Toronto Fringe Draws its Lineup

Just got home from the Toronto Fringe local lottery. They’re going to publish the full list tomorrow afternoon, but here’s the list of companies as culled from their Twitter Feed:

First, the new play contest winner was THE OAK ROOM by theatre newcomer Peter Genoway.

The Dance Category includes lemonTree creations (with whom I collaborated on their 2009 production of Deathwatch), Human Atoms, monster feelings, alvinhayle and RiaToss Productions. Waitlisted are (not in order) Skindivers Dance Company, Tu Productions, Sisters of Salmone and Jasmyn Fyffe Dance. There were 20 companies hoping for these spots.

The FringeKids lineup includes Song Trolley Productions, Tarradiddle Tales, Trent Arterberry, The Manipulators, Alistair Ant Productions, Blue Like An Orange Productions, Tangled Web Theatre, and Skylark Productions (headed by Akiva Romer-Segal, with whom I worked on Heart In Hand Theatre’s 2009 production of Trout Stanley). Waitlisted are (not in order) Cow Over Moon Children’s Theatre Company, Little Fringers Music,  Spicy Mike Productions, Deepali Productions, Shakey-Shake and Friends, NachoMama, 3DOM Theatre Company, Pumpernickel Productions.

The Ontario 90-minute category includes: Certainty Assurance (comedian and Second City Instructor Natasha Boomer), COMPASS Theatre Productions, guy shy theatre, Wigglydolly, Alexandra Lean Productions, Vintage Productions, Empty Box Theatre Company, Do These Pants Make Me Look Fat?, Theatre on a Thought, august Productions Theatrical Inc., and Take Your Mark.

Waitlisted are (not in order): Cilantro Dream Theatre, Divine Bovine, and bethannecole, 775 Productions, Gash! Inc., Bygone Theatre, Newface Entertainment, Johnson Girls. I can’t find information on Google about a lot of these companies, but one of the waitlisted companies is run by frequent Sky Gilbert collaborator David Tomlinson and another is run by Astrid Van Wieren, who won a Dora for her performance in This Wide Night. There were 137 companies hoping for the 11 spots.

The big mama of the night was the Ontario 60-minute category, which had 334 entries hoping for one of just 53 spots. The winners are: Olmstead Productions, The Quickening Theatre, Secretly Illiterate Theatre, DYS(THE)LEXI, Not Bad Abe Productions, Beer in a Glass Productions, Ampex Entertainment, Good Old Neon, the Aft End, Silent Protagonist, rhymes with 7, Backyard Spaceship, Act 3.6.1 Prods, Follow Your Fear, The Goods, Theatre Poisons Everything Theatre Co., Kid Switchblade, Lift the Kid Theatre, Slumgum & Quaqua, Rhymes with Orange Productions, Who’s There Theatre, Broken Cloud Company, SAMBO Productions, The Remnants, LifeWorks, Guayoyo Creative Collective, Clownfire, Next Step Productions, Sex T-Rex, Peppermill Productions, Sterling Studio Theatre, The Raft Project, Fruitful Productions, Your Good Friends, AfterGlow Theatre, NovelSidewalk Theatre Company, Fly on the Wall Theatre Co., Newborn Theatre, (Eduardo’s ) Kith as Kin, Fly with Us, Bent Spoons, Blood Orange Theatre & Deviant Prods, Argentan Heart Prods, Royal Porcupine Productions, Donna Greenberg, Theatre of the Beat, Better to Burn Out Productions, Zoot Zoot Prods, MCM Productions, ChickenWing Theatre, bojit Productions, Play It Again Productions.

