Photo by Catherine Jan
We Loved: FringeKids!
Last year, FringeKids got good, acquiring their own club especially for young audiences. But this year, things got awesome, with all-day activities rocking right next to the FringeKids venue — finally out of the library and into the George Ignatieff — unifying both halves of the FringeKids program. In two years, FringeKids has gone from being a bit of a drag (walk to a show; walk back to Bloor for lunch; walk to a show; walk back to Bloor to kill 45 minutes…) to a daylong destination, and with all the consternation over declining audiences, we’re please as punch to see the festival getting this right.
Photo by Dylan George
We Hope For: More Venues!
This year, nearly 700 companies entered the lottery, and this is one of the festival’s biggest successes — but they’re only drawing 130ish winners, and that figure gets more and more disappointing every year. There’s definitely an administrative and technical overhead associated with looping in more venues, but adding the Tranzac — remember the Tranzac? — would bring an additional 10-11 shows to the festival; scoop up the Storefront, that’s another more-or-less dozen, and there’s more where that came from. (If you’ve got the Storefront, the Comedy Bar has two spaces about a block away, and Bad Dog now has a little shoebox, too…) Obviously, we’re never going to get anywhere near 100% participation, but with the Fringe growing every year, can we find room for more?
We Loved: Food, Food, Beer & Food
The food at the Fringe Club has always been a highlight, but this year they really knocked it out of the park. Affordable, simple, adventurous and tasty, the lines moved quickly and the customers left happy. Shout-outs to Insomnia‘s three delicious sandwiches, Animal Liberation Kitchen‘s out-of-this-world sushi bowls, Parts & Labour‘s addictive wonton chips, and the hipsters — we’re so sorry, we’ve forgotten your truck’s name! — who sold all sorts of dessert squares along with scalloped potatoes wrapped in wax paper.
Photo by B Rosen
We Hope For: For-Realzies Rush Seating
More than once or twice, our writers (and others from other publications) looked around a “sold-out” venue and saw decent numbers of unoccupied seats, presumably being held on behalf of patrons who bought in advance but didn’t make it in time. Could Fringe offer real rush seats? At 2 minutes to curtain, count any unoccupied seats which someone could easily reach, and start selling them off: “We’re gonna scoot you in right before we close the doors. $10, cash only, you won’t be able to sit together, and we don’t make change.” Ordinarily you can’t sell off a pre-sold seat, but Fringe doesn’t seat latecomers anyhow.
We Loved: #FemmeFringeTO
Sources have told us that more than half the shows at this year’s Fringe had female playwrights or directors, while shows focused on the experiences of women had a banner year: hits included the frentic, cartoonish Morro and Jasp Do Puberty (Best of Fringe, Patron’s Pick), the heartbreaking A Man Walks Into A Bar (Best of Fringe, Patron’s Pick), modern Shavian The Philanderess (Patron’s Pick), the interactive How Often Do I Dream (Patron’s Pick), and the stunning All Our Yesterdays. (Patron’s Pick)
We Hope For: A Fix for the Solo Room
One of the biggest complaints we get about Fringe from artists is about the solo room. Sometimes it’s an intimate little shoebox, ideal for something like last year’s sleeper hit Spilling Family Secrets — but with solo shows already a difficult sell, many artists have found the space challenging to work in and fill. There’s probably a lesson, too, in the knowledge that most of this year’s heavily-buzzed and discussed solo shows took place in completely different spaces: Gavin Crawford, Rebecca Perry and Ryan G. Hinds jockeying for attention at the Annex; Coko Galore’s Mixed Chick at the Factory; Candace Fiorentino over at St. Vlad’s and Vanessa Smythe downstairs in the Extraspace. (Honorable mention to Uncle Tommy, who was rocking a BYOV and therefore doesn’t quite count for our purposes.)
Maybe this was just an unlucky year for the solo room, but maybe this will open up some questions about the place, and the future, of one-handers at Fringe. Is the solo room the best way to showcase these acts? (After all, the major carrot — performers in the solo room get an 8th performance, while every other venue only gives you 7 — isn’t much of an incentive if you’re not selling tickets in the first place.) We aren’t totally sure what the solution is, but stuffing the one-handers in the attic doesn’t seem to be doing them any favours.
We Loved: Advance Tickets on Passes
Allowing audiences to purchase advance tickets using a 5- or 10-show pass (plus $2 per advance ticket) seems to have earned the festival a decent sum of money and silenced critics (including — yes — MoT) who were frustrated to find themselves with unpunched circles at the end of 2014. This, combined with Fringe’s new-and-improved ticketing system, has fixed up one of the main recurring gripes about the festival, putting our focus back where it belongs: on the stage.
Photo provided by the company of Summerland
We Hope For: More People of Colour
This is emphatically not Fringe’s fault: by providing an unjuried platform for all comers, Fringe actually creates a more hospitable environment for diverse artists than much of the city’s cultural ecosystem — which has been known to subtly (and, sometimes, overtly) exclude “ethnic” actors from mainstream success and consideration.
But we still hope — wholeheartedly — that in future seasons, we see not just more diversity at Fringe, but more diverse actors in roles and companies which already exist. The cast of Summerland warmed our hearts and thrilled our staff, but the fact that (unless she goes out of her way to find them) a typical Fringe-goer probably saw more POC leads in that one show than they saw at the rest of the festival combined, is worrying.