Ten Things We Loved at Fringe 2011
The Soaps – The Live Improvised Soap Opera raised money for the Toronto Fringe Festival throughout its run, and has the 9 p.m. opening night slot at the Best of the Fringe Uptown! on July 20. Photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.
The Toronto Fringe Festival has wrapped another record-setting year, with a jump in ticket sales, almost $410,000 given to the artists, and a better than 50 per cent increase in sales at the continually busy Fringe club behind Honest Ed’s, which we captured in the banner image for our Cheat Sheet and Map.
Our contributors continued Fringing and seeing as much as possible until the very end of the festival, right up to the reading of the 24-hour playwriting contest winning entry (past winner Ron Fromstein scored again with OUT, a one-man show performed by David Yee) and the triumphant conclusion of the 54-hour marathon of The Godot Cycle at midnight on Sunday. We took a day to recover and reflect on all we saw, and now here are our top 10 highlights. Keep an eye out for these shows, performers, and companies; we expect you’ll hear about them all again.
Cast members of Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go show off their beach-ready bods. Photo by Rich Burdett.
Everyone’s abs in Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go
Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go‘s title didn’t leave much to the imagination—and neither did the costumes. Luckily, the entire cast made sure their bods were beach-buff as they shimmied in their skivvies all the way into our hearts. In a throwback to the Beach Party films of the ’50s and ’60s, featuring actual songs from the era, such as “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini,” Allison Beula’s musical was a feel-good romp in the sand and surf, with little conflict, a lot of the Mashed Potato, and of course, a reprise to cap off a happy ending. A crowd favourite at this year’s Fringe, the show pleased audiences upon first glance. But tight dance numbers and knee-slapper after knee-slapper proved Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A Go-Go had much more to offer than just eye candy.
Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A Go-Go plays July 24 at 7 p.m. and July 26 at 9 p.m. at the Best of the Fringe Uptown! showcase series at the Toronto Centre for the Arts (5040 Yonge Street), $15.
The board at Dungeons and Dragons (Not) The Musical. Photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.
The marketing and social-media inventiveness of Cellar Hotel and Dungeons and Dragons: (Not) The Musical
In the chaotic flurry of posturing and pamphleteering that kicks off the Fringe Festival each year, it’s a constant challenge for performers to find innovative ways to promote their show that will set them apart from the rest. Some stage impromptu performances for waiting lines, while others work out cross-promotional deals with other troupes and shows. Standing out this year was the team at Chicken Coop Theatre, who took a novel approach to promoting their ensemble musical, Cellar Hotel. Turning the spotlight on their large cast—a whopping 20 bodies—the team made individual trading card–style pamphlets for each character and spread them around town. Each card featured one of the show’s characters, including embodiments of the seven deadly sins and the seven heavenly virtues (worthy of particular note was Christian Jeffries’ mouth-watering turn as Gluttony). Patrons were offered free tickets if they could collect and present full sets of seven pamphlets.
The social-media savvy Praxis Theatre, meanwhile, live-tweeted throughout their experimental performances of Dungeons and Dragons (Not) The Musical, which saw teams of performers, directors, and gamers running through unscripted campaigns of the classic tabletop board game in the basement of gaming emporium Snakes and Lattes. Unlike its cyclical drop-in cousin The Godot Cycle, the six-hour games were difficult to jump in and out of—and staying for long stretches could get claustrophobic in the muggy cafe basement. But the tweets allowed patrons to keep tabs on the action while absent and singled out some of the clever lines that flew back and forth across the dungeon map. The whole show may have been a hit-and-miss exercise in improvisation, but this clever use of social media made it easy to enjoy.
The cast of She Said What Happened: from left to right, Meg Mack, Marni Van Dyk, and Emma Hunter. Photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.
The rapping by Twizzle (Luis Fernandez) in P-Dale: The Play and the cast of She Said What Happened
We usually cringe when a character in a play or comedy sketch breaks into a rap number, but there were two instance this Fringe where we enjoyed seeing performers breaking it down. Luis Fernandes’ impulsive Parkdale braggart, “Twizzle,” was the highlight of the sometimes uneven P-Dale: The Play, and his committed performance has us looking forward to the planned web series. And in She Said What Happened, the sketch trio of Emma Hunter, Meg Mack, and Marni Van Dyke closed their show with a brilliant number featuring gangsta ballerinas spitting rhymes about repping with their pliés and grand jetés.
