Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Who Needs TICKETS? Previews for Winnipeg and a review of the 2014 Toronto Fringe

The Toronto Fringe ended on Sunday night as it always does, with a party.

I always feel sad the next day.

Like Christmas, an event that takes place in a fortnight is planned and saved for and worked for much of the year and seems to be done in an instant.

I saw most of what was on my list, made some happy discoveries and missed some things I heard great news of and wished I'd seen. I got to eighteen shows which was not bad for a week in which I worked full time.  The shows below were a few of my favourites.

The two best happy accidents: TRUE by Rose Laborde.  My friend and I were on our way to dinner at the Drake when we came a cross a line-up outside a show.  "I've heard good things about this," I said.
"You wanna go?"  he said.  It was sold out.  A man in the line came up to us and said, "Do you want to buy my tickets?"  My friend bought them for us and we went and I'm very glad we did.  It was one of the best written, best acted, best directed new plays I've seen in Toronto this year. Five actors in a tiny (30 seat) site specific venue did a galvanizing show about three siblings (and  one of their spouses) coming to terms with a messed-up parent and an ugly past.

The play cut so close to the bone I walked out of the theatre in tears.  I sure as hell didn't have that dad, but I  have loved people who did and I saw what it did to them.  I hope some artistic director in town will pick this show up for a remount. One of the ADs from the Factory was in the line-up the night I was there.  Fingers crossed.

The second was a beer tent happenstance.  I sat down with Fringe goddess Alex Dallas, Jem Rolls and a couple from New Zealand I had never met.  The couple were doing MR AND MRS ALEXANDER, SIDESHOW and PSYCHICS. Lizzie Tollemache and David Ladderman were very charming and fun and invited me to see their sold out show on Saturday night.  Winnipeg, get your butts over to the West End Cultural Centre.  These two are a total treat and this show is unlike anything I've seen at the Fringe in many years.  Part magic, part mind-reading, part mystery and all fun.

If you're in Winnipeg also check out WHO KILLED GERTRUDE CRUMP? Tara Travis has charm and aplomb to spare and she made a byzantine plot and twelve characters in a PBS style British murder mystery (Agatha Christie makes an appearance but I'm not telling you anything else) come to life on a lovely set.

I enjoyed THE DEVIL'S CIRCUS,  by Winnipeg-based, The Wishes Mystical Puppet Company who did a pop-rock musical about Orpheus and Eurydice with trick marionettes and lots of music.  It's a fun take on an old story and really gorgeous to look at. They're coming home with this. It's well worth a look.

Jem Rolls may be in the best show he's ever written, with JEM ROLLS ONE MAN TRAFFIC JAM and that's saying something.  Brilliant writing, full of thought provoking ideas and luminous imagery is coupled with Jem's trademark flat out performance.  Jem is also in Winnipeg this week.

Two shows not coming down the road I thought were good were POTOSI and PARALLEL PLAY.

POTOSI takes place in a Canadian-run mining town in a corrupt outback somewhere. It was a thought-provoking and compelling drama and it was well worth seeing though the tone was uneven and the woman lawyer character is a bit problematic as she's currently constructed.   I hope they get a chance to twig it with a good dramaturge and remount it somewhere, because it certainly has good bones.

One of my other favourite shows was PARALLEL PLAY (also not touring alas) a really smart sketch  comedy show that made me laugh and wince in recognition. Elvira Kurt and Megan Fahlenbock are fine writers and terrific performers.  It was a really enjoyable show.

This was a great festival.  There was a lot of  good work, some great parties and as usual, the Toronto Fringe was well run and well-organized.  Props to the staff and volunteers on a great job.

The only fly in the ointment this week was the "new and improved" ticketing system which was great for the festival, which now makes $2 out of $12 on every advance ticket and gets to keep the pass money that patrons pay in advance, up front, if the patrons can't use their passes because the shows they wanted to see were sold out.

I get that the festival needs money and I get that this can be an advantage to hot-selling shows, though it isn't much of one really.  I have produced two five-star sell outs, one here and one in Winnipeg and  50% tickets available at the door didn't hurt me one bit.  I still sold out. Yes, patrons with passes paid me less than patrons who just paid for a ticket.  I'm fine with that.  The pass holders come back year after year, like subscribers who also get a deal. Is there a theatre in town who doesn't want more subscribers?

I have no problem with making 100% of the tickets available in advance, but a big problem with penalizing the most dedicated paying audience members for buying a pass by refusing to take those passes at the box office for advance tickets.

The festival really put a lot of spin on this new system: "better for performers" and "the same as Edmonton" and "lots of other shows to see today, folks" but we all know what it has done is penalized the audience to improve the festival's bottom line and effectively raised the price of a seat and kept the raise for the festival as opposed to passing it on to the performers.

No matter what you call it ( a box office surcharge) or how you want to spin or slice it, 100% of the box office no longer goes to the performers.  $2 of every advance ticket goes to the festival. Yes Edmonton does it but what it really means is Edmonton and now Toronto both gets fees from the performers ( about $700 a show) as well as chunk of their box office.

The Winnipeg Fringe takes discounted passes at the box office for advance tickets. So does TIFF.  Come on TORONTO FRINGE, don't punish our best customers by offering them a back-handed deal.  Take advance passes at the box office, forego some revenue ( and yes, the performers will get $8.80 instead of $10 for a ticket to a sold-out show) and play fair with your patrons.  The performers and the festival both absorb the cost of VIP tickets because those patrons donate money or in-kind service to the festival.  Those pass-holders can get advance tickets with their passes.

Also if the festival is going to go to this system of taking a box office fee, it needs to STOP saying ALL the box office revenue goes to the performers when it solicits audience donations because it is no longer true.

I get that the festival needs money to operate but it needs to do it in a way that is honest and doesn't suck for its most loyal audience members. I'd rather you charged us all $1 per drink more for alcohol.

Have fun at the Winnipeg Fringe, my Western readers.  I'm sad to not be there this week.  Maybe next year.

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