The Toronto Fringe Festival is a non-juried festival of plays and dance pieces of diverse genres ranging from 50 to 75 minutes in length at various venues in the city from July 4th to the 13. There are 148 shows in 35 venues to choose from: musicals and dramas and adaptations, comedy and stand-up. How much fun is that?
NOW Magazine provides constant updates with reviews of the performances so if you’re planning to go, you must act quickly. When NOW gives a piece NNNNN or NNNN, the play usually sells out for the run. While you wait in line you will hear reviews from other patrons, meet performers promoting their shows, or be enticed by a piece that calls out to you personally because of the title or content. Perhaps you have always wanted to go to one of the venues such as Campbell House or Apple Self Storage or the Victory Café so you choose a play at that site. This was the reason for one of my choices, Elizabeth-Darcy: An Adaptation of Pride and Prejudice at Campbell House Museum. Two women perform Pride and Prejudice, each of them playing many roles to tell the story. The audience follows them from room to room through the house as the play unfolds over 75 minutes. The actors change roles seamlessly with minimal props and costumes. It is a very intimate theatre experience, so much so that I wanted to sit at the table with Elizabeth or dance with Mr. Darcy or comfort each of them when they shared a letter with bad news. But there were rules to follow and, in this piece, interaction with the performers was not encouraged.
Outside the venues, audiences and artists congregate and bring a fresh buzz and excitement to the surrounding coffee shops and to the city. Half of the tickets for each show are available online and the other half can be purchased just before the performance. In the lineups of people waiting to buy tickets or to go in to the play you will hear mixed reviews, impressions, arguments and suggestions. You will hear marveling or grumbling or both as the audiences emerge. Love a show or not, the average performance time is 50 minutes or so, with experienced actors who have worked hard to create, finance, develop and perform new works. The Fringe offers artists a platform for exploring and experimenting with the art form. In the audience, you will sit with their fellow actors, dancers and creators who are cheering on their colleagues. You become part of that supportive and innovative arts community for the duration of the performance.
If you miss the Fringe, look for the SummerWorks Theatre Festival in August where the plays are juried, that is, selected with specific criteria. Like the Fringe, SummerWorks is a wonderful opportunity to see new and innovative pieces that push the boundaries of traditional Toronto theatre.
– Debbie Nyman