Fringe Tour Nostaligia — Some Surprise Suspects in the Case of the Disappearing Acts

Over on Charlebois Post, Fringe God TJ Dawe has written an essay about the apparent death of the Fringe Tour that’s gotten a fair bit of circulation among Fringers. In it, he waxes nostalgic about the good ol’ days of Fringe touring while apparently casting blame – if you want to call it that, and I do – on the glut of new generation theatre creators who’ve made it very difficult to build a national Fringe tour, by clogging up the lotteries. While he winds up challenging the mainstream theatres to accept more of these self-creating artists – a laudable goal – I respectfully disagree with almost everything else he writes. Here’s why:

Misplaced Nostalgia?

While TJ’s experience and success on the Fringe circuit is virtually unparalleled, I find a lot of his claims hard to swallow. He talks about how in his early days of touring – 1994-2008, approximately – it was common for artists to book eight- or nine-city tours, over which the artists could refine and perfect their shows until they were well-oiled machines.

My Fringe life only barely overlaps that period – 2007-2012 – but in that time I’ve managed three fairly large-scale tours (and some smaller ones) and shows that have toured to multiple cities over the years (unlike TJ, I’ve been lucky enough to win the touring lottery twice). Over that time, even in the early years, it seemed obvious that artists on big, continent-spanning tours were by far the minority. The largest cohort in every festival are the local and regional artists. A lot of touring artists could only ever afford to do one or two cities. The big eight-city tours always seemed relegated to the handful of artists who win the touring lottery and the smaller cohort of ‘lifers’ on the circuit (TJ, Keir Cutler, Jem Rolls, Jayson McDonald, and a few others).

And to be honest, while I can attest to the fact that shows evolve for the better over long runs – Balls, Fucking Stephen Harper, and Big In Germany all became stronger after long tours as I got more comfortable with the material and cut what didn’t work – it’s kind of a strange value proposition: “Hey Montrealers! Enjoy this train wreck of a show I haven’t quite finished working on! It’ll be great by Victoria. I swear!”

Plus, the track record of the Fringe for making huge successes this way isn’t really that great. Nancy Kenney, CharPo and I recently tried to count up the list of runaway successes from the Fringe that have broken into the mainstream and we stopped at: Drowsy Chaperone, Da Kink In My Hair, Kim’s Convenience, and TJ’s play Toothpaste and Cigars, which became the major motion picture The F Word. TJ’s toured, but the other three began and ended their Fringe life in Toronto. To be certain, we’ve missed smaller shows and the Fringe plays that achieved a degree of success but stayed on the circuit, but if the point is to have a polished show only after performing it 60 times on the circuit, certainly you’d want it to have a life afterward, no?

[EDIT: As TJ, Derrick Chua and others have noted in the comments below, this is clearly an inexhaustive list and lots of other shows have gone on to varying degrees of success after the Fringe. While I was being deliberately provocative above, I think my main point stands, that the number of Fringe-launched successes is quite small, and that the majority of those that do succeed did so without touring.]

Bigger Factors

TJ points out that the big cohort of new theatre creators being churned out of theatre schools at a clip that would rival a WWII munitions factory is a big reason why the Fringe lotteries have become more competitive over the years – all those kids are being foisted upon a jobs market that doesn’t have room for them, and they’re at the peak age for being able to take on the financial risk of a Fringe show and a multi-city tour. (And also the peak age for being willing to sleep on a makeshift bed in several strangers’ houses for a couple of months).

It’s an easy scapegoat, but in my experience, it’s not the biggest reason for the death of the tour. I’m hearing more and more artists simply point out that the value of performing in certain festivals is no longer worth it. The entire east-side of the tour (Montreal, London, Ottawa, and Toronto) can be deadly for producers. The first three are a huge gamble for performers as the audience really just isn’t there  (somewhat paradoxically, since the Windsor-Montreal corridor is the most densely populated in Canada). Though a few lucky performers can attract a crowd, many don’t even make their application fees back.

In my first year of touring, one of the veterans told me that if you make about $1000 in Montreal and Ottawa, you should celebrate. That barely covers the cost of going there for a solo show (if you don’t eat). That number hasn’t moved in six years, and indeed, my last time there, I grossed $1100 and the artist liaison told me I should celebrate as I did better than average.

Toronto is a lovely festival with a huge audience, but it is incredibly difficult for touring artists because the city is so local-heavy. I used to commiserate with my touring friends over this, until I spent a few years in the city and realized that quickly I could count thirty shows in the Toronto Fringe with friends in them before I even looked at the touring artists. Touring artists struggle for both media coverage and audiences here.

Still, you might be able to justify the added month or two of touring in Ontario and Quebec as an investment in workshopping and developing your show. Except that in recent years, reporters from Winnipeg started turning up in Montreal and Toronto to advance review your shows. If your show wasn’t ready yet in Montreal, you could get a poisonous (or worse, neutral) review in Winnipeg before you even open there. (It happened to me with Balls in 2008). Many artists just decided the first four cities on the tour weren’t worth it – why not spend those two months at home, saving money, while you continue to develop your show?

Ditto for many other cities on the circuit. Why spend up to $1000 or more to perform in Calgary or Saskatoon, when you could probably fly home and back from Winnipeg and to Edmonton for that? Victoria and Vancouver have also expanded the number of shows well beyond their audience capacity to fill seats too, and it’s easy to justify chopping these off the end of a tour.

Conversely, for artists in central Canada (by which I possibly only mean Toronto), there’s long been an ambivalence – or worse – toward touring the circuit. The evidence seems to support the notion that the only important Fringe for career development is Toronto, so why spend a summer – the months when you should be out auditioning for film and TV, or playing summer stock, or putting on a show at SummerWorks – in Alberta and Manitoba? In my experience, other artists here look down their nose even at successful shows out of the city, and everyone forgets who you are while you’re away performing. And as TJ points out, “Fringes aren’t crawling with agents and producers and talent scouts and artistic directors,” so you’re unlikely to get spotted while performing at Acacia Hall in Edmonton.

Add on the fact that while Festivals across the circuit were responding to artist demand by expanding the number of shows accepted (with Toronto and Calgary being notable and noble exceptions), thus increasing competition for audiences, they were sharply raising admission fees and holding ticket prices (ie, artist return) relatively flat. Oh, and at the same time, the price of everything else was going up (especially gas, rent, heat, etc…). Well, everything except credit, which stupid young theatre creators are often all too happy to take on in order to finance these increasingly risky tours.

Finally, it’s pretty clear the lotteries aren’t holding back artists who want to tour.  The lifers especially have found ways to circumvent the lotteries by arranging Bring Your Own Venues at festivals where they think it’s worth it. TJ knows this, because I’ve seen him sell out a run at the Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg at least twice in my touring life (Which, really? PTE didn’t want him back this year? Crazy. [EDIT: TJ explains this below.]). What’s changed is that artists are recognizing that the financial reward for booking BYOV’s all across the country is evaporating.

Why the Young Ones?

I have to point out as well that I object to what I perceive as the subtext of Dawe’s article, which is that this new cohort of young artists is crowding out the older generation of Fringe stars who used to own the circuit.

I think a more pressing point is: why are Fringe stars still touring the circuit ten, fifteen years on, instead of moving up the artworld hierarchy and making room for the new generation of artists?

