Author Archive

GTS Updates return! (Jan. 17th-25th, 2020)

January 18th, 2020 Steve No comments

Steven Conway and Pearle Harbour. Photo by Michael Cooper.

Oh hi there! It’s been a while since I posted here. In fact, it’s been a decade. Why? Well, I started being paid to cover arts and entertainment in Toronto by a publication (Torontoist), and eventually over a dozen different media outlets, most of which are no longer publishing. There’s a post below this one explaining the start of that, and that I had ideas for this blog, but that I wasn’t going to be publishing regularly here. And… I didn’t. At all.

There was a hey day about seven years ago when I actually made 4 figures in successive months, writing for CBC Music, AV Club, and more. But finding publications willing and able to pay for coverage of Toronto’s stage scene got harder and harder.

In December of 2018, I had seven different things published. Cumulatively, it didn’t pay my rent.

I’ve always had a parallel career, however, working part time for the Royal Canadian Navy as a reservist. Training and working with them put me through theatre school, and subsidized my arts careers; first as an actor, then as a critic and arts journalist.

So at the start of 2019, I took a full time position, recruiting for the Naval Reserves. And now that I’m no longer pitching to other publications, I can use my (more limited) free time to write for free again, on my own time, on my own schedule. Here.

I’m eventually going to revamp the site (this WordPress design is twelve years old, after all!), but the important thing is getting back in the habit of writing.

I’m also flipping the old format. The week’s picks will be first, so you can quickly scan and see what you might want to go to. The picks will be followed by the “TL;DR” reviews and previews of what I’ve seen (or will be seeing), maybe even with some topical op-ed at the end. There will be much less film and music than of old, because theatre and comedy has become my dominant wheelhouse, by far. The intention is to publish weekly—but I’m going to need to be careful not to overcommit, so no firm promises (this post itself is already later than planned).

Later this month, I’ll publish a recap of my past decade as a journalist and critic, and list (and hot link to) some of my “greatest hits”. But for now, here’s what I used to do best….

Steve’s Weekly Picks for Jan 17th – 25th , 2020:


FRIDAY Jan 17th: Midsummer Night’s Dream“, w/ Kwaku Okyere, Alexa MacDougall, Matthew Finlan, more, @ Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, 7:30pm, PWYC—$26 (to Jan. 26) / “Rapp Battlz 122: 10 Year Anniversary“, w/ Gillian Bartulucci, Definition of Knowledge, Chris Sandiford, hosts Miguel & Freddie Rivas, more, @ Comedy Bar, 10:30pm, $10-$15

SATURDAY Jan 18th Aft.: NSTF: “Morro & Jasp: Save The Date”, @ Factory Theatre Mainspace, 2pm, $12-$18 (to January 18) / NSTF: “Morro & Jasp: The Future of Clown” talkback, w/ host Steve Fisher (yes, me!), @ Factory Theatre Antechamber, 3:30pm, FREE / NSTF: Winter of 88″ closing show, w/ Aida Keykhaii, Jonathan Shaboo, Sarah Marchand, more, Factory Theatre Mainstage, 4:15pm, $12-$18

Bianca Alongi, Cristina Goncalves, and Lindsay Mullan. Photo by Katherine Fogler.

SATURDAY Jan 18th Eve: “The Solitudes” closing show, w/ Rhoma Spencer, Janis Mayers, Muihelle Polak, more, @ Harbourfront Centre, 8pm, $20-$24 / NSTF: “Agit-Pop!”, w/ Pearle Harbour, more, @ Factory Theatre Mainspace, $12-$18 (to Jan 19)

SUNDAY Jan 19th Aft.: NSTF: closing show, w/ Isabel Kanaan, Belinda Corpuz, Alia Rasul, more, @ Factory Theatre Mainspace, 1:30pm, $12 -$18 / “Julius Caesar”, w/ Dion Johnstone, Moya O’Connell, Diego Matamoros, more, @ Crow’s Theatre Mainspace, 2pm, PWYC (to Feb 2nd)

SUNDAY Jan 19th Eve: NSTF: “Tease” closing show, w/ Lindsay Mullan, Bianca Alongi, Cristina Gonçalves, @ Factory Theatre Studio, 8:15pm, $12-$18 / “Sunday Night Live”, w/ Tom Hearn, Erica Gellert, Colin Sharpe, guest host Selina Vyle, more, @ Comedy Bar Mainspace, 9:30pm, $12

