What Not to Miss at This Year’s Toronto Fringe Festival

Toronto’s Fringe Festival enters it’s 39th year with an onslaught of art, music, and theatre within its newly established Fringe Club. Due to the closure of a beloved Toronto landmark, Honest Ed’s, the festival has relocated to Scadding Court at Bathurst and Dundas. This change welcomes a fresh lineup of free, (yes, I said the “f word”) performances to attend with your friends, family, mistress, or seventh-grade gym teacher. Seriously, there is something here for everyone.

Fringe Executive Director Kelly Straughan describes the Scadding Court as the new home and heart of the Fringe Festival. Straughan states that the space “allows for more free programming including the inaugural Fringe Music Series on the Outdoor Stage. These free, walk-up experiences are often the gateway for new audiences to discover the festival, which itself is a gateway to discovering the love of live performance. With the international celebration of the 70th anniversary of Fringe Festivals worldwide added into the schedule, it is going to be an exciting festival.”

The festival is on from July 5th until the 16th, so if you have not had a chance to check things out for yourself,  do not fret – you still have the chance. From the Fringe’s Outdoor Stage, to the Fringe After Dark in the Fringe Tent, there is lots to see. Alternatively, if you feel like kicking back and taking it easy, you can enjoy the festival’s beer garden and patio. Now if that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.

We at Novella love to make things smooth as a baby’s bottom for our readers, and took some time to put together a list of acts that you don’t want to miss out on during this years Fringe.

ABOUT TIME by the Templeton Philharmonic 

Hitting the stage at the Tarragon Theatre’s Mainspace, this lovely duo, “will take you on a darkly comedic odyssey through the ages.” The duo features writers and performers, Gwynne Phillips and Brianna Templeton, as they poke fun at “humanity’s foibles throughout history.” Phillips and Templeton are no strangers to the spotlight, winning “Best Duo” at the Los Angeles Comedy Festival and “Producers Pick” at the Toronto Sketchfest. If they aren’t already busy enough, these talented ladies also have a webseries called “Womanish” on CBC Punchline and are guest writers on CBC’s The Irrelevant Show.


He was a boy. She was a girl. They meet. “Ten Creative Ways to Dispose of your Cremains” is a “millennial love letter to the misfits of the Peter Pan Generation.” Starring Jakob Ehman and Rose Napoli, the play is for outcasts everywhere and pulls at our heart strings. Rose Napoli is no stranger to the Toronto theatre circuit. Napoli’s first play, Oregano, premiered at the Storefront Theatre last year to sold out houses and critical acclaim.


Any avid Twitter user knows the golden rule: 140 characters or less. In “Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons”, cast members Ruth Goodwin and James Graham quite literally live by this rule under a law developed that limits the number of words you may say in a single day. Characters, Bernadette and Oliver, meet just as the law is about to be enacted and now they must pursue each other within this new regulation. “They struggle with its rules, with obedience, with themselves, and with how they are going to live. They must make words count, and yet learn to talk without them. Political change becomes very personal.”

THE SEAT NEXT TO THE KING by Steven Elliott Jackson 

Starring Conor Ling and Kwaku Okyere, “The Seat Next to the King” is the winner of the “Best New Play” at this years Fringe festival. The play takes place in “September 1964. Behind the doors of a public washroom in a Washington D.C. park, two lives linked to two of America’s most important figures collide when a white man seeking sex meets a black male stranger.”

Find the full line up and details of the Toronto Fringe here, and continue following our arts and culture coverage on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

5 Must-see Movies from This Year’s Hot Docs Festival

There’s a reason we love documentaries: their beauty, power, influence and impact cannot be argued. They can cover any subject and be made by anyone, anywhere. There are no rules not really, except your movie needs to be true. Mostly true, anyway.

Documentaries can be transportive and awe-inducing, like the Planet Earth series or The Eagle Huntress. They can be unexpected and emotional like The Wolfpack. They can be terrifying, mystifying and ridiculous. They can also keep you up into the early hours of the morning, clicking next video after next video, winding up on conspiracy theory films about lizard people and the Illuminati.

