Archive for the ‘Improv’ Category

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:

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:

Summerworks Festival 2009: Theatre

August 12th, 2009 Steve No comments

Theatre, Comedy, Music, Dance, and more; it’s all happening at the Summerworks Indie Theatre and Arts Festival, running August 6th-16th along Queen St. West, at more than a half dozen venues. My apologies to anyone who has a show that’s NOT Summerworks-associated, but this week’s postings are 100% festival focused ( August 14th’s edition of the update will revert back to the usual format).

This first of three special Summerworks posts starts off focusing on the original and largest element of the festival… Theatre.

Erin Shields (Writer of last year's Summerworks hit "If We Were Birds" and performer in "Fewer Emergencies" at last year's Summerworks) and Maev Beaty (Dora-nominated for last year's "Dance of the Red Skirts") follow up their last paired collaborative effort ("Goblin Market") with "Montparnasse", a nuanced and sensual piece about nude models in 1930s Paris.

Erin Shields and Maev Beaty follow up their last paired collaborative work ("Goblin Market") with "Montparnasse", a nuanced and sensual piece about nude models in 1920s Paris (photo by Amanda Lynne Ballard).

I’ve seen exactly 1/3 of the 42 plays in the “Local” and “National” categories as of this post, and there have been some real standouts. There’s also a number of shows that I’ve already seen in one form or another prior to this festival, that I can confidently recommend.

If you’re looking for drama, both of the shows Groundwater Productions is producing, “The Epic of Gilgamaesh (Up Until the Part When Enkidu Dies)” and “Montparnasse“, are sure bets to see fascinating and theatrically accomplished work. “Montparnasse” in particular has garnered excellent word of mouth based on their 1st act preview at the Rhubarb Festival earlier this year, and I’m happy to report that the full version of the show has been brilliantly realized. Writers/actors Erin Shields and Maev Beaty shed all,  playing nude models – one an aspiring artist, the other a hedonistic dilettante – and their artist patrons and bohemian acquaintances in 1920s Paris.

Carlos Gonzales-Vio is strong contender for best male performer at this year's Summerworks, for his seamless integration with the rest of the ensemble in the multimedia show "Nohayquiensepa", and his standout performance as the beast man Enkidu in "The Epic of Gilgamesh".

Carlos Gonzales-Vio is a strong contender for best male performer at this year's Summerworks, for his moving ensemble work in the multimedia show "Nohayquiensepa", and his standout performance as the beast man Enkidu in "The Epic of Gilgamesh" (photo by Amanda Lynne Ballard).

Also showing a fair bit of skin in their production is Ecce Homo, who had a huge hit on their hands last year with their production of “The Pastor Phelps Project“. This year’s offering is “The Ecstasy of Mother Teresa (or, Agnes Bojaxhiu, Superstar)“, the third and final in their trilogy of collective creations based on quotes concerning controversial figures of the 20th century. While almost every spoken word in the show is a quote, the assemblage of the show is original, and whereas the nudity in “Montparnasse” is integral to the plot, in “Mother Teresa”, it’s just one of many elements (music, dance. video) that enhance the spectacle of the production.

Other multi-media productions worth noting include Aluna Theatre’s “Nohayquiensepa“, and Daniel Barrow’s “Everytime I See Your Picture, I Cry“. “Nohay”, a less titillating, but far more technologically adept show than “Mother Teresa”, is a “workshop production” that uses a physically agile ensemble and an astounding array of projections, video, and audio recordings to give a vague and affecting eulogy to victims of violence, “inspired by events in a Columbian river town on the fringe of great violence”.

Barrow’s show builds on his previous work creating hand illustrated overhead projection shows – he describes his work as “manual animation” – with several key new developments; it becomes clear early on in the show that this is not autobiographical, but is a weird and surreal narrative, and Barrow for the first time is “invisible” to his audience. Previous shows have had him clearly visible manipulating his projector, but in this show, he’s hidden away on the balcony of Theatre Passe Muraille, and the audience focuses solely on his moving images. I had some issues with the narrative (the show could really use a program), but there’s no denying this is a wholly original theatrical experience.