MONDAY Jan 20th: , w/ Vanessa Sears, Giustin MacLean, Gabi Epstein, host Jeni Walls, more, @ Diner 120, 9pm, PWYC / “Sketch T-Rex”, w/ Sex T-Rex, Twoson, The Wow, more, @ Bad Dog Theatre Company, 9:30pm, PWYC ($10 suggested)

TUESDAY Jan 21st: “Casamir And Caroline”, w/ Hallie Seline, Alex Crowther, Vanessa Hortiguela, more, @ Crow’s Theatre, 8pm, PWYC (to Feb 9th)

WEDNESDAY Jan 22nd: “The Art of Magic”, w/ Mark Correia, more, @ Super Wonder Gallery, 8pm, $25 (Also Jan 23rd) / “Templeton Manor”, w/ Anasimone George, Anesti Daniels, Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll, hosts The Templeton Philharmonic, @ Bad Dog Theatre Company, 8pm, $5-$10.     

THURSDAY Jan 23rd: “Sexual Misconduct Of The Middle Classes”, w/ Matthew Edison, Alice Snaden, @ Tarragon Theatre, 8pm, $22-$70. (to February 9th)

FRIDAY Jan 24th: “Mother’s Daughter”, w/ Shannon Taylor, Maria Vacratis, Beryl Bain, more, @ Young Centre For The Performing Arts, 7:30pm, FREE-$98. (to Feb 9th) / Rhea Butcher, more, @ Comedy Bar, 8pm & 9:30pm, $25.

Let’s start with the Next Stage Theatre Festival. I managed to see 8 of the shows; 10, if you count my viewings of Tita Jokes and Every Silver Lining last summer at the Fringe. (Both shows were new iterations for this festival, so I shouldn’t really say whether those changes were substantial or not.) My favourite, and the one I’d bet is most likely to be remounted soon, was Pearle Harbour’s Agit-Pop! A cabaret exploring our collective 21st century anxiety, that uses 20th century imagery (like vintage cartoons) and pop songs (like a gorgeous cover of The Beach Boys’ “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”) to soothe our jangled nerves, and point out that apocalyptic fears aren’t new, and can be managed. Justin Miller’s coutured and coiffed alter-ego Pearle is ascendent as a host and entertainer, nearing the top of her game as a host and monologist.

From what I saw, the festival as a whole was particularly strong this year. Morro & Jasp’s Save The Date, still as wildly funny and touching as it was at the 2018 Toronto Fringe, benefitted from some set design spruce-up by Roxanne Ignatius. Tease, a feminist cabaret created by Second City alumna Lindsay Mullan, more than fulfilled the promises it made in its promotion, being at turns both titillating and

I’ll be out of town for the next two weeks, so won’t be posting any more reviews until I return and start seeing shows in February. But I intend to file the week’s picks (and previews) remotely!

Fine Print:

- All prices listed are advance ticket prices (where applicable). With many of these shows, especially music and theatre, if you show up at the door, you run the risk of being turned away due to a sell out (but at the door may be the only way to get PWYC tix).

- All times are start times, NOT door times. If you show up after the posted time, the show will likely already be underway.

- I typically cap the listed performers at three mentioned per show. The bill of bands / acts / performers is often much larger (particularly for comedy and theatre).

- Theatre and Comedy events are ALL AGES, unless otherwise noted. Music events are 19+, unless otherwise noted (FREE in-store and outdoor performances are ALL AGES, due to the lack of alcohol service).

Categories: Comedy, GTS Update, Improv, Music, Theatre Tags:

Update: Torontoist, and Fringe 2010!

July 10th, 2010 Steve No comments

Hi there, GTS readers! It’s been a while. I really should have posted something like this back in May, but for those of you wondering why this site fell silent: it’s because someone’s started paying me to do what I’ve been doing gratis for so long.

Since May, I’ve been contributing to as an Urban Planner. Several days a week, I write the daily selected events post for the site. I started out with Mondays and Tuesdays, and switched to Mondays and Fridays as of June. I’m not going to get rich as a Torontoist contributor, but it’s my low paying dream job (sort of like this Simpson’s episode); I get to write about my favourite performers, companies, and events in the city that I love!

My staff picture for Torontoist, courtesy of Shannon Gerard.

