What Are You Supposed To Be? (playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival) turns upon the events at a backyard princess party. The birthday girl is awfully mature, the parents are behaving oddly, the location is eerily convenient for the star attraction — and before the afternoon winds down, Rapunzel will confront a dilemma they certainly wouldn’t put in a Disney movie.
The first thing you need to know about this show is that Leah Cherniak (playing a princess party host who has come out of retirement for one final gig) knocks it out of the park. This story has quite a few contortions, and Cherniak lends it an effortless realism which anchors it. Without her steady hand, this show might disintegrate.
The show also often succeeds in hitting a fun, loopy tone which reminded me of nothing so much as a campy old YTV favourite. There’s something dark and tasty lingering here.
And it’s a short little piece (just over 30 minutes long) which tries to do many, many different things. To me, this piece felt like the creators were working from a cluster of ideas they wanted to explore, rather than from a story they wanted to tell. If you zoom out to that level and try to approach it as an exploration, there are interesting perspectives and combinations of ideas here.
But if that’s what we’re doing, I feel like the extremely literal framing device cuts against that intent. The setting of a princess party is rich with opportunities to get away with things: to smuggle fantastical elements into your story by way of whimsy, magic and the childhood imagination. As it stands, the story takes place almost exclusively between the grown-ups, lending it a sharp, realistic edge — which is a problem for a show with this many plot holes.
One of the recurring motifs in What Are You Supposed To Be? is debunking: several characters identify themselves as skeptics, doubters, and truth-tellers. There appears to be a sense that we know no adult could actually believe any of this taffeta-and-treacle- Disney-princess crap: we’re discarding it all and focusing on other elements.
And that may be the biggest problem I have with this piece. I feel like the princess party setting is such a vivid, compelling, colourful choice, and so near to the centre of our current cultural moment, that it’s almost like Chekhov’s Setting: you should only go there if you’re ready to say something specific about this milieu. It can’t just be an excuse to get a bunch of characters into the same space.
- What Are You Supposed To Be? is playing on-demand at the Virtual 2021 Toronto Fringe Festival.
- Purchase a $5 Membership to access the On-Demand programming on the Fringe website, then Pay What You Can to each show as you go, with the suggested price of $13 per show.
- Memberships can be purchased here. View the virtual on-demand show listings here.
- Accessibility notes:
- On-Demand shows: videos are closed captioned, transcripts are available for all audio content, documents are screen-reader friendly, and all digital images are provided with alternative text descriptions. These access supplements have been generated by the company and reviewed by the Festival. They may vary slightly from company to company.
- Fringe Primetime presentations will feature Auto-Transcribed Captioning.
- Content warning: the festival considers this show unsuitable for audiences below the age of 14, and notes that it contains abrupt cues and mature language.
Promo photo provided by the company