The Fringe marks the year's busiest 12 days of theatre-going, but don't throw up your hands in desperation just because there are 136 shows to choose from. A little planning lets you get to some of the fest's best without going crazy running from one end of town to the other.
Plot with a program
The first thing to do is get hold of the Fringe program, distributed at various Starbucks, the T.O.Tix booth in Dundas Square and the Toronto International Film Festival box office (Manulife Centre, 55 Bloor West). The free program lists all the shows (including brief descriptions) as well as venues and running times. That last is important, especially if you're trying to catch several shows at various locations on the same day.
Though most productions run an hour or less, some clock in at 90 minutes. There's nothing more frustrating than planning to take in a second show and realizing it starts 15 minutes before your first show ends.
You can also find most of this information at the Fringe website, www.fringetoronto.com , which will have updates on schedules and changes in programming. Another source of information is the Fringe Harold, a (mostly) daily newsletter which this year is available only online.
Top price remains the same as last year - $10 for most shows, though tickets for children at the Kids-Venue are half that. It's a great way to hook your kids on theatre. Cheaper than single tickets are the various passes, like the 5 Play Pass for $40, redeemable at the door, or the Frequent Fringer Pass, which gets you 10 at-the-door tickets for $70. A Buddy Pass for $90 lets you go with a friend, with 14 tickets good for two tickets per show.
While most of the venues are the same as in past years, the Fringe has lost a few theatres and returned to others. The now closed Poor Alex and Artword are no longer on the Fringe map. Instead, the festival has added the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace, and the George Ignatieff Theatre has returned to the fold. After last year's construction issues, the Helen Gardiner is back in good form. There are a few additions to the Bring-Your-Own-Venues (BYOVs) as well, many of them in the Harbord/Bathurst/Bloor area.
The festival is about having a good time, but some general rules let everyone share in the fun. All shows start on time. Latecomers are not admitted, even if you beg and say you've just driven in from Thunder Bay and couldn't find a parking spot. More than previous years, many shows begin on the quarter hour. Seating is general admission, and only water is allowed in the venues, unless you're in a licensed venue. Ticket sales are final; no refunds or exchanges.
There seems to be a run on reinterpreting the classics this year. Look for a solo rendition of Poe 's The Raven , a version of Macbeth set in a posh designer kitchen, an adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov 's novel The Master And Margarita , a show drawn from Shakespeare 's fights and two very different riffs on Shakespeare's Richard III , one a solo show done as a punk rock opera ( Crook Back Dicky ) and the other an all-female version focusing on the devious Richard's relationship with four strong women ( Richard 3, Queens 4 ). Canadian classics aren't ignored either. Check out versions of The Attic, The Pearls & Three Fine Girls or Salt Water Moon . An update of 70s collective piece The Farm Show , called The urbanFarmShow , looks at the concerns of today's farmers.
Check it out right NOW
Starting Wednesday (July 5), check out www.nowtoronto.com/fringe for our online Fringe coverage. We'll be filing up-to-date reviews, last-minute changes and interesting tidbits about the fest.