THE FRINGE: TORONTO'S THEATRE FESTIVAL featuring local, national and international companies at 30 venues. Opens Wednesday (July 4) and runs to July 15. $10 or less, $2 surcharge on advance tickets, discount passes. Advance tickets sold up to three hours prior to showtime online, at the Fringe Club (292 Brunswick) or by phone. At least half of all tickets go on sale at the venue one hour before showtime. 416-966-1062, www.fringetoronto.com. Rating: NNNNN
Just at the cusp between its teens and 20s, the 19th annual Toronto Fringe can't wait to bust out. No surprise, then, that the hyperactive fest has grown to 140 productions this year, the largest it's ever been, and reaches geographically into new areas of town.
The Fringe just can't be contained. It's running in 11 regular theatre venues, the Fringe Club at the Tranzac and 18 bring-your-own-venues (BYOVs).
Here are a few guidelines and suggestions to help make the 12-day festival an organized affair, so you don't tire yourself out running from one end of Toronto to the other.
Get with the program
You can't do any planning without the Fringe program, available at various bookstores, including Book City and Chapters, TO TIX at Dundas Square and (from July 4) at the Fringe Club and the theatre venues.
The free program lists all the shows along with brief descriptions and casts, venues and running times. That last is important if you plan to see several shows a day.
Most performances are an hour or less, but worked into the overall spread sheet are a number of 90-minute shows. There's nothing more frustrating than planning to see two shows back to back and discovering too late that the second starts before the curtain falls on the first.
You can also find most of this information at the Fringe website, www.fringetoronto.com, which has updates on schedules and programming changes. In addition, it's worth checking out the Fringe Harold, a (mostly) daily newsletter available online.
You won't pay more than $10 for a ticket, and tickets for children at the KidsVenue are half that price.
And don't think for a moment that shows at the KidsVenue won't appeal to older audience members - not with such talented artists as Donald Carr, Dale Yim, Robert Watson, Andrew Lamb, Sandi Ross, Karen Woolridge and Alex Fallis involved.
There's a bargain deal on the 5 Play Pass ($40), the Frequent Fringer Pass for 10 tickets ($70) and the Buddy Pass for 14 tickets ($90), the last good for two tickets per show. All are redeemable at the door.
You don't have to feel like you're running a relay race if you plan your Fringe day in advance. Organize a schedule that doesn't have you travelling from the Tarragon to Factory Theatre and back again within the space of an afternoon.
The theatre venues are pretty much the same as last year, but the BYOVs have started reaching westward and southward from the core. Small Wooden Shoe continues its look at revolutions with I Keep Dropping Sh*t at MaRS Centre on College, Ahuri Theatre stages a take on the Rashomon story, Yabu No Naka Distruthted, in the Polish Combatants Association Parking Garage on Beverley, and Shoddy Productions offers Karaoke Shakespeare at the White Orchid.
Farthest from the centre? Convergence Theatre's The Gladstone Variations, a series of four short plays by Rick Roberts, Mike McPhaden, Brendan Gall and Julie Tepperman, staged in and around the Gladstone Hotel. High hopes here, though it means going twice to see all four plays. This is the group that presented last year's fine AutoShow, another evening of brief performances, and one of NOW's top shows of 2006.
If you can't wait until next Wednesday for the Fringe to start, NOW's holding Peek At The Fringe, a sampling of six festival shows.
The productions include Enda Walsh's Disco Pigs, June Morrow's Miss April Day's School For Burgeoning Young Strippers, Dave Carley's Conservatives In Love, Renée Percy and Jen Radomsky's Mardi Bra 3: Milk'n It!, Catherine Hayos and Melinda Little's Shiksas Sit Shiva and The Lesson, adapted by Karen Woolridge from the story by Toni Cade Bambara.
The free event is tonight (Thursday, June 28), 7 pm, in the NOW Lounge (189 Church).
Some of the Fringe's faves are back this year, and their popularity likely means their shows will do good business.
Edmonton's Chris Craddock is best known in T. O. for BoyGroove, a Fringe hit two years ago; when it was remounted last year, it picked up the Audience Choice Award at the Doras. Along with Nathan Cuckow, Craddock is co-writer and co-performer of BASH'd!, about two queers who deal with a street bashing.
And if you haven't seen their work, we also recommend pieces by Nicola Gunn (The Lost Property Office), TJ Dawe (Maxim & Cosmo), Justin Sage-Passant (Manners For Men), Chris Gibbs (Gibberish) and Ryan Gladstone (Napoleon's Secret Diary).
And let's add Atomic Vaudeville's Legoland to this roster. The company presented Jacob Richmond's wonderfully tongue-in-cheek piece as part of last year's SummerWorks, and happily they're back to win new audiences. They will.
NOW blog this
Watch for NOW's Fringe preview edition next week, with interviews, critics' picks and other goodies. And starting Wednesday (July 4), check out our online Fringe coverage at www.nowtoronto.com.