In the midst of Toronto's busiest theatre season, we look at two short run shows: an adaptation of German tragicomedy Casimir and Caroline, and new sketch show F*#% IT.
There are more than 30 professional theatre shows running this November in Toronto, most of which have a run of two or more weeks. Everyone is hoping for coverage, most likely in the form of a review from the city’s overwhelmed professional theatre critics, or at least, from theatre-focused blogs like In The Green Room, Theatre Reader, or Mooney on Theatre.
But some shows will run too short for review coverage. We spoke with the companies behind two of them about why they’ve chosen short runs, and why audiences should choose them this weekend.
In comedy circles, a multi-night run is actually unusual; many troupes prefer to do a one-night-a-week residency instead. But sketch troupe Panacea’s members come mostly from theatre backgrounds. “We like the theatre run,” says Allana Reoch. “We’re in the same world, though the [theatre and comedy] scenes are so separate; there’s no real reason why that should be.” Fellow troupe member Gillian Bartolucci agrees. “I don’t want to wait a week to do it again once we have it up on its feet.”
Panacea has had an eventful past year. “We’ve had five [star] reviews,” says Bartolucci of their previous sketch revue, “and also one star reviews—though we made money on that show,” she says laughing, referring to their Fringe musical Everyone Loves Sealand. The troupe cleverly capitalized on the negative reviews with a late run marketing campaign boasting of them. “That was a huge influence on this new show’s title,” admits Reoch.
“Acceptance is a major theme for this revue,” Bartolucci says. “And the premise for most of the sketches,” says Reoch, “is that they’re based in reality, but always, just a little bit absurd.”
For The Howland Company and their collaborator, director and theatre academic Holger Syme, premiering his adaptation of German playwright Ödön von Horváth’s Casimir and Caroline as a workshop production is mostly a matter of logistics. “The show is huge,” actor Hallie Seline tells us. (She impressed us recently as the titular queer high school rebel in Rob Kempson’s Shannon 10:40.) “There’s a cast of ten, and singing, and tons of edible props—there’s a rotisserie chicken that’s ripped apart, and popsicles and donuts that end up littering the stage.”
Syme gave Horváth’s play a new, direct translation—”I wrote in contemporary idioms as I translated,” he tells us—and then the company workshopped it for over a year, using improv and other methods to help bring the play forward from its original 1930s setting.
“Horváth wrote that it’s set now,” says Syme, “so period dress would be stupid—you’d miss the point of the play. The broader themes of the play, about economic inequality, are astonishingly current.”
Part of the updating also involved bringing the age ranges and gender roles of the show to a baseline. “It’s a clearer focus if the story is about privilege, pure and simple,” explains Syme, rather than generational conflict or overt sexism. The music was a challenge, as well. “They were all Munich beer hall and Oktoberfest songs,” says Syme, songs that were very specific, to locate the original show. “Replicating that would have been difficult, unless our characters were all singing and playing Broken Social Scene and Drake,” says Syme, laughing. “We tried to find modern equivalents instead—though there IS a Toronto artist in the mix.”
For both companies, these fully realized but short runs seem to be a matter of preferring not to compromise. Reoch and Bartolucci are both cast members of Sunday Night Live, producing sketches weekly for The Sketchersons, but their process for F*#% IT was different. “The Sketchersons are all about not being precious with your ideas, and throwing them up there to see what sticks,” says Bartolucci, “but these sketches, we’ve had time to shape and hone them.”
“They’re more personal,” adds Reoch, “things we have a strong opinion on.” Some of those, they admit, might be controversial. “We have a sketch where I have a one night stand with a guy, and find out he’s a cop,” says Bartolucci, “and we explore the idea of, are there good cops?” Seline has a similar view of the characters in Casimir and Caroline. “Some dark parts of ourselves came out of the improv,” she says, grinning, “and a lot of these characters…well, they’re versions of the worst of ourselves, at points in their stories. And that came surprisingly easily.”