A Summer of Incredible Toronto theatre

Forget the big razzmatazz Broadway shows always present in a Mirvish theatre or two in Toronto’s entertainment district.

The following are fine examples of the vibrant theatrical scene underpinning the “big stuff”.
This is Theatre you can almost reach out and touch, visceral experiences that you are so close to you could almost be a part of them. And Toronto’s normally spectacular summer weather brings lots of theatre out into our Parks and open spaces.
Having said that this second tier of theatre is not in the outdoor category but rooted in the 6 month season Festival genre. The Stratford Shakespeare Festival based in Stratford Ontario and The Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake run throughout the summer months too so visiting at this time ensures you get to benefit from glorious days in each of these very pretty areas. Both Festivals are a couple of hours outside Toronto; both last several months and afford theatre-goers the opportunity to see several different plays during a day or perhaps over a weekend.
This year Stratford is showcasing
the usual diverse menu of Shakespeare, musicals and plays.
Choose from the following :
Romeo and Juliet
Fiddler on the Roof
The Three Musketeers
The Merchant of Venice
Blithe Spirit
Measure for Measure
Mary Stuart
Waiting for Godot

The Shaw Festival at gorgeous Niagara on the Lake, is a staple of the annual thespian calendar. This massive event again stretches through the summer months well into the Fall and is well worth a trip round Lake Ontario. Many folk make a weekend of it spending a night or two in one of the many historic B&B’s.
My favourite B&B – “The Two Bees” http://www.twobeesniagara.com

And so now to the grass roots level of Toronto theatre. Hunting around this level has given me my most rewarding jaw-dropping experiences, this is where the real and unexpected gems lie. 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 experiences are endless.
What is so amazing about these is that they often operate with very few cast members and literally no props – just relying on honed talent and each other.

Shakespeare in High Park
Why not spend a couple of our gorgeous summer evenings scooched down on the grass of the outdoor amphitheatre of High Park. Shake out a rug/cushion; lay out your special al fresco picnic ( don’t forget the Penguin Bars) and watch as incredible performances play out before you. As the evening draws in, spot-lights pick out the fleeting spectres of bats and moths within the canopy of trees over the stage and the shrill crescendo of the summer cicadas provide the intermittent backing vocals. Nothing better…. Canadian Stage is back with “Shakespeare in High Park” this time with two plays: ” Macbeth” and The “Taming of the shrew” (so you have to go twice).

“Art of Time Ensemble”
These folk did an incredible re-enactment of HG Welles’ “War of the Worlds radio Broadcast as it would have been staged in 1938 and whilst they are primarily a music ensemble they often link up with actors to produce powerful collaborative work.

Following hot on the heels of their Incredible “Sonnet Show ” Fundraiser at Montgomery’s Inn, “The Humber River Shakespeare company” are touring their “As You Like It” throughout the GTA including appearances at The Old Mill, Evergreen Brickworks and Montgomery’s Inn – from July 9 – August 4
See website schedule details

“The Classical Theatre Project” who brought us their hilarious rendition of the “Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” at Casa Loma and Wychwood Barns last year will be performing
Twelfth Night
Romeo and Juliet
All at Toronto Centre for the Arts

And “Shakespeare in the Ruff” will be showcasing their annual Withrow Park outdoor season – look on their website for upcoming summer production. http://www.shakespeareintheruff.com

“Brant Theatre Workshops” who perform the much loved and delicious “Dracula a Love Story” to awestruck Casa Loma and Sanderson Centre audiences are back at the historic “Bell Homestead” (home of Alexander Graham Bell ). They’ll be performing on the front porch of the Bell Homestead National Historic Site, as they open their season in July with a unique version of the Wizard of Oz ( in 3D) followed by a play about Alexander Graham Bell, Helen Keller, and Annie Sullivan in August. Imagine a play about Bell performed in his own home! Stellar…..

“Red Sandcastle Theatre” on Queen Street West – the tiniest theatre I’ve ever had the privilege to sit in is worth keeping an eye on.
Generally pwyc or minimal entrance fee and always a surprising theatre.

Don’t want to miss a thing?
Look out for/or better still subscribe to the following entities (both theatre companies and theatres):

Red One Collective at the Storefront Theatre
Video Cabaret
Soulpepper who reside at The Toronto Centre for the Arts in the Distillery district.
Necessary Angel
Buddies in Bad Times
The St Lawrence theatre formerly the Bluma Appel Theatre – home base of The Canadian Stage company
Passé Muraille
Yonge Centre for the Performing
Arts – Distillery
The Lower Ossington Theatre
The Tarragon Theatre
Enwave Theatre (on Lakeshore)

Break a Leg……..



