Sunday, July 10, 2011

SEX, RELIGION and OTHER HANG-UPS: Time in Dating Purgatory is Pure Fringe Heaven

It was CHRIS GIBBS day for me at the Fringe yesterday. I saw both shows he's associated with in Toronto on Saturday: "Sex,Religion...." which he directed and THE SOAPS in which he was a participant.

"Sex,Religion..." is a young man, James Gangl talking about his quest for love. He starts the show by saying he's looking for a girlfriend.

Mr. Gangl then goes on to explain he's been raised as a devout Catholic. St. Genesius, the Patron Saint of Actors must certainly be smiling down on him.

Mr.Gangl is an extraordinarily gifted performer,both hilariously funny and deeply affecting. His script rises head and shoulders above most of the material I've seen in this genre,which I refer to as "the relationship show". He and Mr. Gibbs have given the play a sturdy structure,a wonderful series of emotional twists and turns and some terrific sight gags. The marriage of their talents is match made in well, Heaven.

I usually avoid plays on this topic like the plague. I have plenty of my own horror stories from the dating trenches. However,I liked this so much I'm going to take others back to see it: assuming I can get a seat. "Sex, Religion..." is in a small theatre. Get a ticket while you still can. Mr. Gangl has spun the dross of his love life into Fringe Gold.

THE SOAPS certainly also benefited from Mr. Gibbs considerable gifts for improv comedy last night. The premise: a theatre company at the Shawford Festival is a good one. This is a charming trifle of an amusement created nightly by NATIONAL THEATRE OF THE WORLD, an adept company of improv comics. The sold-out house was eating out of their hands.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year to be Random

Toronto is a very special Fringe for me. The first play I ever wrote got done here 13 years ago. I've since produced, directed and performed in the Toronto Fringe many times. I'm currently remounting WONDERBAR! a show I performed at the Toronto and Winnipeg Fringes in 2008, preparing to take it to Edmonton and Victoria. What this means is, like hundreds of thousands of other people this year, I'll be at the Toronto Fringe 2011 as a mere spectator. I'm really looking forward to it.

Two articles appeared in the Toronto Star this week highlighting some shows their arts writers thought might be worth checking out and giving some guidelines on how to pick the good from the bad in a festival with over 130 plays on offer.

Off the top of the Fringe, I'll see my friends' shows and I'll run in people I know who will flier me for their shows. This is mostly how I will choose shows for the first 5 days.

I am lucky enough to know talented performers here from all over the world. My director, Laura Anne Harris is also no slouch as an actress and is bringing PITCH BLONDE, her 5 star show about Judy Holliday and the McCarthy trials to Toronto. My friend Allan Girod is here all the way from Australia with WHEN HARRY MET HARRY, which was a hit in Ottawa last week and did well in Winnipeg last year. A very funny young lady,Sharilyn Johnson is doing AN INCONVENIENT TRUTHINESS about her life as a fan of Colbert and its unintended consequences. I saw it in previews and really enjoyed it. Chris Craddock is here and he's always worth seeing. Paul Hutchison and Sharon Nowlan have teamed up to do CANUCK CABARET which I know will be cheeky, naughty and fun. I'm going to see DESPERATE CHURCH WIVES by Diane Johnston because she's a fine actress and Laura Ann directed.

This year, I'm going to also be random. I'm going to stick my finger in the program and go see something my hand lands on that I know nothing about. I'll go see a show because I like the costume the person is wearing when they flier me (that's how I saw Ryan Paulson the first time) or because we have a nice chat in the beer tent or in a line-up.

Every year, I make a point of seeing someone who is here for the first time from somewhere else in the world. I saw MC JABBER that way a few years ago: he is a wonderful beat poet. I'll go see a clown show - just because I can. I'll go see something at 11:00 pm in the middle of the week because I know that performer will have a small house and will appreciate the business. That's how first encountered Mump and Smoot. I'll go see someone with wildly mixed reviews because I know it will be an interesting, if flawed show.

When performers do the Fringe, they gamble, often with their own money. They enter a lottery and hope and pray to be drawn. I know people who tried for 10 years before they were randomly selected for Toronto. Performers spend years honing their skills and months creating shows they hope will connect with you,the audience.

My ex, the very talented veteran Fringe performer John Huston used to say "without audiences, actors are just lonely people talking to themselves in an empty room."

Why not do the Fringe like a performer? Open your heart and your mind and your wallets and take a gamble this week. Stick your finger in the program. Walk into the next show after the 5 star hit . Go see someone who got no press, who you've never heard of who hands you a flier in a line-up. I've seen some great shows that way and I bet you will too.