1n 1947, eight theatre companies showed up to the Edinburgh International Festival hoping to gain some audience recognition from the festival gathering. As a result, a Scottish journalist named Robert Kemp noted that there seemed to be more to do “round the fringe” of the festival than usual. The very first Fringe Festival of Theatre was born.
Since then, Fringe theatre festivals have become something of an international phenomenon with nearly 40 in North America and dozens more in Europe and across the world. In Toronto, the festival is the second largest on the continent and draws theatre companies from around the world to produce 160 shows at 45 venues. Every July, audiences from across the GTA, including Markham, head down to the festival and discover theatrical work that is sometimes breathtaking and sometimes bizarre but always a worthwhile adventure.
“Fringe is an exciting smorgasbord of theatre,” says Markham-born musical theatre composer Scott Christian. “Because it’s not curated but randomly selected by lottery, you never know what you’re going to get.”
Christian has been a theatre professional for a decade, having worked for Neptune Theatre and The Shaw Festival. He has just overseen the premiere of his own musical composition, A Misfortune, at the Charlottetown Festival, but finds the Fringe to be a uniquely creative experience.
“As a creator, it’s a free-for-all, there is so much room to take risks,” Christian explains. “There’s way less fear in a Fringe environment.”
Christian is teaming up with longtime friend, producer and fellow Markham native, Brian Goldenberg, at this year’s festival in the creation of an original musical for children called The Princess Of The Tower, which is based on a Jewish fairy tale and runs as part of the Fringe KidsFest series.
Goldenberg is another longtime pro who’s been producing theatre in and around Toronto for 15 years for companies like Dancap Productions, Theatre 20 and the Dora-nominated Angelwalk Theatre. Nevertheless, he also finds himself returning year after year to this festival.
“There’s an incredible energy and spirit that comes with being a part of a Fringe Festival,” explains Goldenberg. “I have had the privilege of working on several Fringe shows throughout my career and I love the way that artists from all stages in their careers come together and bring shows to life.”
Goldenberg keeps busy at the Fringe too. Last season he produced three shows, including the runaway hit of the fest, Maddie’s Karaoke Birthday Party, and this year he producing three more, including The Princess and the Tower. His other shows are And Then…She Did, about a princess that dreams of becoming a fairy godmother when she grows up and Hooked, a themed-dance piece that explores addiction and dependencies through contemporary and jazz movement.
Goldenberg and Christian are both alumni of Markham Youth Theatre, a theatre company run by young people that started in 1992 and ran for 25 years.
Another Markham artist featured this year is actor, Breanna Maloney. Before moving to the UK to study performance, she is no stranger to Markham theatre goers. She has performed for the Unionville Theatre Company in several shows, including Peter Pan and Cats. More recently, she came home to join the cast of Markham Little Theatre’s Perfect Wedding. At this year’s Fringe, Maloney performs in Crave with the company Pure Carbon. This show is the type of creative challenge that Fringe audiences love. It’s a fascinating piece that Maloney is ready to bring to life.
“Crave addresses themes of mental health and illness, addiction and suicide,” says Maloney, “All within the dichotomy of pain experienced with love.”
Musician and composer Daniel Walsh is using his memory of life in the halls of Markham’s Pierre Elliot Trudeau Secondary as inspiration for his show. Highschool Symphony is a comedy, drama and a musical all rolled into one, tracing the on again, off again, relationship of teenage female best friends.
“When I said this is only ‘sort of’ a musical, what I mean by that is we’re not going around singing and dancing,” explains Walsh, “Instead, we’ve pulled the musicians out of the orchestra pit, slapped ‘em on stage and gave them lines making for a really wild, immersive show.”
Of course, no day at the Toronto Fringe is complete without stopping by the Fringe Patio for a drink to talk about the shows. The Patio takes over the outdoor hockey rink at Bathurst and Dundas for 12 days of fun, art, live music, food and drink. It is not to be missed.
So, if you’re looking for a reason to head down to the city this July, The Fringe might just be it. The Toronto Fringe runs from July 4-15. Go to fringetoronto.ca for tickets, showtimes and more details.
Photo: Scott Christian, Daniel Walsh, Brian Goldenberg and Breanna Maloney represent Markham at this summer’s FRINGE fest!