Since I’d be duplicating much of the work I do for Torontoist for my weekly GTS updates, I’ve discontinued them. I’m sure many of you were aware just how much of an enormous workload writing the updates were; they’d typically take anywhere from 16-24 hours a week. Now, I’m part of a crack team of UP writers (it’s a really great feeling to be part of a team, and to have a shared workload), and it doesn’t make sense to continue to write the updates for GTS when someone’s willing to pay me to do essentially the same thing, for a readership ten times larger (GTS’s best two month last year garnered in excess of 100,000 hits, but Torontoist passed 1,000,000 hits last month).

This has left me at a bit of a loss as to what to do with Gracing the Stage. I definitely want to continue to produce content for the site and keep it active (more active than the less two months), but darned if Torontoist hasn’t willingly accepted (and paid for) anything I’ve been of a mind (and had the time) to write about. Since I started contributing non-Urban Planner posts, I’ve written articles about sketch troupe Sunday Night Live and bands like The Balconies and Whale Tooth; video reviews for Hooded Fang and Maylee Todd; covered the Polaris Prize; and even written about police horses, in the lead-up to the G20 summit coverage (which Torontoist, by many accounts, did the best job of ANY media outlet covering – the site registered over a quarter of a million hits over that weekend). So I’ve been very busy over there (you can read all of the articles I’ve contributed to date by clicking on my staff profile).

My plans for this site include setting up and integrating a Twitter account for Gracing the Stage (something I’ve kept putting off and off), and to start using it as more of a personal blog. I’ll be posting arts-related links, short items, and video content, while endeavoring to keep it mainly Toronto-centric (but not exclusively so). Basically, I mean to channel much of the energy I usually put into Facebook (which is a bit of a waste, since I’m very snobby about FB, only accepting friend requests from people I’ve met and chatted at length with on multiple occasions) into Gracing the Stage, so I won’t be upping my work load; just re-directing it more productively, and making it more accessible.

I hope to have this revamp up and running in time for Summerworks (so, the start of August). I’ve been very busy the past few weeks covering The Toronto Fringe Festival, primarily for Torontoist; I contributed more than half of the reviews for the site’s Guide to the Fringe.

I do plan on posting capsule reviews of all the Fringe shows I’ve seen (I’m currently at 3 dozen seen, with two days left in the fest), so there will be a special Fringe post going up this weekend, that will be updated as I produce previews. Like last year, I’ve not budgeted enough time over the festival to write reviews, only having written 15 to date (9 of the best were used in the Torontoist guide). Unlike last year, however, I’ve kept pretty good notes, so I’m more confident I’ll get them all up within a week after the Fringe. Not especially useful to anyone hoping to have used quotes to promote their Fringe run, but maybe so for shows continuing on the Fringe circuit, or for companies or performers who might want to use what I write for future promotional purposes.

So, a lot of news. If anyone has any feedback about what I should do with the site to make it more useful and efficient, I’m all ears. In the meantime, I strongly suggest you sign up for Torontoist’s Torontolist mailing list, which will deliver daily updates to your email inbox, containing contests, brief news items, and the day’s Urban Planner (which means several a week are written primarily by yours truly). I don’t plan on using my own mailing list for anything other than important updates about the site, so if you want to read about what’s hip and happening in Toronto, you’ll have to follow me over to Torontoist.

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Weekly Update 296 (Apr. 23rd – Apr. 30th, 2010)

April 24th, 2010 Steve No comments



The creators of "Gravy Train", Tim Doiron & April Mullen, pose on the red carpet at the premiere of their movie in Toronto.

The creators of “Rock Paper Scissors: The Way of the Tosser”, Tim Doiron & April Mullen, are back with a cop comedy entitled “Gravy Train” (you can check out the trailer here). Based on the popularity of their first film, they were able to land quite a few celebrities for their 2nd feature, including Tim Meadows, Colin Mochrie, and Jennifer Dale. The movie gets a red carpet premiere this Friday night at the AMC Yonge and Dundas, followed by a Q & A (which the filmmaking pair will do for most evening screenings this week – they’ve posted a schedule here). If you want to see it cheaply (sans Q & A), remember that the AMC has half price matinee tickets for screenings before noon on weekends…

In advance of the Hot Docs festival (which starts next Saturday), there’s a screening of one of the most popular recent Canadian documentaries on Tuesday at the Revue Cinema. Peter Lynch will be taking questions after the screening of his doc “Project Grizzly“, about Troy Hurtubise, a man obsessed with building a bear-proof protection suit, to the point of throwing himself off of cliffs, and having people drive cars into him to test it. The film will also be screening with Lynch’s short “Nails“.