It’s a problem I’ve been wrestling with for the last few years, and was a big part of my decision to leave the Fringe circuit after the 2012 tour (although, admittedly, financial concerns were a big part too, and I continue to enter the Toronto lottery because the Toronto Fringe has always been a different animal). I think one of the biggest problems in our theatre ecology is the refusal of artists to leave the “emerging” category and give up the perks and supports that come with it. Doors are being closed on new, young voices while artists that by any measure ought to be considered “established” take up room that should be reserved for them. It does long-term damage to the scene, and infantilizes artists that should be standing on their own.

For all the success it’s had in recent years, SummerWorks has largely become the thing it was created not to be: a prestige showcase of Toronto’s established companies and artists (with a smattering of work by anointed youngsters). NextStage programs playwrights, actors and directors whose work wins Governor-General and Dora Awards and is regularly seen in the seasons of mainstream companies.

After touring the Fringe, I mounted Balls independently in a financially disastrous run that taught me more about entrepreneurship than I could hope to learn on the Fringe circuit.

After touring the Fringe, I mounted Balls independently in a financially disastrous run that taught me more about entrepreneurship than I could hope to learn on the Fringe circuit.

TJ praises the entrepreneurial spirit of all of the self-creating/self-producing theatre creators that are clogging up the Fringe lotteries. But the Fringe is only borderline entrepreneurship. While performers must create their own budgets and handle tour logistics and design posters, the festivals themselves do the work of venue logistics, staff, marketing, etc. Fringe is a great school or lab for theatre entrepreneurs, but eventually, you have to graduate from it and do it on your own.

Put another way, TJ can sell 3000 tickets in a visit to Winnipeg (and understandably — he’s a great performer, and Fringe audiences have come to think of his shows as major events). Surely it’s worth it to some producer to book him for a few nights at PTE in the off season, no?

So let’s not gobble up the Fringe’s resources. Let’s let as many new, ‘fringey’ voices rise up into the circuit as possible. No more Fringe stars. The concept of a Fringe star is contrary to the whole spirit of the Fringe. If you get success on the Fringe, work to parlay that into success outside the festival. Don’t hog the Fringe – demand your well-deserved spot in the centre.


Toronto Transit Improvements 2014+

[UPDATE 3 – 2014 Municipal Election Edition – This post has been updated to reflect changes to the ongoing implementation of plans (particularly regarding the new streetcars, PRESTO, and accessibility improvements), announcements that came during the provincial election, and mayoral candidates’ ambitions. Updates in “[BOLD]”]

The standard complaint about Toronto Transit is that we spend a lot of time arguing and not very much time building anything. The system is crumbling and overcrowded and we’re doing nothing to meet future demands, let alone current shortcomings. Little Vancouver will surpass us this year in kms of Rapid Transit on its local system (although not in number of stations or number of riders, and certainly not including GO). We have nothing to show for our taxes and fare hikes so why should we trust the government with more?

I disagree. The system has grown enormously in the past decade (despite the cutbacks under our current Mayor/TTC Chair), and we’re going to see even more major improvements to the regional system in the next decade. So, inspired by an article projecting the new services on offer in Montreal this year, I decided to consolidate the current funded and scheduled plans into a handy list. I’m only including projects that are scheduled and/or legislated below, so wishful thinking projects and projects that are tied to future tax hikes are left out. I’ve also left out recent completed improvements (like all-day GO Lakeshore service, several GO grade separations, Durham’s PULSE BRT service, and several GO station/parking improvements).

Transit Improvements 2014-2025

–          Reconstruction of Harbourfront Streetcar ROW completed and reopened. Along with significant public realm improvements [that will finally be finished in 2015], the ROW realignment will improve service because the streetcars will no longer conflict with left-turning eastbound vehicles. Comes with a bonus Martin Goodman Trail extension. When the streetcars arrive, they’ll be pulling into a lightly renovated Union Station loop, which will connect directly to the new second (Yonge Line) platform in the subway station, which also opened this year. [Opening scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend.]

2979_1_mgt_no_grass_1_585_282_crop_max_width_0_30_600_290–          New streetcars deployed on Harbourfront, Spadina, and Bathurst routes. The new streetcars will be rolled out between 2014-2019 on a route-by-route basis. Routes with new streetcars will enjoy increased reliability, be completely wheelchair accessible, accept PRESTO as payment, and move faster because of some removed stops and all-door accessible boarding. [Due to a strike at Bombardier’s facility in Thunder Bay, delivery of new vehicles is behind schedule. The first two cars debuted on Spadina Aug 31, and more will slowly trickle in over the year. No word on when the Bombardier will catch up. PRESTO was meant to be implemented on Spadina, Bathurst, Harbourfront, and Dundas Streetcars with the new deployment; no word on whether these lines’ PRESTO compatibility is still projected for a fall start date.] 
–          Station renovations/accessibility improvements/PRESTO installation completed at Dufferin, Pape, and Lawrence West; construction begins at Ossington. Part of the TTC’s legislated accessibility requirements, stations being renovated will benefit from second exits from the subway (for safety and convenience) and barrier-free entry (elevators, sliding doors). [Side note: “second exits” are ridiculous — they should function as unmanned, PRESTO-activated entrances as well.]
–          Articulated buses rolled out on Bathurst, Dufferin, Finch West, Ossington, Bay, Sheppard East, and Steeles Express routes. The articulated buses will increase capacity and comfort on these routes. Complete rollout expected by January 2015.

ttcarticulatedbusoctober3-473x315–          GO Station modernization at Burlington and Exhibition. GO Bloor will also become fully accessible ahead of the launch of the UPE. New parking structures at Ajax, Clarkson, and Pickering. GO modernization includes accessibilty improvements and additional entrances. New parking structures will accommodate additional riders.
–           Kitchener’s 17-km “adapted BRT” begins service, connecting Fairview Park Mall with Cambridge. Not technically in the GTA, but GO is now serving Kitchener (just another of this decade’s improvements!), so I’m including it here.
–           Brampton’s Zum BRT service adds a new line on Bovaird Street, between GO Mount Pleasant and Airport Rd, connecting to the Zum Main St . This is the beginning of Phase 2 of the Zum system, which launched in 2010. Zum is like Viva, an express bus system running in mixed traffic, but with nicely designed stations and transit priority signalling. An unfunded program will build separated lanes on Queen St in the distant future. (A map appears in the 2016 segment).
[- PRESTO Installation: First wave of TTC PRESTO expansion will be complete by Fall 2014, with expansion to the following subway stations: King, Queen, Sheppard, Broadview, Scarborough Centre, St. Andrew, Osgoode, Museum, Spadina, Bathurst, Dundas West, and Davisville. It is very weird to me that this list doesn’t include stations undergoing renovations like Dufferin, Pape, and Lawrence West. Is there a logic here? Why not do the work all at once?] 

