Tuesday, July 7, 2015

FRINGING THE NIGHTS AWAY: Notes from the Beer Tent

The Toronto 2015 Fringe festival is at the half-way mark.  I'm feeling a bit bleary.  It's hard being at work at 8:30 am, when you're going to bed at 1:30 am most nights, after seeing that 11:00 pm show.  I used to be able to handle 12 straight days of this. Now, sleep deprivation seems to be catching up with me at the half-way mark.

Tonight my BFF has gone to see U2 ( there are other shows on beside the ones at the Fringe, apparently) and she and her consort asked me if I'd like to babysit my god-daughter.  Perfect circumstances for blogging about the festival so far - and, having an early night.

The beer tent, as the main festival site is affectionately known, has much more on offer than booze.  For starters, this year, it has a large water station in the middle, opposite, but not too close to the port-a-potties.

The bar always had pitchers of water out, and plastic glasses handy. This year, the bartenders told me, they wanted to offer easy access to water, but be more environmentally friendly, and toss out fewer cups.  To that end, the Fringe is selling reusable metal water bottles for the insanely low price of $2.00 - or you can bring your own.

Don't worry:  there's still beer, as well as wine and cocktails.  Seagrams and Steam Whistle are both sponsors.

The club has a great vibe: social, comfy, and relaxed.  There's live music, a photo booth, some cool vintage dealer-vendors in the mix of artisans, and a nice range of food offerings, including good vegan choices as well as pulled pork, curry, and burgers.  Pretty green umbrellas over the tables help complete the transformation of what is usually a parking lot, and alleyway, in a theatre party patio.

By the way, that patio is now completely non-smoking. If you want a cigarette, you need to step outside.

As usual, there are alley and shed shows at Fringe Central, for donations or pass-the-hat.  There are also theme nights (DJ Bingo on Friday!) and interesting tent talks, a series of professional development lectures directed at the arts community.

The tent is also open until 4:00 am on Saturday nights!  Whoo-hoo!  Now, if we could just have one, old-school, late night, dance party, my joy would be complete.

The festival has tried to address the thorny issue of pass-holders not having equal access to hot-selling shows as advance ticket purchasers, by giving them the option of paying a $2 per ticket fee, which then allows them to purchase tickets, in advance, for any show.  It's not a perfect solution, but it is a fairly reasonable compromise.

Now, if only those nice front of house people would stop saying the entire box office is turned over to the artists, when they pass the watering can around for donations. I am all for supporting the festival by tipping the Fringe. However, ticket fees, like the fees charged to artists to be in the festival, are, to the best of my knowledge, retained by the festival itself.

I've seen thirteen shows so far, and have about another dozen to go. For the most part, the standard of the work I've seen so far has been very high.

In addition to my pre-festival preview picks, I've lucked into a few great shows by chance.

NANTUCKET, which I went to because a friend wanted to see it, is a very well-told, beautifully written, and powerful family drama by American writer and actor, Mark Kenward.

On the advice of Ottawa theatre bloggers, Brian Carroll and Barb Popel, I decided to check out ZACK ZULTANA: SPACE GIGOLO.  Writer/performer Jeff Leard throws himself at this spoof of block-buster space adventure films, with the velocity of a rogue asteroid.  His energetic charm is irresistible, and I bounced out of the theatre on a wave of his exuberance. This is great, good fun.

In addition to the shows left from my preview list, I'm hoping to get to LUST and MARRIAGE on Friday night, if I can get a ticket, SHEVIL, because I know the terrific Susan Wesson is singing in it, and I haven't seen a musical yet this week, DEBRIS a shadow puppet show from Winnipeg, because the puppets they brought when they fliered the line-up the other night were so beautiful, HEY GOOD LOOKING! because Jillian Rees-Brown is a fine actress, and COMING and GOING, a contemporary dance piece, because they had great reviews out West last summer.

Not every show gets reviewed, and even the shows that do manage to get reviewed, aren't always covered by someone who is a specialist in their discipline. I've see shows reviewers loved that I didn't like at all, and shows that got less than stellar reviews, or no reviews, that were wonderful, or at least interesting.

Go see something because you liked the flier, or the program write-up, or the line-up pitch was cute, or someone you met on the way out of a show told you about something they really liked.  Some of the shows I've seen by accident this week have been among my favourites.

See you in line!

THE TORONTO FRINGE FESTIVAL continues until Sunday, July 12 at theatres around downtown Toronto.  For tickets, programs and information go to:  http://fringetoronto.com or visit the box office in person at 918 Bathurst Street, in the parking lot behind Honest Ed's.

the hat shows, the great selection of tent talks, the open to 4:00 am on Saturday night socializing, all good!

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