Grade 8 (Up From The Roots) 2015 Fringe Review

Grade 8 is a solo show by award-winning spoken word artist, Dwayne Morgan, presented as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival. I must confess: I’ve seen ‘Grade 8’ once before. It left quite an impression on me when I caught its premiere run at Hamilton Fringe in 2008. It was the show that truly cemented my love of Fringe. Seven years later, Dwayne Morgan is ready to retire ‘Grade 8,’ but not before giving it a hometown swan song.

It’s a unique opportunity to see a show at both the beginning and end of its theatrical life. I found it much as I remembered it: rhythmic, socially relevant, emotionally powerful and entrancing. Somehow Morgan looks younger than I remember; only he can tell you how he’s managed that!

The set is spare, with just a pair of chairs and a small table; on it rests a photo album he flips through as he tells his story. The pacing at the beginning seemed a little rushed, but Morgan soon settled in. Overall, his speed, cadence and control were masterful. I was moved by the content, and astonished by his skill as a wordsmith.

The material has been subtly updated, but it’s the kind of story that is fairly timeless. A man reassesses himself and what it means to be a man on the birth of his child. He contemplates what it is to be a girl and woman by considering not only his baby girl and her mother, but other women he’s known. He weighs in on the role that males play – sometimes sinister, always significant – in the self-concept of young females.

It’s a man’s point of view, certainly, but Morgan never pretends otherwise. Any point or assumption he made that I might take issue with was rapidly swept away by the flow and emotion of his words. The sentiments were genuine, and authentic to his experiences as a male and as a father.

The show is funny, poignant and wise. Morgan saves his pronouncements from heavy-handedness with his earnestness and intellect. Parents and non-parents alike can relate to Morgan’s musings on the challenges of growing up, finding one’s place in the world, making roles one’s own and relating to one another, both healthily and helpfully.

The show moves well, and ends just when it feels natural that it should. Dwayne Morgan has that certain something that the best solo artists possess, the enviable capability of holding an audience in his spell within a new plane of reality spun out of words. The turns of phrase, the poetics and the visuals evoked by Morgan’s words are remarkable.

Morgan is clearly used to playing to a larger audience; he’s trained himself to gaze from side to side as he performs. This means he makes very good, personal eye contact with audience members throughout the room, but occasionally is unnerving when he seems to glance at seats which are unoccupied.

The opening night’s performance was under -attended. That verges on the criminal. Grade 8 is a beautifully crafted piece of work. Fringe-goers owe it to themselves to see it before it’s gone for good.

  • Grade 8 is playing until July 11 at the Tarragon Theatre Solo Room (30 Bridgman Ave.)
  • Tickets are $12 in advance, $10 at the door. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), from the festival box office down Honest Ed’s Alley (581 Bloor West), or from the venue box office starting one hour before the peformance. Venue sales are cash-only.
  • Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. Set your watch to CBC time, and arrive a few minutes early to avoid disappointment.
Remaining Showtimes
July 04 at 03:15 PM
July 05 at 04:30 PM
July 06 at 07:30 PM
July 08 at 03:00 PM
July 09 at 06:15 PM
July 10 at 10:30 PM
July 11 at 09:45 PM
Photo of Dwayne Morgan by Up From The Roots.