I’m speaking from personal experience here.

It’s no wonder why we love watching documentaries and why events that honour them garner a fair bit of attention and excitement. I’m talking, of course, about the Canadian International Documentary Festival, which will take place at the Hot Docs theatre in Toronto from April 27th-May 7th.

This year’s festival packs a stellar line-up into its 11-day run. The documentaries being shown cover continents and topics. I can guarantee you’ll find at least one that interests you, but if you’re stuck, here’s our shortlist of some of the must-see documentaries playing during this year’s festival.

Becoming Who I Was

Via Hot Docs Box Office

Directed by Jin Jeong, Becoming Who I Was tells the story of Padma Angdu, an impoverished boy who discovers he is the reincarnation of a prominent Tibetan monk. The movie covers eight years of Padma’s life, from when he is banished from the local monastery, to his powerful bond with his godfather and journey to return to his rightful place.

Find showtimes and tickets here.

Rat Film

So, there’s a documentary about rats. Specifically, there’s a documentary about how the infestation of rats in Baltimore is a problem born from the segregation of ethnic minorities into impoverished neighbourhoods. Directed by Theo Anthony, this film uses a city’s rodent problem to demonstrate the ways a society has failed its people in the most basic ways. Rat Film is not one to be missed.

Find showtimes and tickets here.

Tiger Spirit

North Korea has become a modern boogeyman to the world, but Min Sook Lee’s 2007 documentary goes beyond the usual narrative of fear and dystopia to look at two nations struggling with closed-off borders and the after-effects of war. Lee also incorporates her own experience shooting the documentary while six months pregnant into the subject matter, asking the question of who is and isn’t allowed to report from unstable countries. In our current political climate, this documentary needs to be seen again.

Find showtimes and tickets here.

Tokyo Idols

In a society where youth and celebrity are vital, Tokyo Idols is a highly relevant look at a culture that makes an industry out of these phenomena. In Tokyo, teenage idols perform lip-synch dance shows for an audience filled with middle-aged men who drop vast amounts of cash to be able just to meet and see them. Competition between the idols is fierce and the criticism from their dedicated fan base is relentless. Kyoko Miyake’s documentary dives into this world of fantasy fulfillment through following a 19-year-old performer and her 43-year-old fan.

Find showtimes and tickets here.


Via Facebook.

In a basement in Northern Philadelphia, Christopher “Quest” Rainey and his wife Christine’a “Ma’ Quest” create an artistic getaway for their community, allowing young people to express their feelings and frustrations through song on “Freestyle Fridays” and serving as role models to their own children and those that visit them. Director Jonathan Olshefski shot Quest over a 10-year period, following the family in their day-to-day lives. It is an honest, hope-filled look at good people living in a country that is more uneasy than ever.

Find showtimes and tickets here.



Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival at TIFF


A man and his son track down a band of outlaws who has kidnapped his wife and daughter across the Arctic in Zacharias Kunuk’s Maliglutit (Searchers). Its plot takes inspiration from John Ford’s seminal 1956 western, The Searchers, but the similarities soon fizzle away to the aesthetics and elements of the genre. Kunuk’s long shots of the Arctic — the film was shot in Nunavut — are certainly reminiscent in their magnificence of Ford’s famed landscapes of Arizona; and the environment is itself a character, a violent and all encompassing force that shapes the story. However, the searchers of the original are by no means precursors of Kuanana (Benjamin Kunuk) and his son who share none of John Wayne’s Ethan Edward’s violence and racism.