Still in cinemas, I’ve seen “Kick Ass” twice now, and will probably go a third time; it’s funny, profane, violent, and the most enjoyable treatment you’re ever likely to see of just how ridiculous it would be for someone to dress up as a superhero and fight crime. I’m also going to try to make time to see “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo“, which is still getting great word of mouth.


Veteran local rockers Run With The Kittens, who have a penchant for the absurd, have enlisted an unorthodox representative to help publicize their upcoming CD release next Friday at the Great Hall.
Theatre, Comedy, Music, more vids and pics, and the weekly calendar picks, are just one “Read more” click away…

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Weekly Update 295 (Apr. 16th – Apr. 23rd, 2010)

April 18th, 2010 Steve No comments



Comedically and musically inclined ladies Katie Crown and Kathleen Phillips debut a new one act "amusical", "Our Lives Work!", this Saturday night at Bread and Circus.


Norm Souza and Cole Osborne (AKA Punch Drysdale), plus a few other similarly strong livered performing friends, will get absolutely blotto Friday night on the Comedy Bar stage, for your amusement, in “Punch Drysdale Drinks a 24“.

Amusement is the name of the game on Saturday night at Bread and Circus as well, where Kathleen Phillips and Katie Crown’s will premiere their new one act “amusical”, “Our Lives Work!“. Also on their bill is Poppa Proppa, Toronto’s oldest prop comic, and musical guest People of Canada, who will be strumming the ukele (Alex will also be playing with a full band Monday night at Elvis Monday – more details in the Music section).

Sunday, there’ll be a reading of “Two Gentlemen of Lebowski“, the hit mash-up script combining “The Dude” with “The Bard”, to fundraise for two upcoming shows from Nobody’s Business Theatre. This is the closest Toronto has come to a staging of the internet phenomenon (I’d heard a production was in the planning stages, but legal issues have sidelined those plans). You also get comedy from Frenzy, and quite a few guys and gals taking most of their clothes off.

Also Sunday, Scott Freethy celebrates his “Scott and the City” 6 month anniversary with a night of musical tribute to the TV show “Glee”, and veteran improviser David Shore performs his final “One Man Harold” show before decamping to the UK.

Monday, there’s an edition of “The Dime Store Novels“, a adult storytelling night closely modeled on the popular US series “The Moth”; and Wednesday, PROJECTProject and The Polecats both come out of hiatus (the PROPro cats have been busy on their Combustion Festival) to pay tribute to PROPro member Sarah Hillier on her birthday.


Haligonian musicmaker Rich Aucoin, who blew many (including myself) away with several spirited performances during CMF back in March, headlines this Tuesday’s NO SHAME music showcase at Sneaky Dee’s.

Film, Music,  Theatre, more vids and pics, and the weekly calendar picks, are just one “Read more” click away…

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Weekly Update 294 (Apr. 2nd – Apr. 9th, 2010)

April 3rd, 2010 Steve No comments

No pressing business this week; just a reminder to email me at if you want to receive this weekly update in your inbox.



Is there anything the legendary Bob Wiseman CAN'T do? He's making his improv comedy debut on "Catch 23 Improv" this Friday, and tells musical stories on Wednesday at this month's "Murder Folk Night".


As with last week, there’s a lot of touring bands (both Canadian and otherwise) passing through T.O., ranging from San Francisco’s Girls (who were in the top 5 of my Best Albums of 2009 post), with terrific openers Dum Dum Girls, whose biker-chick-goes-to-prison video is embedded at the bottom of this post; The xx, who are being impossibly hyped as the “next big thing” for their minimalist beats, and who’ll DJ their own afterparty at the Garrison Sunday night (it’s free if you’re a Facebook fan of; and Fanfarlo, a UK band who are getting a lot of  comparisons to The Arcade Fire (they play next Friday at Lee’s Palace).

Speaking of the Arcade Fire, one of their satellite members, the charming Owen Pallett (who’s dropped his potentially lawsuit-incurring moniker Final Fantasy) plays an all ages show at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thursday. Other Canadian acts hitting Toronto stages this week include Vancouver’s Japandroids (whose openers Love Is All and locals Two Koreas make their show one of my most recommended of the week), and Montreal bands Wolf Parade (Wednesday @ the Phoenix) and Land of Talk (Thursday at Lee’s Palace).

