Weekly Update 290 (Oct. 9th – Oct. 16th, 2009)

October 10th, 2009 Steve 2 comments

In Comedy,

theatrical improvisers Impromptu Splendor won a Canadian Comedy Award last weekend in Saint John, NB, for Best Improv Troupe (click HERE for a list of all the winners); the trio and their impressive roster of special guests resume local shows in October with several special one offs, including this Friday’s play not written by David French, with special guest Ted Dykstra, that will close The BUZZ Festival.

What with this being the Thanksgiving long weekend, there’s a few less comedy choices than usual, particularly on Sunday (both Laugh Sabbath and Sunday Night Live are taking a break), but there’s still plenty of swell shows. Saturday, there’s a stand-up show at the Yonge and Wellseley Fox and Fiddle location, featuring comics like Fraser Young, Kathleen Phillips, and Nathan MacIntosh; they’ll be competing against a just announced sketch show at Comedy Bar featuring Bull Hooey and The Bring Back Swayzes. On Sunday, Monkey Toast has a special holiday edition, with host David Shore interviewing restauranteur Zane Caplansky (I’ve fallen hard for his smoked meat knish), “The Drowsy Chaperone” creator Bob Martin, and “Hot Box” creator Pat Thornton.

Monday, the generous folks of PROJECTProject are hosting a Thanksgiving potluck, and will perform improv sets (at least until the triptophane kicks in); Tuesday, “Bitch Salad“’s Andrew Johnston hosts the first all black female stand-up show in Canada (really? The first?) at Buddies in Bad Times (there’s also a stellar line-up of gals on the “West End Girls” show on Thursday in Parkdale); and next Friday, Theatre Passe Muraille’s Elephants in the Room collective hosts a late night variety show, “Crapshoot!“, featuring 5 minute shows by almost a dozen performers at the upstairs TPM bar.


(The above video is the latest in Kathleen Phillip’s series of kitsch statue character monologues. The clever comedienne is on the Texas Comedy Massacre bill this Saturday. Theatre, Music, Film, and the weekly picks continue below…)

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Weekly Update 289 (Sept. 25th – Oct. 2nd, 2009)

September 27th, 2009 Steve No comments

Finally – the first update in a month! I’ve been kept away from the computer due to working pretty much non-stop at the CNE and TIFF, plus time spent out of town. I’ll also admit I was a little burnt out after Summerworks. But my batteries are recharged, and there’s plenty to delve into this week, so let’s just dive right into it, shall we?

Ah, but one note of importance: an earlier edition of the update, since corrected, mistakenly linked “Mimi: Or, a Poisoner’s Comedy” writers Melody Johnson and Rick Roberts as wife and husband, when in fact, Johnson and “Mimi” composer Allen Cole are a pair.)

In Theatre,

The fall season is in full swing; all of the mid size theatres have new work debuting this week or next. Tarragon has a new musical (“Mimi: Or, a Poisoner’s Comedy”); Passe Muraille, a new play about Chilean exiles (“Refugee Hotel“) by Alameda Theatre (many of the artists in the stellar “Nohayquiensepa” at Summerworks this year are involved); and Factory sees the opening of a new play by Brad Fraser, “True Love Lies“, later in the week. CanStage has the Toronto premiere of Tom Stoppard’s “Rock and Roll“, and Soulpepper’s perpetual season continues with fine productions of “Antigone“, “The Guardsman“, and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” But if you’re only going to catch one show this weekend, you should make Volcano Theatre’s “Goodness” at the Theatre Centre your priority, as it’s closing as of this Sunday.

The cast of "Goodness" (L to R, Lili Francks, Tara Hughes, Jack Nicholsen, Amy Rutherford, and Layne Coleman) wrap up their critically acclaimed show at the Theatre Centre this weekend.

The cast of "Goodness" (L to R, Lili Francks, Tara Hughes, Jack Nicholsen, Amy Rutherford, and Layne Coleman) wrap up their critically acclaimed show at the Theatre Centre this weekend.

Other theatre around town includes an outdoor production of “Twelfth Night” taking place smack dab in the downtown core (College Park), an edition of Tapestry’s “Opera Shorts” this weekend, a Toronto opening for Classical Theatre Project’s touring production of “Oedipus Rex“, and a remount of Fringe hit “Nursery School Musical“, playing to next weekend at the Berkeley St. Theatre.

