By opening day of the Fringe, Toronto's independent theatre festival, The Grid’s theatre critics had already combed through the show listings and booked their tickets for the theatre festival. And then the free weekly paper abruptly shut down.
Carly Maga got the news on Twitter; Martin Morrow heard it via email. For two years, Morrow and Maga had covered the Fringe as a team for The Grid but now found themselves with no place for their bylines.
"We were going to binge on the Fringe and file copy on Monday," says Morrow, who’d already spent a lot of time figuring out a schedule to see 15 to 20 plays out of more than 150 shows.
But Morrow, a 25-year veteran of Fringe across Canada, said he had no intention of giving this year’s Toronto festival a pass.
Morrow occasionally writes theatre reviews for the Globe and Mail, but at the last minute, as former theatre critic for The Grid, Morrow had no other publications to fall back on. So he began attending the plays with no plan to review them. But once a critic, always a critic.
"I asked Carly if she was still interested in cobbling together a list of our favourite shows," says Morrow.
Maga was game. She too had felt it was a real blow, both for herself and the festival, to lose the exposure in The Grid, because as Maga says, “the festival relies so heavily on word of mouth.”
The duo compiled a list of their top 12 Fringe picks based on the shows they had already seen. With no traditional publication to write for, Morrow posted their list on his Facebook page with mini reviews of each show.
Their post was spotted by the Toronto Fringe team which contacted Morrow to ask for permission to share the reviews on the Fringe Facebook page and website.
"Reviewers play a very big part in the success of the Fringe Festival and the artists by helping to spread the word," says Toronto Fringe’s Claire Wynveen. "That support was something that we wanted to honour. So even if The Grid writers no longer had a place to publish their work, we wanted to showcase their efforts."
Morrow, who grew up with the Edmonton Fringe Festival and cut his teeth as a theatre critic at the Calgary Herald, doesn’t always attend the "obvious" shows at the festival.
"There are so many shows and some get lost," says Morrow, especially productions from small companies or those based outside Toronto. Without local networks or advertising budgets, these shows often don’t get buzz.
This isn't typical for Morrow. He doesn’t have a blog or Twitter account and is used to getting paid for his reporting.
"I seldom do this for free," he says. "I felt that because it was the Fringe, and independent theatre, it’s worth it."
Martin Morrow and Carly Maga’s Top 12 Toronto Fringe List