– [All-door boarding on Streetcars: Starting Jan 1, all streetcars will feature all-door boarding and Proof-of-Payment/Honour System boarding. This will reduce stop service time, resulting in quicker service. Also affecting Streetcar speed will be the elimination of some stops through the core that are considered too close together, and elimination of Sunday stops. This was specifically authorized by City Council at its last meeting, although Mayor Ford was opposed.
– [OTHER BUS NETWORK IMPROVEMENTS: The TTC voted to implement a wide array of other service improvements to the surface network, including a reduction in crowding standards (i.e., how many people have to be using the average bus before additional buses are put on the line), expansion of the Blue Night Route Services, creation of a 10-minute network of bus routes that come at least every 10 minutes all day, addition of more express routes into downtown, addition of more limited-stop services on busy cross-town routes, and switching to a two-hour transfer fare system. These will likely be up to the incoming council to decide whether to fund, and for the incoming TTC to implement. There are severe limitations on the number of buses that can be added to the system due to lack of garage space — although presumably that can be rented temporarily. Mayoral candidate Tory rejected all of the proposed changes saying they were too expensive (they would cost about $500M over ten years, including net operating and capital costs, although $190M of this has already been set aside by the current Council for new garage space); Mayoral candidate Ford presumably rejects this as well, since it’s largely a repudiation of the last four years of governance and every bus route will become a subway in the glorious Ford Future; Mayoral candidate Chow accepted most of the plan as it dovetailed with her plan to increase bus service, although she oddly came out against the two-hour transfer scheme, which is probably necessary for large-scale PRESTO implementation). 

–          Union-Pearson Express opens, includes modernization of GO Bloor and Weston stations. Will include an interchange station connecting UPE, GO Bloor, and Dundas West Stations. Fare structure to be determined. Departures every 15 mins. [Metrolinx is already studying electrification of this line. There are already thoughts toward adding a stop at Eglinton once the Crosstown opens if/and electrification happens.]

UPE–          Union Station renovations complete. Will eventually accommodate up to twice current capacity.
–          New Streetcars deployed on Dundas – PRESTO-ready, presumably.
–          PRESTO roll-out on TTC “substantially complete” by Pan-Am Games [*ahem* this has been delayed until 2017, according to the latest plans. Hopefully, some mayoral candidate can pledge to speed this up?]
–          James North GO Station added in Hamilton
–          Increased GO service on the Kitchener line, includes station modernization at Etobicoke North.
         GO Long Branch and Eglinton become accessible; station renovations complete the following year.
–          VIVA Busways Phase I completed, adding BRT service to much of Highway 7 and Yonge St in York Region.
–          Accessibility improvements planned at Wilson* and Ossington. (*From this point forward, many of the accessibility improvement dates are fuzzy. The TTC has an implementation plan–see below–but not all of these are actually funded or scheduled. There’s a hard legislated deadline of 2025 for accessibility improvements, and the TTC wants stations served by streetcars to be fully accessible by the launch date for new streetcar service on a given line). [The TTC has had its Easier Access Budget slashed in half, so the plan below has changed substantially. There is no longer funding to complete improvements at the following stations: Greenwood, Wellesley, Lansdowne, Keele, College, Spadina, Chester, Christie, Castle Frank, Summerhill, High Park, Museum, Rosedale, Old Mill, Glencairn, Warden, and Islington. This is pretty shocking — especially given that some of these stations are high-volume stations, and service routes that were meant to finally get accessible streetcars. Some Mayoral candidate may want to speak out about this. From here on out, accessibility upgrades in this article reflect the new planned opening dates.]

accessibility timeline TTC–          Completion of the 80-km Pan-Am Path bike/multi-use trail system through Toronto — not a transit project, but a substantial biking project that will benefit many for years to come. It’s one of a very few biking projects with a firm completion date.


–            Brampton’s Zum Steeles service extends west from the Gateway Terminal to Lisgar GO station.

–          Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extention opens. 8.6 km, 6 new stations, fully accessible and PRESTO-ready. Includes a new GO interchange station at Downsview Park (the existing GO York University will close), Viva interchanges, the proposed Highway 407 Busway, the future Finch West LRT interchange, almost 3000 parking spaces, and service to York University. Opening of this subway will reduce need for buses on some routes, allowing redeployment to better serve other high-demand routes. It will also put the York University Busway in the hydro corridor out of work; plans for the busway haven’t been announced but it may become a cycle path. (Station names below aren’t correct. Downsview will be renamed “Sheppard West”; the station labelled Sheppard West will become “Downsview Park”; the station labelled Steeles West will be named “Pioneer Village”; and Vaughan Corporate Centre will be called “Vaughan Metropolitan Centre.”) [I believe Steve Munro is now projecting a 2017 opening date, but 2016 is still the official plan. Stations along the line certainly look like they’re progressing well from the outside and tunnelling is complete.]

–          AM Peak short-turn on Spadina line extended from St. Clair West to Glencairn
–          More trains added to YUS line to add AM capacity.
–          New Streetcars deployed on Queen and Lakeshore. PRESTO ready.
–          Cherry Streetcar branch from the King line opens for service.
–          PRESTO rollout on TTC complete. Smartcard payment will be accepted on all transit systems in the GTAH and Ottawa. May lead to changes in fare integration and transfer policies (ie, timed transfer?). [Or not. See notes above. There is no firm date for the completion of the PRESTO rollout on the TTC, or explanation of what’s included in a Phase 2 rollout.]
–          Mississauga Transitway BRT completed.

mississauga_transitway_map_en-670x340–          Accessibility/modernization improvements to Coxwell, St Clair West, Woodbine, King, Bay, St Patrick, Yorkdale, and Runnymede. [see above]
         GO Georgetown becomes accessible, although renovations will continue through the following year. At this point, the only GO station not accessible will be Kipling, pending an agreement with the TTC over redesigning an integrated site [and proposed but unfunded new bus terminal for Mississauga’s MiWay services].
–          Brampton’s Zum Phase 2 is completed, with the extension of Queen St service west from the downtown terminal to Mount Pleasant GO station via Mississauga Drive.
–          New streetcars deployed on King. PRESTO ready, if not already.


–          Accessibility/modernization improvements to Lawrence, Dupont, and Royal York, Woodbine, Coxwell, Ossington, and Wilson.
–          Kitchener-Waterloo 19-km “ION” LRT begins service, connecting Fairview Park Mall with Conestoga Mall, including transfers to the aBRT service to Cambridge, and the GO transit hub.


[- A new (temporary?) bus station will have to be built at Islington station, as the old one is collapsing. The project is currently unfunded, and subject to agreement with Mississauga and Metrolinx, related to the new Kipling bus station hub. Whatever happens here, the new temporary bus bay will likely be more accessible than the old one, which is the only reason I’m including it. The subway station will remain wheelchair-inaccessible. Some mayoral candidate may want to comment on the dithering that has led to the necessity to construct a wasteful “temporary” bus stand. Incidentally, the existing bus station is planned to be redeveloped in office towers as part of the larger Etobicoke Centre redevelopment.] 


–          New streetcars deployed on St Clair, Downtowner, Kingston. PRESTO ready, if not already deployed.
–          GO Mimico station modernization
–          Accessibility/modernization improvements to Lansdowne, Sherbourne, College, Spadina, Keele, and Donlands. [Runnymede, King, and Yorkdale].
–          Automatic train control deployed on YUS line. ATC will allow trains to run closer together, improving speed, reliability, and capacity.

