BWW Special Feature: Toronto Fringe Wrap-Up
The 25th Anniversary of the Toronto Fringe Festival wrapped up an incredible ten days in our glorious city this past Sunday night, marking a record year in terms of profit in the first 4 days despite challenges such as flooding and power outages cancelling shows and closing down theatres. The city came alive with 148 shows performing in venues across the city, selling 57,182 tickets and returning $433,027 to artists. In addition, there were 200 completely sold-out performances, and many shows which were incredibly close. This brings their 25 year total to over $6million returned to artists!
While BWW did not provide comprehensive review coverage of the Toronto Fringe this year (that's going to change in 2014!), I was fortunate enough to be out attending the Festival most nights and celebrating the momentous 25th Anniversary year. The Fringe Club was definitely the place to see and be seen, transforming the alley at Honest Ed's Warehouse into an artistic hub (and a bar!) where artists could mingle with patrons and everyone could see interesting shows. In fact, over $10,000 was earned by the artisans, painters and creators who were featured in the Visual Fringe and AlleyPlays. All of the performances in the Fringe Club were free of charge, helping to make incredible art more accessible to people throughout the city.
One of the things I kept hearing at this year's Fringe was how amazed people were at the quality of the programming. The Toronto Fringe Festival is non-juried, meaning shows are chosen via a lottery so the quality of the productions can be a bit of a roll of the dice. That being said, it would seem that even the 'super-Fringers' (many of whom saw upward of 50+ productions) still didn't have a chance to see every show they wanted and/or every show that was getting incredible word of mouth buzz.
I was able to see many of the shows on my 'must-see' list, including some which were not even on my radar until social media rockstars started engaging me and ensuring that I knew about productions which were not to be missed. That's the great thing about the Fringe - if you commit to doing it, you're bound to see at least one show that you never would have seen under any other circumstances. If you're lucky, it'll blow you away.
For me this year, there were two such shows which caught me off guard.I was impressed by every show I saw, but the two which surprised me the most were two I never thought I would see.
Bremen Rock City was part of Fringe Kids!, a small musical presented at the Palmerston Library Theatre and loosely based on The Grimm Brothers' The Bremen Town Musicians. Because it was designated as a 'kids show', I didn't add it to my list of shows to see. And then the buzz began to build. Every night at the Fringe Club someone would tell me I 'had to see it' and Richard Ouzounian wrote a feature article in The Star where he said it could be the next Drowsy Chaperone. Needless to say, I attended the final show on Sunday and was not disappointed.
The audience was filled with young and old, and everyone seemed to be having a fantastic time. The original music is cute, catchy and ridiculously hummable (I still have some of it stuck in my head) and the story is creative, fun and engaging. It's also surprisingly hilarious, with physical comedy to appeal to a younger audience and 'grown-up' jokes to make the parents chuckle. The show was originally developed at the Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project, where Collen Dauncy and Akiva Romer-Segal penned the score and lyrics. They nurtured it through the Theatre 20 songwriter's composium, and Sara Farb wrote the book for the show which is now being produced by Pam Silverstein. I'm not sure where this show will go next, but it definitely has legs and I know I will be front-row centre for the next stage of their journey.
The second show was Theatre Brouhaha's 'We Are the Bomb'. One of the few site-specific shows, the production took place inside Toronto's third oldest bar, The Paddock, on the eve of a prohibition in modern day Canada (a new bill is about to go into law banning alcohol consumption in the country) and was written by up and coming female playwright Kat Sandler. I saw it on a special hold-over performance Sunday night and had no idea what to expect. What I got was a shockingly funny production that also had incredible aspects of physical theatre and drama. For the first three quarters of the play I was laughing out loud, but by the end I was tearing up. The poignant final moments took me and my guest off-guard, and ended up feeling like the cherry on top of an already delicious sundae.