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
Richard Ouzounian

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 offer.)
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 the kids.

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 festival.



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 and Betrayal.
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.

Safe bets

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 in on:
Maxim & Cosmo: T.J. Dawe is a mainstay of the Fringe and his one-man shows are usually well performed and intelligently written.

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 rave reviews.

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.

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