(For Comedy, Music, Film, and the weekly picks, keep going…)

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Weekly Update 288 ( Aug. 14th – Aug. 21st, 2009)

August 15th, 2009 Steve No comments

The update’s back! I took a week off to prep for the Summerworks Festival – you really should have a look at the special posts on the Theatre and Music Series – so this here’s the first weekly update since July. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

In Theatre,

Summerworks is wrapping up this weekend, and there’s so many great plays (and performance pieces, and concerts) you should do your darndest to catch before it all wraps up. My must-see shows so far are “Melancholy Play”, ‘Montparnasse”, “The Middle Place”, “Impromptu Splendor”, and “Nohayquiensepa”; I’d also strongly recommend “Fear and Misery of the Third Reich”, “Red Machine: Part 2″, “Benu”, “Underneath”, “Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry”, and “The Epic of Gilgamesh (Up Until the Part When Enkidu Dies)”.

Dana Puddicombe's Summerwalks tour, "Love Letters to Queen St. West", takes it's participants through the back alleys and hidden places of the busy neighborhood.

Dana Puddicombe's Summerwalks tour, "Love Letters to Queen Street West", takes its participants through the back alleys and hidden places of the busy neighborhood.

What I haven’t yet written about in the special posts are the more interactive aspects of the festival; namely, the Performance Gallery, and the Summerwalks. The Gallery is PWYC, and gives you a chance to take part in a number of social experiments, plus see some pretty fascinating theatrical pieces; the Walks are something else entirely. They’re opportunities to discover aspects of a fairly well known neighborhood (Queen St. West) from a new perspective, whether that be from the POV of a newcomer to the city (Dana Puddicombe’s “Love Letters to Queen St. W.”) , or through the family history of an immigrant who’s watched the neighborhood change for 30 years (Byron Abalos’ “Lola Lita”).

There IS theatre besides Summerworks running through the weekend, to next week, and beyond, like Canstage’s Dream in High Park production of “The Tempest“,  MacKenzieRo’s “Teach i Dtir: Voices from Ireland Park“, and newly opening shows like Soulpepper’s production of “Billy Bishop Goes to War“, starring Eric Petersen, and Red Tape Theatre’s tiny indie basement performance of Stephen Belber’s”Tape” (I’ll go into more detail of all these next Friday, most like – Summerworks still has me by the throat).

(For Comedy, Film, Music, and the weekly picks, keep going…)

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Summerworks Festival 2009: The Music Series

August 14th, 2009 Steve No comments

When Artistic Director Michael Rubenfeld took the reins of the Summerworks Festival last year, one of the most wide-reaching changes to the festival he instituted was opening it up to performance art (The Summerworks Performance Gallery) and live music (The Music Series).

Bob Wiseman was on the bill for the inaugeral Summerworks Music Series last year; this year, the multi-faceted perfromer is presenting a show in the theatre series, "Actionable".

Bob Wiseman was on the bill for the inaugural Summerworks Music Series last year; this year, the multi-faceted performer is presenting a show in the theatre series, "Actionable".

The inuagural 2008 Summerworks Music Series had a stellar line-up, programmed by Baudelaire record label founder Evan Newman; between Newman and Rubenfeld, they were able to book some of the hottest Toronto acts, including The Rural Alberta Advantage (who’ve exploded in the past year thanks to raves for their SXSW shows this spring, and a glowing review on Pitchfork), Gentleman Reg (who’s also been getting a lot of attention for his recent release on the Arts and Crafts label, “Pitch Black”), and The Diableros.

I was honoured to write profiles of most of the music acts on the Summerworks blog last year, at Michael’s request. I haven’t had time to do the same this year, being focused on my own site, but there’s been some really great coverage by some of their staff members, including interviews with Rajiv Thavanathan of On No Forest Fires, DD/MM/YYYY, and Matthew Barber, who is one of the few returning acts from last year’s Music Series.

