Look, they can't all be winners.
One of the great joys of Fringe is that it’s an unjuried free-for-all. This accessibility allows it to be an exciting launching pad for so many new, young, and up-and-coming voices. Unfortunately, it’s also what causes so many of plays to be the theatrical equivalent of a tire fire. For every fresh new creative genius with a smart take on the modern condition, there’s an experimental show about a plane crash, or something where someone plays themselves as a child. It’s a crap shoot.
Unfortunately, for folks who aren’t in the theatre scene, sometimes the shows you go to are the ones your friends are in, and there’s no guarantee your friend’s show is any good. If your “friend” is an old high school pal who is suddenly contacting you, or that person from when you took one improv class in a fit of self improvement, and you have any inkling at all that the show isn’t going to be awesome, we recommend you see a different show. Save yourself from the awkward post-show conversation with an excellent all-purpose excuse, like that the timing conflicts with your aunt’s birthday, or your Brazilian jiu-jitsu class, or taking your cat to yoga.
If, on the other hand, it’s a close friend or, God forbid, your significant other, that’s not really an option. Maybe you’ll luck out and their show will be one of the great ones. Congratulations! If not, you’re going to have to think about how to handle this situation. Luckily, Torontoist has you covered.
Choose a very specific compliment:
Hopefully your friend is the best thing about the production. This makes something like “I couldn’t take my eyes off you” super easy. Because, let’s be honest, you were trying your best not to focus on the rest of that train wreck. This is especially easy if they didn’t write or direct the play.
Hold your face neutral:
Some productions feature interaction with the audience. This means house lights up and your friend possibly seeing you wince as they sing about their depression to the tune of a Taylor Swift hit. Oh God, are they RAPPING now? Oh, no.
We highly recommend practicing your game face in the mirror ahead of time. Keep your face calm, with a hint of positivity. Try the face you use when your uncle tells you about his recent hernia surgery.
If they ask the following: “What was your favorite part?” or “What did you really think?”:
Our first option would be run. We recommend the use of a ninja smoke bomb escape. Or steal some dry ice if you’re on a budget. If that’s not doable, try something like “Oh man, there were so many.”
State neutral facts:
Something like “there were a lot of people who came” or “it was 45 minutes” or “you rhymed ‘Prozac’ with ‘Conrad Black.’” Say these things enthusiastically enough and it will sound like you’re praising the show.”
Until recently you could use the phrases “you looked like you were having fun up there” or “you’ve done it again”. This is no longer so. Performers have learned what those mean. And honestly, they probably know they are in a bad show—listen to the hollow laughter at the Fringe tent if you need proof.
There you go, now get out there, make the best of it, and regardless of what shows you see, have a great Fringe.