Drama Club: Risky BUZZ-ness
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Drama Club: Risky BUZZ-ness

Each week, Drama Club looks at Toronto’s theatre scene and tells you which shows are worth checking out.

Passe Muraille opens its doors to unleash the BUZZ. Photo by sandy kemsley from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Over the past two nights, Theatre Passe Muraille has given audiences a peek at six different plays. Tonight and tomorrow night, they will give us a peek at thirteen more. It’s all part of BUZZ, a festival of works-in-progress presented in a casual atmosphere that includes questionnaires and beer tickets for audience members, as well as a chance to hobnob with the artists at the end of the night and give them the feedback they need to continue working on their projects. Things got off to a bang on Monday night with a piece by Dave Bidini and Ted Dykstra, as well as special performances from One Yellow Rabbit and The Rheostatics. Tonight and tomorrow night, you can expect to see works involving Anusree Roy, Jason Maghanoy, Diane Flacks, and Maja Ardal.
After the fold, we talk to Passe Muraille Artistic Director Andy McKim about BUZZ, plus Daniel MacIvor saves Buddies in Bad Times, and more theatre news and reviews.

Andy McKim Dishes the BUZZ

Passe Muraille’s second floor. (This is where the bar is!) Photo by plastictaxi from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Torontoist: How is going to BUZZ different than going to see a play in Passe Muraille’s season?
Andy McKim: There are two big differences. The work you will see at BUZZ is in an early stage of development. The work in our season has reached a stage where we want to present it to the world in a finished state. Now I want to add that we believe that even after a play has been in our season we still think it can, and likely will, continue to develop. That is because as the artists perform the work they gain a greater understanding of its strengths and they want to make changes that amplify those strengths. The premise of BUZZ is that the audience adds information about the work that is unavailable without an audience, so we do the work in BUZZ in order to take advantage of an audience. That dynamic does not end once a work is “finished.” The production of PYAASA that we presented this year in our season, for example, had developed since its finished state the year before. The second difference at BUZZ is that we structure the event so that there are formal and informal ways for the audience to contribute to the artist’s understanding of their work. Formally there are questions for the audience to answer and informally there is a free drink ticket for people to use at the bar afterwards so that we can provide an informal setting for artists and audience to mingle and talk about the work.
What should BUZZ audiences be prepared for?
BUZZ is a chance to explore an idea in front of an audience. It’s about creating a meaningful interaction between artists, audiences, and new theatre works. BUZZ is a play development program that serves the needs of collaboratively based new work development, but playwright-driven work will also be presented in this collaborative environment. It’s designed to accommodate work at various levels of development. During this week, if you come each night, you will see everything from full-length work to work that is being presented for the first time—in fact, some pieces are being improvised for the first time. BUZZ creates a formal opportunity for the audience to provide feedback to artists, and a chance for artists to incorporate that feedback into the development of their work. The artists provide the audience with specific questions that are intended to focus the audience response to each work in a constructive direction for those artists.
Why do you think it’s important to present works that are still in development?
The artists learn an immeasurable amount about their work when it is in front of an audience and the audiences I know love to see work that is in development. They love being on the inside track. They love the informal nature of the event. They love seeing the actors working on new material—sometimes in this circumstance the actors have to stop and start again. This gives the audience a chance to look behind the curtain of the actor’s craft. The audiences love being the first ones to see something and make their own judgement about what they saw. They also like to champion the work of some of their favourite artists, which is one of the reasons for calling this BUZZ. It is all about us all—artists and audience—creating a buzz for this new work.
What kind of future do you see for the shows that are in BUZZ this year?
Who knows? I can’t predict. I would hope that each and every one of these pieces is a good idea that grows into the best production it can be. I hope that audiences will come back and watch as some of these pieces reappear and grow over the course of several BUZZ events. I hope that some of the work is seen in our season some day. I hope that some of the work is seen in someone else’s season some day.
Is 2009 going to be a good year for theatre in Toronto?
I have faith in the power of theatre. I think that we are one of the most dynamic and resilient art forms. While the broader community deals with the almost capricious nature of our economic malaise, the theatre is built to withstand these upcoming economic challenges. All you need is an artist, an audience, and a story. Not only that, but people will be coming to us for the kind of transformative experience that is needed at times like these. And that transformative experience is what we have to offer.

Is Buddies Truly in Bad Times?

The Daniel MacIvor Farewell Tour makes another stop in Toronto in support of Buddies.

Toronto’s favourite queer theatre/nightclub/community centre is called Buddies in Bad Times, and if the newspapers are to be believed, these are currently the bad times. The recession hurts the green room as well as the board room, and Buddies has been feeling the crunch as much as anyone. They recently announced that planned spring show Gay4Pay, previously meant to be part of the 2007–2008 season, has been cancelled outright. Coincidentally, the theatre has announced a slew of fundraisers. On Monday, Sharron Matthews hosted Sing Out, Louise!, a musical theatre performance night. On the 17th, it’s St. Patricia’s Day, which promises to be “a pub night like no other.” On the 21st, Sasha Von Bon Bon and her Scandelles will be taking over the entire facility for Funhouse, which is billing itself as a “burlesque arcade.” Ironically, the planned fundraising remount of The Pastor Phelps Project has been cancelled…due to lack of funds. But the headlining fundraiser act is definitely Cul-de-sac, Daniel MacIvor’s celebrated one-man show which returns for one night only on the 20th. MacIvor supposedly retired his one-man shows after the three he performed at Buddies’ 2006–2007 season, so this is something of a rare treat (which is presumably why the ticket price is a hefty $100). We may have heard someone quip that MacIvor’s “retirement” is akin to “a Cher Farewell Tour,” but as far as we’re concerned, he can keep “turning back time,” and performing his astonishing shows as many times as he wants. And Buddies in Bad Times’ history of producing theatre of that calibre is a very good reason not to be a fair-weather friend and try to make it out to at least one of these fundraisers.

On Stage This Week

CanStage‘s much-touted “Berkeley Street Project” continues with Blackbird, a Studio 180 co-production that opened on Monday. Studio 180 had a huge hit a year ago with Stuff Happens, and this show has had successful runs in Edinburgh, London, and New York. It runs until April 4.
Theatre Smith-Gilmour‘s The Mansfield Project, now retitled simply Katherine Mansfield (we did complain about the title last year), returns to Factory on Saturday. It runs until April 5.
Missing opened at Factory on Sunday. The story of a woman who has disappeared, and the detective who tries to find her, is directed by the talented David Ferry. It runs until April 5.
Kristen Thomson’s The Patient Hour continues at Tarragon. As usual, Thomson’s characters are thrillingly real and often hilarious, especially as performed by the stellar cast. The story, about a pair of siblings sitting vigil at their mother’s hospital bed, makes a couple of strange twists and turns about three-quarters in that perhaps distract from the simple beauty of the earlier part of the play, but all in all, it’s a very engaging night of theatre. It plays until March 29.
Theatre Smash‘s Tijuana Cure took over Passe Muraille’s back space as of last night. Layne Coleman’s script tells the true story of how his family searched for alternative medicine in Mexico when his wife, author Carole Corbeil, was dying of cancer. The show previously had a successful run at SummerWorks. It runs until March 28.
Soulpepper’s version of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties continues at the Young Centre until March 21. James Joyce, Vladimir Lenin, and Tristan Tzara cross paths in a Swiss library before the Russian Revolution. It’s a very entertaining night of theatre, with terrific performances by Diego Matamoros, David Storch, and Jordan Pettle, but Stoppard’s clever script has a tendency to start seeming less like a play and more like a Master’s thesis presentation.