Each week, Drama Club looks at Toronto’s theatre scene and tells you which shows are worth checking out.
Buffy musical gives us something to sing about. Photo courtesy of The Silver Stage.
It’s official: Fringe has taken over the city. And while we aren’t sure about numbers yet, attendance this year has seemed especially high. In past years, getting tickets during the opening weekend of the fest has been a cinch; this year, we noticed a ton of shows that were opening-night sellouts, and many have continued to pack houses, even in tough time slots such as weekday afternoons and Sunday nights. Once again, Drama Club forsakes its usual format to bring you a special Fringe edition to tell you what’s been going on in the Fringe venues (and at the beer tent).
Drama Club has been making the rounds this past week, and we’ve seen shows both good and bad. It’s worth getting to Bread & Circus early to get tickets for 36 Little Plays About Hopeless Girls, which not only had a lovely photoshoot for Eye Weekly, but is also a strange, quirky, and very funny show featuring some of the coolest young female performers around, including Nika Mistruzzi, Julia Lederer, and Torontoist fave Nicole Stamp. Also worth checking out is Zdenka Now!, a clown show starring Precious Chong, directed by Lupe: Undone co-creator Adam Lazarus. Chong’s ability to transform from character to character is stunning, and the whole thing has a very appealing ESL public access TV feel, although it lacks the narrative cohesion of a Lupe show. And we’ve heard a lot of in-the-ticket-line chatter about Red Bastard, Interrogation, and My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish-Wiccan Wedding, although we haven’t made it out to any of those ones yet.
But so far, one of the most exciting things we’ve seen is definitely the Silver Stage presentation of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode “Once More With Feeling.” For the uninitiated, the incredible cult-favourite TV show aired an episode in its sixth season in which the residents of Sunnydale, California, were put under a spell that made them spontaneously sing and dance, and many fans consider the short musical to be a series highlight. When we went to the Bloor on opening night, the place was full to capacity with Joss Whedon fans who were ready to sing every song along with the Rocky Horror–style shadow cast performing on a stage in front of the screen. Although you could tell the audience would have probably just been content to watch the show on the big screen, the shadow cast production brought a whole new element to the experience, making the whole thing unbelievably fun. Whether they’re perfectly matching the choreography on screen, or cleverly subverting it with in-jokes and innuendos, the cast is hilarious and pretty much perfect. And casting twelve-year-old Nathan Wilson as bad-ass vampire Spike is a stroke of genius: not only is the kid a riot, making the anti-hero pint-sized completely deflates his menace and makes about every single thing he says hilarious. This show has one more performance on Friday night. If you go, get there real early, because there’s no way it won’t sell out.
At this point in the festival it is not uncommon to find that your energy levels are starting to wane. Hamutal Dotan, another member of our esteemed Fringe team, comes to the rescue with some tips to help you power through—Torontoist’s Fringe survival guide awaits you after the fold.
Hamutal Dotan’s Guide to Surviving Fringe
As we learned last year, sitting in the front row of a Jimmy Hogg show is a recipe for becoming a part of the show. Photo courtesy of Jimmy Hogg.
Fringe, it is essential to remember, is a marathon rather than a sprint. It requires planning, patience, and mental fortitude. As the festival progresses, you will find that your reserves of endurance may become depleted just as the lines get longer and shows with buzz become harder to access. Fortunately, there are some tricks to help you survive the onslaught.
Plan Ahead: By now, word is leaking out about which are the hot tickets. Everything’s been performed once or twice, and reviews are coming fast and furious. Don’t be afraid to put a few of the shows with biggest buzz on your list. Tickets go on sale sixty minutes before curtain, so if you arrive seventy-five to ninety minutes early, you should be safely near the front of the line. Once you’ve got tickets in hand you can find a patio or an ice cream cone to keep you busy, or if you’re near(ish) to Bloor and Brunswick, just head to the Fringe beer tent (in the alleyway by Tranzac) for a pint.
Don’t Neglect the Hidden Gems: Fringe is all about blowing the doors off a relatively closed art-form and letting the smaller, the newer, the more independent, and the more outrageous get a crack at some real exposure. Go to something you wouldn’t ordinarily see. Maybe it’ll be great. Maybe it’ll be awful. In either case you’ll be getting a breath of fresh theatrical air for less than the cost of a movie ticket and supporting an artist or two along the way.
Keep Your Temper: There will be lines to wait in, and people who accost you with flyers for not-the-Fringe-show-you-have-come-to-see while you wait in them. There will likely be a speech you have heard umpteen times before about how donations are welcome, along with a donation sales pitch focused around the button you will receive for giving a minimum of five dollars. These things are okay. They are a part of the experience. Let them roll off your back.
Audience Participation: Friend or Foe? Some people love (perhaps more than they should) the chance to partake in all this theatrical goodness themselves. Others cringe at the mere thought of having to interact with performers. If you sense that participation may be expected then choose your seat accordingly, especially in smaller venues. The shy should avoid the first few rows, aisle seats, and direct eye contact.
The Fringe runs until July 12 at various locations around the city. Check back for Torontoist’s daily Fringe coverage throughout the festival.