There’s also a really good selection of local showcases this week. Multi-faceted performer Maylee Todd’s playing three of them; a launch party for Filipino cultural centre Kapisanan in Kensington Market on Saturday, s the musical guest on variety show Carnegie Hall Wednesday at Bread and Circus, and a CD release party with almost a dozen local acts on Thursday at Tattoo Rock Parlour. Other shows of note include a special Easter edition of Keith Hamiton’s Gather Round acoustic night at the Boat, and a special extra literary edition of the monthly Murder Folk night (in collaboration with the Pivot Reading Series).

But the biggest music news this week is probably the return of Wavelength Music Art Projects. The first official Wavelength event since the finish of their weekly Sunday night showcases is a collaboration with The Images Festival, and the innovative Polydactyl Arts Collective, who were responsible for the dystopian bike opera “Le Cyc”. Saturday night at the Workman Arts building, the collective will be providing live musical accompaniment to stop motion film projections exploring such diverse subjects as biological mutation, and how language requires transitions to be interpreted, similar to data processing.


Pixie songstress / aerobicizer Maylee Todd plays the re-opening of the Kapisanan Filipino cultural centre this weekend, is the musical guest on Carnegie Hall on Wednesday at Bread and Circus, and plays clothing company G-SUS’s compilation CD launch on Thursday at Tattoo Rock Parlour.

Comedy, Film, Theatre, more vids and pics, and the weekly calendar picks, are just one “Read more” click away…

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Weekly Update 293 (Mar. 26th – Apr. 2nd, 2010)

March 29th, 2010 Steve No comments

So, Colin and I have FINALLY sorted out the email database issues – sort of (for a full account of what exactly happened to the site, and what we’ve been dealing with since February, check out this post). A very small minority of the subscribers receiving this update may have unsubscribed already, as it’s from an older back-up: if that describes you, my apologies. Please shoot me another email, and I’ll take you off the list (again). Conversely, if you’re reading this post and wondering why you didn’t get an email about it, email me, and I’ll hook you up.

Enough business! Read on for the good stuff.




it’s International Theatre Day this Saturday, and goodness me, is there a lot to choose from.

Top to bottom: Ravi Jain, Troels Hagen Findsen, and Katrina Bugaj, in Why Not Theatre's "I'm So Close... It's Not Even Funny". The movement / multimedia heavy play is part of the Free Fall Festival that wraps up this weekend, though "I'm So Close" continues another week at the Theatre Centre.

Top to bottom: Ravi Jain, Troels Hagen Findsen, and Katrina Bugaj, in Why Not Theatre's "I'm So Close... It's Not Even Funny". The movement / multimedia play is part of the Free Fall Festival that wraps up this weekend, though "I'm So Close" continues another week at the Theatre Centre. Poster by Mina Mikhail.

You could start with one of the festivals, like the Free Fall Festival ‘10, which wraps up on Sunday; it features new works from companies across the country, at the Theatre Centre, and at the Harbourfront Centre, in conjunction with that institution’s World Stage Series. Offerings include Theatre Direct’s drama “On The Side of the Road” (from Calgary), The Chop Theatre’s interview compilation show “KISMET one to one hundred” (visiting from Vancouver), and tri-national company Why Not Theatre’s visually inventive “I’m So Close…“, which runs one week longer at the Theatre Centre.

Also closing this weekend are dance/theatre hybrid company Theatre Rusticle’s “Birnam Wood” at Theatre Passe Muraille, a work inspired by (but not telling) the story of “Macbeth”, and the youth showcase Paprika Festival, up at Tarragon Theatre.

Tarragon’s also playing host and producer to Daniel MacIvor’s gripping new play “Communion“, which is near the top of the heap of continuing shows. Other worthy contenders include “Breakfast” at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, and “Art” and “The Overwhelming” at recently rebranded Canadian Stage’s two Front Street venues. There’s also quite a few musical offerings, such as popular fringe hit “My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding” (extended one last time to April 10th), Soulpepper’s wartime revue “Oh What A Lovely War“, and the very musical (but WILDLY different) “Who Knew Grannie: a Dub Aria“. Be forewarned; many of these shows must close on April 3rd or 4th…

One of my favourite projects on right now in Toronto is Theatrefront’s “The Mill“, which has four different parts, each written by a different playwright, all centering around a rural mill that’s been a site of various horrors and ghostly intrigue over the centuries. Tara Beagan’s “Part 3: The Woods“, which opened last week at the Young Centre, is a prequel of sorts, to Hannah Moscovitch’s “Part 2: The Huron Bride” and Matthew MacFadzean’s “Part 1: Now We Are Brody“. Both Parts 1 and 2 get a very limited couple of performances this week and next weekend, to supplement the run of Part 3.

