The weather's cooling down, but theatres are heating up. Here are the shows that are making the transition from summer to fall more sweet than bitter.
The new year might officially begin on January 1, but everyone knows that autumn is really the time to start anew. It’s intrinsic to the season: leaves change and fall, students go back to school, patios put away their chairs, and Canada gets back to its true (chilly) identity.
For theatre, this is a good thing. The past year has, well, been a rocky one. The Vancouver Playhouse shut down; Michael Healey left Tarragon over (speculated) artistic censorship; and there’s currently an industry-wide boycott of Factory Theatre since the Board of Directors fired longtime artistic director Ken Gass. Artists young and old are feeling discouraged.
But with a new season is a new start. As TIFF gets rolling this week, so does the 2012/2013 theatre year. (Technically it began with Canadian Stage’s Shakespeare in High Park, but now is when things really take off). And with this week’s announcement of Nina Lee Aquino and Nigel Shawn Williams as interim artistic directors at Factory, we may perhaps have a happy omen for better things to come.
Here’s what else has us excited about what’s to come as 2012 draws to a close.
September 7 to 22
Berkley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley Street)
Multifaceted theatre/film creator Jordan Tannahill’s latest project features Cynthia Ashperger and William Christopher Ellis as a housekeeper who lost a son in the Bosnian genocide and a teenager of the family who employs her, respectively. The above trailer for the show gives no details—it just puts Ashperger through a wringer of expressions and emotions—but Tannahill’s previous track record with shows like Post Eden (a hit at SummerWorks in 2010) means it’s likely that the show won’t pull its punches. With a very limited 40-person theatre, this will fill up fast.
September 20 to 23
Winchester Street Theatre (80 Winchester Street)
Part of DanceWorks’ Co-Works series, this solo dance piece by Litzenberger will explore her prairie roots, and more generally, intends to speak to the mass exodus from rural regions and to urban living. Litzenberger was the artistic director of the Integrated Dance Artists Collective, and has worked with many leading artists and choreographers in Canada’s contemporary dance community. She’s also a prolific advocate for the arts in Canada, and was the first ever recipient of the Metcalf Arts Policy Fellowship. The wide range of connections she’s established probably helped her land top-notch collaborators like recent Dora Award–winning lighting designer Kimberly Purtell, and set and costume designer Lindsay Anne Black.
September 20 to October 6
Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley Street)
It seems so long ago that Michael Healey, playwright-in-residence at Tarragon, ended his 11-year relationship with the theatre after his play, Proud, was excluded from their performance season. Since artistic director Richard Rose has kept quiet about the decision, there’s only been speculation—specifically, that it had something to do with a character in the play named Prime Minister, thinly veiled as Stephen Harper, and the fear that the play could draw the Conservative Party’s ire. A staged reading in Toronto this past March gave audiences an early peek, but now Michael Healey himself will become the Prime Minister in the script’s first full production.
Dear Liar & Ismat Apa Ke Naam
Why Not Theatre
September 28 to 30, October 5 to 7
Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre (585 Dundas Street East)
Why Not Theatre is a huge contributor to Toronto theatre’s global contingent, responsible for the highly-praised A Brimful of Asha with Tarragon Theatre last year (that show will return to Tarragon in late November), starring local actor and writer Ravi Jain and his own mother. This fall, the company is bringing talent in from across the world: Bollywood stars Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah, and Heeba Shah will perform two shows, one in English (Dear Liar) and one in Hindi (Ismat Apa Ke Naam), to inaugurate the new Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre.
The Normal Heart
Buddies in Bad Times/Studio 180
October 19 to November 18
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street)
During its first run here in 2011, Larry Kramer’s exploration of the early 1980s AIDS epidemic in New York City, The Normal Heart, broke Toronto’s hearts—all of them. A Studio 180 show should always be a highlight on the theatre calendar, but this remount of one of the most critically-praised productions of 2011 should be double-underlined with stars around it if you were unlucky enough to miss it the first time around. Or if you did catch it, remind yourself of what we called a “brilliant marriage between great theatre and great politics.”
Canadian Stage/Hofesh Shechter Company
October 24 to 28
Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front Street East)
Last season, Canadian Stage’s brief dance performances were sleeper sell-out hits, so we’re expecting tickets to disappear quickly for the six-show run of the Toronto debut of Hofesh Shechter, the UK’s contemporary dance sensation. The creator grew up in Israel, and Political Mother is a fast-paced, rock and roll–filled examination of how a nation can destroy its people through extreme political indoctrination.
October 31 to November 9
Comedian Rob Mailloux started the Dark Comedy Festival in 2011 as a showcase for stand-ups who delve into personal and often avoided topics in their industry: mental illness, illness in general, addiction, etc. The 2011 edition of the festival was so successful that it spawned a tour to Vancouver. This year, comedian Jim Norton will play both the Toronto and Vancouver editions of the festival; the Toronto edition has scored Maria Bamford as a headliner. Bamford, arguably stand-up’s most critically acclaimed comedienne right now, has tackled her own battles with anxiety and depression in her act and web series. Among her openers is local comic Rhiannon Archer, who’s recently begun speaking in her act about her own battle with lupus.
October 26 to November 25
Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Mill Street)
In 2009, Toronto author Dennis Lee and Soulpepper actor and musician Mike Ross collaborated to create Civil Elegies, a unique performance of Lee’s iconic poems set to original music. Now, the same team reunites to take on Lee’s most beloved collection of children’s poems, Alligator Pie. Give away the green grass, give away the sky—but don’t miss this nostalgic, one-of-a-kind show featuring personalities like Ins Choi (Kim’s Convenience), Raquel Duffy (The Crucible), and Gregory Prest (The Royal Comedians).
Other shows we’re excited about: The Queen West Project at Theatre Passe Muraille (September 12 to 23) and the Queen West Street Fest (September 15); Julie Sits Waiting by Good Hair Day Productions in association with The Theatre Centre (September 14 to 23); Obaaberima at Buddies in Bad Times; and Canadian Stage’s Tear the Curtain! (October 7 to 27).