Of that list, the names that jump out at me are: sketch troupe Sex T-Rex, which has been getting a lot of buzz; former Ten Foot Pole client Afterglow Theatre, whose Ambiguous did well in 2011 and which is headed by Aaron Rothermund; Stephen Gallagher, writer of 2010 Best of Fringe pick Craplicker and the 2013 NextStage Festival’s Memorial, had his company drawn, but I can’t remember which name it was; Ampex Entertainment is Andrew Frade’s company, and they had a cool show with The Stain at this year’s festival; Sarah Olmstead of Olmstead Productions was Mark Shyzer’s stage manager on his cross-Canada Fringe tour this summer with Fishbowl; Ken Hall — one half of the sketch duo 2-Man No Show with Isaac Kessler — was drawn, but I didn’t hear the company name; and one of the last draws of the night was Matt Gorman’s Your Good Friends Theatre Company, which presented the metatheatrical psychodrama Like A Dog at this year’s festival. Gorman is better known for his other company, Cart/Horse Theatre, whose upcoming show This Lime Tree Bower by Olivier-award winning playwright Conor MacPherson I’m doing PR for.

And now the wait list (not in order): Play Creative, Machineman, Hope Grown Productions!, Natural Progression Theatre, Standing in Line Productions, actwright theatre, Theatre Mischief, Beautiful Gem Productions, Rouge & Peasant Theatre, Docket Theatre, Tickahdeebooo Productions, Spring Garden Prods, ME Prods, Flying Radio Prods

This year, they held the draw for non-local categories online earlier in the day, since they’re not going to be at the lottery party anyway. The Fringe didn’t tweet the results, but I scribbled down some of the winners.

First, the Culturally Diverse Artist Project winner was Paromita Kar and her performance company, Nrittanz. This is the new special lottery that is only open to non-whites and comes with a free spot in the festival and a cash prize. I’ve written before how dumb I think this is. I mean, it’s an affirmative action program in a system that is already blind and unfiltered. This just comes down to a cash prize for having a certain skin colour. It has nothing to do with increasing access, since there’s no means-testing for the prize (which has the condescending implication that all non-whites need a financial handup) nor is there any content regulation, so if she wanted to, Paromita could produce an all-white production of a Pinter play and she’d still get the prize for cultural diversity. I think it’s well intentioned but ultimately a misguided program.

[EDIT: Please see the comments section for an elaboration of my problems with this program.]

The National 60-minute category includes: Mike Delamont, who had a hit this year with his cross-dressing standup routine God Is A Scottish Drag Queen; sketch comedy duo The Peter ‘n’ Chris Show (Peter Carlone guested on my show Big In Germany in Calgary this summer); Keir Cutler, who’s best known for his Teaching Shakespeare series of shows (will he be bringing Teaching Hamlet, a two-hander that was a hit in Winnipeg this year?); and improv troupe Hip.Bang!

The International 60-minute category includes Fringe fixture performance poet Jem Rolls and solo artist Tonya Jones Miller, whose autobiographical show Threads was a hit in Winnipeg this summer. The wait list includes Tim Motley, whose film noir/detective pastiche/magic comedy show Dirk Darrow sold out its run at the Victoria Fringe and Yanomi Shoshinz, whose magical mime/dance/clown shows My Exploding Family and A Day In The Life of Miss Hiccup have been critical and audience picks all over the circuit. There were only 20 entries, which is surprisingly even less than Montreal Fringe’s International applicants.

And that’s what I saw! Check out the Toronto Fringe web site tomorrow for the full list.

And if you’re interested in Edmonton Fringe, they live tweeted their lottery results tonight too.

Post Script: My post about Montreal Fringe’s lottery last week is the most-read article I’ve put on this young blog, and seems to have generated some controversy, especially after it was reposted at Charlebois Post. Montreal Fringe ED Amy Blackmore posted there asking me to communicate my concerns to her directly. I haven’t had a chance to talk to her yet (it’s grant writing deadline season), but I do plan to, and I hope it can lead to some positive developments for all artists participating in the Fringes. Unfortunately, too many artists seem to think that speaking out about things that we’re concerned about is dangerous to themselves and harmful to the theatre community. I think that’s crap. The reason I’m speaking up now is not because I’m desperate for attention or I have a career death wish, but because I’m hoping that I can spark dialogue and lead to positive change. Keep writing.

