2014 Hero: Julie Dumais Osborne, of Bad Dog Theatre
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2014 Hero: Julie Dumais Osborne, of Bad Dog Theatre

Nominated for: leading Bad Dog Theatre to its new home in Toronto's "comedy corridor."

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 5 p.m. on December 30. At noon on December 31, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

Julie Dumais Osborne h

This fall, Bad Dog Theatre‘s nomadic existence finally came to an end after almost four years. After leaving its Danforth location in 2011, the company, which produces (and teaches) unscripted theatre and improv comedy, established a residency at Comedy Bar—but this year, in partnership with Comedy Bar, it took possession of a second-floor venue just east of Ossington Street, on Bloor Street West, converting a former nightclub into a bar and lobby, training studio, and intimate performance venue. Because the space doesn’t come with sidewalk frontage, Bad Dog created a campaign (and a video that sums up the company in under 2 minutes) to raise funds for a building-top sign, giving itself 60 days to do so. It surpassed its target in three days.

Bad Dog inspires a high level of dedication in the people whose lives it touches, at least in part because of its enthusiastic and fast-talking artistic director, Julie Dumais Osborne. Osborne has been at the helm of Bad Dog since September 2010 and made the tough call to have it leave its first “permanent” home and become nomadic again, as the company’s predecessor Theatresports had been for more than 20 years. In the past few years, she’s been the glue holding the large collective of improvisers together, keeping the training program and performances going at a series of studio spaces, brokering the residency at hot-spot Comedy Bar, and now, re-housing the company.

Even before the new space opened, Bad Dog was thriving under Osborne, setting new records for students enrolled and presenting shows with clever concepts, breaking free of a cycle of pop-culture spoofs that relied mostly on titles with puns to get audiences in the door. The repertory company of “house” players this past year has been as strong as it’s ever been, earning rave reviews at their Toronto Fringe run and elsewhere for shows such as You Are Here and Toronto, I Love You.

Osborne’s helming of Bad Dog is also significant because Canadian theatre doesn’t feature many women in leadership positions. (Factory Theatre recently named Nina Lee Aquino as its artistic director, but the lack of leadership change at its Board of Director level still gives us pause.) While it isn’t as overtly feminist as Toronto companies such as Nightwood Theatre or Alumnae Theatre, Bad Dog’s (mostly female) artistic team produced a number of shows this year that gave comedians such as Kirsten Rasmussen and Becky Johnson the opportunity to direct female-centric shows (Wayward, 9 to 5). That’s no small thing, especially in comedy, an art form and industry that’s still overwhelmingly male.

Osborne would no doubt insist that Bad Dog’s rising profile is the result of a collective effort, and credit its many talented performers, Comedy Bar partners, behind-the-scenes staff and volunteers, and so on. But the task of ensuring Bad Dog’s continued existence has essentially rested on her shoulders since she took the job. The new venue’s sign will visibly proclaim to anyone coming west along Bloor Street that they’re entering a new “comedy corridor” made up of venues including Comedy Bar and Storefront Theatre. That sign will bear the company’s name, but Osborne is Bad Dog’s public face.