War of the worlds – A re-enactment of a re-enactment – The Big Radio Hoax of the 20th Century

The War of the Worlds (1953 film)
The year is 1938 The family is gathered around the “crystal set” in your home in New England” getting ready to listen to a radio play and a spot of dance music from the “Meridian Room” in the “Hotel Park Plaza” in downtown New York.
An announcement is aired stating that “The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the “Mercury Theatre on the Air” in “The War of the Worlds” by H. G. Wells.
Orson Welles one of the foremost broadcasters of the era comes on air as himself setting the scene for the play about to follow: it goes like this:
We know now that in the early years of the twentieth century this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own…”
Orson Welles finishes his introduction; a weather report purporting to come from the Government Weather Bureau fades in.
This is quickly followed by “the music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra”.
Nothing out of the ordinary at this point.
Suddenly the dance music is interrupted by a special bulletin announcing that a professor at the Mount Jennings Observatory in Chicago, Illinois reports seeing explosions on Mars.
The dance music resumes once more, then a further interruption…
This time a news update – an interview with astronomer, Professor Richard Pierson at the Princeton Observatory in Princeton, New Jersey.
And so it goes on – the reports getting ever more frequent and urgent as a cylindrical meteorite lands in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey.
“Reporter” Carl Phillips relates the events as the crowds gather around the object.
He reports that The meteorite unscrews, revealing itself as a rocket machine.
Inside is a tentacled, pulsating, barely mobile Martian …..
Radio silence
Next thing you hear is Carl Phillips reporting that this creature has just incinerated the crowd with Heat-Rays.
He shouts about incoming flames.
Cut off in mid-sentence regular programming breaks down as the studio struggles with casualty updates, firefighting and the declaration of martial law. And the like.
Now you hear what is supposed to be Franklin D. Roosevelt addresses the nation
The world is at war with the Martians…
Cue mass hysteria and panic……………….
No internet, no way of corroborating the story except to run out on the street to consult with neighbors who were probably also listening to the broadcast.
This is a time when the “radio” was King and a trusted source of news, weather, radio plays and music
There was no TV
Very few telephones and no fax
Information is “fed” to you via Pathé newsreels (at the local movie theatre), through newspapers either delivered (at a certain time) or from newsstands.
That was it – Not hard to imagine how believable this scenario might have been in those days.
Unbeknownst to the listeners sitting at home, all of this programming is coming from the same studio – that run by “Mercury Theatre on the Air” headed by dramatist Orson Welles who in a bid to increase ratings (and take away listeners from a competing channel) on the eve of Halloween has produced this elaborate “hoax” Remember despite the fact that this whole broadcast was introduced as an adaptation of a radio play; if you missed the introduction, you’d have had no clue that it was just a radio play. Welles also deliberately used radio silences to enhance to authenticity of the so-called “reporting”.
And so in the high-tech age of the 21st century when many members of a modern audience might have trouble imagining a world where radio plays were “the word” in daily entertainment , The “Art of Time Ensemble” – at the Enwave Theatre – did an amazing job of bringing to life this timeless classic of theatrical persuasion and human paranoia. A re-enactment of Orson Welles’ studio scene (as a staged radio drama) during the 1938 “broadcast” of the 1898 novel The War of the Worlds.
The performance opens with a first half dedicated to the music of Bernard Hermann, the Academy Award-winning composer who worked with Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock among others. After the intermission the stage is turned into a reproduction of a 1938 radio studio; all on stage in period suits and smoking (herb) cigarettes in a bid to recreate the smoky atmosphere that would have been prevalent in any office/studio and home during the late 1930’s.
This production comprised 5 actors, a small orchestra and the all important Foley artist.
The Foley artist was a key part of the silent movie era where sounds had to be dubbed in during post production and essential for the studio performances of radio plays. They were/are responsible for creating the authentic sound accompaniments or plays and movies using a variety of clever and often everyday devices, e.g.
A pair of gloves sounds like bird wings flapping
A heavy staple gun combined with other small metal sounds make good gun noises
A metal rake makes a great fence sound (it can also make a great metallic screech when dragged across a piece of metal
A heavy phone book makes great body punching sounds
Frozen romaine lettuce makes great bone or head injury noises
Cellophane creates crackling fire effects
And so on……..
Foley artists are still used to over-dub sounds in movies today.
With the musical first half of the show, accompanied by a brilliantly edited montage of Hitchcock music clips (that Hermann scored the music for) and the second brilliantly re-enacted Orson Welles “War of the Worlds” piece, this was a compelling and unique theatre experience.
This was a world premiere of the show – Look out for it – This MUST end up touring!
Over and Out

Spend your whole summer on Toronto’s Waterfront!