Other just opened or opening shows this week include the Actor’s Repertory Company production of Martin Crimp’s “The City“, and Theatre SMASH’s world premiere of Graeme Gillis‘ “A Boy Called Newfoundland“.

Finally, Morgan Jones Phillip’s storytelling show “The Emergency Monologues” returns for two nights (and four sets) late next week, to say goodbye to The Cameron House, the  tiny backroom venue on Queen Street that’s rumoured to be closing in the next few months.


Local indie rockers Dinosaur Bones are opening for Canuck rock legends Thrush Hermit all this weekend (including an all ages show Sunday afternoon) at Lee’s Palace; they’re also in the coveted slot of band #100 for local filmmaker Mitch Fillion’s ambitious Southern Souls project. Mitch has just been asked to film videos for several months in Montreal for influential live video site La Blogtheque.

Film, Comedy, Music, more vids and pics, and the weekly calendar picks, are just one “Read more” click away…

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What the heck happened to the website?!?

March 27th, 2010 Steve No comments

Steve when he realized V. 1 was FUBAR.

So, I’ve told many people in person what happened to the website over the past month, but I’ve been putting off the written version for some time, because I thought it would come across as really depressing in print. And maybe it will, although there’s lots of odd and funny twists to it.

The short version; was infected by malware in February, prompting us to take it offline to de-bug it; while we thought we’d backed the whole site up, when we restored it, everything, save for the post content, had been lost. So the site is now back up in a bare-bones (read: simple and kinda ugly) format, and will be changing slowly, as we attempt to restore the site to its original lustre and functionality.

For those interested in more detail on what the malware did and how we handled it, read on. For those who just want to know how it’ll affect the site from now on; future posts should be fine, past posts will have their pictures and mp3s restored (very, VERY slowly, one at a time), and the site will be repaired and improved (top bar bio and other pages, side bar blogroll, archives, etc., etc.) slowly over the next little while, from the current settings.

Also, the email list was impacted, so you should contact Steve if you’ve changed your email in the past year or two, aren’t receiving the weekly update (by next week), or start receiving it when you’d requested to be unsubscribed.

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Weekly Update 292 (Feb. 5th – Feb. 12th, 2010)

February 7th, 2010 Steve 2 comments

The first update of 2010 (and the first in more than 3 months!) is two days late, partly due to a computer virus, but better late than never! I’d almost forgotten how to write these. The website hasn’t been entirely fallow since November; I’ve posted Best of 2009 posts on “music albums” and “Summerworks shows”, with “Fringe shows” coming up soon, and “comedy shows” and “music singles” not far behind. But the core of the site – the updates – well, it’s good to have one of those up again, and I’m going to try to stick to the schedule from here on in.

For first time readers: detailed info about shows mentioned in the update are mostly contained in the week’s scheduled picks (near the end of the update). The main body will usually be hotlink-free (save for “special interest” tangents).

In Theatre & Dance,

There’s TWO productions of Stephen Sondheim’s black comedic history musical, “Assassins“, that have just opened in Toronto, and while the Hart House one will almost certainly be of better quality than most community or college productions, it’s Birdland Theatre and Talk is Free Productions‘ version, down at the Theatre Centre, that I’m most looking forward to, by far. It’s got a bona fide Broadway star at the helm (director and local boy made good Adam Brazier), and boasts both renowned belters ( like Eliza Jane Scott, Steve Ross, & Trish Lindstrom) and actors who heretofore have not appeared in a musical professionally (like Kate Hewlett and Chris Stanton), musical though they might be. And that would definitely have to be the case, since the entire cast plays accompanying instruments for the show.

Not yet opened, but running already in previews, are the remount of Convergence Theatre’s “YICHUD (Seclusion)“, who managed to overcome the Harold Green funding debacle with the assistance of generous donations from the theatre community; Obsidian Theatre and Canstage’s production of “Intimate Apparel, a story of a Harlem seamstress (scheduled to coincide with Black History Month); and the world premiere of Rosa Laborde’s eagerly awaited sophomore play, “Hush“, a psychological mystery, wherin a father seeks to discover the cause of his daughter’s night terrors (Laborde was mentioned in my Best Summerworks shows of ‘09 post as the director of the #1 show).

Two other new plays by renowned Canadian playwrights Michael Healy (“Couragous” @ The Tarragon Theatre) and  Judith Thompson (“Such Creatures” at Theatre Passe Muraille) close Sunday, while George F. Walker’s newest, “And So It Goes” , continues at Factory Theatre.

