Fringe. Fringe fringe fringe. If you haven’t surmised from the first four words of this entry (and the lack of “Hirsute Yourself” title thus signalling something hair related), Toronto Fringe is upon us. Or Fringemas, for the initiated folk who occupy the beer tent. It’s a nigh two week festival of theatre, comedy, dance, monologues and general performance. With some number of shows that’s more than 100, fewer than 500 (I can’t be bothered looking up stats. I’m not claiming to be a journalist here), the hardest part is divining what’s worth seeing out of the excess of options. It seems less like a festival, more a way of life. I’m tangentially involved, absorbing my girlfriend and other friends’ enthusiasm by osmosis. I used to do a ton of performance in my teens and early 20s and Fringe seems like the perfect time to rediscover what it was I loved about the dramatic (in all ways) environments. My girlfriend works the festival every evening and picks up whatever showings she can when she’s off duty. I sometimes tag along or catch other friends’ shows.
First show we saw came with a weighty recommendation from my Air Bud Pawdcast producer extraordinaire. She said she’d worked with the central writer previously and was blown away with her alacrity of wit. Life After was the name of the show. A dramatic/comedic musical about a 16 year old girl coming to grips with the aftermath of her father’s passing. Renowned as a self-help guru, she traced the effects on herself and those around her: Her mother, sister, and people within the local community. The songs were impeccably written, with several themes narratives interleaved in catchy yet humorous fashion. Refrains littered the entire play in a way that never seemed laboured. The harmonies in particular were outstanding. The characters were well plotted and cast, with excellent blocking in a mid-sized venue. Moreover, the story was told in a nuanced manner, with subtle character moments throughout. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
Bright Lights was the second show I saw. A performance stacked full of Fringe royalty, it almost feels trite to recommend it. Its success should be a given. A delightful collection of bizarrely eccentric characters played to a T. Fast paced and clever, its deceptively irreverent narrative almost belies the darkness hiding beneath the surface. An hour show that scarcely leaves a moment to catch your breath between laughs. There’s a reason its quickly selling out across the festival. See it if you can. If you can’t, pray that it returns on the post festival circuit.
The one other show I caught was The Road to Santiago. Rory Ledbetter, the central performer of this one man show was nice enough to drop my girlfriend a pair of comp tickets and she brought me along. The story of a man wrestling with his indecision about his impending marriage, over the course of an 800km walk through Spain. It was fun with an air of intimate authenticity. There was something really endearing about the heightened depiction of his very real experiences that was a joy to watch. A cute show.
I’ve only scratched the surface here. I’m a fairweather Fringe fellow, but anyone in the beer tent should be able to enthusiastically talk your ear off with recommendations. Shows are about $12 each, which is a bargain price to see a ton of theatre. If you’re curious, get out and amongst it. It only comes once a year.