Grade 8 is something we all must suffer through, but with enough time and distance may look back on fondly, as performer Lara MacMillan does in her solo show presented by gypsyWASPproductions, at the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival.
Grade 8 is part storytelling, part musical concert as MacMillan takes the audience through all of the highlights of her thirteenth year. From her first job as a newspaper delivery girl to her first dance at a bat mitzvah, the stories range from funny to touching. There’s an embarrassing moment where her crush walks in on her while she’s changing, and a 1980s #metoo moment when a skeevy apartment landlord exposes himself to her in an elevator. Each story is punctuated by a song from the era that MacMillan performs, from Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” to Queen’s “We Are The Champions.”
MacMillan has a wonderful voice and an upbeat energy. She personally introduces herself to everyone in the audience before the show, which adds to the sense that she’s sharing stories with a roomful of friends. She’s also a good storyteller, injecting humour and colourful details into each story she tells.
Grade 8 takes place at Artscape Youngplace, which has personal meaning for MacMillan, who was a schoolteacher there. Unfortunately, it’s not the greatest Fringe space, as the sound from other events bleeds into the performance space and can be distracting. I hope that wedding/birthday/whatever next door had a good time, though.
I was also unsure why MacMillan, an able musician who outfits the stage with a piano and drums, relied so heavily on pre-recorded music to back up her vocals, which can – and unfortunately did on this night – glitch, pausing the flow of the performance. This was a preview performance, so she may still be working out the kinks, but still, the moments where she accompanies her own singing, like a stirring performance of John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” were my favourite parts of the show.
The show has a very specific 1980s nostalgia, which can be charming if you were there but likely to alienate younger audiences who don’t remember Love’s Baby Soft perfume. But if you know the songs, and I guarantee you know at least two-thirds of them, Grade 8 will have you dancing in your seat and singing along.
- Grade 8 plays at Artscape Youngplace. (180 Shaw St.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (707 Dundas St. W.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- The Fringe Festival considers this venue to be wheelchair-accessible.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Saturday July 7th, 8:00 pm
- Sunday July 8th, 2:00 pm
- Monday July 9th, 7:00 pm
- Tuesday July 10th, 7:00 pm
- Wednesday July 11th, 8:00 pm
- Thursday July 12th, 7:00 pm
- Friday July 13th, 8:00 pm
Photo of Lara MacMillan provided by the company.