This year’s line-up is equally jaw-droppingly good, due in no small part to Michael’s inspired selection of Eric Warner to curate this year’s festival. Warner’s no stranger to programming first rate music festivals; he launched the Over the Top Festival before he was even of drinking age, and for the 2009 Music Series, he’s not only landed some of the city’s best independent local acts, but he’s also scored some of the hottest acts from Montreal, too, including Miracle Fortress (shortlisted for the 2008 Polaris Prize) and Think About Life (long-listed for the 2009 Polaris Prize).

There’s still plenty of incredible bands on the slate for this weekend’s shows, including Thursday’s double bill of The D’Urbervilles and Forest City Lovers, Friday’s of The Josh Reichmann Oracle Band and The Sunparlour Players ( SPP delivered an awe-inspiring performance at the festival launch and during the Music Series last year), and a fantastic triumphant return home for Great Bloomers (recently touted by Gordon Lightfoot as one of the best new music acts in Canada), and Germans, who’ve been touring North America and Europe in 2009, and will be playing their first local show in over a year.

You can listen to terrific tracks from all of the artists on the Summerworks site via their embedded player, but here’s a few more goodies, including a video from Think About Life, whose set last Friday just about brought the roof down on the Theatre Centre.

Miracle Fortress – Blasphemy

Josh Reichmann Oracle Band – Sea at Night

Great Bloomers – Young Ones Slept

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Summerworks Festival 2009: Theatre

August 12th, 2009 Steve No comments

Theatre, Comedy, Music, Dance, and more; it’s all happening at the Summerworks Indie Theatre and Arts Festival, running August 6th-16th along Queen St. West, at more than a half dozen venues. My apologies to anyone who has a show that’s NOT Summerworks-associated, but this week’s postings are 100% festival focused ( August 14th’s edition of the update will revert back to the usual format).

This first of three special Summerworks posts starts off focusing on the original and largest element of the festival… Theatre.

Erin Shields (Writer of last year's Summerworks hit "If We Were Birds" and performer in "Fewer Emergencies" at last year's Summerworks) and Maev Beaty (Dora-nominated for last year's "Dance of the Red Skirts") follow up their last paired collaborative effort ("Goblin Market") with "Montparnasse", a nuanced and sensual piece about nude models in 1930s Paris.

Erin Shields and Maev Beaty follow up their last paired collaborative work ("Goblin Market") with "Montparnasse", a nuanced and sensual piece about nude models in 1920s Paris (photo by Amanda Lynne Ballard).

I’ve seen exactly 1/3 of the 42 plays in the “Local” and “National” categories as of this post, and there have been some real standouts. There’s also a number of shows that I’ve already seen in one form or another prior to this festival, that I can confidently recommend.

If you’re looking for drama, both of the shows Groundwater Productions is producing, “The Epic of Gilgamaesh (Up Until the Part When Enkidu Dies)” and “Montparnasse“, are sure bets to see fascinating and theatrically accomplished work. “Montparnasse” in particular has garnered excellent word of mouth based on their 1st act preview at the Rhubarb Festival earlier this year, and I’m happy to report that the full version of the show has been brilliantly realized. Writers/actors Erin Shields and Maev Beaty shed all,  playing nude models – one an aspiring artist, the other a hedonistic dilettante – and their artist patrons and bohemian acquaintances in 1920s Paris.

Carlos Gonzales-Vio is strong contender for best male performer at this year's Summerworks, for his seamless integration with the rest of the ensemble in the multimedia show "Nohayquiensepa", and his standout performance as the beast man Enkidu in "The Epic of Gilgamesh".

Carlos Gonzales-Vio is a strong contender for best male performer at this year's Summerworks, for his moving ensemble work in the multimedia show "Nohayquiensepa", and his standout performance as the beast man Enkidu in "The Epic of Gilgamesh" (photo by Amanda Lynne Ballard).

Also showing a fair bit of skin in their production is Ecce Homo, who had a huge hit on their hands last year with their production of “The Pastor Phelps Project“. This year’s offering is “The Ecstasy of Mother Teresa (or, Agnes Bojaxhiu, Superstar)“, the third and final in their trilogy of collective creations based on quotes concerning controversial figures of the 20th century. While almost every spoken word in the show is a quote, the assemblage of the show is original, and whereas the nudity in “Montparnasse” is integral to the plot, in “Mother Teresa”, it’s just one of many elements (music, dance. video) that enhance the spectacle of the production.

