What to See at the Next Stage Theatre Festival
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What to See at the Next Stage Theatre Festival

The festival starts tomorrow night, and these are the shows we're most excited to check out.

Simon Bracken and Leah Doz in Tomasso's Party, the first play from author Jules Lewis.

The holidays are over, most of us are back at work, and it’s cold. Really cold. But before you strap on your sad hats and grumpy galoshes for good until the first sign of spring, you should probably check out a play or two at the 2012 Next Stage Festival, the annual winter companion to the Toronto Fringe Festival.

In its fifth year, the NSF is presenting 10 shows from January 4 to 15 at the Factory Theatre. There’s something for everyone: shows both familiar and brand new, artists both up-and-coming and iconic, and themes ranging from the absurd to the political to the dramatic. Not to mention a heated beer tent.

So get a taste of the summer in the coldest time of the year, and catch a show at the Next Stage Festival. Here are the five we’re most looking forward to…

Loving the Stranger, or How to Recognize an Invert

Ecce Homo’s cabaret shows, with their use of found text and the critical eyes they cast on polarizing figures such as Mother Teresa and Lady Gaga, are always provocative, but Loving the Stranger is perhaps artistic director Alistair Newton’s most personal show of late. Poignantly, the central figure in the play’s story, Montreal artist and designer Peter Flinsch, passed away on the same day the show had its first public workshop (the show had its full debut at the 2010 SummerWorks Festival). Flinsch was arrested for kissing a Nazi officer at a party in 1942, and Newton, who learned about Flinsch while in Germany researching mid-century anti-gay laws, was the last person to interview Flinsch before his death. Since the first run of Loving, Newton has updated the show, which also encompasses California’s gay marriage debates. (Steve Fisher)

Tomasso’s Party

This premiere embodies the festival’s blend of emerging and established theatrical talents. Torontonian Jules Lewis proved his knack for quick and witty dialogue in his 2010 novel Waiting For Ricky Tantrum, but makes his script-writing debut with Tomasso’s Party, which revolves around a romantic relationship choked with anxieties and quirks. The participants in said relationship are also relatively new to Toronto’s theatre scene—both Simon Bracken and Leah Doz are recent grads of the esteemed National Theatre School in Montreal. But a name definitely worthy of dropping is Dora Award-winning actor Nigel Shawn Williams, who takes directorial reigns on this show on the heels of rave reviews over his performance in Topdog/Underdog (he also directed last year’s acclaimed Brothel #9). Together, this team makes for one of the festival’s most exciting shows. (Carly Maga)

Uncalled For Presents Hypnogogic Logic

The fellas of Uncalled For. Photo by Jeremy Bobrow.

The Next Stage Festival features a few crowd favourites from the previous year’s Fringe Festival (including a few of our own, too), but perhaps the most welcome return is the sketch troupe Uncalled For, with their wacky journey through the mental limbo between consciousness and sleep, Hypnogogic Logic. Unbounded by rationality and sense, the show weaves together the most outlandish characters and concepts in a manner that somehow earns the latter half of the title. Though Toronto audiences have been able to catch Uncalled For since, we’re looking forward to seeing this Best of Fringe Uptown choice on stage again. In fact, we’re practically snoring in anticipation. (Carly Maga)

Antechamber Series:
Love is a Poverty You Can Sell / Morro and Jasp: Go Bake Yourself


Amy Lee & Heather Marie Annis' Morro and Jasp clown characters' new show, Go Bake Yourself, is in the new Antechamber series at the Next Stage Festival. Photo by Alex Nirta.

Next Stage is trying something a little different this year, programming two shows into the Factory Theatre’s cozy upstairs bar as part of their inaugural Antechamber series. Happily, both shows are easy recommendations for us. Love is a Poverty You Can Sell was a hit of the 2010 Fringe Festival, and the 2012 edition is a “condensed” version of the Kurt Weill cabaret, with a smaller orchestra, but many of the delightful numbers are intact (including Christian Jefferies’ two very different torch songs, one in drag), as is the witty repartee between M.C.’s Hans and Jodel (Ryan Anning and Scott Dermody). The other Antechamber presentation is a new clown show from Morro and Jasp, who’ve been one of the most popular clown acts on the Fringe circuit (heck, in Toronto altogether) in recent years. For Go Bake Yourself, the two bickering sisters have very different ideas of what sort of cooking show they want to star in: an intense Iron Chef-style competition, or a Julia Child-style love-in. (Steve Fisher)


Gwenlyn Cumyn and Scott Clarkson in Kat Sandler's LOVESEXMONEY.

Looking towards this summer’s upcoming Fringe Festival, expectations are high for this year’s New Play Contest winner, Kat Sandler, and her play Help Yourself. (Last year’s winner, Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience, was a runaway hit, and will be remounted by Soulpepper Theatre.) In the meantime, the Next Stage Festival is offering a sample of what’s to come with a remount of Theatre Brouhaha’s LOVESEXMONEY. Sandler is Brouhaha’s artistic director, and this show was the company’s inaugural production last winter. With a cast featuring new and returning performers and creators, we’re looking forward to getting a glimpse of how the team has grown in their first year of operation, and an idea of where they’re going next. (Carly Maga)

CORRECTION: January 3, 5:00 PM We original wrote that Loving the Stranger premiered at the Fringe Festival; in fact, it was at the SummerWorks Festival.