And now there’s a group of strangers watching her every move.We first saw this fast-talking, obsessed Latin spitfire at a LabCab, where she drew us in with her tales of the affair with David. (Oh, did we say that her lover is David Mirvish? And that Lupe: Undone, the latest chapter in her romantic adventures, is staged in the alleyway behind Honest Ed’s?)D’Agostino is hysterically funny and sometimes just hysterical as Lupe, the salsa-fied señorita with a touch of Lucille Ball and West Side Story’s tempestuous Anita.If you want to see Lupe at work, check her out on YouTube talking to Mayor David Miller.
Expect to be drawn into the action. To July 13.
20-HOUR PLAYWRITING CONTEST
Want to feel some of the white-hot energy of the playwright’s creative process?
Check out the Playwriting Contest, an annual 24-hour event held by the Fringe but this year reduced by four hours to mark the 20th anniversary theme.
On the Fringe’s first night, contestants were given four things, places or situations they had to work into their play, which must be handed in no later than 3 pm today (Thursday, July 3).
A panel of judges chooses a winner and two runners-up; they all get cash prizes, and the winning play is read July 13 as the last of the free events at the Fringe Club (at the Tranzac). Previous winners include Matt Toner, Eric Woolfe, Sean Reycraft and Carolyn Hay.
What would the Fringe be without attention-seeking names so outrageous they’re often cleverer than the shows themselves? This year’s batch includes Fart Factory: The Musical; One-Woman Show (put on by a bunch of guys); How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Abortion; (416) 476-7263 (that’s the actual title); Transcendental Masturbation; Hockey: The Musical (gee – wonder what the theme will be?); The Mating Rituals Of The Urban Cougar; and The Christian Republican Fundraiser In Dayton Tennessee.
Standing in line to get into a show is a production in itself, thanks to all the fabulous Fringe front-of-house managers, many of whom have ties to the stage themselves.
Besides telling you about cellphone/washroom/candy wrapper etiquette, they add in a spiel about contributing to the Tip The Fringe watering can so the fest can continue to run. Over the years, we’ve seen jugglers, singers, dancers…. Last year Risa Morris (pictured) even held up a photo of her child and asked us to contribute so her daughter could experience the Fringe when she’s older. Great pre-show warm-up, excellent cause.
CLASSICS ON THE CHEAP
While the Fringe is a fascinating laboratory for new scripts, it’s also a great chance for up-and-coming performers to try their chops in established plays.
This 20th edition of the festival includes a number of contemporary and period classics, sometimes given an unexpected twist.
Zero-Sum Games moves Shakespeare’s Macbeth into the modern world with ’Beth, in which a woman takes revenge on her cheating partner (St. Vladimir’s). Handel’s tragic opera Acis And Galatea gets a multimedia staging by the Classical Music Consort (at Factory Mainspace).
By the Book tackles British author P.G. Wodehouse’s comic figures Bertie and his valet Wooster in Wooster Sauce (Glen Morris).
Want a more recent script? Cart/Horse Theatre offers Conor McPherson’s Rum And Vodka, a dark comedy about a sex and alcohol-fuelled weekend (Tarragon Extra Space), while in hole in your face’s production of Ionesco’s The Lesson, a schoolgirl meets a most intense teacher (Tarragon Extra Space). Staged by Entertainment by Demand in the Cameron House, Wallace Shawn’s emotionally intriguing The Fever takes an intimate look at how to live a moral life.
We all know the fairy tale about Bluebeard, who keeps his wives hostage, insisting that they be obedient to his will. It’s clearly a tale of patriarchal rule.
But how do we react to the tale when the controller is a mother bent on protecting her daughters? That’s British writer Pericles Snowdon’s riff on the story, set inside an abandoned church where Blue rules the lives of four younger women. Things alter when a stranger named Mignon comes knocking at the door offering the possibility of change.
“As upsetting as the original story is, we’re challenged in a different way when it’s women who control other women,” offers producer/performer Kat Lanteigne. “The play is dark, creepy and yet somehow engaging, with a touch of dark humour.
“We think this sort of thing doesn’t happen in our world, but recent news stories about the children of the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) hidden away from the rest of society prove that it does.”
GromKat’s production should be one of the acting highlights of the Fringe; the cast includes Rae Ellen Bodie, Christine Horne, Melee Hutton, Andrea Runge and Catherine McGregor. To July 13 at Tarragon Mainspace.
Why so serious? It’s summer! Let loose! Live it up! Laugh! Thankfully, there’s no better place to giggle it up than at the Fringe, where some of the most hilarious local and international comics strut their stuff in style.
If you haven’t seen local troupe About An Hour in action, now you have no excuse. Directed by Lisa Merchant, the quartet of Jim Annan, Rob Baker, Jan Caruana and Alex Hatz improvise a one-act comedy onstage nearly every night throughout the festival at the Tranzac Club.
Scratch, the improv duo from Edmonton, return to town after their 2006 appearance. One of us caught Arlen Konopaki and Kevin Gillese’s show last time and – wouldn’t you know it? – it was, according to the troupe’s blog, one of the worst shows of their entire Toronto run. Don’t worry – we’ll give you another chance, guys. At the Comedy Bar.
Adam Growe has been polishing his regular-guy stand-up act for years, so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles his new play – entitled Adam Growe’s The Mom And Pop Shop – which is all about planned parenthood. Let’s hope the laughs are as fun as the promo image, of Growe posing like Ellen Page in Juno. At Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace.