Other multi-media productions worth noting include Aluna Theatre’s “Nohayquiensepa“, and Daniel Barrow’s “Everytime I See Your Picture, I Cry“. “Nohay”, a less titillating, but far more technologically adept show than “Mother Teresa”, is a “workshop production” that uses a physically agile ensemble and an astounding array of projections, video, and audio recordings to give a vague and affecting eulogy to victims of violence, “inspired by events in a Columbian river town on the fringe of great violence”.

Barrow’s show builds on his previous work creating hand illustrated overhead projection shows – he describes his work as “manual animation” – with several key new developments; it becomes clear early on in the show that this is not autobiographical, but is a weird and surreal narrative, and Barrow for the first time is “invisible” to his audience. Previous shows have had him clearly visible manipulating his projector, but in this show, he’s hidden away on the balcony of Theatre Passe Muraille, and the audience focuses solely on his moving images. I had some issues with the narrative (the show could really use a program), but there’s no denying this is a wholly original theatrical experience.

Project Undertow's "Melancholy Play" has it all: a sparkling, witty script, a deft directorial debut from Rosa Laborde, a gorgeous set, and a uniformly enchanting (and, also, gorgeous) ensemble cast.

Project Undertow's "Melancholy Play" has it all: a sparkling, witty script, a deft directorial debut from Rosa Laborde, a gorgeous set, and a uniformly enchanting (and also gorgeous) ensemble cast.

The final two shows I’m strongly recommending (that I’ve seen – I expect I’ll have some new shows to highlight come this weekend’s update) are both resolutely comedies, though their titles and topic material might suggest otherwise.

The National Theatre of the World, who I wrote about at length when they launched their series “Impromptu Splendor“, have finally brought their improv act to a theatre festival, and it’s truly gratifying to see theatre audiences realizing what this company does is brilliantly theatrical, though their techniques are rooted in comedy. The company members – Naomi Snieckus, Ron Pederson, and Matt Baram – research a playwright’s work to prepare for a show; on “opening night”, they ask the audience for a few random suggestions, then spontaneously create a one act play “inspired” by the featured playwright. I’ve seen them perform shows you’d swear were written by David Mamet or Judith Thompson, and it’s almost impossible to believe the three are creating as they go – but it’s 100% written before your eyes, and must be seen to be believed.

Last but certainly not least, my favourite show to date at the festival, “Melancholy Play“, is anything but. Ingrid Rae Doucet stars as a blonde depressive who finds that her maudlin demeanor causes people of both sexes and all walks of life to fall head over heels for her – until she overcomes her depression and realizes her new-found cheerfulness has the opposite effect. This absurd and delightful farce boasts a surfeit of comedic talent, and director Rosa Laborde, herself a Dora and Governor General Award nominated playwright, makes an assured directorial debut. While the script itself is by American playwright Sarah Ruhl, it’s an outstanding example of a independent Canadian company (Project Undertow) demonstrating great prowess in all aspects of theatrical production; the performances, live music, sets, and costumes are all note perfect.

Next up: a post about the stellar Summerworks Music Series (with lots of choice new MP3s and videos), followed by a final Summerworks post about the interactive treasures of the Summerwalks, and the Performance Gallery at the Gladstone Hotel.

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Weekly Update 287 (July 17th-July 24th, '09)

July 17th, 2009 Steve No comments

And we’re back! The Fringe took a lot out of me; I’ve now posted as many  reviews as I’ll get finished to the Review post; I had to shelve those midweek to focus on this week’s edition of the update. I figured it was time to get back into the regular swing, and there’s a LOT of great shows this week. Read on…

In Comedy,

The Just for Laughs Festival continues to the end of the weekend. Many of the gala shows are sold out and/or ridiculously overpriced, but there ARE some great JFL-associated events happening at Second City, Absolute Comedy, and Comedy Bar, like a Sketch Show featuring Bull Hooey and Deadpan PowerPoint, and showcase shows by Nikki Payne and Marc Hickox (as his Teutonic alter ego Heino).

