Anything can happen: Five shows that make Toronto Fringe worth checking out

Featuring more than 160 shows in 34 venues over 10 days, it's nearly impossible to pick what to see at the Toronto Fringe — but we're here to help you narrow it down.

It's nearly impossible to pick from the more than 160 projects — but we're here to help you narrow it down

Nasty by Rosanna Saracino. (Dahlia Katz)

Featuring more than 160 shows in 34 venues over 10 days, the Toronto Fringe is a place where anything can and does happen. With so many projects, it's impossible to catch even a fraction of what's on offer. But we've perused the program to isolate a handful of works worth checking out.

Clergy Project by Tracey Erin Smith. (Dahlia Katz)

The Clergy Project

A priest, a minister and a rabbi walk onto a stage. It sounds like the beginning of a joke — but it's actually the starting point for Tracey Erin Smith's current Fringe offering. The mind behind smash hit solos The Burning Bush and Memento Mori, the festival veteran's latest sees her step into the wings and instead invite three religious leaders to speak about their faith, their work and the communities they serve. Staged in the historic Narayever Synagogue, the show aims to connect us with the men and women behind the cloth, from pressing questions like the purpose of faith in the world right now to more casual queries, like how they spend an average day. Funny and insightful, The Clergy Project seeks to humanize people from different faiths by providing greater understanding of our similarities and stimulating curiosity about our differences.

How Did You Find Me Here? by Brendan Chandler. (Brendan Chandler)

How Did You Find Me Here?

Brendan Chandler always knew he was Indigenous. His mother is part of Alberta's Sturgeon Lake Cree Band. But growing up, he was largely disconnected from that side of his family and consequently from that part of his history. When it came time to mount his graduating solo at Humber College this year, he decided to explore this aspect of himself for the first time through art. How Did You Find Me Here? follows a young Indigenous man named Bear as he's led by a character called the Shadow on a journey through a dream world to understand his cultural history. Along the way he comes to understand the lasting effects of colonization, particularly the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. As we witness Bear coming to understand his heritage, the show proposes two questions with near-universal resonance: what do we have to give up to find our true nature — and who are we once we've accepted it?

Nasty by Rosanna Saracino. (Dahlia Katz)

Nasty

When Donald Trump muttered the phrase, "Such a nasty woman," into his mic during the final 2016 presidential debate, it's doubtful he thought the throw-away comment would garner anywhere near as much attention as it did. And neither the Tweeter-in-Chief, nor anyone else, could have predicted that this tiny moment during one of the most hotly contested elections in modern memory would become, as the Huffington Post's Emma Gray would later call it, "a viral call for solidarity". Co-created by director Rosanna Saracino — who helmed past Fringe favourites Death (A Comedy) and Little Pricks — and her 13-member cast, the show is nearly five years in the making, though it couldn't have come at a better time. Alternately humourous and absurd, Nasty introduces us to numerous gods, witches, monsters and humans from history who would all have proudly worn Trump's famous quip as a badge of honour.

The Seat Next To The King by Steven Jackson. (Steven Jackson/Tanisha Taitt)

The Seat Next To The King

Getting a slot in the Fringe is largely a matter of luck. Writer Steven Jackson had tried unsuccessfully to secure a space through the lottery process numerous times over the last decade. But in 2017, he bypassed all that by winning the festival's New Play contest, which offers a slot to one of several dozen works submitted to a jury. Unfolding over one day in 1964, Jackson's script is an imagined encounter between two real individuals: Walter Jenkins and Bayard Rustin. The right hand men of Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King respectively, both were gay and were arrested for public sex. Unsurprisingly, Jenkins — who was white — got off with a slap on the wrist, while Rustin — who was black — ended up serving time. Set in a public restroom in Washington, D.C., The Seat Next To The King is a compelling discussion of race, privilege and sex in the pre-Stonewall era that also manages to be a touching portrait of two individuals searching for intimacy.

Weaksauce by Sam Mullins. (Alex Waber)

Weaksauce

It's rare for a Fringe show to return to the same festival twice, but writer/performer Sam Mullins' 2013 hit Weaksauce is making its way back to the 2017 fest. The semi-autobiographical solo follows a 16-year-old kid one summer as he begins work as a counsellor at hockey camp. His world is turned upside down when he meets his summer crush Amanda — but of course, no camp love story would be complete without a third corner to the triangle, so we have David, a villainous Brit also vying for Amanda's affections. What follows is a messy, awkward, heartfelt examination of teenage angst, sexual tension and what it's like to fall in love for the first time.

Toronto Fringe Festival. July 5-16. Various locations. Toronto. www.fringetoronto.com

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