Fringe theatre binge
How to make the most of a 12-day festival that offers 141
shows at 30 venues around town
June 28, 2007
What do an ancient lecherous elf, an eager young receptionist,
an evil-minded vixen and a woebegone hobbit have in common?
They're just four of the thousands of different characters
who'll be hitting the stages of Toronto over the next few
weeks as part of the 2007 Toronto Fringe Festival.
You want comedy, tragedy, musicals, satire, serious social
commentary or sheer off-the-wall zaniness? You'll find it
at the 1,177 performances of 141 shows at 30 venues. (And
that doesn't even include all the late-night activities on
The four shows represented in the photo on this page give
you a rough idea of the zaniness, variety and talent being
offered this year.
Don Harron may be 82 years old and one of the most well-known
figures in Canadian comedy, but he's out there fring-ing with
In fact, his project sounds like one of the most outrageous.
It's called Rumpelforskin and he bills it as "a revised
and circumcised virgin of an old fairy's tale."
Keeping in the land of legends, there's LOTR: The Musical:
The Musical! that tells the tragicomic tale of how "a
lonely writer, a desperate mayor and a sinister British producer
team up to turn a 2,000-page fantasy into a musical."
Considering the mixed critical response that the "new
improved" version of The Lord of the Rings got in London
last week, this show by Nicholas Hume-Brown and Ben King should
prove more relevant than ever.
Musicals remain an ever-growing part of the Fringe, whether
they're produced by veterans or newbies.
Producer Derrick Chua, with shows like Top Gun, The Musical,
Boy Groove and Welcome to Eden, is the guy who's been around
the block this year. He's pinning his hopes on "the sugar-pop
'80s rock musical" called Like Omigawd! Despite the temptation
to call it Illegally Blonde, it's got a high-powered creative
team behind it.
At the other end of the spectrum is a bunch of just-starting-out
professionals (Daniel Abrahamson, Daniel Falk & Rachel
Brittain) who've created "a sharply satirical look at
the corporate culture in today's Toronto" called Funny
Business, with a bunch of bright new talent giving their all.
But these are just four of the shows and they're ones that
skew towards the lighter side of things. Still there's all
types of performances of all types of material available.
Just remember one thing: there is no guarantee of quality.
The Fringe selects its choices by lottery, but considering
that, it's amazing how many great shows make the cut and how
relatively few disasters see the light of day.
I've often been asked if there's one surefire stinker detector
and I'd say there is: if you read the list of names connected
with a show and they're all from within the GTA but you've
never heard of any single one of them before, it might be
a good idea to let a friend catch the show first.
Because, by the end of each work's first performance, the
verdict is out. Fringe word of mouth is ruthless, far more
devastating than any of us daily critics, believe me.
So consider this a guide to making the most of the 12-day
So what do you look for to attract yourself to a Fringe show?
Title: These can be misleading, but they're often hard to
resist. How can you keep away from projects called Jihad Me
At Hello, Drag Queens Talk About Their Vaginas, F–k
Off and Die, Shiksas Sit Shiva, or Deep Fried Curried Perogies?
Topic: A lot of shows have serious issues on their minds and
decent reviews from other cities, so keep an eye out for entries
like BASH'd!, Jesus in Montana, Curriculum Vitae and Pentecostal
Wisconsin – all which have garnered considerable praise
on their earlier outings.
Buzz: The show going into this year's Fringe with the highest
expectations is Alison Broverman's Expiry Dating. It won the
2007 Toronto Fringe New Play Contest, it's been serialized
in the national paper that Ms. Broverman works for and she's
also starring in it herself. All of this could make for the
explosion of a giant supernova, or the biggest fizzle of the
summer. Either way, you've got to be there, right?
The classics: Shakespeare shows aren't as popular this year
as they've been in the past. In fact, there's only one: Karaoke
Shakespeare. But those of you with a bent for classic literature
can also sample The Rap Canterbury Tales, Two Figs for the
Great Captain or The Revived Adventures of Don Kixote, Oscar
Remembered, Mrs. Warren's Profession, 27 Wagons Full of Cotton
As usual, there are no hard and fast rules at the Fringe,
but be warned: the better the playwright, the worse his or
her work looks in a Fringe setting.
There are no guarantees at The Fringe, but some people have
been so generally reliable, you can feel secure in recommending
them. You're probably not taking much of a chance if you drop
Maxim & Cosmo: T.J. Dawe is a mainstay of the Fringe and
his one-man shows are usually well performed and intelligently
JEM ROLLS Up: Another Fringe favourite. Not everyone falls
under his spell, but it's well worth the journey.
Gibberish: Chris Gibbs knocked the Fringe on its butt last
year with Antoine Feval. No reason he shouldn't do it with
his new show.
An Inconvenient Musical: It's created by the Rumoli Bros.
who are the dudes behind SARS-ical.
Show-Stopping Number!: This crazy improvised-from-scratch
musical has been wowing audiences on the Danforth for the
past few months.
Kafka and Son: Alon Nashman's one-man show has been getting
Now that you've been inspired, the question is "How can
I `do' the Fringe?"
It's possible to see a single show on the spur of the moment,
reserve your seats in advance, or make the commitment of a
"Buddy Pass," where you get 14 tickets for the awesomely
low price of $90.
The Fringe is scattered throughout the west end of the city,
but many of the theatres are close to each other and walking
from venue to venue is one of the best parts of the festival.
Relax, stop and talk to people, enjoy yourself. It only happens
once a year.