This article (below) was posted on the Toronto Star Online today.
I am actually copying it onto this page because it has become VERY HARD to find it now at the Toronto Star Online…I hope it is because the paper is embarrassed.
It is like the writer is encouraging patrons and audience members to NOT come to the theatre…to not be adventurous or have independent thought when choosing a play or musical to see at the festival…to only go to pieces that are endorsed by critics…to not take a chance on something different…to basically go against the whole spirit of what the festival is.
It is ALSO like the writer is turning artists away from trying something new, exciting, dangerous or inde-freakin-pendent.
Have any of us had the good luck to stumble on a show that was unexpectedly interesting or found a show that featured a performer who was amazing in a piece that was may not…by accident?
I have added my thoughts to the article below each part…my thoughts are in italics.
How to spot the duds at the Fringe festival
By Bruce DeMara Entertainment Reporter
Jul 02, 2011
1. Avoid dramaturgy. References in the program attesting that the production has been “dramaturged” are almost always a bad sign. Dramaturgy is the process of having an author’s original work savagely dissected by fellow artists and reinterpreted in ways that make it a contradictory, irretrievable mess. Fringe productions should be fresh, spontaneous feats of derring-do. If you have to dramaturge the darn thing, do it post-Fringe. Dramaturgy often means turgid drama.
SM: Seeing the word Dramaturgy might mean that the playwright went to a professional dramaturg, of which Toronto has many fabulous examples …Iris Turcott, Stephen Colella, Mary Francis Moore…for help to make their show tighter, more concise, have a better flow…for many reasons.
I also didn’t know that the definition of Dramaturgy was “having an author’s original work savagely dissected by fellow artists, etc…” I think professional dramaturgs would disagree.
2. Even decent shows can be a downer if they’re in a crappy venue. So imagine you’re leafing through the program when a show grabs your interest: Low Riders, a semi-autographical musical featuring a troupe of transsexual ex-biker “little people.” Your finger hastily scrolls down to check times and venues and — argh! — it’s at Theatre Passe Muraille’s Backspace (an airless box up a long flight of stairs) or the Factory Theatre Studio (down some stairs, then up some more to another uninspired space) or the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse (hard to spot from the street, even more stairs, a few odd turns and a so-so theatre if you’re lucky enough to find it). Other venues can be even less promising. The Ladies Polar Room at the College Street United Church? Venues in church basement settings often feature ancient living-room furniture with broken springs as seating.
SM: At the Edinburgh Fringe last year there were fabulous and INVENTIVE shows in a VW Van, a public toilet and a swimming pool. I have attended fabulous, intimate pieces at both the TPM backspace and the Factory Theatre Studio space. It is the Fringe…not the freaking Winter Garden. We have a limited number of spaces in Toronto. If someone would like to help the theatres get funding to build more, I am sure we would be all for it…but we are creative and work with what we got. That is why we are artists.
3. “Minimalist” production values. No set, no lighting, no costumes. Just two actors on a bare stage, morphing between characters with baffling rapidity. Three steps stage left (or right, it doesn’t matter) apparently denotes a scene change. A change in facial expression, voice or body language would help. Or how about putting on a hat or using a prop to indicate you’ve gone from playing a 7-year-old girl to an ancient Phoenician god? We love theatre but we’re not mind readers.
SM: I find this highly offensive. Maybe the artist cannot afford a set, lights, costumes or props…maybe the artist is new to the business and does not have the contacts to outsource these things…that is what the fringe is for…for the audience to use their imaginations. For artists who might have no other chance to have their shows produced in a space like the Tarragon or TPM. Also, does the writer realize that there are very tight change overs between shows…and artists cannot afford the time to put up a complicated set…sometimes it is 10 minutes. And “change in facial expression”?…Please.
4. Overly ambitious productions. A program that promises an “eclectic multimedia blend of theatre, dance, music, puppetry, visual art and feminist dub poetry” is sending out multiple warning signs.
