People to Watch in 2012
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People to Watch in 2012

Some of the people who will be making news, breaking out, and shaping conversations in the coming year.

Will Whitwham. Photo by Corbin Smith.

We just got done telling you who we think mattered in 2011, and doubtless many—if not most—of those people will remain important throughout the coming year. Who else might be standing tall at this point in 2013? It’s way too soon to tell, but here are some people to watch.

John Campbell
Waterfront Toronto

John Campbell, president and CEO of Waterfront Toronto, has his work cut out for him in 2012. His organization’s plans for the Port Lands are officially under review, and many members of the public are nervous that the outcome of the process will be hasty development in the vein of the infamous Ferris wheel proposal that put the whole issue on the public radar to begin with.

It will be up to Campbell to make sure that the review—the outcome of which Waterfront Toronto says will be “a plan to accelerate development in the Port Lands”—isn’t a farce, bent solely on selling off the Port Lands to plug a short-term hole in the City’s budget. Handing the land over to developers too soon could mean a royal screwing for taxpayers. The real estate at issue will one day be valuable, but at the moment it’s heavily contaminated, virtually devoid of utilities and transit, and prone to flooding. In 2012, we’ll find out whether or not Campbell and his colleagues are as serious as they ever were about taking the requisite time to fix the place up, so it can be sold at the right time, and for top dollar. (Steve Kupferman)

David Chang

He’s not a Torontonian, but New York City-based chef David Chang will soon have a pretty significant business interest here. In 2012 he is expected to open two restaurants on separate floors of a building next to the Shangri-La Toronto, a condo development near the corner of University Avenue and Adelaide Street.

Chang is internationally known as the mind behind the Momofuku chain of restaurants, which serve a kind of genre-bending Asian-influenced cuisine, heavy on pork fat and other big, bold flavours. To date, there is only one Momofuku restaurant outside of Manhattan (it’s in Sydney, Australia), meaning Toronto’s branches will be part of a relatively new international experiment for Chang. The whole thing could flop if it ends up being nothing more than a half-hearted transplant. Properly executed, though, Momofuku could energize Toronto’s culinary scene. (Steve Kupferman)

David Coomber
Actor on the move

Not every recent theatre school grad can say they’ve worked with actors and directors known the world over—and held their own, to boot. But 2011 was a landmark year for Coomber, who stood out as the comic highlight in Woody Harrelson’s Bullet for Adolf, and showed his dramatic side more recently in Canadian Stage’s Red against Shaw icon Jim Mezon. He’ll spend early 2012 on tour with Red through Vancouver and Edmonton, but our hopes are high for when he comes back home. (Carly Maga)

Adrian Dilena and Joshua Barndt
Whippersnapper Gallery

While Whippersnapper Gallery has been around and making interesting multimedia art things happen for seven years now, 2011 was notable. Following its 2010 designation as an Artist Run Centre by the Canada Council—Toronto’s first gallery in five years to be appointed such status—and subsequent relocation from Little Italy to Kensington, co-directors and curators Adrian Dilena and Joshua Barndt have upped Whippersnapper’s ante, with a focus on art-enabled interactive projects, exploiting the storefront coziness of their new Dundas West digs to maximize public participation. Through exhibitions like JP King’s anthropological Free City Paper and the Tongue & Groove collective’s Fix-em-up Free Market, Dilena and Barndt are dispensing with maker-observer boundaries and cultivating community in the process. (Kelli Korducki)

Marwa Eldardiry
Alexandra Park

Twenty-four-year-old Marwa Eldardiry is one of the social architects behind the Alexandra Park revamp currently under way, and one for whom the revitalization is an especially personal investment: in addition to being a former TCHC community animator and current urban planner, Eldardiry grew up in the downtown housing complex. Her combined professional expertise and insider knowledge of the community’s makeup have made Eldadiry a vocal advocate for context-sensitive change in the revitalization project, specifically with regard to preventing residential displacement in the projected 15-year-long process. As perhaps the most public member of the residents’ visioning committee, Eldardiry has been instrumental both in shaping the course of her neighbourhood’s future as well as demonstrating to the outside public that a vital, engaged, and informed youth contingency exists within the co-op—making her one to watch in the coming year, and beyond. (Kelli Korducki)

The Elwins
Musicians on the Rise

The Elwins. Photo by Jason Abrishami.