–          New streetcars on Carlton. At this point, the new streetcars will be completely deployed across the whole system, and old cars will be scrapped, and presumably PRESTO will be system-wide as well.
–          Accessibility/modernization improvements to Greenwood. [Dupont, Donlands, and Bay].
–          VIVA rapid busways substantially completed. Future extensions planned but unfunded. [This has been moved from 2018. My mistake. Updated map below.]


–          Seriously not in the GTA, but Ottawa’s Confederation LRT line will open for service, a first for the nation’s capital. The 12-km route includes a 2.3-km subway portion. It includes connections to the existing BRT transitways at both ends, the O-Train at Bayview, and VIA Rail at Tremblay.
Ottawa LRT

[- McNicoll Bus Garage opens – Almost no one will see this, but the opening of this garage is required for the increased bus service the TTC wants to implement system wide.
– New Kipling “Mobility Hub” opens, with new bus terminal serving MiWay and GO Transit bus routes, and improved connection to the GO Kipling/TTC Kipling terminals. The new intercity terminal will shorten some bus trips to the subway, while also making for a convenient connection from MiWay to GO, perhaps lightening the load on the Bloor-Danforth. Metrolinx is still in design and consult phase, but this project really ought to speed up, if only to save the necessity of a temporary terminal at Islington. Some Mayoral candidate may want to comment on this.]

–          Eglinton Crosstown opens. First major LRT line in Toronto includes an 11-km “subway” through the central part of midtown. It’s expected to be the mostly highly-used of the new lines, and will include connections to three existing subway stations, one existing GO station, and a new GO Kitchener interchange station at Mount Dennis [which may include a UPE interchange]. A potential future GO Barrie interchange is being roughed-in at Caledonia. Includes new bike lanes on the eastern surface portion from Don Mills to Kingston [as well as along the surface of the entire underground route as part of the “Eglinton Connects” program, creating a continuous bike route across the city – Mayoral candidate John Tory has been ambiguous about his support for Eglinton Connects]. Incidentally, this is when the TTC retakes its position as owner of the largest rapid transit network in Canada, from Vancouver Skytrain (which surpassed it in 2014, when the Evergreen Line opened).
–          Finch West LRT opens, from Finch West Station (Keele) to Humber College. Includes bike lanes. [Mayoral candidate John Tory has been ambiguous about his support for the Finch West LRT, but has said he wouldn’t hinder its progress. Mayoral candidate Doug Ford opposes all LRT projects.]
–          Buses servicing Eglinton and Finch West may be redeployed to high-demand routes elsewhere.
–          Accessibility/modernization improvements to Castle Frank, Wellesley, and Christie. [St. Patrick, Sherbourne, and Lawrence. No further improvements are funded].

–          Sheppard East LRT opens, from Don Mills to Morningside. Includes interchange with Sheppard subway, future Scarborough subway, and GO Agincourt. Metrolinx has mused publicly that this route may be pushed up in the schedule, but an RFP for the shared maintenance facility was cancelled after the Scarborough LRT was cancelled. Buses servicing this route may be redeployed to increase service on other routes. Includes bike lanes. [Mayoral candidate John Tory has been ambiguous about his support for Sheppard LRT, but has said he wouldn’t hinder its progress. Mayoral candidate Doug Ford opposes all LRT projects.]

–          Accessibility/modernization improvements to Rosedale, Chester, and Museum.
[- Mayoral candidate John Tory would like you to believe that his “SmartTrack,” a 53-km surface rail system combining the GO Stouffville service with the GO Kitchener service and adding a spur out along Eglinton to the Airport Corporate Centre, system will open by Dec 31, 2021, and if you believe that, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. I explained a number of the feasibility problems with the line in this article for NOW Magazine. But a seven-year construction schedule, when there hasn’t even been discussions — let alone approval — from the seven governments that will be affected/asked to pay for it (Toronto, Mississauga/Peel, Markham/York, Ontario, and Canada), and when there hasn’t been any feasibility, alternatives, or engineering studies, just defies belief. It took us six years to build the Spadina ROW. It will be ten from the approval date of the York Subway extension to its opening date. End rant.]


–          Accessibility/modernization improvements to High Park and Summerhill.

–          Accessibility/modernization improvements to Old Mill and Glencairn.
–          Scarborough subway extension planned to open, replacing SRT. This is officially funded and on the books, but who knows what’ll happen with city hall and Queen’s Park elections coming up? We don’t actually know the final costs or engineering yet, or even if this timeline is achievable. We can assume that the new line (10km, at least 3 stations) will be fully accessible, PRESTO enabled, connect to one GO station and the Sheppard East LRT. Also unknown: what becomes of the old SRT and its maintenance facility? [Mayoral candidates Ford and Tory support the subway; Mayoral candidate Chow supports the LRT.]

– GO System electrification – The Ontario Liberals promised to transform GO into an all-day regional express rail by electrifying all lines that we own within 10 years. That’s a bit of a step down from Metrolinx’ official line that they are planning to electrify all seven GO routes plus the UPE. For the record, Metrolinx owns Lakeshore East, Stouffville, all but the north end of the Richmond Hill (which may also get a northward extension), and Barrie. It only owns the Kitchener line east of Brampton (but will likely purchase the rest to support its High-Speed Rail plan), and Lakeshore West from east of Burlington. It doesn’t own the Milton line, and it will be difficult to purchase. Electrification will bring 15-minute/two-way service, additional stops within the 416, and systemic integration (fares and routes) with the TTC. This will be a game changer for the city if/when it’s implemented. There has been some doubt whether it’s likely to make the full rollout within the ten-year timetable, even on the Liberals’ more modest plan.]

–          Accessibility/modernization improvements to Islington and Warden. The entire TTC and GO network will be barrier-free, in accordance with Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilties Act requirements. The TTC does not currently have a plan to meet AODA requirements.

In addition to those projects, there are a number of projects on the books that have no firm funding or schedules yet. These include:

–          WIFI enabled at all subway stations. WIFI was added to Bloor/Yonge and St. George stations in a pilot project this year, [and has been expanded to Bay and Wellesley. Construction is under way at Dundas, College, and Union, with the rest of the downtown loop to be complete by Summer 2015. The remainder of stations are meant to be Wifi-able by 2017, with the tunnels added by 2019. No word yet on if/when major carriers will enable cellular access in the stations, although the equipment installed does allow it.].
–          Transfer policy revision – PRESTO will enable the TTC to provide a new fare/transfer structure, and much speculation is that it will move to a timed transfer system like most other systems. [Update: The TTC is formally investigating timed-transfers to ease the transition to PRESTO.]
–          TTC Fare integration with GO at Exhibition and Bloor stations. This idea was floated by Karen Stintz and Mike Layton last fall and Metrolinx seemed warm to the idea.
–          TTC Fare integration with entire GO system. This more radical idea was floated by other councillors and Stintz, although Metrolinx didn’t seem as warm to it. It would be by far the single biggest improvement to Toronto Transit ever, with 20 new stations coming online, particularly in far-flung parts of the inner suburbs. It should be noted that all 905 systems have substantial fare integration with GO.
–          TTC Fare integration with 905 systems. You see a theme here? This was ostensibly the whole point of the PRESTO system, and yet, with less than two years from complete implementation, we’ve yet to start publicly discussing real fare integration schemes for the TTC. [Fare integration is being studied by Metrolinx, with a report due in 2016].
–          Waterfront East LRT line. This is officially a Waterfront TO project, but they’re about $200 million short of actually building it. It might get funded out of development charges. The whole waterfront redevelopment includes a suite of possible lines, including an extension of the Cherry St LRT stub across Commissioners St, an extension of Broadview along with streetcar/LRT service to the Portlands, and other possible routings connecting with Queens Quay, King St, Eastern, etc. No decisions have been made here. [Someone really ought to ask the Mayoral candidates about this.]
–          Queensway ROW extension to Roncesvalles. This is tentatively scheduled for 2016, but Steve Munro reports that there’s no funding or EA officially on the books for it.
–          Bixi expansion. Is this a transit project? Sure it is. Metrolinx even talks about how a similar program will help solve the last-mile problem in Hamilton’s rapid transit projects. Related is bike lane/off-road path expansion.
–          The remainder of the Big Move or any other expansion plans (including DRL; extensions of the new LRT lines, additional LRTs on Don Mills, Jane, Waterfront West; Yonge North-Richmond Hill Subway extension; increased GO services on other lines; Mississauga and Hamilton’s LRTs; extensions to York’s VIVA busways; Kingston Road BRT). This is largely what the new taxes are supposed to be for.
–          Second exit installation at Dundas Station (to be part of the new Ryerson Student Learning Centre?). Because Dundas is already accessible, it’s not on the current accessibility retrofits list. However, it is required to get a second exit at some point to meet current fire codes.
[- Second exit installation at Wellesley Station – a second entrance is being added at Dundonald St as part of a condo construction project. A new condo being proposed on the Green P lot across the street from Wellesley Station should also come with a new, accessible entrance, but this is way too early for that to be announced.]

–          Transit mall on King St — an idea floated by the current TTC CEO, but unlikely to come to pass under the current council [or, frankly, a council under Tory or Ford. Chow has not commented.]
–          New subways and automatic train control on the Bloor-Danforth line, increasing capacity. Scheduled for 2023, there’s no funding for this and it will likely come in at about $1 billion, given the cost for the YUS. [Someone really ought to ask the mayoral candidates about this. It dovetails with a longstanding plan to increase capacity on Yonge by adding a seventh car; current YUS cars would move to Bloor, while new seven-car trains operate on Yonge.]

So there you have it. Our situation is not hopeless. A lot of stuff will be built in the next few years that will make transit life better in Toronto. And if we marshal the will to pay for it, we can build even more.

Daily Xtra: Dec 2013

Another busy month for me at Xtra. The holiday seasons turned out to be no break for me, as I ended up filing three stories on the suicide of George Smitherman’s husband Christopher Peloso. I caught up on reactions from the gay community and, along with more than 500 people, attended his memorial at the Wellesley Community Centre, kicking off 2014 on a somber note. Xtra eventually handed off the story of homophobic reactions to the news on Twitter to another journalist. I initially struggled with this – it’s obviously of interest to our readers, but on the other hand, did I really want to give more attention to Ezra Levant? Ultimately, I decided to leave the homophobic rantings out of my own coverage of the story.

Speaking of suicide, early gay activist John Alan Lee also took his own life in December, in an apparently long-planned event. I wrote a short obituary for him, after diving through his fascinating online autobiography.

In other news of things coming to an end, Koreatown’s Metro Theatre porn cinema closed. A big box store is expected for the location.

In happier news, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island suddenly added “gender identity and gender expression” to their human rights codes, granting explicit protections to trans people under the law in those provinces. I’ve previously written about how I think the changes are unnecessary, as trans people are already protected under the law, but activists in those provinces gave me the most convincing arguments I’ve yet heard in favour of the changes.

And a feature I wrote back in the summer about accessibility in the Village neighbourhood finally saw online print over the holidays. I did a survey of the neighbourhood and found most businesses are not accessible, but all have (legally required) plans to serve disabled customers if necessary. I also found out that bars like Woody’s, Flash, and the Eagle all have more accessible entrances at the rear, even though they’re poorly advertised.

Populations of states with same-sex marriage

I was curious how many people actually live in countries with same-sex marriage/equal marriage, and when I couldn’t find a simple consolidated chart online, I decided to make one. Voila!

Image taken from Wikipedia. Dark Blue = full equality, turquoise = recognised when performed elsewhere, light blue = civil unions

Image taken from Wikipedia. Dark Blue = full equality; turquoise = recognized when performed elsewhere; light blue = civil unions or other limited forms of recognition only.

Populations of Countries with Same-Sex Marriage  
Argentina 41,660,417
Belgium 11,180,320
Brazil 201,032,714
Canada 35,295,770
Denmark (Denmark proper only) 5,623,501
France (including overseas Departments and Territories) 66,417,590
Iceland 325,010
Netherlands (Netherlands proper only) 16,810,900
    Caribbean Netherlands 23,296
New Zealand (New Zealand proper only) 4,502,060
Norway 5,096,300
Portugal 10,562,178
South Africa 52,981,991
Spain 46,704,314
Sweden 9,633,490
Uruguay 3,286,314
TOTAL     511,136,165
States that Recognize Same-Sex Marriages Performed Elsewhere
Oregon  3,899,353
Aruba 101,484
Curacao 150,563
Israel 8,107,000
Mexico 118,395,054
Sint Maarten 37,429
TOTAL     130,690,883
Subnational Jurisdictions with Same-Sex Marriage
United Kingdom 56,075,912
 England 53,012,456
 Wales 3,063,456
United States 123,031,693
 Massachusetts 6,646,144
 California 38,041,430
 Connecticut 3,590,347
 Iowa 3,074,186
 Vermont 626,011
 New Hampshire 1,320,718
 District of Columbia 632,323
 New York 19,570,261
 Washington 6,897,012
 Maine 1,329,192
 Maryland 5,884,563
 Rhode Island 1,050,292
 Delaware 917,092
 Minnesota 5,379,139
 New Jersey 8,864,590
 Hawaii 1,392,313
 Illinois 12,875,255
 New Mexico 2,085,538
 Utah 2,855,287  
TOTAL     179,107,605
GRAND TOTAL     817,035,300
Countries Most Likely to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage in 2014-15
Colombia 47,072,915
Faroe Islands 48,509
Finland 5,448,025
Scotland 5,313,600
Luxembourg 537,000
Chile 16,634,603
Costa Rica 4,667,096
Ireland 4,593,100
Rest of United States 190,368,954
Vietnam 90,388,000
Nepal 26,494,504
Taiwan 23,340,136
 TOTAL 414,906,442

We’re closing in on 1 billion people living in equal-marriage jurisdictions!

Now some notes about the chart:

– The Realm of New Zealand includes several small quasi-independent territories in the Pacific (Cook Islands, Nieu, and Tokelau). None of these territories offer or recognize same-sex marriage.

– Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten are countries in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. They have their own marriage laws, but the Dutch Supreme Court has ruled that couples married in one part of the Kingdom must be recognized in all parts. Thus, they recognize any other legal Dutch marriages, including those performed in the Caribbean Netherlands, which had equal marriage imposed on them by the Dutch Parliament in 2012.

