Forget the big-ticket Broadway shows that hit our fair city every season. Forget the wonderful Stratford and Shaw Festivals that require a trip out-of-town. Get down to grass-roots level by supporting Toronto’s vibrant local theatre, the bread and butter theatre scene underpinning the big stuff. With an ever-changing menu of plays, and venues; with various theatre companies taking their productions on the road and staging their plays outside in parks or in heritage properties, the possibilities for enjoying highly professional and unique theatre are endless.
This is Theatre which reaches out to embrace you; visceral experiences that you are so close to you could almost be a part of them.
This is Theatre that will give you the rewarding jaw dropping experiences, the unexpected moments, the exceeded expectations. The theatre that runs on very few cast, literally no props and limited funding.
About the List: The list is split between “Roving Theatre companies who do these “Roadshow”performances around the city and Local theatre venues some of whom have their own in-house Production companies.
Art of Time Ensemble
The creation of musician Andrew Burashko, this company makes it onto this list because although primarily music focussed, the company always pushes the boundaries with daring and new multi-media collaborations between film, theatre, dance, poetry and even painting. To watch an “Art of Time Ensemble” performance is to experience something truly unique and exciting. Best seen so far was their interpretation of HG Welles “War of The Worlds’ as an on-stage “Radio Show”
Brant Theatre Workshops – http://www.branttheatre.com
These operate all around the GTA and seem to focus on performing in historic venues inside and outside the city i.e. Bell Homestead. Biggest claim to fame; their stunning interpretations of “Dracula – A Love Story” traditionally multi-staged throughout the halls, balconies and rooms of Toronto’s Casa Loma” – often with an organist thrown in to “toe” the many footpedals of the Casa Loma pipe organ for extra atmosphere.
Buddies in Bad Times – dedicated to the promotion of Queer Canadian Culture http://www.buddiesinbadtimes.com
Self described as “Canada’s Home to Queer Culture”, Buddies was formed in 1979 and, like most fledgling theatre companies, moved from venue to venue until finally settling down at its present location on Alexander St. in 1994.
Classical Theatre Project – whttp://ww.classicaltheatreproject.com
You haven’t lived until you’ve seen this groups wickedly inventive and hilarious pared down versions of Shakespeare – abridged! All 37 plays in 75 minutes – with craft ale thrown into the ticket price .
Check out “Shakesbeer” at Wychwood Barns
Clay & Paper Theatre – http://www.clayandpapertheatre.org
Moniker ; Clay & Paper Theatre is not funny and never serious”
A mask/large-scale puppetry company that creates community driven, multi-disciplinary works mostly performed in public spaces and incorporating pageantry and narrative storytelling.
Claim to fame – they rehearse in full public view making their art accessible to all.
Don’t miss their “Night of Dread” held annually every October.
Fu-Gen Asian Canadian Theatre Company – http://fu-gen.org
Fu-GEN’s founding members started out in 2002 with the mandate of filling the Asian void they saw in the Canadian cultural landscape.
Humber River Shakespeare Company – http://www.humberrivershakespeare.ca
Like Brant Theatre Workshops this tiny theatre company perform all over Toronto and the GTA again mainly in historic settings and open air spaces – they do a terrific version of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” each Christmas, also look out for the annual Shakespeare tour, performances of which fan out all over the GTA each summer They also do some innovative one-off productions on the side such as “The Sonnet Show” – whereby five Canadian playwrights create exclusive new works using a 14-line Shakespeare sonnet as inspiration, and with only 14 days to complete a 14-minute play!
Nightwood Theatre – www.nightwoodtheatre
Founded in 1979, Nightwood Theatre is the oldest professional women’s theatre company in Canada. It produces develops and tours landmark, award-winning plays by and about Canadian women.
Shakespeare in the Ruff – http://www.shakespeareintheruff.com
With minimal props and maximum imagination Shakespeare in the Ruff only performs in the summer season at Withrow Park. Catching a performance by this company is fast becoming a Toronto tradition.
Blanket picnics a must!
Soulpepper – https://www.soulpepper.ca/ – is a rep company founded by actors for actors, they continue to revisit and reinvent the classics, both well-known and obscure, while mentoring and providing much-needed space and production opportunities to new artists. Operate out of The Young Centre for the Performing Arts
The Guild Theatre Festival Company http://www.guildfestivaltheatre.caSeeing The Guild Theatre Festival company “do their stuff” at the quirky Guild Inn gardens high atop Scarborough bluffs is a real treat. Anybody familiar with the cult 1970’s British series “the Prisoner” will be able to relate to the “other world” alternate reality that the Guild Inn Gardens possesses thanks to the presence of an eclectic architectural collection that dominates the landscape. Bits of Toronto’s grandest late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century buildings are scattered amongst the trees and manicured flowerbeds of the Park which is overlooked by the sad and now dilapidated Guildwood Inn an erstwhile arts and crafts colony from the 1920’s. The troupe perform their classics on the open-air Greek stage and despite simple but adequate stage settings (who needs more on a Greek stage) maximizes the use of lighting and gorgeous costumes to heighten the experience. Last Years “Misanthrope by Molière was so glorious that even the privilege of being in the audience for two visits weren’t enough! Wonderful casual folding chair/al fresco picnic atmosphere with soft drinks and snacks on sale and with the Producer/Director and Founder showing you to your seat and making introductions etc.
