Theatre Underground: The Toronto Fringe Festival
The Toronto Fringe festival began last night, as downtown came alive to celebrate live performance. For the next two weeks, Torontonians as well as visitors to the city that Canada loves to hate can visit the unlikeliest of places to catch acts from all over the world. There are 29 venues, including site-specific (Bring Your Own Venue) locations, some of which are pre-existing performance spaces. The focus is on Canadian content, as it were, with 75% of the shows coming from Ontario-based groups and artists. The other 15% are from elsewhere in Canada, with the last 10% coming from abroad.
The artists apply to specific categories, and the lineup is decided by lottery. Once a spot in the Fringe lineup is secured, the visiting company must arrive on its own steam, supplying props and costumes and organizing accommodation; the performers get 100% of the box office takings, while the festival itself subsists on donations and the entry fees.
There are 148 different productions this year, as well as various acts performing at the Fringe Club (hosted by the Australia New Zealand Club at Brunswick Ave just below Bloor).
Hopping off the bus at Bloor near Ossington, a friend and I queued for tickets outside a run-down storefront, behind whose doors lay the Comedy Bar. It was, well, a basement, albeit a basement with beer on tap.
Audience size for Fringe shows can be hard to predict, but as this was the festival's opening night, the hipsters and theaterati were out in force. The 100-seat venue was near capacity. We were there to see Brit comedian Jimmy Hogg's one-man show entitled A Brief History of Petty Crime, which was a deceptively sweet narrative about a kid growing up under the wrong sorts of influences, and who just wanted to meet girls. The first twenty minutes of the hour-long show seemed a bit stiff, though with his first direct interaction with the crowd Hogg found his feet and brought the audience into the world he was creating. It was a perfect way to start the festival, an intimate, lo-fi performance that you can reach out and touch, without a lot of stuffiness or pretense. If you're in or near Toronto, it'd be a sin to miss the Fringe.