What is a Fringe Festival Anyway?


A primer on fringe festivals and why they’re so important to Canadian theatre

It’s that wonderful time of year again; the Fringe Festival season is upon us and once again Mooney on Theatre will exclusively dedicate the first two weeks of July to coverage of the Toronto Fringe Festival.

The Fringe is really our flagship event of the year, we pull out all the stops and put in many sleepless nights to provide you with the most comprehensive coverage of the Festival. Those of you who are new to Mooney on Theatre, or to the Fringe Festival may wonder why we dedicate so much of our blood, sweat and tears to covering the Fringe.

What is a fringe festival anyway, and why do we think it’s so important?

Our main goal at Mooney on Theatre is to de-mystify theatre and make it accessible to a broader audience but beyond making theatre accessible to those who go and watch it, theatre is also often inaccessible to those who create and perform it too.

It costs a lot of money to produce and promote a show and because making theatre is so cost-prohibitive only a handful of professional and established not-for-profit theatre companies can afford to mount shows.

Fringe festivals are all about providing an accessible avenue for independent theatre artists to produce and perform their work in front of an audience. The Fringe is really the essence of theatre; virtually anybody can submit a show to the Fringe and the festivals place no limits on content so shows can be bold, raw and uncensored.

While the Fringe theatre movement started in 1947 in Edinburgh, Scotland, still home to the world’s largest fringe festival, the first Canadian fringe festival was founded in Edmonton in 1982. Since then the movement has spread across the continent and the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals currently boasts 23 member festivals across Canada and the United States.


All fringe festivals share a set of common guidelines with the aim of providing an easily accessible opportunity for all audiences and all artists to participate.

These guidelines include:

  • Ticket prices must be kept low (Tickets to individual shows in the Toronto Fringe cost $10).
  • Theatre companies must have equal access to to the festival. Fringe festivals are non-juried and shows submitted to the festival are either admitted on a first-come-first served basis or, as is the case with the Toronto festival, chosen by lottery.
  • There is no censorship of ideas and no limits on the content or title of a show.
  • Fees for companies must be kept low. For the 2013 Toronto Fringe Festival companies paid a fee of $27.50 to enter the lottery and a $750 to present their show in the festival if they won a spot in the lottery.
  • There are no refunds and 100% of box office revenue is returned to the show’s creators/performers. That also means that the Fringe Festival itself gets 0% of the box office revenue so it relies on grants, corporate sponsorships and the generosity of donors to keep operating so be sure to drop some money into the bucket when the house manager asks you to “tip the Fringe” before the show.
  • Shows typically perform in rep (i.e. several shows share the same performance space) so shows are limited to one hour to set-up and tear down before and after each performance.
  • Absolutely no latecomers are admitted. Because of the previous point, schedules are very tight at Fringe so be sure to arrive early for your performance.

This year the Toronto Fringe Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary and presenting over 140 shows at more than 30 venues. With so much on offer the best way to experience it is to not overly plan it out and just go and take a chance on something that happens to be playing at any given time. It’s only ten bucks and about an hour of your time and you may discover something amazing.

For those of you who’d like a little more guidance, Mooney on Theatre will of course be reviewing every show in the festival as we do every year. To get you started we’ve also compiled a list of the hottest shows amongst our staff as well as a list of rules to break, debunking some of the conventional wisdom of Fringe-goers. Now get out there and enjoy some theatre! Happy Fringing!


  • The Toronto Fringe Festival runs from July 3rd-14th at various venues
  • All individual Fringe tickets are $10 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at www.fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062, in person at the Fringe Club, 581 Bloor St. W, July 3rd-14th, noon – 10pm (Advance tickets are $11 – $9+$2 service charge)
  • Value packs are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows

Photo credits: Toronto Fringe Festival