Kunuk transposes the western to the Arctic landscape and gives it meaningful twists; Animals and their spirits — the loon’s in particular — replace Christianity; the chase is pointedly outside the colonial narrative; and, perhaps most importantly, violence is at best a questionable means to an end. With sometimes frustratingly claustrophobic close ups to the action, Kunuk refuses to give the satisfaction of watching simple — and frankly often entertaining — displays of violence on screen. At others, as in the shooting of a caribou or the rape of Kuanana’s wife and daughter, the violence occurs off screen. What we do see leave us thinking about lives led parallel to the continual presence of violence and its many faces.; the moral implications of abduction, rape, and retribution.

There are many beautiful pauses in the movie to help you mediate on them.

Maliglutit (Searchers) is now playing at TIFF Bell Lightbox as a part of the 16th annual Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival. The festival presents feature films, shorts, and student films to celebrate Canada’s diverse cinema. As Adam Cook has noted in the New York Times, the festival this year features a more independent and fresh roster of filmmakers. Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s Angry Inuka documentary on seal-hunting, Johnny Ma’s Old Stone, a drama about a cabdriver in the middle of a bureaucratic nightmare, and Kevan Funk’s Hello Destroyer (debut), about a minor-league hockey player, are among the A-list. Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World, starring Léa Seydoux, Marion Cotillard, and Vicent Cassel, is also on the list if you’re looking for more familiar names.

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ICYMI: SummerWorks 2016 Recap

This year’s SummerWorks Performance Festival boasted a truly incredible line-up. Over the course of two weeks, 69 shows were performed in venues across Toronto. These shows included everything from musicals, to multimedia performances, to art installations.

This was the first year with Laura Nanni at the helm as creative director, but as Nanni told us, she stepped into the position in May, only a couple of months before the festival opened.

“I inherited the programming,” says Nanni. “Things were in full swing. When I stepped in, it was about learning what the projects were.”

SummerWorks’ previous creative director, Michael Rubenfeld, brought together the acts before his departure. Nanni was the undisputed choice of the search committee for his successor.

Nanni has a history of working in the indie theatre scene here in Toronto. She’s previously worked on the Rhubarb Festival with Buddies in Bad Times, as well as Nuit Blanche and Luminato. Nanni worked the SummerWorks front of house while in school, and later on collaborated with artists at the festival.

Rubenfeld’s vision for SummerWorks curated a diverse line-up, both in subject matter and in the types of performances. Phrases like “mixed media” and “experimentation” are commonly used when describing the performances.

Nanni says the acts lined up for the festival lead into the vision she has for SummerWorks.

“I couldn’t have walked into a festival that better exemplified some of the values I’ve always admired,” says Nanni. “I want us to be continually opening ourselves to nurturing artistic innovation and artistic risk, and responding to what our community needs.”

Show Reviews: Our Top Three

When we talk about “artistic risk,” there are a number of ways it can be defined. While there were so many memorable and groundbreaking performances this year, there are three that, to me, exemplified “riskiness.” These shows were risky because they did something theatre often aims to do, but isn’t always able to carry out: they forced us to engage in a dialogue about things that make us uncomfortable.

Sometimes, we just want theatre to be a lovely experience. We want to go see a performance of a big-ticket musical, with catchy numbers and enormous casts. We want to be entertained and to not have to think too hard.

Sometimes, we want to think. We want to be asked questions or ask the questions.

At SummerWorks, there were performances that asked questions, but there were also ones that made statements. Direct statements to the audience, pointing out problematic human behaviour. Direct callouts that leave no room for questioning.

Curtain call from Bleeders. Photo from twitter.com
Curtain call from Bleeders. Photo from twitter.com/dbi333/status/762688881682681856

Bleeders, the brilliant futurist dub-opera by d’bi.young anitafrika, shows a world where humans can no longer procreate due to radiation poisoning. A young woman who finds herself with the ability to get pregnant, a Bleeder, goes on a journey to speak with her animal ancestors, to find out how to fix the mess the world has become. Each animal she comes across has a different song to express an element of their relationship with the human race.