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8 thoughts on “Toronto Fringe Draws its Lineup

  1. And so the racist stripes of a privileged white boy finally appear to reveal themselves. You show a stunning ignorance of the realities of non-whites in Toronto, by your attack on the Toronto Fringe’s Culturally Diverse Artists Program. The reality is that half of Toronto’s residents are non-white today. Yet if you look at the Toronto Fringe participants in any given year, the vast majority are white. Apparently that’s not a problem for you, since the system is already blind and unfiltered. Of course that ignores the financial and societal imbalance between whites and non-whites in Toronto, the ridiculously high percentage of non-whites vs whites below the poverty line and the many barriers preventing more non-whites from participating in many arts programs including the Fringe. In fact, let’s look at the names you’ve specified as people you recognize who were drawn last night – Akiva Romer-Segal, Natasha Boomer, David Tomlinson, Astrid Van Wieren, Aaron Rothermund, Stephen Gallagher, Andrew Frade, Sarah Olmstead, Ken Hall, Matt Gorman, Mike Delamonte, Peter Carlone, Keir Cutler, Jem Rolls, Tonya Jones Miller. To the best of my knowledge, ALL white. You did not mention by name a single non-white person who was drawn into Toronto Fringe, other than through CDAP. But perhaps there are many other non-whites whose names were drawn, but you just don’t associate with them? Is that it? Come to think of it, I don’t recall you ever working with any non-whites in your 30 Fringes across Canada in five years. So perhaps it’s actually not so much that CDAP is a problem as YOU are, or at least your racist attitude? But please don’t think this is a personal attack – just trying to foster a dialogue.

    • First of all, Jesse, this is clearly a personal attack, right from the opening sentence. But since you don’t really engage with the substance of my criticism of the program — that it doesn’t necessarily promote people of colour into the Fringe because it’s content blind, and that it can reinforce relative privilege because it’s not means tested, it’s hard for me to really engage your concerns. But I’ll try:

      It’s actually not true that I’ve never worked with non-whites on a show before; my lighting designer on RAW at this year’s festival, George Quan, is Asian. As are one of the stage managers and one of the guest actors (Brent Hirose) during the multi-year tour of Big In Germany. My company is small, and hasn’t cast that many people in its history — only three of my shows had more than one person, only one had more than two. It’s unrealistic that a sample size this small would or could be reflective of the cultural diversity of Toronto. I’ve also done printing and PR work for several companies including non-white artists and producers.

      It’s also not true that the list of artists I recognized was exclusively white: Tonya Jones Miller is also of Asian decent and her show Threads (which I truly regret I missed this summer) is about her Vietnamese heritage. I also mentioned Yanomi Shoshinz, who is Japanese.

      Like I said in the original post, CDAP is a well-intentioned program. And you know, I could probably get behind it if there were more stringent rules behind it (ie, a commitment to hire a cast and crew that is majority “culturally diverse”, a requirement that the playwright be “culturally diverse”, limitation of applying to CDAP or to the general lottery but not both with perhaps more slots set aside for CDAP proportionately) and if there was no cash prize — or if the cash prize were administered separately as a juried award by a third party. But this program is poorly designed, open to abuse, and offensive in its accusation that simply having non-white skin means that you can’t compete equally with everyone else — even other non-whites.

      Take, for example, the case of an Asian-Canadian producer, who has a household income of $100,000/year and produces Fringe Theatre as a hobby. He could apply to this program with an all-white musical and win a limited access spot and $1750 toward the production. Do you think that’s fair? Do you think that achieves cultural diversity? Well, the rules say it does even though it clearly doesn’t.

      If you think I’m just making up these concerns with the program to push a hypothetical argument, well, just take a look at the culturally diverse cast photo of 2012 CDAP winner Jason Murray’s play The Dinner at Torontoist. That’s a cast of eight with just two non-whites.