The Elwins set themselves up really well in 2011 for a breakthrough 2012. The energetic and inordinately cheerful pop-rockers have been generating strong word of mouth for their live performances, including shows on the Toronto Islands and in festivals; they’ve released a series of entertaining YouTube videos—for Movember, a holiday contest, and clever “ads” for their delightfully kitschy merch. They also released “Stuck In The Middle,” the first single from their upcoming LP (And I Thank You, due February 21), which was widely praised. In addition to that forthcoming debut LP, the boys are confirmed to be playing SXSW in 2012, so they may not be one of Toronto’s best kept secrets for much longer. (Steve Fisher)

Cosmo Ferraro and Mike McKeown
Cameron House Records

Before January of 2011, Cosmo Ferraro and Mike McKeown knew nothing about running a record label. What they did know was how important it is to give up-and-coming, off-the-beaten-path musical talent a space to build an audience, and they had an extra-special weapon at their disposal for the cause: Queen West institution the Cameron House, whose stage has fostered the careers of some of Toronto’s most name-droppable musical offspring. Ferraro’s uncle, Paul Sanella, has co-owned the venue since its inception and for many years, Ferraro’s mother worked behind the bar. Ferraro now manages the joint and, with the help of high school buddy McKeown, launched the Cameron House Records label one year ago. The label currently boasts four artists, and its namesake bar continues to provide a platform for their potential legends’ names to be made—and, in the case of the venue’s week-long 30th anniversary bash this fall, a space to party side-by-side with the legends of yore. Whatever Ferraro and McKeown have up their sleeves for 2012 should be worth, at the very least, the raise of a pint glass. (Kelli Korducki)

Mike Fly
Director and producer

Local comics pose with Kevin Sorbo (C, in blue shirt), including Mike Fly (under Sorbo's left arm), during the Kevin Sorbo Garbage Weekend. Photo by Corbin Smith.

It was just a couple of years back that comics began to realize how much they could use social media to create work and reach audiences. In the last couple of weeks of 2011, comedian Louis CK took direct marketing of his talent a step further, producing his own special and offering it for cheap via his own website; the special has made more than a million dollars to date. But in order for a comic to get their work out there via video, they need someone who knows what they’re doing behind the camera, and for many Toronto comics, that person is Mike Fly.

Fly’s the director (and co-producer) of the webseries Sexy Nerd Girl, which racked up more than a million views on YouTube in 2011; he was also the director of the Comedy Bar webseries for Bite TV. It helps that Fly’s an improviser himself, playing regularly on Comedy Bar’s stage (he and Conor Holler “beat” Kevin Sorbo’s team at Catch 23 Improv when the TV superstar had his weekend residency). He has a natural shorthand with comics, developed while working with improvisers from all over the country for his Improv Monologue Project shorts.

In 2012, Fly and the Sexy Nerd Girl team are expanding to a second YouTube channel, and beyond; a second season of Comedy Bar is in the works, Fly’s also shooting a new series, Space Janitor, featuring Pat Thornton and Brendan Halloran, that’s being produced by Davin T. Lengyel and Geoff Lapaire of Pure Pwnage. For comics in Toronto looking to circumvent the traditional path to stardom, Fly’s the go-to man to get it on camera, and if there’s a breakout independent comedy project in 2012, the odds are good he’ll be the man shooting it. (Steve Fisher)

Cara Gee
An actress with range

At this year’s SummerWorks Festival, we couldn’t look away from young actor Cara Gee—and not only because of her scanty costume in the hit Stitch, where she played single-mother/porn star Kylie Grandview. Rather, it was her double duty performances in Stitch and The Physical Ramifications of Attempted Global Domination, followed by her standout role as Zhaboonigan in Tomson Highway’s The Rez Sisters that caught our eye. In 2012, we’re keeping both of them trained on her performances, beginning with Nightwood Theatre’s The Penelopiad in January. (Carly Maga)