Project Undertow's "Melancholy Play" has it all: a sparkling, witty script, a deft directorial debut from Rosa Laborde, a gorgeous set, and a uniformly enchanting (and, also, gorgeous) ensemble cast.

Project Undertow's "Melancholy Play" has it all: a sparkling, witty script, a deft directorial debut from Rosa Laborde, a gorgeous set, and a uniformly enchanting (and also gorgeous) ensemble cast.

The final two shows I’m strongly recommending (that I’ve seen – I expect I’ll have some new shows to highlight come this weekend’s update) are both resolutely comedies, though their titles and topic material might suggest otherwise.

The National Theatre of the World, who I wrote about at length when they launched their series “Impromptu Splendor“, have finally brought their improv act to a theatre festival, and it’s truly gratifying to see theatre audiences realizing what this company does is brilliantly theatrical, though their techniques are rooted in comedy. The company members – Naomi Snieckus, Ron Pederson, and Matt Baram – research a playwright’s work to prepare for a show; on “opening night”, they ask the audience for a few random suggestions, then spontaneously create a one act play “inspired” by the featured playwright. I’ve seen them perform shows you’d swear were written by David Mamet or Judith Thompson, and it’s almost impossible to believe the three are creating as they go – but it’s 100% written before your eyes, and must be seen to be believed.

Last but certainly not least, my favourite show to date at the festival, “Melancholy Play“, is anything but. Ingrid Rae Doucet stars as a blonde depressive who finds that her maudlin demeanor causes people of both sexes and all walks of life to fall head over heels for her – until she overcomes her depression and realizes her new-found cheerfulness has the opposite effect. This absurd and delightful farce boasts a surfeit of comedic talent, and director Rosa Laborde, herself a Dora and Governor General Award nominated playwright, makes an assured directorial debut. While the script itself is by American playwright Sarah Ruhl, it’s an outstanding example of a independent Canadian company (Project Undertow) demonstrating great prowess in all aspects of theatrical production; the performances, live music, sets, and costumes are all note perfect.

Next up: a post about the stellar Summerworks Music Series (with lots of choice new MP3s and videos), followed by a final Summerworks post about the interactive treasures of the Summerwalks, and the Performance Gallery at the Gladstone Hotel.

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

Fringe Festival 2009 Reviews

July 10th, 2009 Steve 2 comments
Wickedly funny bouffon clown Red Bastard's show is one of my highest rated picks for this year's Toronto Fringe Festival so far.

Wickedly funny bouffon clown Red Bastard's show is one of my highest rated shows at this year's Toronto Fringe Festival.

(It became clear to me that it would be unfair to post more Fringe reviews so late after the festival ended, by late July.

I made a tactical error in my coverage of the Fringe this year; I spent the first half of the festival trying to finish the detailed preview posts I had planned, and I didn’t begin writing reviews until close to the end of the festival, when almost a week had passed since I’d started seeing them. I was playing catch-up on a huge backlog of work, and it wouldn’t have been fair to the shows to review them after so much time had lapsed.

Next year, I’ll ensure that any non-review coverage is finished by the time I start seeing shows; in the meantime, if anyone really wants to hear my impression of a particular show that wasn’t reviewed, email me directly at, and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. – Steve)

I haven’t posted to the website in the past few days, and it’s because I’ve been paralyzed by which post I should be focusing on in the few free hours I have when I’m not Fringing.  Should I focus on finishing the ridiculously overdue fourth and final “preview” of Fringe shows? The previous three took enormous amounts of work to write, because I found and hot-linked each show’s FB listing AND website (where possible), and also did enough research for each show (and there were 12 per post!) to zero in on its most salient attributes.

Should I focus on writing up the weekly update, and try and cram as much Fringe into it as possible? It’s slowly coming together, but those are pretty time intensive too. Besides, the only shows that aren’t Fringe related that are listed before Monday are the FREE outdoor concerts this weekend at the Harbourfront Centre’s Beats, Breaks, and Culture Festival:  Holy Fuck (9:30pm), Winter Gloves (8pm), and DD/MM/YYYY (11pm) on Friday, and Broken Social Scene (8pm) and Parallels (7:30pm) on Saturday. So I don’t feel too badly putting that off until Fringe wraps up Sunday evening.