  2. Hi Rob – as you know, I actually originated the CDAP program at Fringe. I don’t have too much to say that hasn’t already been said except that:
    a) The program is complicated, flawed and problematic, but we felt that – as Jesse pointed out – the Fringe needed to do SOMETHING to address the lack of culturally diverse applicants to the festival. Not knowing every applicant because of the lottery system, we could only trust the law of averages when evaluating the lack of culturally diverse artists – we estimated that about 2-5% of productions were originated by artists from culturally diverse backgrounds (as defined by the OAC and TAC), and so the same must be true of the lottery pool (if any year has a lot of musicals, its because a lot of musicals applied). After our first year of CDAP, the number of applications increased to about 15%, which was evident in the productions on offer last year. Interestingly, while applicants were allowed to opt for only being considered in the CDAP lottery, all but 7 of the 96 CDAP applicants chose to also be included in the regular lottery.

    b) We designed the program in consultation (sometimes argument) with many artists, some from mandated companies, some independent. The three main barriers to participation at the Fringe for the artists we spoke to were money, community connections and a need for mentorship to help make a successful production (hence the assistance with the production budget, frequent meetings of the participating companies, and a paid mentor). Most upsetting was a sense that the Fringe wasn’t for them, that their communities were not part of the Fringe world, so they wouldn’t be well received. True or not, that perception is problematic for what is supposed to be a totally inclusive art event. I would argue that that perception is already changing without CDAP thanks to some notable artists who have had big hits at the Fringe, but the concerns (and numbers) were hard to ignore. These are also not problems unique to any specific community, which was a major consideration for us in creating the program. The program we created was a three year pilot project that is designed to remove barriers for artists who didn’t feel welcome at the Fringe – I would say the results of the program are already speaking for themselves, but the true test will be what CDAP looks like (or doesn’t) after Year 3.

    Finally, regarding any enforcement of proportional or noticeable required diversity, Fringe never interferes with the art on stage. If any artist wants to leave the stage empty or roll melons towards the audience, they are more than welcome to. Enforcing what sort of art the self-identified culturally diverse artist should have to do was contrary to that core belief. The lottery is an open system – anyone can abuse it if they try and the Fringe can do very little to prevent that. It requires trust, community participation, peer pressure to adhere, and most importantly an open mind. If Mirvish wants to be in the Fringe lottery, they can do so. If this nameless professional you talk about thinks CDAP is for them, then they can deal with the fallout. The Fringe is a small arts organization built on the love and commitment of its community – apart from the rare case, people make the right call about how they interact with it.

    I should note that in my dream of dreams, the Fringe would have a need blind system – an application process that could result in any production being accepted, regardless of means (and systemic barriers that block access to those means), but that is a long, long (infinitely long) way off. I should also note that I don’t disagree with concerns or criticism of the program – but I do stand by it in the hopes that it cracks something open and helps encourage a truly diverse festival.

  3. Hi Rob – I had responded to your comment on Facebook, then realized this was probably a more appropriate place to respond, then saw Gideon’s reply above which I totally support. I was the President of the Toronto Fringe when this program was implemented, and I was one of the many people consulted when Gideon / Fringe staff were creating this program and trying to find the funding for it. I fully support this program in its current form, for the reasons Gideon has already outlined. I very much believe in the Fringe mandate to not interfere with artistic content, so once the (culturally diverse) applicant has been accepted, I wouldn’t want the Fringe to dictate how he/she must cast the show, whether by requiring majority non-white or whatever. It’s not a perfect system, and I’m absolutely happy to have further discussion about ways to improve it, but please do know that there was already lots of discussion and consultation before this was implemented, and so far I’ve been quite pleased with the results and the increase in applications from culturally diverse applicants.

    • The increase in the number of applicants is certainly both interesting and a proof of its effectiveness as an outreach program. I think I’ll write a longer post about this soon, but I think *outreach* is really the most important thing the Fringe — and all theatre companies/programs — can be doing to increase diversity on the stage.

  4. Pingback: Fringe Town Hall | Exit Upstage

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