Sharon Nowlan and Paul Hutcheson of Canuck Cabaret. Detail of a photo by David Hawe.
Paul Hutcheson’s Northern Lights story in Canuck Cabaret
We caught a number of entertaining cabaret-style variety shows at this year’s Fringe, including the delightfully dirty duo of Terry Clement and Nikki Payne in Go F#$% Yourself (You Know What We Mean) and the epic-in-scope dance-and-silk spectacle of Infinitum. But our favourite cabaret moment was a simple and rather earnest monologue in Canuck Cabaret (which still had plenty of risque and revealing turns, most courtesy of Sharon Nowlan in her burlesque persona, Prairie Fire): Paul Hutcheson described seeing the Northern Lights over a lake while sharing a joint with friends at a wedding, and, assisted by the play of lights in the elegant confines of the Annex Theatre, he effectively conveyed the sense of reverence and awe the sight engendered.
Bird (Jeff Schissler) and Flower (Dale Miller) in The Giant’s Garden. Photo by Lindsay Anne Black.
The inter-species friendship between Bird and Flower in The Giant’s Garden
Ninety minute–long family musicals are not usually popular fare among the Fringe masses, but The Giant’s Garden had a Toy Story–like appeal to both younger and older audiences. The story, based on an Oscar Wilde fairy tale, and the cast were both uniformly charming, but the odd couple of Bird (Jeff Schissler) and Flower (Dale Miller) was particularly heartwarming. Their friendship was the stuff of legend—Bird being the persistently upbeat go-getter, Flower the endearingly vain and sassy counterpart. Their banter may have appeared superficial at first in the utopia of the Giant’s garden, but thrown out in the face of perpetual winter, they proved to have each others’ backs (wings? stems?) despite being from completely different worlds. Should they fly south? Should they find warmth and take root? Should they split up? In the end, we wished we had a friendship that no external forces could tear apart, be it a spiteful winter or flora/fauna conflicts. And one we could celebrate with a catchy tune to boot.
The cast of Kim’s Convenience. Photo by Ian Liwanag.
The buzz around Kim’s Convenience
Now, we’re not usually fans of three-hour lineups, but when they’re leading to an unknown play like Kim’s Convenience, we were glad to see them. Even when the Mirvish hit My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding and Tony Award–winner The Drowsy Chaperone made their debuts at previous Fringes, the hype around them didn’t reach the kind of fever pitch that Kim’s received. And judging by those aforementioned successes, it won’t be long before Ins Choi’s first foray into playwriting gets a much longer, much bigger run—so that everyone who didn’t even have a chance to wait three hours can see the heartfelt yet hysterical story of a Korean family and their store in Regent Park. With Choi’s words as the foundation, the ensemble really made the play strong, led by the parental figures of Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Jean Yoon, and Choi himself as their estranged son.
Kim’s Convenience plays July 24 at 9 p.m., July 26 at 7 p.m., July 27 at 7 p.m., July 29 at 7 p.m., July 30 at 7 p.m., August 2 at 9 p.m., and August 5 at 9 p.m. at the Best of the Fringe Uptown! showcase series at the Toronto Centre for the Arts (5040 Yonge Street), $15.
Chris Craddock and Ron Pederson in LOVE Octagon. Photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.
The heartfelt audience contributions (and heart-stirring musical accompaniment) of LOVE Octagon
Good improv (like the improv we saw from The Soaps – The Live Improvised Soap Opera, and Trotsky and Hutch) is good improv: borderline superhuman for those of us unschooled in the art, it exhilarates in the way that only fly-by-the-seat-of-your-knickers antics can. But what set apart The LOVE Octagon from your typical (albeit exciting) experience of well-executed improvisation was the built-in humanity of its premise. Where audience members might otherwise be mere flies on the theatre wall, here they were contributors to the absurdity, offering up their most personal love and heartbreak tales to be spun into drawers-soiling hysterics—including one from Torontoist‘s very own Corbin Smith. Then there was the musical direction of Waylen Miki, for whom there aren’t enough mad props in this world to give. Even with his young son perched restlessly on his knee (babysitter bailage?), Miki’s off-the-cuff keyboard chops were right on.
