We Liked 100% Presale. This was the most financially-successful Toronto Fringe Festival in recent memory, with artist revenues skyrocketing and a record number of sellout performances. Every festival has their winners and losers: for every company who raked in a few thousand bucks, someone else lost their shirt. But that’s the nature of the beast — and never before have there been so many winners.
We Disliked 100% Presale. The presale policy was fantastic for the artists, but angry Tweets and indignant queue-chatter both suggest that the resultant parade of SOLD OUT signs has left plenty of theatregoers with 10-packs burning holes in their pockets and beefs to pick with the festival. Maybe there’s a sweet spot between 50% and 100%; maybe Fringe should sell rush tickets next year (10 names on the comp list, but only 2 showed up? Why aren’t you selling those 8 seats? [editorial clarification: If someone is on a comp list the spot can be released and ticket sold. However, if they have been issued a *physical* comp ticket – for instance a member of the media – their spot can *not* be released unless they have been able to notify ticketing in advance. The feeling seems to be their empty seat, visible by a final check before closing the doors, should be up for grabs by waiting list folks. – Megan Mooney]); maybe Fringe just needs to do a better job communicating which shows are sold out. But however they repair this damage, Fringe has to get on it soon.
We Liked The Sideshows. 2014 was the year FringeKids grew up, acquiring an all-day activity centre with plenty of attractions for smallfolk and their parents. While there have been some bumps and lessons to be learned, we’re pleased with the result — and not just because they let us play in the bouncy castle.
We’re also thrilled to see the AlleyPlays really hit their stride, with a whole array of experiential and personal theatrical adventures. We met HP Lovecraft; we got blowjob tips from a clown; we flipped a table; and we loved every minute of it.
And while we’ll only have Ed’s Alley for two more years (or if we’re *really* lucky, maybe three), the Fringe Club remains one of the highlights of our summer. Where else can you party all night at an underground rave, play bingo with Dolly Parton, sample an always-fresh selection of local restaurants, and spend an hour or two catching up with friends — and fawning over our favourite artists — while surrounded by all the colour, energy and good vibes that the Fringe Club inevitably attracts?
We Disliked The Al Green Theatre. While the location is ideal, this venue’s a real doozy, with a stage so massive you can drown in it, and a huge gaping maw between the stage and the front row. (For context, the back row of the Annex Theatre is closer to its stage than the front row of the Al Green. Oh dear!) It’s a fine way to see a full-flight song-&-dance musical, but trying to watch a one-hander or a tender drama in this space left us cold and disengaged: it’s hard to connect with a Fringe performance when you need opera glasses to see the actor’s face.
We Liked The Dialogue. Between a full slate of Tent Talks, the usual blog-based pot-stirring, and the penny-for-your-thoughts conversations which break out all over the Fringe, this turned out to be one of the most dialogue-heavy festivals we can remember. Even the Twitter arguments were better than usual, especially a massive bust-up over trigger warnings which will doubtless have an impact on policy and decision-making at future festivals. The theatre community tends to talk a lot about the importance of talking; this summer, it felt like we got over that and started having some important conversations.
We Disliked Misbehaving Patrons. Did you hear about the guy who was turned away from a show (No Latecomers!), so he pulled the fire alarm? Or about the grandmother who reduced a 14-year-old volunteer to tears? And that’s setting aside your garden-variety abuses: the people who sneak in through back doors; the people who print off new passes at Kinko’s; the people who try that old chestnut about “don’t you know who I am?!”…
There will always be patrons with entitlement issues, and the presale policy has given more people more reasons to feel disappointed than ever before. But disappointment is no excuse to ruin some volunteer’s day — or, indeed, ruin a show for a room full of paying customers.
We Liked The Fringe! But despite our misgivings and discomforts, this was hands down the best Fringe in years when it comes to the sheer volume of outstanding theatre available to the public. More of our writers enjoyed more shows than ever before, a sentiment we’ve heard from other outlets as well. Even more importantly, growth in other areas — especially the emergence of a more formal year-round program — suggests that the Fringe is growing in other ways, too.
I mean, let’s be frank here: not that long ago, Fringe was little more than an opportunity for a company from Saskatoon (or Nanaimo, or Lansing…) to land a Toronto venue. But in the decades since, the festival has grown to become a year-round cultural hub, and a nexus of creative energy and interaction which goes way beyond this week-and-a-half in July. Emergent artists, established companies and ancillary partners (including know-it-all reviewers like Mooney on Theatre!) have all come to depend on Fringe as a source of income, inspiration, connections, education, professionalization and stabilization, and Fringe has grown into this role beautifully.
The Fringe tent doesn’t just include theatre, dance, comedy and cabaret — and it doesn’t just include artists, either. The Fringe tent is where you take your children on their first theatrical adventures; it’s the first stop careerwise for emergent arts administrators; it’s a source of rehearsal space and funding for nascent companies; it provides badly-needed opportunities for emergent playwrights; and it keeps theatre on the minds of tens of thousands of Torontonians, and — by extension — creates a year-round market for great theatre, as well as companies to serve it.
Photo credit: Toronto Fringe Festival
This article has been modified from an earlier version, based on clarifications from the Fringe Festival as to the state of Tip-the-Fringe donations and policy regarding venue sizes.