Saturday, June 28, 2003

Toronto Fringe Set to Begin Soon

The Toronto Fringe Festival kicks off this Wednesday in the Annex and Fashion District in the biggest city in Canada.

But does Bigger mean Better?

My personal experience with the Toronto Fringe (which admittedly is only one year of Fringing here) is that it just doesn't have the same funky atmosphere that other Fringes do.

One reason for this is that the venues (20) are spread out in a fairly large geographic area. It's hard to foster a community atmosphere when it takes forty minutes to walk from your venue to the beer tent.

As well, perhaps because so many theatre professionals live in Toronto and see the Fringe as a way of getting their name out there, the whole thing sometimes feels a little bit more like a giant networking session than a Fringe.

The Fringe here just doesn't have the same "alternative" feel to it that exists elsewhere. I know this is a rather superficial way to judge that feel, but just take a look at the marketing here versus other Canadian fringes:

The Winnipeg Fringe's theme this year is "The Twelve Days of Fringing" with a Christmas motif and a sunglasses-wearing Santa. The Edmonton Fringe is "Attack of the Killer Fringe!" with its posters modelled on B-movies. The Montreal Fringe had a "Tales of the Crypt" thing going for their "Fringe 13!" which started, appropriately enough, on Friday the Thirteenth; their posters were done, as always, by local Comix Jammer Rupert Bottenberg.

The Toronto Fringe? The marketing material is BOOORING, featuring publicity stills from last year's Fringe. Its motto is "Celebrating 15 years as Toronto's largest most exciting and adventurous theatre festival." Yawn.

To top it all off, when I was speaking with Toronto Fringe producer Chuck McEwen earlier this week, he referred to the Beer Tent as the "Beverage Tent"! The BEVERAGE TENT!?! There is only one type of tent at a Fringe, and it is called the Beer Tent!

(To be fair, I was calling under the auspices of my day job as a reporter for a certain staid, conservative daily.)

The Toronto Fringe has about the same number of shows as the Canadian Fringe Kings Winnipeg and Edmonton, but is number 3 in terms of attendance -- meaning that it has grown in size and scope without growing its audience at the same rate. Of course, the Toronto Fringe has to compete with all the other theatre in town, plus the other Toronto summer festivities that occur concurrently with the Fest.

So, perhaps, it needs to put out a slightly more mainstream image in order to bring in the crowds. Besides, as Sprite commercials have taught me, Image is Nothing, Thirst is Everything.

I'm not sure how the second part of that slogan applies here...

Regardless, I am thirsty to get out there and start drinking some Fringe in my adopted city-for-the-summer (and perhaps longer).

Toronto Fringe Blogging Set to Begin Soon

Yes, that's right, just as I did for the Montreal Festival, I will be posting news, gossip and hearsay for the twelve days of the Toronto Fringe Festival.

This time, of course, I will be able to report what I see and hear first-hand. Nonetheless, I am eager to receive your juicy tidbits about Fringe artists, festival hanger-onners and Kate Taylor -- all of which I will be pleased to post here post-haste.

Email it all in to jkelly@cup.ca.

Toronto Fringe in the News

Well, some early Fringe news and previews have been trickling into the media here.

The National Post's Toronto section today has an article about the Fringe Festival today, featuring interviews with Fest Producer Chuck McEwen and actor Mark Chavez from Sabotage: In Fine Form. (Not online, alas.)
Writer J. Kelly Nestruck also picks ten "Best Bets at the Fringe Festival": A Canadian Bartender at Butlin's, Tyrannous Rex, Jem Rolls, P.S. 69, Meet the Imponderables, Sabotage: In Fine Form, The Power of Ignorance, JOB II: The Demon of Eternal Recurrence, An Act of God, and No One Showed Up For The Anarchist Rally.

In The Globe and Mail, theatre critic Kate Taylor writes, "The Toronto Fringe is growing, but who can ever manage to see enough of this non-juried smorgasbord to judge whether bigger is better?" She recommends the following shows as "likely prospects": Victoria playwright Janet Munsil's The Ugly Duchess; New York comic duo Harrington and Kauffman's Nharcolepsy; and David Austin's Belize, directed by Toronto director Chris Abraham.

Eye Magazine will have a comprehensive guide to the festival in its next issue, as well as online reviews updated daily starting Wednesday. For the time being, Joel McConvey picks out a few shows here, including Rutabagan in Down Town, Thousand-Dollar Zombie, JOB II, Teaching Witchcraft, and Highway to Rock 'n' Roll Hell.

Meanwhile, NOW Magazine has a guide to surviving the Fringe here by Jon Kaplan and Glenn Sumi. NOW will also be featuring online reviews updated daily, making for a furious Fringe battle between three-lettered alternative weeklies!

Send in your news, reviews and gossip to jkelly@cup.ca.

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