Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Review: 2017 Toronto Fringe - so far...

The Toronto Fringe is sliding into the back half and it's time to take a look at this year's proceedings, just past the mid-point.

The site moved to Dundas and Bathurst Street to the hockey rink pad beside the skateboard park at Scadding Court. The festival staff and volunteers have made a concerted effort to tart the place up:  there's fairy lights around the bar, a big, raised stage with a good sound system at one end, green umbrellas and colorful table cloths dot the floor.  The stage has been inventively programmed. The  DJs on Saturday night gave the place a great vibe and lots of people were up dancing. There's a tented area on one side to provide shade:all good.

Posters are  mounted at the front of the site and in the Jon Kaplan Tent at the path leading into the tent, beside the community centre. Jimmy's has a coffee stall out there. The ticket booth is also outside, at the front. Don't get me started on the ticketing system which the staff is struggling heroically to deal with.

The downside: the concrete pad is unbearably hot (and therefore pretty empty) during the day. When I arrived at 6:00 PM on Tuesday night to grab dinner before a 7:15PM show, the one lonely food vendor on the inside was just setting up. He had a few cold bowls available, but his grill was going to take 45 minutes to heat up. Cold tofu wasn't going to cut it. I wandered over to Dundas Street West and had a great, cheap Asian dinner at Chop Chop.

There are a lot of nice bars and restaurants in that stretch of Dundas, just west of Bathurst, but I would rather have given my money to the festival and its vendors.

After my 7:15 show I went back for a drink with friends:  the bar filled up as the sun went down, the food stall inside was operationalby then and it was a fun night.  I have to say however, that I approached my stroll out of the bar at 10:00 PM with some trepidation.

The park and the community centre at the corner of Queen and Sherbourne is possibly the only sketchier public space than Scadding Court on a major intersection in the downtown core. There are signs in the planters leading into the community centre asking patrons not to leave syringes in the flower beds.

The festival has placed a strong and very visible security presence at the entrance to the beer tent (as usual) and also has a security person at the entrance to the site.  I've locked my bike out there
(a few more racks at the front would be fantastic) because then I can unlock and know my bike and I are safe under his watchful gaze.

An exit from the rink that doesn't involve a stroll down an alley behind the rink would go a long way to making the site feel safer for this woman after dark. 

Meanwhile Honest Ed's is tagged and abandoned.  As I biked past it on the way home from the Tarragon the other night, I couldn't help but wonder why the festival couldn't have been allowed to use the site until construction actually started. An entire, once vibrant block of the city is now a dead zone of chain-link fence and vacant properties. There's another block of tagged hoarding and chain-link fence on the walk from the Factory to the site, along Bathurst Street between Adelaide and Queen, where some scammy developer has only managed to acquire half the houses he's hoping to raze for yet another condo project.

The festival has made the best of a bad business - a site move in downtown Toronto: a city with exploding land values and massive intensification in the core. It's too bad the festival can't just take over half the CNE for 2 weeks - or relocate there permanently and have a permanent location like Edmonton has with theatres on-site.  The Queen Elizabeth is certainly under-utilized.

The art:  the festival is huge this year:  160 shows. I'm about half-way through my viewing. I've missed the Robert Gill as a venue. I also stupidly missed Delirium the other night because I under-calculated the length of time it would take me to bike to the Tarragon. Sorry, Martin.

There's been a great pool of acting talent on display this year. A few stand-out performances:Jakob Ehman in 10 Creative Ways to Dispose of Your Cremains, Adam Bailey in The Life of Henri and Penny Ashton in Olive Copperbottom who sings, dances and acts her way through a panoply of Dickensian characters with great verve and wit.She also wins hands-down for best costume of the festival. Vanessa Quesnelle in Moonlight After Midnight gives a star turn in beautiful and very affecting performance. She co-stars with her husband Martin Dockery who penned the script: there's real magic in their chemistry onstage.

In other dynamic duos: Pete N' Chris killed it on Monday night before a packed throng of adoring fans in their utterly ridiculous romp through a series of holiday classics, A Peter n' Christ-mas Carol.  Similarly, Jessica Gabriel and Chloe Ziner (Mind of a Snail) created a saucy, feminist, mad and unique look at love sex and relationships in Multiple Organism. They got a big standing O from the crowd who howled with laughter (and recognition) throughout the show.

Finally, I saw two solo shows that featured that rare combination of a great story and a terrific performance:  Sam Mullins in Weaksauce and Joanne O'Sullivan in She Grew Funny.

All the shows above are well worth a visit.

This weekend, I'm going to see quite a few shows created by women: more on that later. See you in the  line-ups and at the beer tent.

The Toronto Fringe continues at various sites across the West end of Toronto.  For schedules and tickets go to

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