I didn’t engage with the Toronto Fringe Festival last year. And I feel a little guilty about that. I imagine there are many people who avoided it for similar reasons. The intense, visceral energy of live theatre and the cosy, social fabric of the Fringe experience is important to us. And it was gone. This was—for many, I’m sure—depressing.
Perhaps you still are on the fence about attending this year’s Fringe, waiting just a little bit longer for that in-person aspect you crave. This article is mostly for you, wary fence-sitter. I understand. But I also challenge you to venture outside your comfort zone.
I chatted with Toronto Fringe Executive Director, Lucy Eveleigh, on what the festival has in store for us this summer… and beyond.
LUCY: “If you embrace the Fringe-y-ness of it, it will exist for you.”
The experience really relies on us, the intrepid Fringers! There can’t be a community if we don’t show up. And there is a solid variety of engagement options to give you some control over what form your showing up will take.
The Fringe On Demand digital series can be streamed at any time and from anywhere, allowing you full control over how and when you will see shows. And the shows themselves are also more accessible than in previous years.
All On Demand content meets some basic accessibility standards. These include closed captioning, transcripts for audio content, screen-reader friendly documents, and digital images with alternative text descriptions.
LUCY: “It is a way to connect globally with people. And […] to connect to people who haven’t had access to theatre in the same way.”
“It is creating a new practice for people. You are thinking about it from the beginning or creation, not just as an add on.”
Within the first six months of the pandemic, a lot of theatre content was… unfortunate. There was a desperate scramble to re-work material for a new medium. There were glowing exceptions, but generally, the results were cringe-inducing.
LUCY: “People have had more time so there is an elevated experience.”
As artists adapt to this hybrid medium, competence and confidence grows. More recent projects have a production value that reflect this growth. Having just been impressed by some Hamilton Fringe content, I am quite curious to see what Toronto Fringe has lined up.
LUCY: “This is more than just a stop-gap.”
Even when the world fully opens up again, the Fringe will continue to embrace the digital element—providing great opportunities for both artists and audiences. Not only will accessibility continue to be a top concern, artists will have the chance to explore this dynamic new platform.
The art itself aside, the Fringe is defined by that experience of meeting up with friends at PostScript, sharing show experiences, engaging with artists, feeling a part of a community.
This year, Fringe introduces the gather.town digital patio! This space, which follows a blueprint of the actual patio, will provide many varied options for engagement, depending on your interest and comfort level.
Remember the poster wall? It’ll be there! When click on them, the posters will take you to a show’s page. Miss chatting with friends at a table? You can create an avatar and join conversations with other users.
The tech allows you to move in and out of conversations gradually, without drawing attention to yourself. As you move your avatar towards or away from conversations, the volume will increase or decrease accordingly.
Also, volunteers will be available to help you navigate the space if it seems too overwhelming.
In additional to the Fringe On Demand content and patio experience, PostScript will be bursting with live entertainment—cabaret performances, games, Opening and Closing night parties.
There is content that is perfect for you that wouldn’t necessarily grab your attention in a thumbnail image and paragraph synopsis. Sometimes, the energy of an artist will be that hook. That’s why I’m looking forward to A Dose of On Demand—a showcase event where creators will have the opportunity to pitch their show in 60 seconds or less!
LUCY: “It’s like having a party. The invitations are sent. Now we just wait. Who’s gonna show up?”
I will! And I hope you will too! So much work has gone into fostering online the community warmth that defines the Toronto Fringe. Don’t let that effort go to waste!