The Toronto Fringe Festival returns to theatres this summer
BY MILES FORRESTER
From July 6 to July 17, Toronto's Fringe Festival is returning to theatres, and so am I. For me, it's going to be a whirlwind weekend. Across three nights, in three theatres, for five performances, I'll be crisscrossing by bicycle a little constellation of Toronto's downtown to see a small selection of the over-eighty shows playing throughout the city. Fringe's mission to present a diverse spectrum of artists through its lottery program – which places emerging and established companies on equal footing – makes it an exciting chance to catch a rising star and see something truly singular. It's also an opportunity for many performers to regain creative footing after the pandemic.
Friday night (July 8th), I will be heading to the Factory Theatre. There I will see Minmar Gaslight Productions' The Garden of Alla by Steven Elliott Jackson, a look at the creation of the queer silent-film pioneer Alla Nazimova's production of Oscar Wilde's Salome amidst the rising tide of sexual repression in 1920s Hollywood. I will then catch Femmillenial, a hyper-physical dance trio choreographed by Kylie Thompson, at Native Earth's Aki Studio at the Daniels Spectrum.
I'll be returning to the Daniels Spectrum Saturday afternoon to see Occasion, an exhibition of traditional Korean dance and drumming produced by Second Sleep Stage Creations, a triumphant return to the stage for the company after two years. Later in the evening, I will head to the Al Green Theatre in the Annex to see Rapley Dance Projects' Confronting Space, a meditation on movement within confined spaces choreographed by Lilly Giroux, Emily Rapley, and Paige Sayles.
I’ll wrap up my weekend with Between Root and Bloom by ZESTcreative, again at the Factory Theatre Mainspace. This collaborative dance explores growth through personal histories, "based on questions without answers about who we are and where we've been."
Before the pandemic, seeing so many shows in so little time would hardly seem like a thing. But returning to live performances, particularly in the hyper-concentrated festival format, I can't help but feel nervous. Not so much for obvious reasons — I'm very comfortable with the quotidian strategies we use to keep each other safe. I gladly wear a mask and keep my distance, and Fringe's mask mandate certainly puts me at ease. What unnerves me is returning to something so familiar in an unfamiliar world.
A theatre is a static fixture in the urban landscape — until you go in. On exiting, day can turn to night. The weather or traffic can be completely different, as can the viewer. It's wonderfully defamiliarizing. Tentatively returning to the creative core of a city that has been aggressively developing for decades – and has continued to do so through the pandemic – I see endeavours like Fringe as a reminder of how important it is to protect accessible spaces for creativity. The play, and four dance pieces, that I'm attending all seem to engage with how creativity exists within a massive and ongoing change.