2) How has the Fringe of Toronto Theatre Festival changed since you started working with it?
Definitely more artists are aware of what a useful and affordable development tool the Fringe is. Each year the number of applications we receive grows. This past year we received 550 applications to the Fringe lottery and the ongoing joke in the office was that your odds were better to win $1,000,000 in the Heart & Stroke Lottery than they were to secure a spot in the Fringe.
High-profile success such as The Drowsy Chaperone, JOB: The Hip-Hopera and da kink in my hair have also introduced the Toronto Fringe and the Fringe philosophy to a wider audience and can help explain the huge increases in applications from artists across Canada and around the world.
Here at home, local artists are finding it more expensive to develop work, hence applications from local companies have also skyrocketed as artists look to take advantage of the affordable and supportive environment the Fringe provides for these artists to create.
Also, since I started working for the Fringe I’ve personally made it a point to promote and celebrate the fact that the Fringe remains unjuried and that we return 100% of the ticket price back to the artists. It’s not uncommon to see us referring to ourselves as “Toronto’s Theatre Festival” (since we remain accessible to a much larger cross section of the population) and how we’re “unjuried, unexpected, unforgettable” on all of our marketing material. I think people have responded extremely well to these statements and to what the Fringe is all about.
Over the past seven years we’ve continued to set records in both attendance and in box office revenue and hope to sell over 50,000 tickets this July.
3) How much cross-pollination is there going on between the various members of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals?
Tons. The Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals holds an annual conference for Fringe producers to meet and share ideas. We fully support the “stealing” of ideas from one another and all of us all try to make it out to other Fringes to see them in action. It’s a fantastic networking group and from it such initiatives as the CAFF Touring Lottery (that allows companies to tour a minimum of five CAFF-affiliated Fringe festivals by filling in a single application) have taken root.
CAFF is such an attractive networking group that we have several American Fringe members who believe in the Canadian Fringe philosophy of remaining unjuried and returning 100% of the ticket price back to artists. I think it’s great that we have American members but sometimes it can create problems ;) . . . Flashback: two years ago when I spent almost half an hour at customs explaining that I was going to the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals conference in Orlando, Florida. I guess that came across as being a bit dodgy and I realize now that I should’ve just said Disneyworld.
4) What are the most common mistakes you see being made by theatre artists participating in the Fringe?
They don’t read the Communiqués . . . by a long shot the most common mistake . . . please please please read the Communiqués.
5) What’s your single-fondest Fringe Festival memory?
At the spur of the moment in the beer tent, encouraging David Miller to put down his beer and appear on the “Late Night @ The Fringe with the Rumoli Bros.” He agreed, I walked him through the back hallway of the Tranzac (as the show was going on) and as the two of us hung out in the wings I waved my arms frantically trying to catch the Rumoli’s attention. They saw me, they saw Dave, they worked it and David made a kick ass appearance at the Fringe Club, complete with the “Mayor Look-Alike Contest” where some guy with no shirt and ripped baggy jeans won and walked away with Miller’s tie as the prize. Awesome.
6) Do you have any unifying theories about the artist-producer relationship?
Maybe not a unifying theory but a word of advice: if you find a good producer hang onto them as they are in serious short supply.
7) Do you believe in ghosts?
Hell yeah . . . I have some good stories, too . . .
8) What theatre-related topic is most likely to propel you into a heated debate?
The loss of smaller to mid-size performance spaces. The Poor Alex and Artword Theatres were HUGE losses not only to the Fringe but to the entire indie theatre community.
Also, there is no reason why the Theatre Centre should be without a stable home, which has been the case for the past year or so. Props to everyone involved in setting up the Queen West Arts Centre.
9) Do you think conservative, right-wing politics are somehow fundamentally at odds with the arts community?
Yes. Ultimately I think it comes down to what our conservative, right-wing federal government perceives as being important in our society . . .
On one hand, there are many astute arguments justifying the importance of arts/culture within the Canadian society and how far-reaching the spiritual, communal, emotional and ECONOMICAL benefits of art are to our society.
On the other hand, our conservative, right wing federal government believes that spending money on a stylist to make sure Harper’s nose is powered properly is important.
Preventing Harper nose glare vs. the preservation and development of Canadian culture.
Sounds friggin’ at odds to me . . .
10) Is the newly minted Next Stage Festival meant to be a companion festival to the Fringe, or something quite distinct?
I think of the Next Stage Festival more as a companion to the Fringe organization and not to the Fringe festival itself. I’ll explain: many other Fringe festivals across Canada are produced by a larger entity. For example, the Manitoba Theatre Centre produces the Winnipeg Fringe and Fringe Theatre Adventures produces the Edmonton Fringe Festival.
Here in Toronto my co-worker Chuck McEwen and I realized that the summer festival itself was bursting at the seams and there simply wasn’t any more room to grow in that particular time slot. With the 20th anniversary of the Fringe festival on the horizon we though it would be an opportune time to re-brand ourselves so that the “Fringe of Toronto Theatre Festival” would become like an umbrella organization with a mandate to provide performance and development opportunities for artists.
The summer “Toronto Fringe Festival” would in essence become the crown jewel program of the organization. The newly minted Next Stage Festival would be a companion piece to the organization in that it adheres to the mandate of providing a performance and development opportunity but remtains distinct from its sister festival in the summer in that it is a juried and much smaller theatrical event.