Other shows this week include the 50th edition of Laugh Sabbath’s most popular show, the all-solo-no-stand-up-comedy showcase “The Loner Show“, hosted by Brian Barlow; solid line-ups on regular shows like the “Alt.Dot.Comedy Lounge” and “The Carnegie Hall Show“; and several special one-offs, like a fundraiser for the Rape Crisis centre featuring all female comics (“Snatch and Snatchability“), and a Thursday night stand-up and sketch show featuring Punch Drysdale, Ladystache, and more.

Attention Birdie People! Calcu-Lator and the Oral Presentation play a one night only reunion show tonight (Friday) at the Drake Hotel Underground, with special guests Bob Wiseman and D-Sisive.

Attention Birdie People! Calcu-Lator and the Oral Presentation play a one night only reunion show tonight (Friday) at the Drake Hotel Underground, with special guests Bob Wiseman and D-Sisive.

(For Theatre, Film, and Music, plus the week’s picks, just keep on going…)

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Fringe Festival 2009 Reviews

July 10th, 2009 Steve 2 comments
Wickedly funny bouffon clown Red Bastard's show is one of my highest rated picks for this year's Toronto Fringe Festival so far.

Wickedly funny bouffon clown Red Bastard's show is one of my highest rated shows at this year's Toronto Fringe Festival.

(It became clear to me that it would be unfair to post more Fringe reviews so late after the festival ended, by late July.

I made a tactical error in my coverage of the Fringe this year; I spent the first half of the festival trying to finish the detailed preview posts I had planned, and I didn’t begin writing reviews until close to the end of the festival, when almost a week had passed since I’d started seeing them. I was playing catch-up on a huge backlog of work, and it wouldn’t have been fair to the shows to review them after so much time had lapsed.

Next year, I’ll ensure that any non-review coverage is finished by the time I start seeing shows; in the meantime, if anyone really wants to hear my impression of a particular show that wasn’t reviewed, email me directly at steve@gracingthestage.ca, and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. – Steve)

I haven’t posted to the website in the past few days, and it’s because I’ve been paralyzed by which post I should be focusing on in the few free hours I have when I’m not Fringing.  Should I focus on finishing the ridiculously overdue fourth and final “preview” of Fringe shows? The previous three took enormous amounts of work to write, because I found and hot-linked each show’s FB listing AND website (where possible), and also did enough research for each show (and there were 12 per post!) to zero in on its most salient attributes.

Should I focus on writing up the weekly update, and try and cram as much Fringe into it as possible? It’s slowly coming together, but those are pretty time intensive too. Besides, the only shows that aren’t Fringe related that are listed before Monday are the FREE outdoor concerts this weekend at the Harbourfront Centre’s Beats, Breaks, and Culture Festival:  Holy Fuck (9:30pm), Winter Gloves (8pm), and DD/MM/YYYY (11pm) on Friday, and Broken Social Scene (8pm) and Parallels (7:30pm) on Saturday. So I don’t feel too badly putting that off until Fringe wraps up Sunday evening.

Ultimately, the question people have asked the most is when the capsule reviews of the shows I’ve seen (24 and counting, 41 by the end of my schedule) will start going up. And truthfully, they’re the least labour intensive. Besides, many of the shows that were to be profiled in my final preview post (“Red Bastard“, “Bingo: The Show“, KidsFringe shows like “Rock Time 2009“, etc.), I’ve already seen, and will be reviewing (most quite positively).

So here’s what’s going to happen: I’ll update this post frequently over the next (and final) few days of Fringe with a handful of short reviews at a time. Keep checking back to see the new ones; I’ll be updating this post as often and as quickly as I can between Fringe shows, and late at night.

The cast of David Hein's (centre) "My Mother's Lesbian Jewish-Wiccan Wedding" have a big hit on their hands' the shows' been selected for the Best of Fringe since the second day of the Festival, and has had huge line-ups every day at Bread and Circus.

The cast of David Hein's (centre) "My Mother's Lesbian Jewish-Wiccan Wedding" have a big hit on their hands; the show's been selected for the Best of the Fringe since the second day of the Festival, and has had huge line-ups every day at Bread and Circus.

(For Fringe reviews, click on the “more”).

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Fringe 2009 Preview #3: Musical / Dance

July 6th, 2009 Steve 6 comments
The "World's oldest Father and Son Cajun Music Duo", The Williamson Playboys, present a new revue (featuring some VERY old songs) at the Fringe Club.

