Toronto Fringe Binge: A Gulper’s Guide

by Susan Down

Toronto Fringe Festival
Attending the Toronto Fringe Festival is not like going to a regular theatre production. To get the most out of it you need a strategy for picking the right plays. Imagine you’re at a distillery tour or a wine tasting, and take this advice:

Theatre Varietals. Like fine wine, Fringe productions come in several flavour categories: sketch humour, remounted or satirized classics, original musicals, confessional dramas, and social commentary on current events (G20, Muslims and Rob Ford seem to be popular subjects this year). Read the program blurb carefully and look for sentence fragments and aimless gibberish. Even after reading it are you still not sure what the play is about? Is the blurb just a series of questions? Beware. They are aiming for absurdist theatre, the kind that only Samuel Beckett can pull off.

Reputation. Do you sip according to the wine critic’s assessment of the afternotes , or choose the gold medal winners at last year’s local vintner fest? Don’t always rely on the reviews of last year’s hits at the Fringe. Previous Fringe stars can sometimes return with flops. At the Fringe you have to earn your kudos every year. Bond with the Fringers as you wait in line for a show. It’s the only time you can have an animated chat with a complete stranger in the city. They will tell you what to avoid.

Fringe Pairings. Most Fringe plays are only an hour long so if you want to fill up an evening, you should pick two or three. At a beer-tasting event, brewmasters recommend sipping the lightest before the darkest– the pale ale before the stout. Fringe theatre is just the same. Don’t try to watch the improv comedy routines after your theatrical taste buds are exposed to an ultraviolent drama where a character is stoned to death. The punchlines just won’t seem as funny. In fact, unless you want to experience wild mood swings, group the dramas and the comedies on separate evenings.

Bring supplies. Wineries always have a few cubes of cheese or some crackers to soak up all that alcohol. So the theatre doesn’t go to your head, you need life-sustaining nourishment especially if you plan to attend plays in more than one venue per evening. The theatres seem tantalizingly close together except when you only have 15 minutes between shows. Pack some fuel for the frantic sprints to grab public transit because you won’t find any Cineplex popcorn nearby. Raw comedy and slightly flawed drama are more palatable when your blood sugar is stable.

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