How to Fringe Like a Champ: Advice From Someone Who Knows.

Last year I hit Toronto Fringe hardcore and I had one of the most rewarding, inspiring, riveting and fun experiences of my life. I’d like to impart on you some things I learned during my time being a Super Fringing Machine and some things I wish I had been told before I embarked on the theatrical excursion of a lifetime.

1. Drink water & Bring water in a container that keeps it cool.
It’s going to be hot, folks, make sure that you are kept hydrated and cool at all times, it will keep you alert, fresh and healthy and free of sun stroke, which will only slow you down.

2. Make a plan, but be flexible enough to improvise.
With over 140 productions playing in over 25 venues, you need to come prepared. Browse the Theatre Listings, Read Derrick Chua’s Recommendations, highlight the ones that interest you most, write down their times and venues and sort out some sort of schedule for yourselves- but be open to throwing the entire itinerary out the window at the last minute if you hear raves about something else you had not even considered or you get swept up by some of the special events happening around the Fringe Tent. Remember: Fringe is a theatrical adventure, leave your solemnity at home.

3. Buy tickets to shows that you absolutely NEED to see in advance, especially if you think that they will likely be hot-ticket shows.
If a show you want to see in the last week gets 4 stars from NOW early in the run, chances are tickets are going to fly fast and sell out. Plan ahead for the shows you care about. Here’s how.

4. First Thing You Do at the First Show You Are At: Donate to the Fringe and get a Button that says so.
Pin the button to something that you will have with you every day. I put mine on my bag. That way you have invested in future Fringes, you have helped out a beloved institution that you believe in and care about, and you will not be able to be harassed or guilted by Fringe volunteers for the rest of the Festival. Smart!

5. If you don’t have a bike (or a car), try to plan your days keeping the neighbourhood of venues in mind.
It’s hot out and shows are often scheduled close to back to back, you don’t want to have to book it from Theatre Passe Muraille to the Bathurst Street Theatre only to need to be back at Factory Theatre an hour and a half later. You’ll cover more ground and see more shows if you try to plan your days based around what area of the city you will be in. Sometimes this is impossible and a bit of back and forth is part of the experience, but I always appreciated my shrewd planning on the days where I had minimal travel.

6. Bring Snacks & Frequent Local Businesses
Bring healthy snacks with you to eat in line and in between shows. It’s easy to forget to eat when you’re being a hardcore Fringer. If you have extra time, consider heading over to a local business in the neighbourhood. What the politicians don’t take into consideration in the funding debate is how much extra business is generated for “ordinary Canadians” during Festivals like Fringe. The more lucrative these Festivals are for the whole neighbourhood (or neighbourhoods in this case), the more invested these Canadians will be in the future of the arts in Toronto. Make it worth their while to care… be zealous and generous, especially with businesses and establishments who have a history of supporting theatre in Ontario.

7. Go to the Fringe Tent.
My favourite part of every day of Fringe was my nights at the Tent. It’s the best way to meet new, like-minded people, establish lasting friendships and share your thoughts and experiences about the theatre that you’re seeing. Talk to people! Derrick Chua and Steve Fisher are two fantastic people to strike up conversations with, if you want great insight on what you should make sure not to miss, but talk to everyone and meet as many artists as you can! This is where you can help promote the artists whose work you enjoyed and hear from others who will influence your schedule for the rest of the Fringe. It’s better than reading reviews and a hell of a lot more fun. Plus, cheap beer!

8. Do Read/Skim the Reviews.
I would normally tell you to consult TWISI FIRST, but since I’ll be in Nova Scotia this year, I’ll go with my second and third choices. Read Torontoist, especially Steve Fisher, he knows what he’s talking about, and read NOW, especially Jon Kaplan. Their star system at NOW is generally a good indication of what’s great and what’s not, but always take reviews with a grain of salt. There are other great websites out there with Fringe coverage too… skim as many as you can… the more you read the better your gauge will be. Go see what you want to see, keep the word of mouth going, and talk to everyone… especially people who don’t seem to know Fringe is going on! Try to peak their interest! Pay it Forward.

9. Allow for Surprises Keep an Open Mind.
Last year one show where I had the most fun was at Leacock Live!, a show done by the students of a Drama School at Ryerson for people over 50. I didn’t think I would love this show when I read the description, but I was so surprised and was so glad that I went. That’s what Fringe is all about, happening upon the gems that you don’t expect. Don’t be this dude, nobody likes a Debbie Downer, and I can already tell he’s not going to have any fun. What a waste.

10. Bring a sweater.
I know, it’s about 100 degrees outside and needing warmth is the farthest thing from your mind, but trust me, 10 minutes into the 90 minute play at the Factory Studio with the air conditioner on at full blast, you will thank me.

It’s the fastest way to start a conversation, to create buzz or let off steam. Tweet about shows, Tweet about theatre conversations you’re having with friends, Connect, Connect, Connect! Go viral. It’s 2011. Twitter is Fringe’s BFF. Use Facebook too, of course, but Twitter is ideal for Festivals like Fringe.

That’s what Fringe is all about! If you look at it as being a joyous adventure filled with unpredictable exploits, you will be a Toronto Fringe Superstar and you’ll have more than gotten your money’s worth.


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