Other continuing shows include “Peer Gynt” (Susan Coyne works with indie company The Thistle Project, whose production of “Miss Julie“  in 2008 trounced CanStage’s in almost every way), “Billy Bishop Goes to War” (Eric Petersen & John Gray bring back their phenomenally popular WWII flying ace play to Soulpepper), “Cloud 9” (a stellar Canuck cast, including Megan Follows, Evan Builing, and Yanna McIntosh, subvert gender norms in two different time periods), and “Light in the Piazza” (a critically acclaimed Broadway hit that ’s spoken and sung partly in Italian).

Dance shows running this week include “Under a Paper Moon“, a multidisciplinary showcase at Hub 14;  Harbourfront Centre’s World Stage Series brings Australian movement thriller “Roadkill” to town for a typically too short run; and Toronto Dance Theatre is presenting a FREE showcase on Monday of work from their upcoming new show, “Pteros Tactics“.

Finally, the 30th annual Rhubarb Festival begins Wednesday at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre; the festival usually runs the gamut from weird to wonderful, and this year promises more of the same, with a wrestling spectacle from Birdland and Swanville (featuring pint sized spandex clad combatants like Cara Gee and Rebecca Applebaum), a “Teddy Chainsaw Massacre“, and a Italian duet, “Parole, Parole“, about “semantic satiation”, which could hopefully end up sounding somewhat like this not quite Italian or English musical extravaganza...

Film, Comedy, Music, more vids and pics, and the weekly calendar picks, are just one “More” click away…

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Top 9 of '09: Best Festival shows, Part 1: Summerworks

January 18th, 2010 Steve No comments

The second post of my Best 9 of ‘09 series was supposed to be theatre in general; however, when I realized that 4 of my preliminary picks were Summerworks shows, I realized that Fringe and Summerworks deserved their own lists entirely. So there’ll be a Best of Theatre ‘09 list down the pipeline, but first – a post each, celebrating Toronto’s new work festivals. The Next Stage Theatre Festival is running to the end of this weekend at the Factory Theatre, featuring many of the actors and companies singled out for praise in these lists; I’ll mention their current offerings where applicable, as well as shows outside of Next Stage.

Naive little me thought I’d manage a post a day (hah!) when I started these retrospective posts, but they’re working out to 5 or more days apiece, so it’s entirely possible I won’t finish until the end of January! But for those curious, next up will be the Fringe Festival, then the Best Comedy Shows of 2009, then a Best Singles of 2009 post (plus an update by next Friday).


Best Summerworks Moments of 2009


One of the remarkable things about how the Summerworks Festival has evolved under Artistic Director Michael Rubenfeld is how it’s grown to include performance events that aren’t strictly stage plays; for this past year’s festival, I saw 27 plays, 18 bands, 9 Performance Gallery pieces, and 3 Summerwalks tours. So I’ve tried to pull from all those experiences in listing my top Summerworks picks, by citing particular events and moments that stood out and crystallized why that show was worthy of mention.


#9: Maev Beaty’s painter seduces Erin Shields’s shopgirl in “Montparnasse


Erin Shields and Maev Beaty played with audiences' conceptions of the nude model as their characters gradually succumbed to greed, lust, and jealousy in the riveting "Montparnasse". Photo by Amanda Lynne Ballard.

When both of the writer/performers of this fascinating look at nude models in 1920’s Paris first shed their clothes on stage, they did so in a way that lulled the audience into accepting the nudity as natural and non-sexual, and therefore non-threatening. The posing and attitudes all suggested that the character’s disrobing was being done for art and beauty’s sake, and that anyone sexualizing it (or thinking of it as shameful) would be ruining the compact by subverting something liberating and beautiful.

But midway through the play, Beaty’s lesbian painter Amelia seduced Shields (playing a secondary character, an assistant who can help further Amelia’s career), succumbing to both her own lust, and the desire to insinuate herself into the inner circles of Paris’ cultural elite. All of a sudden, all bets were off. As Amelia slowly stripped clothes off the tough-talking shopgirl, her brusque demeanour dissolved, and was replaced with a vulnerability hitherto unseen when skin was exposed; a vulnerability that was taken advantage of. The apple had been tasted of, and for the rest of the play, the nudity was no longer quite so innocent.

