A new theatrical production goes in-depth on Toronto's taxi industry.
In the opening sentence of the program for Fare Game: Life in Toronto’s Taxis, the show’s creators write, “When we started this piece, we didn’t know what our story was.” After more than two years of extensive research, interviews, and getting to know the men (and a few women) involved in Toronto’s taxicab industry, the three collaborators—Marjorie Chan, Ruth Madoc-Jones, and Alex Williams, together as the Toronto Taxi Collective—have developed an excellent grasp of the myriad problems plaguing Toronto’s dysfunctional taxi licensing system. What they haven’t got yet is a justification for presenting all that in-depth research in the form of a theatrical performance.
To be sure, Toronto’s taxi drivers have plenty of stories to tell. For news buffs and City Hall watchers, the issues with the City’s two tiers of licenses—”standard” plates that can be sold on the free market and rented out to any qualified driver, and “ambassador” plates that can only be used by the owner and operator of a cab—are already familiar. The “ambassadors” are at a severe disadvantage, unable to profit from their plates except by driving long shifts in their cabs themselves. Meanwhile, a longstanding moratorium on new “standard” plates has meant that those licenses, now fetching exorbitant prices on the open market, have in some cases ended up in the hands of shady operators who have used them to take advantage of vulnerable drivers. The glacial pace of industry reform has drivers frustrated and overworked, and everyone seems to have a different opinion as to how to fix things.
By far the most powerful testimony in Fare Game comes in the form of projected video interviews with drivers and industry experts. At the performance we attended, several out-of-town attendees, unfamiliar with the City’s sorry system for taxi regulation, remarked upon how moving those clips were. Less effective were the monologues performed by the trio themselves. The show rightly notes that race and culture are significant factors in the industry, with the “ambassador” plates mostly held by drivers who belong to visible minorities. But the actors seemed reluctant to deliver monologues—many presumably culled from interviews with drivers uncomfortable going on camera—in accents or with other identifiable character traits, and so discernible characters didn’t really emerge. Also, it was often awkward when the three spoke about their personal experiences meeting drivers and people with stakes in the taxi industry. The relevance of how the show’s creators feel about the issues pales in comparison to testimony from people with decades of personal experience. (Fictional characters might have given the three more leeway.)
Ultimately, while Fare Game manages to present an abundance of relevant and interesting information, the hodgepodge of performance styles doesn’t gel into a particularly entertaining or affecting show. A full documentary on the subject would be welcome, but the stage show isn’t effective.
The Toronto Taxi Collective has done justice to its subjects, who clearly deserve better working conditions—but audience members are left feeling like they’ve been taken for a bit of a ride, even if they learned new things about their city along the way.