The Toronto Fringe Festival Begins With a Sprint, and a Sprain

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The Toronto Fringe Festival Begins With a Sprint, and a Sprain

There was music and pandemonium at the opening ceremonies of the 25th Toronto Fringe Festival.

The Toronto Fringe Festival kicked off its 25th-annual summer theatre festival on Wednesday in the alley behind Honest Ed’s, with opening remarks from Executive Director Kelly Straughan and VIPs David Mirvish, Olivia Chow, and Mike Layton. There was also the traditional madcap poster sprint, plus a rousing set from hometown fuzz-rock band Hooded Fang, recently returned from a U.S. tour.

Straughan, who’s now had the reins for a full year (encompassing the winter Next Stage Festival, as well as the Fringe), kept her remarks short, as they were punctuated by anxious Fringe artists ripping up packing tape to prepare for the poster sprint—a race to fill up nearby boards with show posters that Straughan joking referred to as the “Hunger Games” of Fringe. Straughan was eager to emphasize the substantial changes to the festival’s outdoor club area, located in the Honest Ed’s alley. Last year, it was burdened with awkward compromises to allay community concerns. This year, she said, “there will be no more lines, and no more herding.” (Indeed, the space is much more open and attractive, and the sound baffling truck is gone.) She briefly mentioned the food trucks, the Visual Fringe, Alley Plays, and other programming, in addition to the more than 140 lottery-selected shows. “This is Fringe, and it’s up to you to choose your own adventure.”

Fringe President Sara Peel introduced Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), who listed off a few shows from the program that he joked could refer to council, such as Socially Acceptable Half-Truths. Layton was followed by his stepmother, MP Olivia Chow, who spoke warmly about the importance of art and theatre in encouraging us to “look at things in a new way—that’s where progress comes from.” The third and final speaker was David Mirvish, who recalled past Fringe hits that Mirvish ended up producing, like The Drowsy Chaperone and Da Kink in My Hair. He assured the audience he and his staff would be scouting plenty of shows.

When speeches concluded, Mirvish walked to the other end of the alley to ring the starting bell and release a mob of Fringe performers eager to get prime real estate for their posters on the boards along the club site. With many participants wearing flip flops or lingerie, it was a surprise that, even after nearly a dozen artists tumbled in a way that briefly resembled a scene from World War Z, there were no serious injuries, save for a twisted ankle.

Once every inch of the boards was covered with posters and flyers, Fringe artists and patrons were treated to a special performance by Hooded Fang, presented by the Wavelength Music Series. In introducing the band (and revealing that they’ve been added to the bill of the final ALL CAPS music festival), longtime Wavelength host Doc Pickles made the most astute statement of the afternoon. “We had a mayor who didn’t get it, but really loved giant moose; then we had a mayor who really did get the arts, and supported them. Now, we don’t. But the pendulum swings back and forth, from positive and negative, and artists will continue to be constantly inspired by both.”

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