Ultimately, the question people have asked the most is when the capsule reviews of the shows I’ve seen (24 and counting, 41 by the end of my schedule) will start going up. And truthfully, they’re the least labour intensive. Besides, many of the shows that were to be profiled in my final preview post (“Red Bastard“, “Bingo: The Show“, KidsFringe shows like “Rock Time 2009“, etc.), I’ve already seen, and will be reviewing (most quite positively).

So here’s what’s going to happen: I’ll update this post frequently over the next (and final) few days of Fringe with a handful of short reviews at a time. Keep checking back to see the new ones; I’ll be updating this post as often and as quickly as I can between Fringe shows, and late at night.

The cast of David Hein's (centre) "My Mother's Lesbian Jewish-Wiccan Wedding" have a big hit on their hands' the shows' been selected for the Best of Fringe since the second day of the Festival, and has had huge line-ups every day at Bread and Circus.

The cast of David Hein's (centre) "My Mother's Lesbian Jewish-Wiccan Wedding" have a big hit on their hands; the show's been selected for the Best of the Fringe since the second day of the Festival, and has had huge line-ups every day at Bread and Circus.

(For Fringe reviews, click on the “more”).

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

Fringe 2009 Preview #2: Ensemble Shows

July 2nd, 2009 Steve No comments

This, the second of my Fringe preview posts (the first post about Solo Shows also explains how these previews are categorized), is all about the shows that have the largest publicity teams (their cast), but the least likelihood of turning a profit once it’s all been divvied up; the larger ensemble shows.

Soo Garay and Clinton Walker in "Singularity of Being" by T. Berto, winner of the 2009 New Play Contest.

Soo Garay and Clinton Walker in "Singularity of Being" by T. Berto, winner of the 2009 New Play Contest.

Few of these shows bounce from festival to festival as the solo performers do so easily; in fact, most will only play this Fringe, and hope for a remount at a later date in Toronto based on the response. Consequently, these shows don’t usually come with awards or reviews from earlier Fringes. What they DO often boast are the individual accomplishments of their teams – their performers, their writer, thier direct, etc. – and it usually is the most reliable way to Fringe qualitatively, by first seeing those shows with a high “pedigree” of known theatre talent.

The shows listed below are all remarkable for the above reasons, or by simple dint of the fact that some aspect of the show has garnered them some advance buzz…

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Categories: Comedy, Improv, Theatre Tags:

Fringe 2009 Preview #1: Solo Shows

June 30th, 2009 Steve No comments

The Toronto Fringe Festival is almost here. it’s unquestionably the largest annual theatre festival in Toronto, with over 150 productions this year in 30 different venues, ranging from most of the mid-level theatres (The Factory, Passe Muraille, and Tarragon Theatres, for example) to the smaller performance spaces in town (like Bread and CIrcus and Comedy Bar), to the site specific pieces being performed at such varied places as The Bloor Cinema, Honest Ed’s loading dock,  and the 3rd floor bathroom at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre (that one, “Puck Bunny“, has VERY limited seating).

Jimmy Hogg just won the Outstanding Comedy Award at the 2009 Ottawa Fringe for his show "Like a Virgin", which he brings this week to Comedy Bar for its Toronto Fringe debut.

Jimmy Hogg just won the Outstanding Comedy Award at the 2009 Ottawa Fringe for his show "Like a Virgin", which he brings this week to Comedy Bar for its Toronto Fringe debut.

With so much to choose from, I’m going to be publishing 4 different preview pieces in the days leading up to the Fringe, to hopefully help you choose how to spend your time seeing as many Fringe shows as appeal to you. These picks will be divided into four categories; Solo Shows, Ensemble Shows, Musicals / Dance pieces, and a Miscellaneous category (perhaps the truest Fringe category) that includes performance art, stage combat, children’s theatre, bingo calling, and more.