Jonah Schein
MPP, Davenport (NDP)

After running unsuccessfully for Ward 17’s council seat in the 2010 municipal election (he lost to incumbent Cesar Palacio), Jonah Schein managed to get himself elected MPP for Davenport this year on the NDP ticket, in a victory that was not totally surprising. The riding, which encompasses a big part of Toronto’s west end, was wide open following the resignation of 30-year Liberal incumbent Tony Ruprecht, and the NDP was surging in the area already (Andrew Cash won the federal seat earlier in the year).

Schein, who has never held elected office before, was a community organizer for the STOP Community Food Centre prior to his two campaigns. At 37, he’s relatively young. He hasn’t had a chance to do much of anything yet—he was only elected in October—but as a new voice in a newly strengthened NDP minority, representing one of the most ethnically diverse ridings in the province, he’s bound to distinguish himself sometime in the near future. (Steve Kupferman)

Graydon Sheppard and Kyle Humphrey
Shit Girls Say

In a world where people get book deals on the basis of their Twitter accounts, how long is it going to be before somebody offers local guys, Graydon Sheppard and Kyle Humphrey, co-creators of the weirdly popular Shit Girls Say series of YouTube videos, some kind of deal? Given the mayfly lifespan of memes like this, we’d say it’s going to happen soon or otherwise not at all. (Steve Kupferman)

Uncalled For
Comedy mavens

Uncalled For perfrom Hypnogogic Logic at the 2011 Toronto Fringe Festival. Photo by Corbin Smith.

Uncalled For have been perennial favourites at Fringe and comedy festivals across the country, both for their improvised sets and sketch shows, including Blastback Babyzapp and Hypnogogic Logic (which returns to Toronto this week). But we’re thinking 2012 could be the year they start reaching a wider audience, for several reasons. One is that several members now call Toronto home, rather than residing in Montreal (though we’re admittedly a little biased on this count). More importantly, the troupe started regularly producing YouTube videos this past summer and fall, which is how Haligonian troupe Picnicface found their way onto the airwaves (and writing a book, and producing a feature length film) in 2011. Hypnogogic Logic is one of the funniest shows we’ve seen in years; if the Uncalled For guys can showcase their hyperintelligent and absurd brand of humour in short video form consistently, we could see doors opening for them in the same way. (Steve Fisher)

Michael Wheeler and Aislinn Rose
Praxis Theatre

In 2011, there was hardly a theatre company more vocal, inventive, and relevant than Praxis. From discussions about the new Culture Plan, to funding cuts, to the arts under the Ford administration, to the federal funding issues with the 2011 SummerWorks Festival, Praxis’s online presence made sure that the word was spread to as many people in the arts community as possible, as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Not to mention the fact that their shows—like Fringe’s Dungeons and Dragons: (Not) the Musical and SummerWorks’s You Should Have Stayed Home—demonstrated creativity and political awareness that few others matched. Even though their last show missed the mark, it’s certain that we’ll need their voice to remain loud and clear in support of Toronto arts in 2012. (Carly Maga)

Will Whitwham
Lake Forest

2011 was a great year for The Wilderness of Manitoba, and while there’s every indication that will continue, frontman Will Whitwham’s solo project, Lake Forest, is also poised for a banner year in 2012, with the release of his debut solo LP, Silver Skies, on February 14. We’ve heard some of the tracks, and as Whitwham has said, it’s a bit more sombre than his music with Manitoba, but it’s still achingly beautiful stuff (for a sample, check out Whitwham’s cover of Little Drummer Boy for Line of Best Fit’s holiday compilation). The album could place him alongside fellow rustic-but-forward thinking Toronto troubadours like Timber Timbre or Evening Hymns. (Steve Fisher)