With so many shows, it's tough to choose what to see, and nearly impossible to guarantee that every show will be a winner. But keep your eye on these exciting artists who are already generating buzz.
WHO: Wesley J. Colford
WHAT: Author of The Wakowski Bros., a musical in which a pair of warring Canadian vaudevillians unite for a single performance, and performer in Tam Lin, based on a traditional Scottish ballad.
WHY: Already a Fringe and Paprika name for writing Excuse Me, Would You Like To Buy a Bar?, Colford (going into his final year at George Brown) scripts his first musical (with a great cast, Derek Scott, Duff MacDonald and Lorretta Bailey, directed by Alex Fallis) and acts and sings in the Scottish piece, performed partly in Gaelic. Will he play the bagpipes along with highland dancing?
WHO: Lisa Brooke
WHAT: Performer in The Soaps: A Live Improvised Soap Opera, a special edition of the comic sudser set in 1812, to mark the war's 200th anniversary.
WHY: Brooke, one of the most spontaneous and watchable Second City Toronto alumni (she also did a stint at Second City Chicago), doesn't perform much. But judging from her tweets (@brookebot) about motherhood and idiot politicians, she hasn't lost her bite. She's in great company here, with Jim Annan, Paul Bates, Matt Baram, Jan Caruana and others. And come to think of it, she'll look very convincing in pioneer gear.
WHO: Karen Glave
WHAT: Actor in little tongues, an intimate family dramedy set around the dinner table. How intimate? The audience of 30 joins the actors in a loft space and can smell the food being cooked.
WHY: Too rarely seen onstage - we last caught her at Stratford a few years ago - the warm and elegant Glave (De Grassi: The Next Generation, Lost Girl) brings a quiet strength to her performance that'll be useful in a play that reveals a family's long-hidden secrets. Doesn't hurt that her fellow actors include Niki Landau, Melee Hutton, Jamie Maczko and Mark Wilson, with Paul Lampert directing.
WHO: Sharilyn Johnson
WHAT: Writer/performer of Fake News Fangirl, a semi-autobiographical show based on Johnson's obsession with late-night jokester Jon Stewart.
WHY: Johnson's one of the city's most discriminating comedy critics, writing about the scene (and taking terrific photos of performers) for her blog. After seeing hours of the best, she should know a thing or two about how to deliver a story. The fact that her director is Laura Anne Harris, who starred in last year's Fringe hit Pitch Blond, about Judy Holliday, won't hurt.
WHO: Jeff Madden
WHAT: Actor in The Dinner, about how a few surprises on the menu upset a group of friends' Thanksgiving dinner.
WHY: Madden earned a Dora Award for playing Frankie Valli in the long-running Toronto production of Jersey Boys, and his intelligence and firm voice have shone through in many musicals since, like this year's Dani Girl and I Love You Because. Now he gets to prove his chops as a straight actor in this drama about feuding friends, helmed by Ed Roy and also starring Jason Jazrawy, Lisa Waines and Dale Yim.
WHO: Evalyn Parry
WHAT: Director of Fishbowl, Mark Shyzer's solo show about the connections between four wildly different characters.
WHY: Parry, so good at storytelling herself (she's currently touring her bicycle-centric show with music, SPIN), has been working with Shyzer and Fishbowl since he began it in Buddies' Young Creators Unit. Now, after several incarnations - including a spot in Buddies' 2009 season and a 2010 tour - the piece returns to make an even bigger splash.
WHO: Peter n' Chris (Peter Carlone and Chris Wilson)
WHAT: Writer/performers of Peter n' Chris And The Mystery Of The Hungry Heart Motel, a send-up of scary movies set in creepy buildings.
WHY: The duo behind last Fringe's Peter N' Chris Save The World! returns with an even more imaginative and physically impressive show, which we saw during the Toronto Sketch Comedy Fest (where - no surprise - they won the audience choice award). The two Vancouverites conjure up theatre magic with minimal effort, and if something goes wrong you can count on them to come up with even funnier bits.
WHO: Martha Ross
WHAT: Actor in With Love And A Major Organ, playing Mona, one of a trio of hopeless romantics seeking love without the benefit of social skills.
WHY: Co-founder of Theatre Columbus and skilled at creating characters both comic and sympathetic, Ross is sure to win over audiences as a woman who undergoes therapy with GoogleShrink and then forces herself to try speed dating.
WHO: Andy Trithardt
WHAT: Actor in Like A Dog, about a man, alive for thousands of years, who's suddenly lost when his dog is killed.
WHY: Memorable in school, festival and indie shows, Trithardt plays a doctor with memory problems who has to solve a few mysteries to keep the old man alive. With his winning stage presence and sharp handling of text and character, he'll be as central to the tale as the old man.
WHO: Tim Walker
WHAT: Actor in Help Yourself, a dark comedy in which Donny rents himself out as a "conscience cleaner" - helping others justify their immoral acts.
WHY: Walker's proven himself a skilled serious actor (The Goat, Horse) and comic talent (Boeing Boeing). He's sure to shine here as Ted, the guilt-ridden guy who hires Donny to whiten his morals but ends up stirring up more trouble than either of them expects.