– Mexicans can only get married in Mexico City and Quintana Roo states, but the Mexican Supreme Court has ruled that all Mexican states and the federal government must recognize marriages performed there. Individual court challenges have also led to same-sex marriages in a number of other states, but Mexican law does not tend to let single cases create precedents the way that Commonwealth tradition does.

– Israel recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other countries, but does not permit them in Israel. A recent government proposal to change the law to allow for same-sex marriage failed.

– The UK is a collection of countries and dependecies that have unique (confusing) legal structures. England and Wales are one unit when it comes to civil law (although MPs from the entire country can vote on their law as they have no Parliament of their own. Crazy, right?). The UK Parliament voted in favour of same-sex marriage for England and Wales — the only part of the UK that the Parliament has jurisdiction over — this summer, but the law only takes effect in 2014. Scotland has been consulting on gay marriage for years and the government is in favour. It is widely expected to pass in 2014. Northern Ireland and the Crown Dependencies and territories (Isle of Mann, Jersey, Guernsey, various Caribbean territories) have not signalled an intention to pass same-sex marriage laws (Northern Ireland’s government recently voted strongly against a proposal). I do not know how UK marriages will be treated in these territories (ie, what happens to a Scottish couple who relocate to Belfast?). Anyone who can explain this to me, please do.

– The US federal government recognizes marriages performed in any US state and overseas, but 31 individual states and its dependent territories do not currently (Oregon does not permit same-sex marriages, but recognizes them when performed elsewhere). The recent court victory in Utah seems to point to a much faster spread of same-sex marriage rights in the US than many predicted. It paves a path for the Supreme Court to issue a final nationwide ruling on the matter in the next couple of years. In the meantime, there are court cases and ballot initiatives seeking to legalize same-sex marriage in about a dozen states.

– The situation in Colombia is complicated. The Supreme Court gave the government two years from June 2011 to grant equal rights to same-sex couples, but the government failed to act (and a bill to allow same-sex marriage failed). Starting in June 2013, same-sex couples began to get married, but government and private groups challenged them with court cases. Various rulings have had these unions called civil unions or marriages, with the most recent ruling for marriage. We can probably expect a clearer ruling from the Supreme Court in the next year or so.

– The Faroe Islands is a quasi-independent country in Denmark with its own marriage code. The government has signalled its intent to allow gay marriage.

– Finland’s government is not currently in favour of equal marriage, although public opinion is. The government was presented with a huge petition this year, which under Finnish law forces the government to debate the issue.

– Luxembourg is probably the most likely to pass same-sex marriage in 2014. Its previous government had already signalled an intention to, and recent elections created a government headed by an openly gay (and hot) Prime Minister and Deputy PM, who have reconfirmed the government’s commitment.

– Chile recently re-elected Socialist former president Michele Bachelet, who campaigned on legalizing same-sex marriage. Her party also won a majority in the legislature, but reports indicate she still has to work to convince the party to pass a law.

– Costa Rica recently (accidentally) passed an anti-discrimination law that some legislators fear could lead to same-sex marriages. The president refused to veto the law over these concerns. Nevertheless, there doesn’t appear to be momentum (yet) to press the issue.

– Ireland’s government has signalled that it will hold a referendum on the issue in 2015, as legalizing it requires a constitutional amendment. Public opinion is around 75% in favour.

– Vietnam recently decriminalized same-sex marriage without legalizing it. There have been discussions to move in that direction.

– Nepal’s Supreme Court ordered the government to legalize same-sex marriage in 2008, but the country has been largely without a stable government since. Fun fact, when I worked at Xtra in 2007, the office got a package from a gay organization in Nepal that included the country’s own gay magazine. Although I couldn’t read it, the best part of the magazine was that they’d used a picture of Nina Arsenault as an illustration of a story on trans issues. She’s global!

– Taiwan has been talking about same-sex marriage on and off since 2003.

– Australia is not on this list, as the Supreme Court recently ruled against same-sex marriage, leaving it up to the federal Parliament to decide. As the ruling conservatives have a large majority and are opposed, it’s unlikely to be passed until after the next election, four years hence. There are, however, some conservatives in favour of equal marriage who are pushing for a conscience vote on the issue, but the prospects (from several thousand miles away) look dim.

– The EU doesn’t impose marriage laws on its member countries (yet), although you have to expect that a challenge to the European Court of Justice is bound to come from a couple who’ve moved to an unequal-marriage country (the larger European Court of Human Rights has apparently already decided against same-sex marriage). Various bans seem to impede freedom of movement, which is a a key plank of the EU. Currently, about 47% of EU citizens live in equal marriage jurisdictions, and that will reach just more than half if/when Luxembourg, Finland, Scotland, and Ireland pass it (the Faroe Islands are not part of the EU).

– I haven’t included civil unions on the list to keep the concept simple. Jurisdictions with civil unions include Andorra, Austria, Colombia (sorta, see above), Czech Republic, Ecuador, Finland, Germany, Greenland, Hungary, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Switzerland, UK, and parts of Australia, Mexico, Venezuela, and the US.

Please leave comments, corrections or questions below.

Daily Xtra: November 2013

Despite taking a couple weeks off last month, I had a pretty busy month in my freelance gig at

In bittersweet news, Toronto Police announced that they had finally arrested someone in the 4-year-old Chris Skinner murder. Shortly after I filed that report, I went on vacation, and Justin Ling filed the follow up when police announced they’d arrested another three connected to the murder.

Also on the police beat, the Ontario Chiefs of Police released a document of best practices in LGBT policing issues, which is being used as a training resource province-wide, and inspiring chiefs across the county and abroad to reflect on their own practices. It’s also, apparently, drawn the ire of the usual anti-gay groups.

On the arts news front, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre belatedly announced that they’d lost a Canadian Heritage grant for the annual Rhubarb Festival this year. While they’d known about the lost grant since the beginning of October, they waited until late November to go public. Apparently, they wanted to give Heritage ample time to respond to their questions, but this seems like a huge missed opportunity. This could have been a huge, Summerworks-2011-style story, but instead they waited until the holiday season, well after a local federal by-election, the closing week of a show, to make an announcement via social media, bypassing the traditional outlets.

If they really wanted to make a splash, they could have released it to media a week before Gay Heritage Project opened in the middle of the Toronto Centre byelection. That would have instantly gotten the Liberals and the NDP into a (probably very shrill and off-putting) shouting match about who loves Buddies in Bad Times more, which could have landed the story on the covers of newspapers and on TV panels nationwide. The issue would have had real legs and might have actually moved the government (Summerworks got its grant back the following year, after all), and drawn a bunch of attention to the theatre right as it was opening a fairly risky show that deserved attention. Instead, it seems Xtra and NOW are the only papers that even noticed, and although Peggy Nash asked a question about it in the Commons, Parliament has now closed up for six weeks for the holiday. *Sigh*

Meanwhile, the city of Toronto’s proposed 2014 budget reneges on committed funding increases for the arts in the 2014-16 budget years. Funding still goes up, but not by as much as was promised, and certainly not enough to keep pace with other cities in Canada.