There’ll be 6 shows per preview piece, with a little background given on why that show is worth checking out, and 6 more “honourable mention” shows listed (that I plan to see myself). By the end of the festival, I hope to have seen all of the shows mentioned in my previews (and a few more besides). I’ll be posting capsule reviews of each show I see daily on the website until the end of the Fringe.

First up is the most “common” variety of Fringe show, and the one that arguably has the widest range of quality; the solo show. One performer up there on the stage, often performing her or his own work. Done well, it makes for spellbinding theatre; done poorly, it can be an excruciating ordeal to sit through. The shows I’ve picked come from touring veterans who’ve amassed huge fan bases for their Fringe work, and also Fringe newbies (though they may have plenty of non-Fringe theatre experience), but I’ve seen work done in the past by most of the “stars” (or creators) of the shows listed below; enough to lead me to believe thatyou won’t wish you’d sat closer to the exit of the theatre at any point in the show.

A final note: some of the shows listed in the Musical / Dance and Miscellanous previews are solo works as well,  so if your favourite entertainer isn’t listed here, that doesn’t mean they won’t be given some props later in the week (and remember, I’ll be posting scads of reviews, too…)

Here we go… Read more…

Categories: Comedy, Improv, Theatre Tags:

Weekly Update 280 (May 22nd – May 29th, '09)

May 23rd, 2009 Steve 5 comments

In Music,

Michael Rubenfeld pounds the pulpit in "The Book of Judith"; the revival-styled play about his relationship with disabilty activist Judith Snow features a full choir singing music by Andrew Penner of the Sunparlour Players, and is part of the Over the Top Festival (unlike the OTT fest, the white tent will remain open for "services" until next weekend).

Michael Rubenfeld pounds the pulpit in "The Book of Judith"; the revival-styled play about his relationship with disabilty activist Judith Snow features a full choir singing music by Andrew Penner of the Sunparlour Players, and is part of the Over the Top Festival (unlike the OTT fest, the white tent will remain open for "services" until next weekend).

The Over the Top Festival, a three day festival showcasing music, film, and theatre at venues across town, runs to Saturday night. Musical highlights this Saturday include the final show by local rock quartet Five Blank Pages, who play an early show Saturday at the Mod Club, and a set by energetic pop purveyors Green Go. I might not have mentioned this prominently last week, but ALL of the music concerts associated with Over the Top are ALL AGES (though certain other facets of the festival, such as the film series and the testimonial play “The Book of Judith” might not be appropriate for children).

While Over the Top is the most age accessible festival, perhaps the most accessible annual music festival in Toronto, economically,  is The Pitter Patter Festival. Local promoter and musician Keith Hamilton’s festival, now in its fourth year, has gone entirely Pay What You Can. High profile acts playing the festival at more than a dozen venues in Toronto include Spiral Beach, The Diableros, Gravity Wave, and Megan Hamilton (who, along with Rock Plaza Central, is playing multiple gigs around town this week). Pitter Patter starts Thursday – check  for more details.

Other musically motivated shows this week include charity fundraisers on Sunday and Wednesday (both of which feature Peter Katz), a strong edition of Elvis Mondays at the Drake Hotel Underground, and a CD release next Friday by Broken Social Scene satellite outfit (and perhaps my personal favourite BSS-associated act) Apostle of Hustle, playing the Music Gallery.

(For Comedy, Theatre, Film, and the week’s picks, see below).

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Categories: GTS Update, Improv Tags:

"Blind Date"

March 5th, 2009 Steve No comments

I am slowly sussing out the limitations of how I post to this website (and, of course, my own limitations as a blogger, which are mainly a time constraint). This post’s subject, for instance, has already had rave reviews published in the Toronto Star and elsewhere, and consequentially, Rebecca Northan’sBlind Date” is just about sold out for this Friday and Saturday’s performances. Does this mean I should be posting with more advance notice for hot shows? I’ll get into this in more detail in tomorrow’s update, but for now, let’s focus on the winsome lady with the red nose pictured below…

Mimi (Rebecca Northan) won't be sitting alone for long; she has full houses to choose a date from until Saturday in "Blind Date" @ the Harbourfront Centre.

