As a part of my work at Theatre Passe Muraille, I have seen 34 Fringe shows thus far. I’ll be seeing a total of 36 by the end of the day, and the end of my Fringing (I’m away for the weekend). And while that represents a virtual marathon of theatre-going, it’s also given me a great opportunity to reflect on why the Fringe is just so damn special…
Sam (the Dramaturg at TPM) and I will collectively see over 60 shows. We have criteria: artists who have pitched to us in the past, friends/colleagues who we’ve worked with, subject matter that is connected to the mission and mandate of TPM, artists who are new or emerging or doing things that are interesting. Plus, I go see all the musicals. Because I like musicals.
I should begin by stating clearly and openly that I saw lots of shows that I hated. Whether that hatred was a little burning itch or downright contempt, there was a lot of work that I really didn’t like. And I’m picky–unfairly so at times given the limited resources and time that Fringe companies are often working with. But after seeing so much work, I’ve begun to appreciate the stuff I didn’t like. Perhaps even moreso than the stuff that I liked/loved. Whether those “bad” shows were playing to full houses or audiences of six, they are a part of the fabric of the Fringe. They are a part of this bizarre and amazing celebration of art that is community-based, professionally-minded, and highly accessible. Because Fringe is all about bringing new people into the theatre–and I can think of few things that are more exciting than that. By selecting the companies by lottery, we ensure that the shows will be varied in quality and even more varied in audiences. People coming to support their friends get hooked by the buzz and the lineups and the excitement and all of a sudden it seems normal to line up two hours in advance to spend $10 to see a 55-minute play by someone you don’t know. When else (EVER) in the professional arts community is that a reality?
We often talk about giving a voice to the voiceless in this community, and then put on plays by professional artists starring professional actors. And that is an important thing for professional artists to do. But giving a voice to the voiceless is truly what the Fringe does. It gives everyone a fair shot to say what they need to say in the way that they need to say it. Many of these shows will have future lives, but many more of them will not. And that’s part of the excitement. You have seven opportunities to catch this little piece of magic, put together by artists who rehearsed in their apartments after they had all come back from their day jobs. Fringe is full of passion for creation, excitement for the arts, and LEARNING. For everyone. Audiences who were hoping to get out of a Fringe experience without learning something will be hard-pressed to do so. After seeing a Fringe show, an audience member now knows about a new theatre in the city, as well as how to buy and pick-up tickets, about arriving on time, about not necessarily trusting reviewers, about marketing a show to a line-up of people, and about the vibrant and beautiful arts community in this city. They also learn that theatre goes well with beer. And I think we can all agree on that.
It is at the Fringe that we blur the line between “professional” and “amateur”, and where we actually INVITE audiences into our process. It’s where professionalism and good ol’ fashioned manners go just as far as big names and flashy costumes. And it’s where the bizarre, the live, the outcast, the queer, the experiments, and the experimenters converge. It’s on “the fringe”–and that’s the best place to live. So congratulations to the artists, to the audiences and to the community. Support the Fringe. Go see shows. Keep this tradition alive because it’s a really great one.
And if all that sounds hokey to you, then you haven’t seen enough to warm your heart. Just go to SummerWorks instead.
P.S. Unsolicited advice for Fringers, try to catch the following:
- Camp Schecky
- The Other Three Sisters
- Sweet Dreams