Many critics marveled at the bravery of Shields and Beaty for spending so much time nude in “Montparnasse“, but it was this re-contextualizing of that nudity that was the audacious choice in their show.


#8: Oh No Forest Fires‘ cover of “Footloose


There were all sorts of incredible performances over the course of the Summerworks Music Series. Two of the bands on my Best Albums of 2009 list, Think About Life (#1) and Great Bloomers (#10) were among the bands who played extraordinary sets (and since they’ve already been mentioned, were “disqualified” from this list), and nearly every night, as least one of the bands got people up and dancing.

Among the best to do so, however, were ONFF and their set ending cover of Kenny Loggin’s classic “Footloose“. Faced with a smaller mid-week crowd than most of the festival’s nights, ONFF gradually got the crowd warmed up and dancing, and when they busted out “Footloose“, there wasn’t a still foot in the house.

Sadly, ONFF recently announced their last show on Jan. 23rd (which you should definitely consider attending); in the meantime, while there is a video of ONFF performing “Footloose, the sound quality is pretty terrible, so here’s a clip of them performing their own song, “It’s Not Fun and Games Unless Someone Loses an Eye“.



(The rest of the Summerworks list, including some choice videos, follows below.)

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Categories: Comedy, Dance, Improv, Music, Theatre Tags:

Top 9 of ‘09: Best Albums

January 4th, 2010 Steve No comments

It’s twenty-ten! Last year, my own resolutions revolved mostly around getting this website off the ground and running. This year, given my lack of posts in November and December (a hiatus for a few weeks became habit-forming), I’m resolving to more consistently post the weekly update, and try and institute some subtle changes to the site, among them an integrated GTS Twitter account, a sidebar tweak (some third party ads should crop up, but I promise they won’t be intrusive), a monthly music playlist, and an easier interface for posted MP3s.

Before we get to new business, however, I have a series of end of year recap posts planned for music, theatre, and comedy. As befitting the year that just ended, they’re kept to 9 (though some, like this post, will also have the same number of “honourable mentions”). First up on deck:


Best Albums (LPs) of 2009


#9. Josh Reichmann Oracle BandCrazy Power

Josh Reichmann Oracle Band - Crazy Power

Best track: “Fractal Web

If Toronto had an equivalent to NYC’s The Strokes in the 2000s, both in sound and local buzz, it was Tangiers; the rock and post-punk band garnered considerable local acclaim for their 3 strong albums and energetic live shows from 2002-2005. When Tangiers dissolved in 2006, lead singer Reichmann experimented with a few different projects and sounds, releasing a debut solo album in ‘07 under the moniker Jewish Legend. The album showed a lot of promise, though it was a little too out there and dark to appeal to a wide segment of T.O.’s music fans. Crazy Power, however, while still venturing into all sorts of odd musical genres, is poppy and upbeat where previous effort Telepathy Now! was obtuse and challenging (continuing the Strokes comparison, their lead singer Julian Casablancas almost made this list for his own solo album this year, but we’re getting off topic). Anyway, Reichmann seems to have really hit his stride, and the album evokes all sorts of soul and funk comparisons, most notably to Prince. Songs like “Shivering Black” and “Sea at Night” are full of falsetto flourishes, calypso beats, and all manner of interesting instrumentation. Live, the Oracle Band is still a bit chaotic, but that’s A-OK by me – my favourite album of last year, Miracle Fortress’s Five Roses, took a while to bring to life on stage, too.


#8. Dan ManganNice, Nice, Very Nice

Dan Mangan - Nice, Nice, Very Nice


Best Track: “Robots

Mangan’s already received a lot of praise for his finely crafted debut album this year, including being awarded the XM Verge Award for Artist of the Year (an award that came as a shock to many who expected the award would go to a harder edged rock band), and Two CBC Radio 3 Bucky Awards, for Best Vocals and Best Song of the year. He ended the year on a high note, too, being named Best New Artist of the Year by iTunes Canada. Word spread quickly amongst the tight knit Canadian blogosphere and music community in 2009 about his exceptional stage craft skills and approachable persona; I’ve been at several live shows and in-stores, and Mangan always puts an effort in to turn new fans into friends after his set is over. While “N, N, VN” isn’t a re-invention of the wheel, it’s a album of exceptionally pleasant and straight-forward singer-songwriter tunes, and Mangan displays wit and charm throughout, including having had a hand in producing the terrific 80’s gang fight homage video for lead single “Robots”.



For the rest of the list, including a cornucopia of videos and MP3s, click “more”…

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