Do you feel something different in the air?
A chill? A whisper of an in-person summer ritual for the first time since 2019? Dozens and dozens of plays, performances, and patio hangouts?
Toronto Fringe is back this Wednesday, July 6, spanning eleven venues across the city and featuring a diverse range of over eighty shows. Over the course of twelve days, more than 1,200 artists participate in performances across the city that include comedy, drama, musicals, improvisation, storytelling, children’s theatre, dance, and much more.
“I’m feeling so many things. It’s a bit surreal that it’s actually happening,” says Toronto Fringe executive director Lucy Eveleigh during our phone interview.
“I feel like I won’t truly feel it until opening night.”
For Eveleigh, the first fully in-person Toronto Fringe is a massive undertaking — exciting, overwhelming. “Anxiety-ridden,” too.
“But it’s such a great team. The artists are excited. The audience seems ready for it. It’s a positive thing.”
The transition back to an in-person festival is a large one for Toronto Fringe, many of whose staff joined the administrative team over the course of the pandemic — only three staff members, including Eveleigh, have worked an in-person Toronto Fringe before.
“It’s huge,” says Eveleigh of coming back in-person.
“I think we’ve done an amazing job over these past two years, and I think our digital offerings were spectacular. But we’re in the live theatre business. And as much as I think there is a place for digital work, and I hope we haven’t forgotten that, this summer is about everyone getting back together safely and fostering that excitement.”
One of the notable things about this year’s Fringe is that nearly 75 per cent of its participants are carryovers from the planned 2020 and 2021 Toronto Fringes. “And the breakdown is pretty close to a 50/50 split between BIPOC artists and not,” says Eveleigh.
This year’s Fringe is still a little scaled-down compared to Fringes of years past — as a COVID and accessibility precaution, site-specific shows have been shelved temporarily in order to focus on performances happening at the festival’s main venues. And that’s a good thing, according to Eveleigh.
“Coming back after COVID has been tough, as we all know. So we want to provide our artists and ourselves the best opportunity possible to succeed,” says Eveleigh.
A day in the life at Toronto Fringe is, for Eveleigh, variable: sometimes she’s in a back office, reconciling tills and counting monetary donations to the festival. Eveleigh hopes this year to spend some time with Toronto Fringe donors and sponsors, as well as catch as many shows as she can, while also checking up on venue staff to ensure everyone is “happy, fed, and watered.”
“I’m excited to talk to people, get feedback. I want to see who’s having a good time, what’s working, what isn’t. “This festival feels like a huge opportunity for us to figure out how we’re going to build back,” says Eveleigh.
“We’re re-learning how much things cost. We’re re-learning how far our funding can stretch, how big a festival we can have next year.”
As for what shows Eveleigh’s hoping to catch, Eveleigh doesn’t have a specific answer.
“But I’m excited to see the artists who’ve waited so long, who’ve waited since that excitement of getting their names pulled for the 2020 lottery. There’s lots of musicals, and comedy, and important theatrical pieces, and stuff for kids, which I’ll be attending.”
“I’m ready for it. We’re ready for it. It’s going to be a great year.”
Toronto Fringe opens July 6 and runs through July 17. For more information, visit the Toronto Fringe website.