Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Toronto Fringe: nice plays Dudes but where's the party?

The Toronto Fringe opened on Wednesday night.  It is one of the largest Fringes in the country, 155 shows in a city that is one of the largest in the English-speaking world for theatre.  The range and quality of offerings here is always high and I look forward to my time in the stalls this week which begins tonight.

For one of the largest theatre festivals in the country, Toronto has one of the smallest festival sites.  This is in part due to the fact the festival is quite spread out, but not entirely.  Winnipeg and Edmonton have very spread out performance venues now but there is a major festival central in both cities.

On the small festival site in Toronto, there is a visual Fringe with people doing mini-performances, art installations and interactive performance art. It's very nice and creative.  That part of the festival takes place on Honest Ed's parking lot, where the festival beer tent used to be.  There is also a lecture series on various aspects of the business of theatre:  very useful and we appreciate the help.

What there isn't is a party.

Before the beer tent was in Honest Ed's parking lot, it was beside the Tranzac Club and moved inside at 11:00 pm.  There was a cabaret and a DJ and dancing until the wee hours.  It was the best week of the year.  No more.

Last night, after we had our 9:00 pm  free ice cream (thank you), a bunch of earnest young things in matching t-shirts  that said they were "The 100", dutifully herded us into the alley beside Honest Ed's  where we were allowed to stand and drink quietly:  no music, no cabaret, no karaoke.  Apparently the neighbours complained about noise so the party aspect of the Fringe has been cancelled.  I figure the real reason is the surrounding bar owners decided the actors, staff and festival patrons should be spending their  beer tent money with them and used noise as an excuse to shut the party down.

It feels as if the festival organizers got together and said " what is the least we can possibly do to throw a party we don't want to have and make it as little fun as possible so these people will just go home or to a bar down the street?"

I 'm sorry dear festival managers and powers that be, but the "party" aspect of this year's Fringe totally, completely sucks. It reminds me of the small-minded, uptight Protestant, no fun, Type A anal retentiveness of Toronto that never, ever goes away, the Women's Christian Temperance aspect of this town, the pursed lipped parsimony that makes me long to be somewhere people actually like to have fun, say Montreal or Winnipeg.  It is the real reason Toronto is a hated place in the rest of the country.  Those of us from elsewhere know that unless we are  totally focused on work 24/7 here, we will be seen as lazy, shiftless slackers. 

In Montreal, the Just for Laughs theatre is the performers' bar and party space and it stays open until dawn and there is music. There is also a park with a beer tent, performances and a hang-over brunch Sunday with Crisco Twister. In Edmonton, the Fringe has an entire market square with a stage for street performers and street performers all over the site. The Festival hosts a nightly cabaret and throws the performers, staff and volunteers a party with food closing night. There are also two private bars that stay open until the wee hours during the Fringe on either end of the site.

Ottawa, tiny in comparison has a park with food, drink, a cabaret and dancing.  Their opening night was an actual party that went until 1:00 am.

In Winnipeg, the festival has a park with free public performances day and night, a street market with many kinds of food and merchandise and a combination of festival-sponsored and private enterprise (Jay and Mae, I missed you last night) and 3  bars on site, two festival run and one private.  There is music, drinking, food and dancing until 4:00 am.  The theatre festival is big and loud.  People do circus acts with fire in the street at 1:00 am. The Fringe gets a special license for a street party on the first weekend. The performers put on  a private cabaret after midnight in a private bar near the Fringe that sells out every year and is one of the highlights of the Festival:  it is rude, cheeky, naughty and fun.  And yes, people live in Winnipeg's theatre district in really expensive condos.  In Winnipeg when you throw a street party, the neighbours come join you.  If they wanted to be in a dry religious commune where you have to drink secretly in an alley, they'd head  back to Altona.

If PRIDE can have a 4 day street party in a residential neighbourhood in Toronto with three deafening stages, 4 parades, public drinking and naked people on leashes marched through the street without incident why can't  the theatre community of Toronto have a DJ after 11:00 pm? If it's  because of the neighbours, it's time to get different neighbours.

Here's a thought:  move this party to the Factory Theatre or inside Honest Ed's where we could have drinking and dancing and music and performances like they have in Winnipeg and Edmonton and Montreal during the Fringe and we could have some actual fun.  The current set-up sucks. This festival can do better and it should.  We have world-class theatre here.  Let's have a world-class party to celebrate.

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