Obviously, I’m in favour of public spending on the arts. But it’s a little bizarre that we’d compare our per-capita spending with other, smaller cities. You’d think that we would have certain efficiencies of scale in a big city, much like you do with many other aspects of government spending (Ontario, for example, spends far less per capita than all other provinces). After all, despite Vancouver spending more than three times per capita what Toronto spends, I don’t see many people complaining that Vancouver’s got a better arts scene. If a city only needs one symphony or opera house, wouldn’t it be cheaper on a per capita basis in a city with more capitas? And as the metropole, doesn’t Toronto also benefit from disproportionate arts spending by both the province and feds? And doesn’t the private sector actually serve Toronto fairly well as well, since it’s such a big market? (And that’s before you get to other, more existential questions, like “what counts as Vancouver or Montreal in determining population and spending, since they have wildly different forms of government?”).

All of which is to say, I don’t think it’s smart policy to simply say “We should spend what City X, Y, and Z spend!” What we should be doing is assessing what we NEED and what we WANT from the arts in the city of Toronto, figure out what that’ll cost and if we can afford it, and spend that amount.

On the lighter side, I met Canada’s reigning lifestyle TV gay gurus, Steven & Chris, and chatted with them about 15 years in television. They were quite lovely and it was actually quite interesting to hear about their journey into television and being a famous out couple.

And I also chatted with the CEO of yet another queer dating app, VGL, which aims to make online cruising just a little more superficial sexy. VGL is another amusing toy for your phone, but at present it remains a little sparsely populated in Toronto.

There remain a couple of inventoried stories that may pop up over the holiday break. Merry X-Mas everyone!

Fringe Town Hall

Last night was the Toronto Fringe Festival’s first annual town hall, which was an opportunity for some dialogue between producers, volunteers, and staff. Although I’m retired from Fringe this year, I was curious where the festival is going and happy to share some of my ideas and experiences with staff.

It was a pretty small turnout for the meeting – it was a Friday evening in December, long before a lot of producers are even thinking about the festival after all – but that did give us the opportunity to have a more intimate and in-depth discussion of the issues.

The set-up was organised around four big issues that the Festival is thinking of – box office/web site, participation fees, marketing/publicity/reviews, and the Fringe Club – with staff moderating, posing questions to the audience, and allowing us to ask questions of them. There was also an opportunity to ask questions not directly related to the four big issues.


On the first point, Fringe executive director Kelly Straughan began by explaining that last year’s box office web site monstrosity was the result of a major server crash that happened very shortly before the festival. The festival has received an Ontario Trillium Grant to overhaul the box office web site so that it’s easier to navigate. One of the things I neglected to suggest at this point that I think is important is that it’s really important for producers that we have a direct link to a distinct page to purchase tickets for our own show to point our networks to.

Instead, we moved pretty quickly to a discussion on ticket availability and ticket prices. I repeated my argument (which you may have read on this blog in the summer) that making 100 percent of tickets available in advance leads to increased ticket sales (the current “advance sold out” warning is confusing and discouraging to patrons, it’s insurance for producers against bad weather, and it encourages patrons to move on from the hot shows that sell out quicker). Fringe staff seemed to already be leaning pretty hard in this direction and looking for confirmation from stakeholders.

It wasn’t unanimous, however. One producer lamented that the process of lining up for 3 hours for a sold out show was an integral part of the Fringe experience and a good opportunity for the spread of word of mouth. I tried to explain how everyone had the same concerns when Edmonton moved that way, but it turned out to work out even better for them, but this producer was unmoved. (Also, very, very few shows in Toronto generate these kinds of lineups anyway).

A volunteer lamented that discount passes can’t be used for advance tickets, and worried that she wouldn’t be able to see the most popular shows because she can’t afford full price tickets, and they’d be sold out before door tickets became available. My gut was to say “too bad” but I think this actually points to a solution: Create a pass that can be used for advance tickets, ie, with a discount code. Under the current box office set-up, you wouldn’t be able to use this at the door, unfortunately. But it would be another way to incentivize purchasing more tickets.

Fringe staff were concerned about the discount that producers suffer from on advance tickets (door tickets are currently $10, advance are $9 + $2 service charge + $2 online order charge). I pointed out that the bigger problem is that advance tickets are more expensive for patrons than door tickets are, so many patrons prefer not to order in advance. As a producer, I want to sell as many advance tickets as possible, even at a discount (because advance tickets are guaranteed money in my pocket while door tickets are a risk for me). (I also pointed out that even after moving to 100% advance availability, very few shows are going to sell more than 50% of tickets.)

I made multiple suggestions to the Fringe to equalize or discount advance tickets, such as leveling a service charge on all tickets including door tickets (while reducing the service charge on advance tickets), but the room was pretty skeptical. Staff were concerned that producers would think the Fringe is gouging them if all our tickets had service charges. I pointed out that given Fringe’s own stats that a large segment of the audience only sees one show (ie, the show they know someone in), then when those people buy an advance ticket, they’re dinged with 45% combined service charges on a $9 ticket. Some volunteers worried that ticket prices would rise too much and discourage sales (more on this below).

Some producers and staff said that patrons should welcome the opportunity to pay more for advance tickets because a) this is how ticket sales work for all theatres and b) because at least they’re guaranteed tickets. On the first point, I say “phooey” – the other theatres are both doing this wrong, and since they’re not working in a festival model where people buy multiple tickets in a single day and are not shopping on a whim, the service charges are less impactful. Regular theatre tickets are also generally much more expensive than Fringe tickets, ie, a $2 charge is much less impactful on a $100 ticket than on a $10 ticket. Also, other Fringe Festivals are moving away from an advance ticket penalty with great success – a point Kelly was quick to shut down because Toronto can’t be easily compared with Calgary because of the scale (I can’t understand why though… the market force should be the same).

Someone finally spoke up about ticket prices, which have been frozen at $10 since at least 2007. Multiple producers pointed out how this has been eaten away by inflation, with the result that artists are ultimately subsidizing their shows through declining incomes. I’m not entirely sold by the ‘subsidy’ argument, but it seemed that producers overwhelmingly agreed that the ticket prices needed to go up. The producer of Puppetmongers (sorry I missed her name) pointed out that inflation has gone up 28% since 2000, but then she multiplied it twice to arrive at a ticket price that ought to be ~$15. She agreed that such a huge rise would be problematic, but the problem was the decade-long freeze. The room seemed to settle around $12-13 tickets (I pointed out that $13 is the current price for a single advance online purchase already). Comparisons were made to other event prices, like movie tickets or other theatre/comedy shows. This was not unanimous. A volunteer/patron said this would discourage her from buying more tickets.

I suggested again that this could be the solution I’d proposed: raise door tickets to $12, keep advance tickets at $10, plus a $2 service charge. (Also, I should have mentioned, drop the $2 per order additional charge, since the festival would sell more advance tickets and thus earn more service charges, which should balance out the lost revenue). I don’t think I made much headway on this point.

Staff seemed unconvinced of the need to raise ticket prices. Some worried about the additional problem of providing more change and doing more math at the box offices. Some are (understandably) much more concerned with simply selling more tickets and worried about the affect of a price hike on that goal. I argued that the additional fee would not be enough to scare off most people, that a huge portion of the audience is people with a direct connection to the performers (for whom the demand should be pretty inelastic). In any event, the number of tickets sold would have to fall 20% to hurt the producers, which I find unlikely.

