Toronto Fringe says farewell to Honest Ed's: There's no place like that place, anyplace

On July 9, the Toronto Fringe will say farewell to Honest Ed's by sharing their favourite memories of the local landmark.

Fringers will toast the landmark with favourite memories — like this one from Kim's Convenience star Ins Choi

The Toronto Fringe will say goodbye to Honest Ed's with a special farewell event on July 9. The city's largest theatre festival has made the kitsch landmark their home since 2010. (Facebook/Toronto Fringe)

It's not just a marquee slogan — one that's been lighting up Toronto's Annex neighbourhood for decades. For the Toronto Fringe, there's no place like Honest Ed's anyplace. But as the landmark superstore prepares to shut down later this year, the city's largest theatre festival is celebrating its final season at this Canadian mecca of kitsch.

People line up outside Honest Ed's store in Toronto as part of a turkey giveaway. (CBC News)

In 2017, Fringe will move its programming hub, taking the food and drink and outdoor events a few blocks south to Scadding Court Community Centre. And as executive director Kelly Straughan tells CBC Arts, the community they'll build at their new HQ will continue a vision that began with their time at Honest Ed's. Prior to 2010, when Fringe moved its box office to the discount store's parking lot, the festival hub had more of an insider, "green room" feel — located inside local club, The Tranzac.

"Honest Ed's was the first time we were able to do programming at Fringe Club," says Straughan — who's experimented with staging all sorts of street-level entertainment in the space, from late-night cabarets and shed shows to board-game nights and parkade dance parties. (A whole new slate of stuff is happening through July 10, as the Fringe fringes on.)

The Fringe Club behind Honest Ed's is open 4 p.m. - 2 a.m. Monday-Friday, 1 p.m. - 4 a.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. - 2 a.m. on Sunday. (Colleen Yates/Toronto Fringe)

It's about welcoming the community at large, says Straughan of the recent shift in programming — a development that also opened new opportunities for performers, especially those looking to try something even more on the fringes of theatre than what you'll find booked in the traditional venues. So, before the end of this year's festival, the community will raise one last glass to Honest Ed's from the beer tents, as July 9 the Toronto Fringe is inviting the public to share their Honest Ed's memories at a special farewell party in the parking lot.

Toronto Fringe performers take the stage at the 2016 Fringe Club behind the Honest Ed's department store. (Brendan Albert/Toronto Fringe)

"The spirit of Honest Ed's was kind of like the spirit of Fringe. It's do it yourself, which is Fringe. The small-time entrepreneurial spirit of theatre makers, which is part art and part showman," says actor/playwright Ins Choi. His favourite Fringe memory goes to show what kind of theatre dreams began beneath Honest Ed's midway lights.  

This summer, Choi is on the set of his upcoming CBC-Television adaptation of Kim's Convenience, the hit comedy about a Korean-Canadian family that toured the country — after debuting at the 2011 Toronto Fringe.

It was there, riding the high of a sold-out performance, that he and actor Paul Lee spilled out into the beer garden at Honest Ed's — and imagined the reality they're living right now.

Ins Choi in Kim's Convenience. (Bruce Monk)

Here's what he told CBC Arts:

"Paul's the one who said, 'I think we have something here.' And it wasn't until then that I — we — even knew that the play worked. Or that we had anything. I just wanted to do the Fringe, and then, all right, move on to the next project."

"Paul said, 'Hey, what if a theatre company picks it up? Like 'da Kink in My Hair, like Drowsy Chaperone, like My Lesbian Wiccan Mother's Marriage' — I never remember what the title is on that one."

(Ed note: The name of that show is My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding — and all three of those plays began as Fringe shows before they were remounted as Mirvish Productions. There's another tie-in to Honest Ed's for you, but back to Choi's story…)

"You know, following in their footsteps. What if that happens? Wouldn't it be crazy if we were at Factory next year, or Tarragon? That'd be amazing. Oh, that'd be great. What if it tours?"

"Then Paul's the one who goes: 'You know what? What if we turn it into a TV show?'"

"Little did we know that a few years later we'd be on the set of Kim's Convenience."

Soulpepper's Kim's Convenience stars (from left) playwright-performer Ins Choi and actors Jean Yoon, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Grace Lynn Kung (Cylla von Tiedemann/Soulpepper Theatre Company/Canadian Press)

"I think there's a great strength and power in dreaming. A friend of mine who's a bit more esoteric says you 'birth things into the universe of ideas.' Even professional athletes or corporate CEOs, they always talk about visioning — seeing yourself there, somehow making it happen."

"In fact, right after that [conversation], theatre companies started coming to me and saying, 'Hey, let's have lunch.'"

"Wait a minute, this is what we were dreaming about. It was like a prayer, almost."

"I don't have a lot of Fringe experience. I've been in three fringe shows, but that by far — that's a memory. The birth of what is now."

Farewell Honest Ed's. July 9. (A special toast begins at 10 p.m.) Honest Ed's parking lot, 581 Bloor St. W, Toronto. www.fringetoronto.com

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