Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Out here on the FRINGE

My favourite time of the year: Toronto Fringe Festival.   
148 shows in 35 different locations around Toronto… some great, some not… all worth your time.

And one might ask why I feel this way?
Is it my love of theatre?  
Is it my desire that we should all support creativity and give the Arts a place to flourish?  
Is it the excitement of discovering the next “Da Kink in My Hair” before anybody else sees it; the rare opportunity to see existential clowning outside of a Beckett play; Shakespeare in a pub, or the chance to drink apricot wheat beer while waiting to queue up for a Scottish Transvestite revelation of God?   

But it’s more than that… I love the Fringe Festival and recommend it to All and Sundry (if you see Sundry, please mention it to her) because it provides us all with the opportunity to be offended.  In many years of Fringing I have been offended several times – I won’t mention them here, because may offense may be your orothodoxy, but rest assured I have heard and seen things that made me cringe, made me angry, made me declare “That was utter crap!” while sipping a glass of wine after the performance… and I revel in that. 

I need to be offended.
Just for practice.

None of us can truly live in the world without being offended from time to time, but the problem is that we often appear to aspire to such a world:  A world in which our teams never lose, our party wins every election, our songs are on the radio, all thermostats are set the same as ours, our ideas are applauded and never challenged; our place in the universe is comfy and secure.  We create gated communities in our minds and allow in ONLY the ideas that look like our usual ideas, that sound like our usual songs, that feel like our favourite old shirt and make us feel safe and secure.  But every now and then, an idea in a Hoody slips past the gate and we shoot it because it doesn't belong; we jump all over it because it doesn't look or feel right; it doesn't fit in. 

Before that happens (again), we need to go out and be offended from time to time, just so that we can learn to deal with offensive ideas and concepts without extremism.  We need to hear these offensive ideas and consider them, wonder about them – we don’t have to agree with them, but we do need to know how to engage them without creating a dramatic US/THEM dialectic; an “If you’re not for me, you’re against me” mentality.  We need to hear language that is not our own and points of view that we have never considered.

Things like the Fringe Festival provide that.  Besides great stories, laughter, music and dance, these performances takes us on adventures.  We are not in control of the map.  There is an unspoken trust, as we allow writers, directors and actors to take us we know not where… And unlike TV, we can’t turn it off if we don’t like the plot; we can’t put the book down if the language or ideas push our buttons.  We could walk out, but we don't , because  at the Fringe you can’t get back in…. and then we'll never know if it got better.  For 55 to 85 minutes, we hand over control to another person or group of people and so we often take a path that we would never have taken on our own and end up in places that we never imagined existed.   That’s the joy and importance of the Fringe.  In an age where I program all the music that I listen to you and download only the media that belongs in my gated mental community, it's not often that I relinquish control to anybody.

Please understand, I enjoyed the Wizard of Oz, I agree with the over-arching theme and I’m very glad that "There is no place like home"   But I think that it’s also a good idea from time to time for someone to come into my home and rearrange the furniture – throw out that crappy couch and install a sex swing.  Just to shake things up a bit…  That’s what the Fringe does for me.
 (Well, not the sex swing… I tried installing one, but I just couldn't see the TV from it….)
In short: Go to the Fringe – it’ll blow your mind.  And that’s a good thing.

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