Video Cabaret – http://www.videocab.com
Utilizing one of the Theatres at The Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery – see below – Video Cabaret is one of the most unique performance offerings on stage. Performing plays based on Canadian historical events under the umbrella series “The History of the Village of the Small Huts”, the style is a satirical “Spitting Images” (UK television satire) and Restoration theatre. The audience watches the show in a “black box” environment whereby the heavily made-up performers are “lit” and positioned within a curtained stage setting with the entire Theatre in total darkness. Their next production “Trudeau and the FLQ from the series “The History of the Village of the Small Huts – 1963 -1970
LOCAL THEATRE VENUES
Keep a look out for or subscribe to the following entities:
Enwave Theatre – www.harbourfrontcentre.com
Small 2 tiered theatre housing between 350-400 seats, each with a great view of the stage. great sound; ice cream available, accessible by streetcar. Often host Art of Time Ensemble – see above. Cool “aside” about the “EnWave” air conditioning system. It is cooled through a system of pipes that sit under Lake Ontario which draw cold water into a pumping station downtown which then uses a heat exchange system to cool air that is then circulated through the subscriber buildings – uses 75% less electricity than traditional air conditioning. Neat eh?
Passé Muraille – http://www.passemuraille.on.caAnother example of “Theatre” utilizing heritage buildings. Theatre Passe Muraille is housed in a converted bakery, in fact it has retained some of the original features namely the original loading doors at the front, and the horse stable windows at the back Again an alternate theatre company focussing on Canadian works. Passe Muraille also lends itself out to the comedy improv group “National Theatre of the World” when they need a full 2-tier theatre setting
Red Sandcastle Theatre – http://redsandcastlethestre.com Strolling along Queen Street east (north side) near Broadview you will pass a tiny unremarkable storefront with windows plastered with bill posters for past and current performances and events. Look up and you’ll see that you are in front of the Red Sandcastle Theatre. Open the door to a long thin living room sized space flanked on the left by a battalion of around 50 folding chairs in row formation opposite, no, actually abutting onto a crudely curtained off performance floor. Do not judge the theatre by its “costume”, Red Sandcastle theatre, the brainchild of Artistic Director and founder Rosemary Doyle is the humble home to some of Toronto’s best talent. Look closely at the cast of any play you see here and you will spot the seasoned talent of Toronto shaking it up in back to back plays and DORA nominated performances.
Red One Theatre – http://www.redonetheatre.com
Co op based theatre that utilizes neglected and unconventional spaces in which to perform productions that aim to blow the myth of what theatre is or should be. Catching a production here can be tricky as the runs are sometimes as short as a single performance and rarely last longer than a couple weeks.
The Lower Ossington Theatre – http://www.lowerossingtontheatre.com “LOT” a tiny space on Ossington does a great job of promoting itself and the many and varied small-scale productions through Groupon and Buytopia. Famously hosts the irreverent “Avenue Q” a “blue” full-size “Muppet” puppet meets “Sesame Street” production that seems to revisit about 3 times a year.
A is for Absolutely don’t take your kids
B is for Bert and Ernie loosely represented by erstwhile gay room mates Rod and Nicky
C is for Cookie Monster aka Trekkie Bear who er – do not share the same values AT ALL.
D is for DO Like it on their Facebook Page
Terrific irreverent unexpected bum clenching fun…
Canadian Stage company – http://www.stlc.com
Base themselves out of three Toronto theatres: The St Lawrence theatre formerly the Bluma Appel Theatre, Berkeley Street and during the summer season at High Park Amphitheatre where they produce not one but two alternating Shakespeare plays on summer evenings between July and September
If you are neither a big theatre goer or lover of Shakespeare, do yourself a favour this summer and be part of the summer magic that is Shakespeare in the Park. Get there early or reserve a cushion online.
The Tarragon Theatre – http://www.tarragon-theatre.com
Well known for its development, creation and encouragement of new works the Tarragon is one of the main centres for contemporary playwriting in Canada. Over 170 works have premiered here since 1970 which is when the founders Bill and Jane Glassco, converted a pre-war industrial building – once a cribbage board factory into a two stage theatre seating around 230.
Young Centre for the Performing Arts – Distillery – http://www.young-centre.ca
A modern four theatre venue set in the century old “Gooderham and Worts” Distillery District. The Young Centre for the Performing Arts was envisioned by George Brown College and Soulpepper Theatre Company to be a home to the entire Toronto arts community. Anchored by the presence of Soulpepper’s year-round classical repertory and George Brown College’s Theatre School, the Young Centre provides a home for the leading artists and arts organizations. Offers a small cafe service. Excellent for a spot of theatre as easily accessible by streetcar with on-site parking available.
Still running till 8 March 2014 and highly recommended the three part Alan Ayckbourn trilogy “The Norman Conquests”.
Break A Leg.