Tonight (Thursday) is your best shot at getting a ticket to see how this talented improviser and clown manages to create 90 minutes of captivating entertainment with just herself and a “date” chosen from the audience; a date whose only essential selection criteria is that he’s NOT an actor. There is some pre-selection, hence the 7pm doors for the 8pm show; in that first hour, potential dates are screened and vetted, while the audience enjoys a pre-show cocktail at the venue’s wine bar. But there’s no advance planning, and whichever volunteer Mimi pulls up to replace her no-show blind date will be going in with no idea of just how the “date” will turn out.

More about Mimi’s romantic escapades below the e-fold…) Read more…

"Bitch Salad"

March 3rd, 2009 Steve 1 comment

When examining the career trajectory of successful female stand-ups in North America, whether they be straight (Kathy Griffin), lesbian (Ellen Degeneres), or bi (Margaret Cho), one thing becomes clear; their careers got significant boosts, and continue to enjoy success, in large part because of the support of the gay community. When it comes to female stand-ups, gay men in particular are the taste-makers; their support can help female comics, who might be ignored by the traditional comedy club circuit, break through the glass ceiling of comedy.

The performers on tonight's "Bitch Salad".

The performers on tonight's "Bitch Salad".

So it’s especially heartening to see a show like Bitch Salad in Toronto: hosted and produced by a gay man, performed at Toronto’s most important venue for queer theatre (Buddies in Bad Times Theatre), and featuring all female comedy (or, in the case of The CHEETO Girls, all dressed-as-female comedy), regardless of their orientation.

Comedian Andrew Johnston, a finalist for the 2006 Tim Sims Award, and well known to MuchMusic viewers for his frequent appearances on “Video On Trial“, has been producing the (more or less) monthly “Bitch Salad” comedy showcases since July of 2007. Actor/comic/musician Chelsea Manders, who was on that first show’s bill as one half of the musical comedy duo The Black Roses (the Roses were also nominated for the 2006 Tim Sims as well), is headlining the bill tonight with her new duo with Ingrid Haas, Charity and Chastity.

The link to the Tim Sims awards is particularly strong with this month’s edition of Bitch Salad, “Freshly Tossed Bitches“. Johnston has managed, in a producing coup, to book ALL of this past year’s female nominees; stand up Zabrina Chevannes, character comic and improviser Alana Johston, and sketch comic Laura Cilevtiz, whose duo with fellow Sketchersons member Josh Saltzman, 7 Minutes in Heaven, was announced as the winners on Sunday night on the Comedy Network’s Cream of Comedy” TV special (which you can watch online here).

Laura Cilevitz (pictured) and Josh Saltzman of 7 Minutes in Heaven won the 2008 Tim Sims Encouragment award; the Cream of Comedy special announcing their win aired Sunday March 1st on the Comedy Network (keep your eyrs on the network schedule for repeat airings).

Laura Cilevitz's duo "7 Minutes in Heaven" won the 2008 Tim Sims Encouragment award.

In addition to all the funny femmes on the bill, drag group The Cheeto Girls will be entertaining, and I’d be mightily surprised if there isn’t music and dancing after the show. These showcases draw very healthy crowds of both comedy fans and Buddies regulars.

Oh, and a final note on Buddies, for the theatre crowd: although there’s still quite a few people understandably disappointed (myself included) at the cancellation of “Gay 4 Pay“, starring Dora-nominated actor Ben Clost, a real crowd pleaser has been announced to fill at least part of the empty space on the Buddies’ schedule; Summerworks hit “The Pastor Phelps Project” will be remounted for two nights, March 14th & 15th (EDIT: This remount has ALSO been cancelled – see comments below for a statement by Ecce Homo’s Artistic Director).

Bitch Salad: Freshly Tossed Bitches” takes over the Buddies in Bad Times Cabaret tonight, Tuesday March 3rd, at 8:30pm, $10.