It was decided to move onto the less controversial topic of participation fees. I opened the discussion by praising the Fringe (yes, I can be positive sometimes) for keeping the festival small despite the obvious artist demand to get bigger. I asked if they had a target ticket sales ratio before they expand the festival. Kelly responded that the festival absolutely is watching the sales ratio. She says that the Toronto Fringe overall sell-through ratio is between 45-50%, which is pretty anemic, all told, and should really put the lie to the fear that 100% advance availability will make the festival inaccessible. She also pointed out – to no surprise to anyone following it – that Kids Fringe is enormously popular, with a sell-through ratio closer to 75%. I believe she said the Festival is considering expanding the number of spots for Kids Fringe for this reason, but I can’t find it in my notes from the night.

Another producer praised the Culturally Diverse Artists Program, which I’ve previously criticized in this blog. He noted that the program is leading to more interesting shows and bringing in new audiences. I’ve come around a bit on the program, but asked staff what they’re doing to reach out to more “culturally diverse” applicants, and if they’ve considered adding a promise of “culturally diverse” (btw, this term seemed to make everyone in the room squirm) content in the shows, given that the first CDAP entry ended up being a show with eight white people in the cast. Staff pointed out that they’re getting better at reaching out, and spoke of working with CSI Regent Park, culturally diverse theatre companies (such as Fu-Gen, Native Earth, etc), and the Neighbourhood Arts Network to spread the word through their networks. They say they’ve noticed a sharp rise in applications from culturally diverse groups in years. They didn’t say anything about a content guideline, but they did say that the evidence of the type of applications they’re receiving makes it less likely that the sort of ‘black producer, white show’ entry will win in the future. They said that show was “an exception to most applications.”

For the marketing/reviews discussion, we seemed to simply lament the fact that the mainstream media is ignoring the festival now and move onto how we can take advantage of more patron feedback to spread word of mouth. I think it’s unfortunate the festival is simply letting the big media ignore it, but I’ll confess I’m not sure what else they can do.

Suggestions ranged from creating a “patron recommendations” forum on the website, or adding like buttons on show pages, while being clear that negative feedback is not encouraged. I added that the festival should not add comment pages on individual show pages, because that can be problematic for producers.

The staff added that next year the festival will be launching an app for mobile devices. There wasn’t much detail given, but if it’s anything like the Edmonton App, it should allow patron schedule building and show reminders, maps, and show browsing. It may also be a sales portal. Some suggested this could be a way for patrons to learn about more shows (ie, if you liked this show, you’ll like this one too!).

It was suggested that official hashtags be created for the Fringe (So there’s no #TOfringe/#FringeTO confusion) and for individual shows.

I also suggested as politely as I can that the program guide needs a makeover. Staff were quite reluctant on this, saying they’ve tried but it always becomes too big a project. They also noted that the program can’t be easily compared with Edmonton/Winnipeg’s (they charge for the program there, which we all agreed was a bad idea for Toronto), or London/Ottawa’s (they’re much smaller fests so fewer are printed and they have less pages). I think even the black & white Toronto Fringe program can be made easier to read at little cost – or even reduced cost. If anyone at Fringe is reading this, I would like to volunteer my services for free to make this document prettier and cheaper to produce.

We didn’t really get to discussing the Fringe Club, other than to say that the Fringe is aware that by 2017 they’ll need a new location for it as it will be subsumed in the new development Mirvish wants to put on the Honest Ed’s/Mirvish Village site. Kelly has asked me to come up with a solution for this (with, I assume, tongue planted in cheek). I immediately suggested Christie Pits (too far) and the UofT quad (the university has said no). We’ll keep looking.

We did talk about the poster sprint, at least insofar as the Fringe is aware that the dynamic of the event has become a problem and has decided not to run it in the future. I asked why poster boards and handbill racks have disappeared from venues. Staff say that the venues themselves have asked to get rid of them – I find that hard to believe and quite problematic. The venues ought to be working with the festival to help promote the events they’re hosting. At the very least, each venue should have a prominent spot to advertise the shows in the venue. I also made a suggestion that the festival provide a space in the Fringe club where each show can post a single poster, perhaps arranged by venue, in the manner that Edmonton does. Staff seemed pretty receptive to this point. There was also talk of creating projected posters.

In general, staff say they’re trying to move the festival to be as green/paper free as possible. They’re trying to discourage companies from printing too many posters and handbills. I disagree with this goal. (Staff confirmed that they have no plan to eliminate print programs, though).

Other interesting facts that came up were that Fringe’s demographic is overwhelmingly 18-34, which is completely opposite to all other companies. I pointed out that this is largely because unlike those other companies, we put on shows young people want to see (including comedy) and (more importantly) Fringe shows are often created by/starring people in that demo who bring their friends.

Another astonishing figure is that more than 80% of attendance at the festival is considered “local.” In this case, Kelly says local is defined as “Trinity—Spadina.” That is astounding. Trinity—Spadina is the area south of about Dupont between Ossington and University, population about 130,000. Only 15% of the audience comes from up to an hour’s drive away.  That to me speaks to both a fantastic local connection and an astounding failure to reach out to the other 6 million people in the GTA. Fringe has attempted wider outreach and received a grant to expand advertising last year – you may have noticed the TTC ads. Sales were well ahead of projections last year until the flash flood which led to the first sales downturn in several years.  

We spoke briefly about Best of Fringe at the Toronto Centre for the Arts in North York – that fest typically attracts its audience from North York and York region. There was talk of reviving Best of Fringe downtown – it requires a producer to choose to organise it. I pointed out that if Fringe were ever to expand, a solid “Fringe East” could be built around Alumnae Theatre, Berkeley Theatre, and the various spaces in the Distillery.

Finally, discussion ended with talk about The 100, Fringe’s youth outreach group. Staff said they were looking to improve the experience by reducing the number of participants so they can devote more time to the individuals involved.

Overall, I was pretty happy with this town hall, and hope Fringe continues this tradition. It looks like the festival is in for a good year in 2014.

Actor Update! Two Commercials and a TV gig!

Over in my other career, I had one of the busiest months I’ve ever had.

First, I booked this cool promo commercial for a Comedy Network/Stanfields Underwear Contest. So check out what I look like in my undies:

The promo actually includes three other mini commercials, which are also still airing on comedy, or you can watch them at the Official Contest Web Site. (They’re not embeddable, don’t appear to be posted to YouTube, and I don’t want to offend the copyright by posting them myself).

This was a really fun shoot, and I got to run around in my underwear at the Opera House all day long! (Not that I’ve ever been shy about being naked in promos!)

I also booked and shot another series of commercials, which I can’t talk about yet since they haven’t been broadcast/distributed yet. I’ll just say they were a really fun shoot where I got to play some fun characters.

Also last month, I got a part on an upcoming docudrama series called Fear Thy Neighbor (no official web site yet). It’s one of those all-improv re-enactment shows, and it was a real blast shooting it. The actors and crew were all great and some of the issues it raised gave me a lot to think about. My episode, “The Real Lakeview Terrace,” should air in early 2014 with the rest of the series.

I’ve shot a few docudramas before, but usually in a part that once I’m on set I realise is actually less of an actor role, and more of a glorified background role, where I don’t get much to really sink my teeth into. This one gave me a fun and somewhat challenging character to get into. I can’t wait to see it.

So far this back half of 2013 is really going well! Let’s keep the momentum up!