The "World's Oldest Father and Son Cajun Music Duo", The Williamson Playboys, present a new revue (featuring some VERY old songs): "Brother, Can You Spare Some Pants?".

We’re 6 days into the Fringe Festival at this point, so I feel a little awkward still titling these profile pieces as “previews”. At this point, I’ve already seen quite a few shows (you’ll have to wait for the capsule reviews to find out which, though). I had issues getting online from a few rinky dink towns out in rural Ontario this weekend, in order to get this post, and the fourth and final preview, finished and posted. But better late than never, right?

So, then; this post is all about the Musical and Dance shows in this year’s Fringe. Arguably, this is the category that’s had the most success is developing shows that have a life beyond Fringe; the most famous example, of course, would be the Broadway show “The Drowsy Chaperone“, which had its first full production at the Toronto Fringe in 1998, and went on to eventually win 5 Tonys in 2006.

Also included in this category are the Dance Initiative shows. There are technically 8 shows being presented at the Fringe with the participation of the Dance Ontario Umbrella, but I’ve snuck a few more in that aren’t official dance selections.

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Weekly Update 286: Fringe Edition (Jul. 3rd – Jul. 10th)

July 3rd, 2009 Steve No comments

There’s no set schedule of picks for this week; instead, what I’m reccomending you do is check out the Fringe schedule (on-line, or grab a hard copy at the Fringe Club, or at any venue around town), and plan your own. My preview picks are going up, and I would hope you find them useful; Preview 1, about Solo Shows, and Preview 2, about Ensemble Shows, are already up, and Preview 3, Musicals / Dance, should go up later this weekend; the fourth and final preview, covering the oddball and unique shows of the Fringe, should be up early next week.

Artistic Director Ian Rowe's final Ghost Jail show (he's moving to Vancouver this fall) happens this Sunday at Clinton's, in a star studded finale for their season. Fringe guests include Chris Craddock, Uncalled For, Chris Gibbs, and more.

Artistic Director Ian Rowe's final Ghost Jail show (he's moving to Vancouver this fall) happens this Sunday at Clinton's, in a star studded finale for their season.

(They’ve been taking much longer than I anticipated to write, which makes a certain kind of sense, considering I’m researching and writing about 12 shows for each post).

Also, I’ll start posting capsule reviews of Fringe shows as of Monday, July 6th.

There are a few shows worth catching this upcoming week, that aren’t on the Fringe schedule exactly, but are Fringe-connected. Of course, there’s the FREE nightly variety shows happening at the Fringe Club every night for the run of the festival, like The Rumoli Brothers Show, and Bad Dog Theatre’s Off Book showcase. There’s also sepcial editions of shows like Ghost Jail Theatre (celbrating their season finale this Sunday), PROJECTProject (which has moved to Mondays as of this week), and Catch 23 Improv, that boast guests in town for the Fringe.

Whatever you do catch at the Fringe, make sure you do your best to help that show by spreading word about the show, via word of mouth at the Fringe Club, on-line, or any other way you can disseminiate it. There’s so many shows at the festival, that it’s only by word of mouth that the cream will rise to the top!

See you around the festival…

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Fringe 2009 Preview #2: Ensemble Shows

July 2nd, 2009 Steve No comments

This, the second of my Fringe preview posts (the first post about Solo Shows also explains how these previews are categorized), is all about the shows that have the largest publicity teams (their cast), but the least likelihood of turning a profit once it’s all been divvied up; the larger ensemble shows.

Soo Garay and Clinton Walker in "Singularity of Being" by T. Berto, winner of the 2009 New Play Contest.

Soo Garay and Clinton Walker in "Singularity of Being" by T. Berto, winner of the 2009 New Play Contest.

Few of these shows bounce from festival to festival as the solo performers do so easily; in fact, most will only play this Fringe, and hope for a remount at a later date in Toronto based on the response. Consequently, these shows don’t usually come with awards or reviews from earlier Fringes. What they DO often boast are the individual accomplishments of their teams – their performers, their writer, thier direct, etc. – and it usually is the most reliable way to Fringe qualitatively, by first seeing those shows with a high “pedigree” of known theatre talent.

The shows listed below are all remarkable for the above reasons, or by simple dint of the fact that some aspect of the show has garnered them some advance buzz…

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