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culture

So You Went to Fringe…

Here's why you should keep seeing theatre in Toronto all year round.

The 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival hit an all-time high in ticket sales. Photo by Brian Batista Bettencourt.

The curtain has closed on another Toronto Fringe Festival. The shows pack up their props, the beer tents come down, and with that, what playwright Kat Sandler calls “Theatre Christmas” is over. But just because the next Fringe Festival won’t be coming around again for a while doesn’t mean you’ll have to wait that long to enjoy an arts festival atmosphere.

Over 12 days of sketch comedy, dance, music, theatre, and who knows what else, the 2014 Fringe Festival raked in a record-breaking $438,000 in sales (about 59,000 tickets)—all of which will be returned to the festival’s artists. That’s a lot of bums in seats. This accomplishment was due in part to a new ticketing policy that involved selling 100 per cent of tickets in advance (instead of withholding 50 per cent at the door) and to a generally strong festival (check out our favourite shows here). It’s also more evidence that Toronto’s arts festivals are thriving, and not only in the summer—the Fringe’s winter instalment, The Next Stage Festival, continues to grow and sell out.

So if you didn’t make it out to the Fringe Festival this year, you certainly missed out. And if you did, way to go! But don’t stop there: it’s possible to recreate some of the best parts of your Fringe experience and make “Theatre Christmas” last all year long.

Hunt Down Decent Ticket Prices
Many people are drawn to Fringe performances because of their comparative affordability (tickets are $12 in advance and $10 at the door), believing other Toronto theatre productions are unreasonably expensive. But there are many ways to get discounted tickets to shows playing the rest of the year.

One resource is the T.O.TIX. Run by the Toronto Association for the Performing Arts, it operates a booth located at Yonge Dundas Square that offers half-price and discounted tickets for day-oF performances, and also sells advance tickets online—for everything from large-scale Mirvish musicals to amusement parks to smaller indie productions.

You can also look for ticket deals offered by individual companies. Factory Theatre regularly offers pay-what-you-can performances and makes discounted rush tickets available 10 minutes before performances begin on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Tarragon Theatre also offers PWYC tickets, discounted tickets for students and artists, a sampler pass for those under 35, and rush tickets for performances on Friday nights and Sunday matinees. Canadian Stage offers PWYC tickets on Tuesday nights, half-off rush tickets an hour before every performance, and the C-Stage program that sells tickets for $15 to attendees under 30. Soulpepper Theatre offers $23 rush tickets ($5 if you’re under 21) for select performances.

And there are even more ticketing deals to be found on other theatre company websites.

Find the Party
“The Fringe Club speaks to what we feel is important to the festival,” says Kelly Straughan, executive director of the Fringe, adding that the festival has achieved its goal when “not only are people taking a chance and seeing theatre, but they’re talking about it, too.”

There’s no denying that the Fringe Club, located (for now) in the parking lot behind Honest Ed’s at Bloor and Bathurst, is the heart of the Fringe Festival—always pumping with live music and full of art exhibits, conversation, food, and libations. But brick-and-mortar theatres have noticed the pivotal role that this meeting place plays in the festival, and they’re making changes of their own. The Theatre Centre’s new home, for example, features a café that’s open during daytime hours, and companies such as Soulpepper and Tarragon now allow drinks inside the theatre (so no more gulping down wine seconds before Act Two begins).

Support Local Artists

Many local artists this year benefited from the buzz that Fringe can always be counted on to create: Kat Sandler’s comedy Punch-Up, Shakespeare BASH’d’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, and Rosa Laborde’s True all enjoyed sold-out runs. But it can be difficult for small companies with small budgets to generate that same level of public enthusiasm once Fringe is over. Yet those companies, and many others besides, are producing quality work year round, and with comparable ticket prices.

It’s true that Fringe audiences are often willing to take risks on shows with which they’re unfamiliar—but if you’re that kind of Fringe-goer, there’s no reason to become risk averse once the festival is over. Instead, maintain that adventurous attitude throughout the fall, winter, and spring, when local companies will appreciate word-of-mouth endorsement even more.

Appreciate the Long and Short of It

There is also a certain intensity to the Fringe experience. As Straughan notes, some Fringe-goers see 50 to 60 shows over the course of the festival. But there are ways to recapture that intensity. Soulpepper Theatre, for example, has offered marathon stagings of Angels in America and The Norman Conquests, and the Luminato Festival featured “endurance pieces” such as Matthew Barney’s films The River of Fundament and The Cremaster Cycle this past June.

But if that kind of full-on theatre experience isn’t for you, never fear—some companies are also producing shorter plays, nearer the 90-minute mark. Tarragon Theatre, for example, included more one-act plays that usual this past season. For theatregoers who want more flexibility in their evening, a shorter time commitment inside the theatre means more time at dinner or at the bar afterward.


CORRECTION: July 17, 1:50 PM This post originally stated that the C-Stage program sells tickets for $15 to attendees under 29, when in fact it is under 30. We regret the error.

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