Script Superheroes

February 28th, 2009 Steve No comments

It takes years of training to become an accomplished theatre practitioner. Whether working as an actor, director, or playwright, you need to learn how to properly analyze text, how to work with subtext in a script, and master all sorts of technical skills – choreography, stagecraft, etc.

Awww.. Kristen MacGregor (smoocher) and Alison Broverman (smoochee) are the facilitators of the Script Superheroes playwriting workshops, for kids aged 8-11.

Awww.. Kristen McGregor (smoocher) and Alison Broverman (smoochee) are the facilitators of the Script Superheroes playwriting workshops, for kids aged 8-11.

But the most important thing, arguably, that theatre practitioners need to learn is how to shed their inhibitions; to work without censoring yourself in rehearsal or while writing that first draft, to create spontaneously, to forget all the hard lessons life’s served up that have resulted in each of us forming a protective shell of reservedness. A shell that prevents us from embarrassing ourselves in public, from leaving ourselves open to ridicule and emotional trauma, but also limits our imagination. In short, theatre practitioners need to re-learn how to work creatively, in a manner most kids play in naturally.

The creators of the playwriting workshop “Script Superheroes” have decided to take an opposite approach to mining for theatrical gold; get ‘em young, before they lose that sense of inhibition, and have their imaginations overwritten with ideas of propriety. And the written work being generated by their students is very funny and insightful; the public will get a chance to hear firsthand this weekend at a FREE public performance (featuring adult, professional actors) at Comedy Bar.

Kate Hewlett is one of the actors performing scripts written by kids this Saturday February 28th @ Comedy Bar, 3pm.

Kate Hewlett is one of the actors performing scripts written by kids this Saturday February 28th @ Comedy Bar, 3pm.

Kristen McGregor is an independent producer of children’s television, a clown, bouffon, and puppetry performer, and an all round bundle of energy. She’s previously been mentioned on Gracing the Stage as Megan Fraser’s sunnier counterpart in sketch duo 100 & 50, and a collaborator on the “Bingo: the Show” series. Alison Broverman is an arts and culture writer, who’s written for both the National Post and the Toronto Star, and is a playwright of some note: her 2007 play “Expiry Dating” won the Toronto Fringe Festival’s Best New Play contest, was chosen as one of the Best of the Fringe at the end of the festival, and was subsequently remounted at the Diesel Playhouse.

The two women both obviously enjoy working with kids, and first began teaching their workshops at the Palmerston Library in October of 2007. While their original intention was to get kids hooked on theatre at an early age, they soon found themselves itching to share the work being produced in their classes; in Broverman’s words, the plays are “so much better than anything you’ve seen at CanStage this year”. So they’ve selected pieces written by four of their students to be performed by professional actors.

The adult participants include actress (TV’s “Stargate: Atlantis”, Unspun Theatre’s “Don’t Wake Me”) and playwright (“Humans Anonymous”, “The Swearing Jar”) Kate Hewlett (pictured at left); actor and improvisor Ron Pederson, whose company, The National Theatre of Canada, Broverman recently profiled in the Toronto Star for their weekly show “Impromptu Splendor“; Mark Andrada, a clown and actor who recently performed at the Gracing the Stage launch shows, on night one as one half of the improv duo 10,000 to Flight, and as the technician for night two at Comedy Bar; and Cadence Allen, a Halifax and NYC based actress who’s performed in several seasons with Shakespeare by the Sea.

I would characterize all of the above actors (save for Allen, who I’m not yet well enough acquainted with) as performers who are intimately in touch with their inner child (and this is meant, of course, as a compliment), so I’m really looking forward to seeing how they dig into material written by pre-teens.

Alison Broverman and Mark Andrada in a publicity shot for Broverman's 2007 Fringe hit "Expiry Dating".

Alison Broverman and Mark Andrada in a publicity shot for Broverman's 2007 Fringe hit "Expiry Dating".

(“Script Superheroes” takes place today, Saturday February 28th, at the Comedy Bar, 3pm, FREE.)

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