Against the Odds at the Fringe Lottery
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Against the Odds at the Fringe Lottery

Over 300 Ontario theatre companies, from the fledgling to the famous, played their odds in the 2012 Toronto Fringe Festival Lottery.

Gideon Arthurs addresses his audience of potential Fringers.

“My father used to tell me that art depends on two things, luck and talent,” announces Gideon Arthurs to an eager audience at Theatre Passe Muraille last night. “But for the Fringe only the former applies.”

People laugh, but the statement is true. While it’s indisputable that many, many, of the artists involved in the Toronto Fringe Festival every year, including those in attendance last night, are demonstrably and enviably talented, it’s actually not a prerequisite. There are three rules that a festival needs to meet in order to be considered a Fringe Festival: the organizers cannot interfere with the artwork in any way; 100 per cent of the box office goes straight to the performers, creators, and technicians; and the lineup must be completely chosen at random in a lottery process.

Talent is just a bonus.

Kat Sandler and Daniel Pagett of Theatre Brouhaha win the New Play Contest for Help Yourself.

That lottery took place yesterday, bringing local applicants to Theatre Passe Muraille for the live results for the 2012 Toronto Fringe Festival Ontario programming (international and national entries were announced earlier that afternoon).

Coming from a very successful run this past summer, the 2011 Toronto Fringe Festival brought about 90,000 attendees to its events, and Arthurs, Toronto Fringe’s executive director, was especially pleased to announce that they sold twice as many tickets as the Luminato Festival. Now in its 24th year, it continues to grow. Yesterday the Festival chose 96 companies and waitlisted another 48 out of a grand total of 646 applications.

The first announcement of the evening was the winner of the New Play Contest (an exception to the overall Fringe randomness)—an especially buzzing category since last year’s pick, Kim’s Convenience by Ins Choi, was the festival’s breakaway hit and is now included in Soulpepper Theatre’s 2012 season as that company’s first original production. Which means this year’s winner, Help Yourself by Theatre Brouhaha’s Kat Sandler and co-created by Daniel Pagett—a “quirky thriller” about a man whose profession is to justify other people’s decisions for them (no matter the moral implications)—has rather large shoes to fill. Help Yourself is guaranteed a spot in the 2012 Fringe lineup, but audiences can get a taste of Sandler’s work sooner with LOVESEXMONEY playing in the Fringe Festival’s Next Stage Festival this coming January.

The "Barrel of Hope"

For the draw itself the air was thick with tension as the crowd stared at the plastic bin with gold sparkly fabric draped over its mouth, containing their lottery numbers, hopes, and dreams inside. Beginning with the winning six dance and eight Fringe Kids applicants, most reached their breaking points when the Ontario 60- and 90-minute plays were announced, categories with a roughly seven per cent chance of being selected. Sounds of anguish, frustration, and a few expletives erupted from the crowd members who narrowly missed the winning tickets (the owners of which were largely missing from the theatre).

A few recognizable names emerged from the “Barrel of Hope”—Pandemic Theatre; Phil Luzi from The Specials; Little Black Dress Theatre; Up your Nose and In your Toes (U.N.I.T.) Productions; and Soup Can Theatre (the latter two will join Theatre Brouhaha in the Next Stage Festival also)—but most of the winning companies are, at least for now, unknown.

Though part of him wished the companies weren’t so PG, their unfamiliarity is a good thing for executive director Arthurs. “I love that 95 per cent are people I don’t know. That’s the whole point,” he said.

Exectuive director of the Toronto Fringe Festival, Gideon Arthurs.

Applications are still open for site-specific shows (another exception to the random draw), which Arthurs says are usually accepted as long as they’re good. The 2012 festival will also see the return of the Visual Fringe, which premiered last year and will now double in size. Also new in 2012 is the Fringe’s Shed Shows, which will give three curators free reign inside a small shed for 24-hour programming.

Not everyone left Theatre Passe Muraille last night feeling lucky, but if the saying is true, at least they still have talent to fall back on.

Photos by Dylan George.