It's two days until the Toronto Fringe 2016 opens and I'm like a kids two days before Christmas! I love the glorious moment when I pick up my old-school paper program, and contemplate the feast of possibilities that lies before me.
Perhaps you have gone paperless, and are doing all your planning online, using the festival's website? Maybe you've even downloaded the Fringe's new app to your mobile device?
With comfy shoes, a water-bottle, a little cash, a little planning, and a little stamina, even an arts lover on a tight budget can manage to treat themselves for a heady array of fine Fringe entertainment.
I'm getting ready! My billet is safely ensconced, and is finding her way around the city. My old-school program is at hand, and I have gone through it, and used my post-it note method to draw up a lengthly list of possibilities. Now, to book my tickets!
I have been speaking to people on the circuit, reading press releases, and talking to audience members in other cities, to get you the inside dope on stuff to check out over the next 12 days.
Here, in the order they appear in the catalogue, are some shows that caught my eye before the festival opens:
THE GEORGE IGNATIEFF THEATRE (Kids' Fringe)
DORA-award winning Toronto performer Ryan Kelly is no stranger to musical theatre, and he helms this new children's musical.
PIRATES DON'T BABYSIT!
Carl Bauer is a fine actor and will doubtless make an excellent pirate in Barb Scheffler's comedic script.
TWEFTH NIGHT - A PUPPET EPIC
Shakey Shake and Friends are back with their charming puppets, to do a young-audience friendly retelling of TWEFTH NIGHT.
TARRAGON THEATRE MAINSPACE
It's rumoured on the circuit that show #1 in Venue #1 is almost always a hit. Here, prolific playwright and Toronto Fringe vet Kat Sandler teams up with Amy Lee, Heather Marie Annis (otherwise known as Fringe rock stars, Morro and Jasp,) Chris Wilson, Peter Carlone (yes, THAT PeterNChris!) and Colin Munch of Shakey-Shake to do a piece set in an alien abductions support group.
Dave Carley is a fine writer and this play is a revival of an earlier Fringe hit.
THE STAGE MANAGER'S GUIDE TO DATING ASSHOLES
Jenna MacNeil is a damn funny girl, but really, after a lifetime in this business, I'm going for the title - and the shared life experience.
TARRAGON THEATRE EXTRASPACE
I met Keith Brown in Ottawa several years ago. He was absolutely charming. There was good buzz on this magic show coming out of Ottawa and Orlando from reliable sources, so it'll be worth checking out.
ALL KIDDING ASIDE
Fringe veteran Christel Bartelse is a delight as a performer. Here, she tackles that age-old question many of us find ourselves wrestling with at some point in our lives: "to breed or not to breed?" I look forward to hearing her pronouncements, which are sure to amuse.
Theatre iconoclast and Buddies in Bad Times founder, Sky Gilbert has written a bio-play about world-class Canadian figure skater, ice-dance coach, and visual artist, Toller Cranston. I was a big fan of Cranston's. He coached a friend of mine, back in the day. I look forward to seeing what Gilbert does with this material.
THE SOLO ROOM
I'm going to wait for the beer tent buzz on the shows in this venue.
AL GREEN THEATRE
DARIO ET LA DIABLESSE
In Hatian culture, La Diablesse is a force to be reckoned with. I thought this was an intriguing premise for a musical.
PROMISE and PROMISCUITY: A New Musical by JANE AUSTEN and PENNY ASHTON.
Ms. Ashton is a wickedly funny writer and performer, and this show, a big hit on the touring circuit, makes its Toronto debut this week. I can't wait!
WEIRD: THE WITCHES of MACBETH
This show which adds a liberal dose of aerial art and stage combat to a retelling of the tale of the Weird Sisters, was a hit on Ottawa.
Sex-T-Rex, the Montreal-based comedians are also at this venue with WASTELAND, but you knew that already.
BLIND TO HAPPINESS
I alway enjoy Tim C. Murphy as a writer and a performer, and I haven't seen this show, which was a hit in Winnipeg and elsewhere on the circuit.
I'll also try to catch WOMEN, because Louisa May Alcott's four sisters were one of the joys of my childhood, and I'd like to check out the adaptation by a group of young women artists.
ST VLADIMIR THEATRE
THE ROAD TO SANTIAGO
Rory Ledbetter is a thoughtful, warm and articulate guy in person, and he's here from Mississippi with a tale about his experience walking the el Camino de Santiago with his fiance. It's his first time in Toronto, though he has done other Fringes. I'm looking forward to checking out his story-telling chops.
