Wednesday, July 3, 2013

As the 25th Toronto Fringe Opens, let's toast the guy who got the party started!

Tonight, the 25th Toronto Fringe Festival opens.

The largest theatre festival in Toronto will have 148 shows in 35 venues, site-specific performances, an art alley, rocking parties, bands and a beer tent.

There will be new plays, revivals of classic texts, poets, clowns, musical theatre, dance, street performances and hybrids of some or all of the aforementioned.  It is a feast of theatre that is central, accessible, inexpensive, and a ton of fun.

Instead of previewing shows I think you might enjoy this week ( I'll do that in a day or so), I'd like to invite you to stop and thank the person who initially made the Fringe festival in Toronto possible in the first place.

As audiences and performers experience the large, (relatively) well-financed festival we have today, it is hard to believe this started with a few venues, 25 shows, very little money, and a guy who was crazy enough to give bringing the Fringe festival concept to Toronto a shot.

While he was still in his 20s, Gregory Nixon, a musician, producer, and actor got together with a few friends and decided to create an artist-driven theatre festival in Toronto.

Edmonton, Winnipeg, Victoria and Vancouver already had fringe festivals.  Bringing an unjuried and uncensored theatre festival to the largest centre for theatre production in the country (and one of the more conservative) was a gutsy and risky move that has brought enormous benefit to theatre practitioners and audiences alike.

In large measure, I write plays because of the Toronto Fringe.   I know I'm not alone in owing an enormous part of my career to the festival.  DA KINK IN MY HAIR, ONE MAN STAR WARS, THE DROWSY CHAPERONE,  Rick Miller, Mump and Smoot, Sandra Shamas:  the shows and performers who started at the Toronto Fringe are legendary.  

Commercial hits were never the point of the festival however.  The point was to give artists a venue for absolutely free expression.  That fine and laudable tradition continues to this day.  As long as you don't go over your time, you can do anything you want at the Fringe.

After five years at the helm of the festival, Gregory went on to contribute to the growth and development of other important cultural events, and institutions in Toronto including Nuit Blanche, Harbourfront Centre and the Toronto Arts Awards. He has made over 20 films about art, and artists from a range of disciplines, exhibited his photography, and served on the boards of directors of many arts organizations.

As we get our party on for the next twelve days, and celebrate all the great theatre we'll see this week, the generosity of the sponsors, and the hard work of the administration and staff of the festival, past and present, I think we ought to pause, and take a moment to thank the man who made all of this possible in the first place. All of us who have ever attended or made work at the Toronto Fringe owe a debt of gratitude to Gregory Nixon.

Gregory, we are all richer for your vision and your commitment to the arts community in the city.  Thank you.

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