2010 Hero: The National Theatre of the World
Illustration by Matthew Daley/Torontoist.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—Toronto’s very best and very worst people, places, and things over the past twelve months. From December 13–17: the Villains! From December 20–24, the Heroes! And, from December 27–30, you can vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
The performing communities in Toronto too infrequently merge and cross-pollinate. Theatre and comedy in particular—two disciplines most people would think are interchangeable—rarely have crossover stars with roots in both. So when a company garners rapturous praise and awards in both stage and comedy circles, as Matt Baram, Ron Pederson, and Naomi Snieckus of The National Theatre of the World have done, it’s pretty extraordinary.
The NTotW‘s clever and creative spin on improvised theatre, Impromptu Splendor (launched at Comedy Bar, now monthly at Theatre Passe Muraille), takes a known playwright’s work and uses it, along with random audience suggestions, to create a one-act play on the spot. Less concerned with provoking laughs—though there are plenty—and more concerned with establishing dramatically satisfying stories, the series has helped dispel an unwarranted perception of improv as a bunch of party games and tricks.
Established in late 2008, the NTotW won the 2009 Summerworks RBC Arts Professional award for their run at the independent theatre and arts festival. Impromptu Splendor also won the 2009 Canadian Comedy Award for Best Improv Troupe. This year, Snieckus, Pederson, and Baram won Best Improv Troupe again, this time for their formal-attired vaudeville show Carnegie Hall with co-creator Chris Gibbs. Snieckus also snagged the Best Female Improvisor award.
The awards and consistently glowing reviews have led to the company performing at comedy festivals and theatres in Halifax, Chicago, and beyond, as well as high profile hosting gigs, such as opening the Lightbox for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. People are still abuzz at what happened at this year’s Canadian Comedy Awards showcase taping for the Comedy Network: when the power failed midway through the evening, the Carnegie Hall players improvised for almost an hour to keep the crowd entertained. When power was finally restored, the troupe performed their set that was to be taped, without missing a beat.
But it’s not just their considerable gifts as performers that makes the small company one of Toronto’s most innovative. They also regularly pursue collaborations with other artists. Impromptu Splendor features guest actors with Shaw Festival and Soulpepper backgrounds. Carnegie Hall, presented every Wednesday at Kensington Market venue Bread and Circus, incorporates musical guests, dancers, comics, acrobats, and more. And their nightly Fiasco Playhouse cabaret was one of our favourite local productions at this year’s Summerworks. There, they collaborated with performance artists like Zeesy Powers and Istvan Kantor, theatre companies like Atomic Vaudeville and Kitchenband Productions, and musical acts like Maylee Todd, Grand Analog, and Allie Hughes. Baram, Pederson, and Snieckus hosted and participated in these creative experiments with aplomb, often with little or no preparation, such as when Pederson was handed a guitar to accompany Ron Sexsmith and Colleen and Paul for their encore.
For building bridges between Toronto’s theatre and comedy communities; for encouraging fruitful collaborations between local musicians, visual artists, and performance artists; and for being our city’s best hosts (whatever the event), The National Theatre of the World are deserving heroes.