SM: Our artistic options are getting smaller and smaller. I WISH I could write my dance, theatre, multi media, puppet piece with some feminist stuff in it…that would be fucking awesome.
5. Cheap sets, i.e. those made of Styrofoam, cardboard, etc. Sure, Fringe productions are cheap, dirt cheap. But, with the odd exception, a set that appears to be constructed of material from a discount art supply store or from the detritus of an overturned garbage can is rarely a promising sign.
SM: Again, as with #3, I find this highly offensive. How do you know what an artist can afford…or what we can do with an overturned garbage can? Haven’t you seen “Stomp”?
6. One name everywhere. Writer/director/producer/actor/lighting and costume designer. If one name is ubiquitous throughout the program, someone is usually spreading themselves very thin, too thin for the result to be enjoyable. Steer clear.
SM: Maybe they could use a dramaturg.
7. A variation of No. 6. Two names everywhere. Or three. Two or three co-writers, co-stars, co-directors, co-producers, etc. will often result in much backstage back-stabbing and in-fighting for creative control. Tension is so often the fuel that makes live theatre crackle with energy. Just not this kind of tension.
SM: What the eff does this mean? This just sounds stupid. And this is a stupid, gross generalization. It isn’t like people are cutting each others throats backstage…this isn’t “Showgirls”.
8. Flyers. Whether you’re standing in line or lounging at the Fringe Club behind Honest Ed’s, strangers will try to force you to take promotional material for upcoming shows. It may be as humble as an uneven square of plain white paper with blurry lettering or as slick as multi-coloured laminated cardboard. (Your pockets, purse or backpack will soon be stuffed with them. They will seem to multiple like rabbits.) It gets tricky because sometimes the cheapest promo material turns out to be for the best shows and the fanciest ones are for the biggest duds. Look for excerpted reviews, e.g., “Best of Edinburgh Fringe 2010.” And ask around. Fellow theatre lovers are great at sharing both hot picks and train wrecks.
SM: Yes, we must only go to shows that are suggested by reviewers or claimed to be “Best of…”.
How the fuck else do you expect to artists to sell their shows? With ads in papers? With billboards. Everyone knows they will get a flyer at the fringe.
This article seems to mock the very spirit of the amazing Toronto Fringe Festival.
I think Bruce DeMara owes an apology to the Toronto Fringe.
I, with the generous help of many donors, took my show to the mother of all Fringe’s last year…the Edinburgh Fringe. I spen
t an amazing three weeks there and was very proud to trumpet how fantastic our Toronto Fringe was and is.
I saw many shows…the best were the ones that were independent…not promoted by a large producer… had a crappy space (I saw one performer who did her show with a full band on a stage the size of a postage stamp and had duct work right over her head)…had no set…could only afford to bring themselves…was written, produced and performed by the same artist.
Please, Toronto Fringe audience members, pay no attention to this article and be brave and make bold choices about what you are gonna see.
I bet you will be pleasantly surprised.
The Toronto Fringe runs July 6 to 17. Info at fringetoronto.com
Postscript (P.S. I have never officially written a postscript before so please excuse if this is not appropriately fancy)
I have received many emails and comments about this post…which always makes me happy…mostly because it means someone is actually reading my shit. Also because it means that people give a shit about the arts.
I received such an email from a writer from the newspaper in which the offending article occurred. This writer has supported me greatly whenever I have asked for a boost (and it has always been greatly appreciated). I feel it would be only right to do the same kindness. The writers at this newspaper are not allowed to comment on each others articles but this writer wanted me to know that they had nothing to do with the writing of this article, and actually spent a great deal of time opposing it. This same writer felt quite embarrassed that it appeared at all.
Mostly, I am very happy that all of our thoughts about this article have not gone unnoticed and maybe, next time, it will not be written at all. Let us go to these features instead that take about the great things to expect from the fringe.