Are you ready to think outside the box this summer?
Torontonians – “Everything summer” is literally on offer on a lake shore near you

Cycle, skate or just walk the Martin Gooodman trail which is the Lake Ontario portion of the Great Waterfront Trail which stretches from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the Quebec border, along the shores of Lake Ontario and the Ontario portion of the St. Lawrence River.
No bike? no problem – you can use the Bixi bike system (https://toronto.bixi.com/) or hire from the rental shop under the Raddison Hotel.”Our” Martin Goodman portion of the cycle trail extends westwards past the Spadina Music Garden and Sunnyside pool, cafe and huge sandy stretch of beach, all the way along to an upfront close and personal view of the staggering “Grand Harbour at Lakeshore Boulevard” shore-front condominium complex. To the east it skirts the “Beaches” area of Toronto and sort of peters out before Scarborough bluffs
The Polson Pier complex east in the Port lands houses a couple of nightclubs – you fancy rounding off your day with some clubbing. There is also a Driving range; mini putting; a drive in movie theatre and beach volleyball and a Go Kart track

Want to sit and read a book on the beach. Again you have some choices.

Man-made beaches: you can choose an Algonquin lounger at Spadina beach or a deck chair at Sugar beach.
Cherry beach is a natural beach at the far east end of central Lakeshore – good for bathing; there is also a sailing club and it is skirted by the aforementioned Martin Goodman trail.
There is also the long expanse of boardwalked beach at Sunnyside to the west and a similarly boardwalked “Beaches” area east of the downtown core.
Try Pier 4, overlooking the Lake and the kitschiest most touristy restaurant in Toronto with its fishing nets, buoys and glass globes – so cliched, it actually works!!
Or simply watch the Lake schooners, ferries and sailboats (and the prop “Dash 8” planes flying low over the Lakeshore to and from the city airport) whilst sitting under sun umbrellas outside the restaurant on Wally MaGoos patio
Or get a different and lofty perspective and go up to the 38th floor to La Toula in the Westin’s circular but non-revolving restaurant jutting out across the Lake. Don’t expect much by way of food – seriously – just a great view.
Within the huge and glamourous Queens Quay centre adjacent to the tourist boat pier are 3 Waterfront restaurants – Bar Milano, the Waterfront Irish pub and W. On the 2nd floor there is a massive and old-established Chinese restaurant called Pearl with floor to ceiling views over the harbor and next to a small food court where you can sit on the verandah and watch the ferries ply to and from Toronto Island. The centre also houses speciality shops, gelato and coffee shops and exhibits plus you can purchase picnic food from Sobeys.
At Sugar Beach there is also “Against the Grain”
Countless options available – The Toronto sky-line is getting ever more spectacular and still topped by the streamlined and strikingly elegant CN Tower which at night is candy-cane bright with all the colours of the rainbow.
Sail on a Tall ship such as the Kajama
Stroll down to York Quay and you will find about 10 different styles of tour boat – paddle steamer; dine and tour options; the ubiquitous party boat and of course the cheapest of all -ride a Toronto Ferry back and forth.
The “Duck” also plys the Lakeshore, stopping off at Ontario PLace for a plunge into the harbour
Look out for the red jump on- jump off, double decker bus tours that stop off at various points along Lakeshore.
To sail, canoe or kayak at Harbourfront’s boating schools on Rees way – Trust me, nothing better on a summer’s evening than messing around in watercraft on the Lake; seeing the shore-line from a different perspective and watching the dying rays of the sunset alternately reflect from, and pick out in relief the massive glass and steel condo structures strung around the shoreline and clustering northwards into the city core.
You can also sign up for glass/ pottery and various other craft classes at the working studios flanking the Harbourfront centre.
Visit the exhibits in the Power Plant (also part if the massive “Enwave” theatre complex)) which is currently hosting its ” World Stage” exhibition. The Harbourfront centre also has a large and ever changing display of art.For info on current exhibitions and events go to http://www.harbourfrontcentre.com/
Throughout the summer, music and cultural performances/shows are staged at “The West Jet” open-air stage right on the quay. Free movies are often screened here from summer to summer depending upon funding.
A wonderful menu of every type of music imagineable is available on given evenings and weekends at Spadina Music Gardens to the west of the main Lakeshore drag. Google Spadina Music Gardens for more info on this
But hey, I hear you say ” I really do need to get out of the city and go to the cottage. So here’s the thing – even your “country in the city escape” is here too!
No need to spend hours traveling up and down to traditional cottage country when you have the fabulous Toronto Islands a ferry ride away. You can even stay at a bed & breakfast on the island or have a few days retreat at the Retreat Centre or at the Artscape Lodge (both centres are near Hanlans point west of the island)
Once again Lakeshore is the launchpad for the Toronto Island’s ferries which will take you to 3 points on the islands depending upon your mood.Do you want to rent a bike and cycle along boardwalk? Or use the beach by the pier or take the kids to Centre Park for some fun? – if so take the Centre Island Ferry.
Are you taking your bike over and want to explore the cute Island houses spanning both Algonquin and Ward island with their secret gardens and tiny laneways lining the shore and nestled amongst the trees? Best view of Toronto skyline from this perspective. The yacht club is also at this end. Then catch the Ward island Ferry.Or, you are inclined towards lush park land, white sandy beaches (including a nudist beach), the Retreats mentioned above and on Labour Day weekend a grandstand view of the Air show – then take the Ferry to Hanlans PointWorth a separate blog this……
Over and Out