Gogo (David Christo, left) and Didi (Eric Craig) haul Lucky (Dan Pagett) to his feet while Pozzo (Geoff Scovell) looks on, in the first, 30-hour iteration of The Godot Cycle. Photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.
The stamina of David Christo and Eric Craig in The Godot Cycle
Nobody can deny that David Christo and Eric Craig stood out this festival as paragons of sheer willpower, between their two performances of The Godot Cycle, which lasted 30 and 54 hours. Merely performing for these stretches counts as a laudable act, but these gents not only stayed awake and recited lines for two marathon stretches—they performed, with character and charisma to spare, for the entire durations. The result was a brilliantly layered show, in which the audience could appreciate several levels of performance—that of Beckett’s cleverly crafted script, and that of Christo and Craig’s tenacious exercise in absurdism.
The length of these performances—as well as their handy location in the parking garage directly beneath the Fringe Tent—made for a wonderfully novel Fringe experience. A ticket allowed patrons to drop in whenever they wished, between other shows, after a late night of partying, or whenever the fancy might strike. The indefatigable actors were always prepared for their audience, as was their small army of accomplices taking up the three secondary roles of Pozzo, Lucky, and Boy. Varying in gender, age, and style, these performers ensured a bit of interesting diversity in the cycling play. Of the guests we saw, hat tips are owed to Matt Lancaster, who began and ended the performances with his blustery turn as Pozzo; Geoff Scovell, who ended up performing extra “shifts” as Pozzo on short notice; and the red-nosed team of Morro and Jasp, who took the hint of clown in the roles of Pozzo and Lucky to a whole new level.
James Gangl in his standout solo show Sex, Religion, and Other Hang-ups. Photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.
James Gangl’s unflinching honesty in Sex, Religion, and Other Hang-Ups
There was a bumper crop of polished, clever, and witty solo shows this year at the Fringe. Pitch Blond, Bursting Into Flames, Cancer Can’t Dance Like This, When Harry Met Harry, and Chaotica were all well-staged and charming examples of the sort of engrossing story a single capable performer can spin for a crowd on stage. But the strongest solo show of the fest was the one we highlighted in our Fringe preview section for the category. James Gangl’s very funny and very revealing account of his early sexual experiences, and how they were tied in with his obsessions about his acting career and Catholic upbringing, had his audience in stitches throughout the show—a problem for Gangl, as he was constantly concerned the frequent laugh and applause breaks would push the show past its 60-minute time slot limit. Here’s hoping he and the show get picked up for a full run, where he can tease it out for as long as possible.
The madcap players of Uncalled For presents: Hypnogogic Logic. Photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.
The controlled Insanity of Uncalled For Presents: Hypnogogic Logic
Setting a show in the mental middle ground between sleep and consciousness opens up a lot of possibilities for plot lines. In fact, it opens up all possibilities for plot lines. Literally there is no cast of characters or sequence of events too outlandish or far-fetched for our subconscious in a dream-state to accept as completely logical. And this is the beauty of Hypnogogic Logic. The men of Montreal’s Uncalled For are able to unleash their sketch prowess, uninhibited by bothersome limitations like “time,” “space,” and “science.” And while some troupes would run a little too wild with such freedom, Dan Jeannotte, Anders Yates, Matt Goldberg, and special guests Colin Munch and Robin Toller of Sexual Tyrannosaurus, showed unimaginable restraint. From a dictionary preacher, to doppelganger elderly British couples, to a reincarnated Freddie Mercury, all the sketches, and don’t ask us how, made sense.
Uncalled For presents: Hypnogogic Logic plays July 20 at 7 p.m. at the Best of the Fringe Uptown! showcase series at The Toronto Centre for the Arts (5040 Yonge Street), $15.
This post originally misspelled the name of musician Waylen Miki (to whom we gave mad props). We have corrected the spelling and regret the error.