Other comedy talent to look for: the Shehori Brothers’ and Marco Timpano’s One-Woman Show (Robert Gill); Marissa Gregoris and Lauren Ash in Gregoris’s It’s Just A Phase (Theatre Passe Muraille); Natasha Boomer’s The Maddest Kind Of Love, starring Boomer, Lisa Brooke and Mark McIntyre (George Ignatieff); Sara Hennessey’s Sara Hennessey Time (George Ignatieff); alt-comics Terrance Balazo and Katie Crown in Kathleen Phillips’s The Three Magic Wishes (Palmerston Library).
If anybody sees as much or even more at the Fringe than we do, it’s Derrick Chua, whose black-on-black wardrobe and funky-spectacled look can be spotted quickly in even the most crowded pre-show lineup. Besides being the prez of the Fringe’s board of directors, Chua – who’s an entertainment lawyer by day – also produces shows, at the Fringe (Top Gun! The Musical, Welcome To Eden) and elsewhere (My Name Is Rachel Corrie).
He’s got a strong eye for up-and-coming talent and an affection for musicals, like this Fringe’s Nursery School Musical, Racheal and Brett McCaig’s take on the pressures surrounding kids and their parents on their first day at school. Songs include one called I Shit My Pants. You might, too, from laughing.Nursery School Musical runs July 4-13 at the Factory Mainspace.
BEER TENT, THE SEQUEL: QUEEN WEST EDITION
Now that both spaces at Theatre Passe Muraille are Fringe venues, there should be lots of action around the fancy new Factory Theatre courtyard patio for those who can’t make it up to the Annex area. The vibe is more laid-back, but the beer and gossip will be flowing just as smoothly.
To catch Fringe history in action, look no further than Pea Green Theatre. Director Sue Miner and playwright Mark Brownell have been part of the fest since it began in 1989, when they staged Brownell’s High Sticking, about religion, art, sexuality and, of course, hockey.
There’s always a note of seriousness beneath the company’s playful scripts, which have covered everything from what it’s like to be in the police force to the last days of a small Toronto theatre company. Pea Green’s last production, Dave Carley’s Conservatives In Love, skewered political positions both left and the right, and there’s sure to be more fun in this year’s offering, The Barbecue King, a musical (with tunes by Steve Thomas) in which two cottagers battle it out in a winner-take-all cooking competition. Hamburgers, anyone?
The Barbecue King runs to July 13 at the Miles Nadal JCC.
You’ve seen him be intense as a young pedophile in My Fellow Creatures, which won him a Dora nomination, but did you know that Benjamin Clost has a background in comedy?
Check out The Faith Show!, in which a newly engaged couple try to sort out their conflicting religious beliefs. It’s not about trying to find God, but about finding God funny.
Clost and co-writer/performer Madeleine Donohue are skilled actors (we caught them when they were performing at George Brown Theatre) as well as members of local band the Mariners, so you can bet music will be part of the show. Oh, and they’re promising some puppetry and clown, too.
To July 13 at Factory Studio.
Will lightning strike twice for playwright Kate Hewlett, whose Humans Anonymous became a critical and audience hit at the 2006 Fringe? The show, both funny and touching, later wowed theatregoers in New York.
Hewlett’s back with her latest script, The Swearing Jar, in which a seemingly perfect couple hit problems when the wife must come to terms with her husband’s biggest lie and she struggles with falling in love with another man. Humour and heartache, with a soupçon of original music.
Directed by Geoffrey Pounsett (A Quiet Place), the cast includes Kyra Harper, Andrew Pifko, Janet Porter and UnSpun Theatre’s Christopher Stanton.
To July 12 at Tarragon Mainspace.
THE GUYS WHO PUT ON LAST YEAR’S SCIENCE FAIR!
One of the freshest shows at Fringe 2007 was Science Fair!, created by Players Players, a group of McMaster U students, and performed in an actual classroom in the Royal St. George, complete with lockers, blackboards and palpable hormone-driven teen angst.
Now the same troupe’s back for Babies In Danger!, a comedy about infants in peril. Alas, it’s not being performed in a schoolyard or daycare centre, but at Supermarket in Kensington Market, so expect lots of hipster humour and stay for a drink after. And, no, this isn’t a kids’ show.
To July 13 at the Supermarket (268 Augusta).
Some of the most bizarre and original theatre has come to town via Atomic Vaudeville, the Victoria, BC troupe co-founded by Jacob Richmond, best known for his darkly funny scripts Legoland, Small Returns and The Qualities Of Zero.
Now Richmond directs Atomic Vaudeville ensemble member Andrew Bailey’s solo comedy Putz, about a neurotic guy dealing with religion, sex and OCD. We are so there.
July 3-12 at the Tarragon Extra Space.
Bookmark the Fringe site (fringetoronto.com) for the latest updates, a special online version of the Fringe Harold – which you can also pick up throughout the fest at theatre box offices – and links to the Fringe on MySpace and Facebook.
Be sure to keep your Fringe ticket stubs for discounts at restaurants, cafés and shops in the Annex area. (The full list here.)
Also, don’t forget to check out NOW’s own capsule reviews of Fringe shows, usually posted the day after we’ve seen our shows. And there’ll be a chance for you to have your say on our site, too, at nowtoronto.com/fringe.