The Fringe is almost upon us! The nineteenth annual Fringe of Toronto Theatre Festival starts this Wednesday, and as any experienced Fringer can tell you, it’s good to be prepared. After all, you have only twelve days to navigate your way through a record-breaking 140 pieces of theatre. And this is why your good buddy Torontoist has decided to give you a bit of a break by coming up with a few suggestions of plays that may well be less-than-missable (but it’s totally not our fault if you hate them!) In fact, our Superduper Preview has even divided buzz-worthy shows into separate categories for easy perusal. How nice was that?
Awesome Titles = Awesome Shows?
The sheer amount of shows at the Fringe combined with the fact that all are selected by random lottery means that avoiding stinkers is sometimes impossible. There are several ways to try to pick a Fringe show that will be cool/hot, and one popular (although admittedly not always reliable) method is to go see the show with the most hilarious name.
• A Streetcar Named Gerrard is a show about two women sitting in a kitchen in a house that is about to be demolished. Can it possibly be as good a riff on Tennessee Williams’ classic southern melodrama as The Simpson’s “Oh! Streetcar!”?
• Jihad Me At Hello is the latest from Calgary sketch comedy group Obscene But Not Heard.
• If documentary-style theatre is your style, check out Talk Thirty to Me, whose text is made up entirely of interviews conducted with over 50 29-year-olds from all walks of life.
Something Ironic: The Musical!
These days, you can’t swing a cat at the Fringe without encountering a show with the suffix “The Musical.” Blame The Drowsy Chaperone and Top Gun: The Musical for inspiring a host of imitators hoping their own humble Fringe shows will gain such lucrative (and American) success. But while it’s good advice to think twice before buying your tickets to Rainbow Brite vs. ThunderCats: The Musical, there’s no need to avoid them entirely, especially ones that sound this clever and fun.
• An Inconvenient Musical is, obviously, a musical version of Al Gore’s enviro-doc, written and directed by The Rumoli Bros. (of Sarsical fame) and starring local hunk Fabrizio Filippo.
• A self-described “gay rap opera,” BASH’d has a strong pedigree (created by the guy who wrote Boygroove and the guy who wrote STANDupHOMO) and tells the story of an Edmontonian gay couple who get bashed during the same-sex marriage debate.
• LOTR: The Musical: The Musical! (pictured at the top) is very Fringe and very Torontonian. In mockery of the Mount Doom-sized flop that was The Lord of the Rings: The Musical, LOTR:TM:TM! tells the story behind the story. David Miller may be a character in this play.
Part of the Fringe’s founding philosophy is the idea that anyone could hypothetically do anything and be able to stage it provided they win the lottery draw. This has long made it a haven for raunchier and racier shows, and this year is no exception.
• Caberlesque: this Regina-based company’s show was voted Best of Fringe last year at Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Calgary and promises a sexy blend of, as the title suggests, cabaret and burlesque.
• Drag Queens Talk About Their Vaginas: the title really says it all, doesn’t it? This show about a drag queen who believes she is being stalked by her own vagina (…huh?) likely features some mature content.
One great thing about the Toronto Fringe is that performing companies get to keep 100% of their box office revenue. However, as anyone who has worked on a large-ensemble, heavily-designed, five-stage-manager kind of show can tell you, that money starts to spread pretty thin the more people are involved. This makes the one-person show, financially-speaking, the smartest show to produce at the Fringe.
• Maxim and Cosmo is the newest offering from Fringe legend and one-man-tour-de-force TJ Dawe. Go early and expect a line.
• As well as acting in the one show, the versatile Mr. Dawe is also directing Dishpig; a one-man show he co-wrote with Greg Landucci, who will star.
• Finally, Curriculum Vitae, written and directed by Jimmy Hogg, may not be a TJ Dawe show, but it’s plot concerning a young man’s attempts to work at various unsatisfactory jobs sounds an awful lot like Dawe’s Fringe hit The Slipknot. Hogg’s show was voted Best of Fringe last year in San Francisco.
• Dad Who? Evelyn Reese’s Focus on the Family is another show featuring Fringe fave Evelyn Reesea character played by the versatile Susan Fischer.
• Another frequent Fringe player is Scottish Jem Rolls, whose new show JEM ROLLS up is likely to be hilarious and very popular.
• The Lost Property Office is a new show from talented Fringe performer Nicola Gunn, who is known for densely-plotted, multi-character one-person shows that are totally amazing to watch.
The romantic comedy is actually a very popular genre of Fringe plays, and sometimes, the results can be delightful. And this year, there are certainly a few plays that you could totally take someone cute to.
• Expiry Dating is a new play written by and starring former Torontoist editor Alison Broverman. Yay! It’s also the winner of the 2007 Fringe New Play Contest, so the script is probably pretty tight.
• Searching for Degrassi: OK, so maybe the title just really works for us. But the concept to two people falling in love while reminiscing about the seminal Canadian teen drama sounds like something we’d like to see in our own lives as well as on stage.
• Serena de Bergerac, as you might guess, is a modern spin on Cyrano de Bergerac, this time set within an arts high school and with a gender reversal, which sounds potentially smart and adorable.
The Fringe’s BYOV (or Bring-Your-Own-Venue) shows are often a cool reminder that theatre doesn’t always have to exist in a… theatre.
• The Gladstone Variations is a new play by the people who created last year’s superb AutoShow, which was performed in the parking lot of Royal St. George’s. This show is a Tamara-esque drama performed at the Gladstone hotel where the audience has the option of following different characters and seeing different “variations” on the same play. Cool!
• The Depth of the Ocean is a four-person play set on a lifeboat. The twist is that they use an actual lifeboat afloat in UofT’s Olympic-sized pool, which is the kind of idea we wish we’d thought of first.
• I Keep Dropping Sh*t: The Newtonian Revolution is Small Wooden Shoe‘s latest Dedicated to the Revolutions show. This time, the revolution is Newton’s laws of physics.
Children are the future!
Not all shows at the Fringe are about drag queens’ vaginae! KidsVenue shows are all specifically geared towards the young-uns, so if you’ve got some theatre-loving rugrats you want to introduce to the world of Fringing, that’s entirely possible.
• Andrew Lamb directs Just So Stories; a theatrical adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s magical short stories that explain how camels got their humps, among other things.
• Jurassic Poop Productions’ The Coprolite Caper: The Mysterious Case of Who Dung It? is one of the weirdest sounding things we’ve ever heard of. It’s all about dinosaur poo. Apparently, the kids totally love it.
As always, you can never entirely be prepared for what the Fringe is going to throw at you. Sometimes your best bet is to hang around the beer tent next to the Tranzac and hear what shows other people are talking about. If you do this during the beginning of the fest, it’s also a good way to pick up free “word-of-mouth” tickets that shows use to try to help build an audience.
Finally, if you Fringe, Fringe hard. But save a bit of money so you can get a SummerWorks pass in August.