As the adrenaline that has pulsed through my veins since the 2010 Toronto Fringe Festival began two weeks ago grinds to a sudden halt, I feel like it is an appropriate time to express my most sincerest gratitude to all of those who made my experience with the festival this summer a truly remarkable, unforgettable and utterly joyful one and also to share some of my perspectives on the festival in general. I will write in point-form because I am too exhausted for prose.
1. To all the extraordinary Fringe staff and the incredible Fringe volunteers and everyone at flip-publicity, you are all deserving of the utmost in shining gold stars and warm hugs of appreciation, respect and love. I attended forty-one Fringe shows, I hung out at twelve different venues, and even took a nap in the Factory Theatre courtyard, and I did not encounter a single incident, accident, or reason to distress. The volunteers and staff members were always friendly, helpful, joyful, passionate about the Fringe, well organized, professional, well-informed about the shows and the festival and respectful of all the patrons and artists who packed crowded and often sweltering spaces. The Tip the Fringe songs, the creative spiels and dress up days, the constant smiles and tireless energy from this group of gods and goddesses of the theatre made me smile and smile and smile every day. Thank you for all your hard work and dedication, it not only kept the entire Fringe running like absolute clockwork all day and all night, but it helped to build the sense of community and the fun, social aspect of the Festival, which is why the Fringe Festival is so resolutely cemented in all of our hearts.
2. The Beer Tent is the greatest Fringe innovation of all time. What a wonderful way to unite the audience and the artists from venues across the city than having one single hub of activity and alcohol where everyone involved with the festival can congregate between shows, where theatre bloggers can write reviews in the sunshine, where improvisers, buskers, dancers and stand up comedians can perform, along with fascinating and pertinent Tent Talks, panel discussions on the state of theatre in this country in a variety of different subjects. The Beer Tent, like the energetic staff, keeps the Fringe social. It is a theatre festival inside a big party, how can you not love that? I did wonder if it would be possible to keep the beer tent open until 2:00am next year, especially since it becomes a mad-dash for those with 11:30pm or 12:00pm performances to get out for last call- but with the adrenaline pumping, no one wants to go home yet! Also, there is an adorable Mini Beer Tent at Factory Theatre, which is equally as awesome, but I don’t think it should close at Midnight, especially when shows are going on there late into the night and it is a long haul to get from Adelaide Street all the way up to Bloor. We have been seeing theatre all day, let us socialize all night!
3. Derrick Chua. Derrick Chua is everywhere. He manages to see an exorbitant amount of theatre, he promotes the shows that he thinks deserve the audience’s attention as much as he can, and he makes himself utterly available to everyone all the time for suggestions, chats, hugs, and to share in the happiness of the Fringe season. He is this Festival’s proud papa, and he deserves all the gratitude we can give him.
4. One thing that I found to be counterproductive for the Fringe Festival, which I think may have only been because of the G20 madness, was that the first weekend both the Fringe and the Toronto Pride Week were happening at the same time and yet with zero overlap or interaction with one another. This seemed strange to me considering that the demographics for both events have a strong degree of crossover and I am certain there were those who missed out on seeing Fringe shows that weekend because they were attending Pride events and vice-versa. Next year, it would be great if Pride Week were a week earlier in June, or, if they are at the same time, perhaps having some Pride events at the beer tent and using Buddies in Bad Times as a Fringe venue may maximize audiences for both events. I’m sure I wasn’t the only Fringe Binger who was sad to miss the Pride Parade.
5. The diversity reflected in the artists in the Toronto Fringe Festival this year was incredible. From companies whose first works were a little rocky, to dynamic newcomers whose fresh voices burst vivaciously from the stage, and seasoned professionals whose artful performances did not fail to inspire and impress, I saw a true cornucopia of theatre. In the same way, it was wonderful to see some of Toronto’s most beloved and admired theatre artists milling about the streets and checking out the Fringe theatre because it is obvious that they know that the Fringe Festival gives rise to some of our country’s most exciting new work. I saw Jon Kaplan and Robert Cushman out amid a huge plethora of reviewers from both online and print resources, which reflects strongly on their commitment to writing about the theatre in this city. It is interesting to me that in 1982, when the Edmonton Fringe, the first Fringe Festival in North America, was in its inaugural year, two theatre reviewers from the now defunct magazine NeWest Review commented that “staunch theatre critic of The Edmonton Journal, Keith Ashwell, was even looking weary and worn as the nine days drew to a close.” Keith Ashwell was the primary theatre critic for one of Edmonton’s premiere newspapers and even in 1982, when a Fringe Festival was a small, grassroots, innovative idea that catered almost entirely to amateur theatre artists who produced their own work, Ashwell still made time to attend as many of the 45 shows that were being offered as he could. It baffles my mind that twenty-eight years later in Toronto, with the Fringe Festival boasting of a ticketed attendance of over 54,000 people and Fringe artists from the past two decades having gone on to become senior members of Toronto’s theatre community and the national theatre community beyond us, that we cannot count on the same level of commitment from our senior theatre critics as Edmonton could in 1982. Yet, ultimately, the Fringe continues to thrive regardless and truly, it is their loss for missing out on one of the most vibrant and joyful theatre events of the year.
6. Lastly, it was sweltering hot around the Fringe this summer, Derrick Chua. Next year can we have a permanent Toronto Fringe swimming pool? Please? Or a BYOV on the beach?
Toronto Fringe, I love you. I am stoked for 2011 already!