Full disclosure: his stage manager is my billet.
THE NO BULL$#!% HISTORY of INVENTION
Kyle Allatt's previous show was a hit, he's sold out in Edmonton, and I like a show where there's a chance I might learn something.
THE HELEN GARDINER PHELAN PLAYHOUSE
Denise Norman is well-known Toronto-based actress and musician ( The MADRIGALS). She's donned her writer's hat and created a multi-performer show about living with MS. I'm keen to see her take on a tough subject.
Talented actor Greg Campbell has written and is performing a piece about being a young, gay man in the late '70s. This should be good.
ROBERT GILL THEATRE
Fringe fave Keir Cutler is back waxing acidic on academia and his favourite topic, The Bard. If you've never seen Cutler before, here's your chance. If you have, you know he's always an excellent bet.
THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE MAINSPACE
Ribbit RePUBLIC is a Fringe institution on the Western circuit. The show was just selected as best show at the Ottawa Fringe and won Patrons' Pick in both Winnipeg and Orlando. I know Jon Paterson and Kirk Fitzpatrick, and those boys can bring it. Jeff Culbert, their director, is an excellent writer, performer and director. 60 Oscar winning films parodied in 60 minutes. How can you lose?
No less a Fringe stalwart than Jem Rolls told me this was a good show. Three young writers take on the self-help movement. It five-starred in Winnipeg. If it's good enough for Jem, it's bound to be pretty good.
I'm also very temped by SCENES FROM PLAYS I NEVER WROTE by Greta Papageorgiu. It's a play about writers' block and I'm a writer with a script due at a theatre by the end of July. Not that I'm procrastinating by running around spending 10 days seeing other shows. Hell, no!
THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE BACKSPACE
This is one of the tinier (50 seat) venues at the Fringe. Popular Fringe comedian Graham Clark has two shows here, including RING A DING DONG DANDY, where he and Ryan Bell deconstruct wrestling clips. Sound like fun!
FACTORY THEATRE MAINSPACE
The brilliant and utterly inventive Mind of Snail (Caws and Effect) is back with their beautiful synthesis of shadow puppetry and original music. I'm so there!
Jessica Moss is this year's winner of the New Play Contest. She also wrote POLLY POLLY. She's looking at voyeurism. I'm intrigued.
FACTORY THEATRE STUDIO
Neil Muscott directs and Shastia Latif is the dramaturge, and their combined talents makes me think Jorge Moreira might have a good show up his sleeve.
Several shows in this venue intrigued, just on the basis of content. OH SARAH! about 19th century stage star Sarah Bernhardt looks interesting, as does ORSON WELLES/SHYLOCK. TAROT LIVE by Montreal-based psychic Jesse Stong also looks like a good time.
A number of well-known Toronto-based theatre companies are doing site specific shows. These shows are often pretty solid bets, but these were a couple of stand-outs (for me) on the long list.
LIFE LIST by Alex Eddington is a must see for me. I love Eddington's story-telling, and this time he's taking us on a nature walk to find a rare bird.
THE UNENDING is an omnibus production of three short plays about affairs by the excellent Convergence Theatre. This one is sure to sell out.
Justin Haigh, the writer of smash Fringe hit, LOVE IS A POVERTY YOU CAN SELL is premiering a new play, BEHOLD THE BARFLY! in a pub, The Monarch Tavern.
If you like watching your theatre, beer in hand in air-conditioned comfort, the always enjoyable Shakespeare BASH'd is back with THE COMEDY of ERRORS at the VICTORY CAFE. Another sure-fire sell-out.
Shari Hollet and Chris Earle (Radio 30) have a show about parents, kids and music FOR THE RECORD in Kop's Records.
It's the festival's last year at the Honest Ed's site. Legendary theatre producer Ed Mirvish's revered house of bargains has always seem a perfect home for the best, least expensive theatre event in town.
This year, there are even some half-price, day of tickets available at the festival box office.
Go get yourself a theatre deal, followed by a drink in the parking lot behind the store, while you still can. Next year, Honest Ed's will be gone, turned into yet another condo/retail development.
THE TORONTO FRINGE THEATRE FESTIVAL runs from June 29th to July 10th at venues around downtown west Toronto. For dates, times, tickets and information, got to http://www.fringetoronto.com