Here is where anitafrika points directly at the audience, at all of us with music and movement. One particular song tells us, “climate change is coming for you.” These are scientific facts not up for debate. With this performance, all humans are being called out for their behaviour towards the Earth and towards animals. We are told through Bleeders we need to have more respect for life: for animal life and human life. Anitafrika goes one step further by closing the show with a full-cast song supporting Black Lives Matter. This is another statement, with a fully black cast speaking to a mixed audience. They have the space to address a collective with hard truths and use it to their full ability.

Thea Fitz-James performing Naked Ladies. Photo from inthegreenroom.ca
Thea Fitz-James performing Naked Ladies. Photo from inthegreenroom.ca

Naked Ladies is a completely different show. It’s a one-woman comedic performance piece, but it could also act as a thesis, albeit an untraditional one. Written and performed by Thea Fitz-James, Naked Ladies is an examination of depictions of female bodies throughout art and history, sprinkled with personal anecdotes from Fitz-James’ life.

At the opening of the show, Fitz-James stars completely naked on stage and looks into the eyes of every single person in the room. This act tackles firstly, any personal issues any of us could have with making eye contact and also asks us how we view the naked female body, how difficult it could be for us to meet her eyes and see the person, not her nakedness. She is fearless in her performance, baring both body and mind for the audience to see. In a memorable moment, Fitz-James touches herself on stage, slowly and while still meeting the eyes of the audience. If there was ever a moment to make the audience uncomfortable, such an overt act of female sexuality would be it. Fitz-James leaves the audience with questions, about how we view women’s bodies and how politics, race and our narrow perceptions of beauty warp that.

Shadi Shahkhalilli in The Unbelievers. Photo from summerworks.ca
Shadi Shahkhalilli in The Unbelievers. Photo from summerworks.ca

The Unbelievers is, again, a very different show. It’s the most stage play-typical performance out of these three, but is also a profoundly intimate view of two women, one a Yazidi refugee and the other a Canadian journalist, in captivity. In the span of one hour, playwright Hannah Rittner and director Marina McClure pose the audience with their own questions, on who we become in the darkest, most desperate times of our lives, of our preconceived notions of those living in war-torn countries and our own North American “good samaritan” complexes. When the show ends, it leaves you with even more questions: how will these two women survive? How can we wrap our heads around this when this show is only a single snapshot in an entire album of stories just like this one? How do we react? How are we supposed to?

One of theatre’s greatest abilities is to open up its audience to a dialogue. While there is often not direct speaking between performers and audience, there is a dialogue occurring. There are ideas being presented, questions being asked, truths we are being forced to face. Like most audience members, I left these three shows deep in thought, unable to let the performances I just witnessed leave my mind.

These are all brilliant shows: beautifully written and performed, but part of what makes them brilliant is their ability to linger with you and make you question your own perspective.

Taste of Toronto 2016 Recap


In case you missed it, the third annual Taste Of Toronto showcased the best of the city’s culinary scene at Garrison Common on June 23-26. With more than 70 exhibits in the marketplace, there were still some returning favourites.

Opening night ribbon cutting ceremony with over 20 of Toronto’s best chef. Photo credit: Sam Santos, George Pimentel Photography


The opening night began with the ceremonial ribbon cutting along with the top chefs participating this year’s event. Followed by the best in taste ceremony, announcing the winners of the Best in Taste award and Best Dressed Stand hosted at the VIP lounge while tasting some amazing smoked salmon finger food.

After that, marketing intern Jennifer and I couldn’t wait to try out what the food scene had to offer. We tried as many top dishes as we could over the night. Some of our favorites include Miku Restaurant’s Aburi Oshi Sushi, Kinka Family Inc’s takoyaki, and The Drake Hotel’s True north Salmon Fried Rice.

Miku’s Restaurant’s Aburi Oshi Sushi

With live cooking demonstrations, and Metro master classes, Taste of Toronto is indeed a foodie’s paradise. I definitely feel like I could become a chef myself from what I’ve seen! The event overall was a lot of fun, seeing everyone trying out varieties of food with bellies full leaving. I’m excited for what next year’s Taste of Toronto will bring.