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Gracing the Stage(s) (UPDATED with photo links!)

February 24th, 2009 Steve 2 comments

(Photographer Skye Regan, who’s been doing a terrific job documenting Impromptu Splendor through her camera lens, has uploaded a treasure trove of pictures of the GTS launch show’s performers to her Flicker account. You can view Skye’s photos of the launch party shows, and more, here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/skyesthelimit/ . Saturday night was also captured on camera by Albert Lee, who will hopefully have his pictures available just as soon as he gets his website up and running. Enjoy! – Steve)

What a weekend it was. 2 nights, 2 venues, 24 acts (including hosts Iron Cobra and The Flirts), more than 8 hours of entertainment, minus two 20 minute intermissions, and a lot of very impressed audience members, many of whom left talking excitedly about acts they’d not known before these shows.

Julie Tepperman played anxious bride Rachel in Convergence's Theatre's side-splitting excerpt of their play "Yichud/Seclusion".

Julie Tepperman played anxious bride Rachel in Convergence's Theatre's side-splitting excerpt from their play "Yichud/Seclusion", Friday night at Bread and Circus (this and all subsequent photos in this post are by Skye Regan).

Both nights had two things in common:

- it seemed like every third person in the doors of the venues exclaimed “this place is great! Why haven’t I been here before?” So, between that and the great advance press the shows got, my tertiary goal of promoting the venues certainly seems to have been accomplished;

- The shows couldn’t have gone any better on stage, save for going a little long both nights (the shows both started around 9:20pm and wrapped up around 1:30am), and for an occasionally hair-raising mic at Night 1.

Maylee judges a "fierce" competition of pose-offs during the Sweatshop Hop.

Maylee judges a "fierce" competition of pose-offs during the Sweatshop Hop, Saturday at Comedy Bar.

Night One at Bread and Circus had a respectable audience turnout, and a great media and VIP turnout; in the audience were 3 staff writers from Torontoist, 2 from Blog T.O., reps from Plank Magazine, the Toronto Music Blog Collective, and Stillepost, and at least three music promoters. I was a bit of a stress case, worrying about off-stage issues, but it all worked out, off stage and on, chiefly due to the efforts of my volunteer coordinator Deborah Robinson and her crew behind the scenes, and on stage courtesy of stage technician Gordon Peck and his right hand man Craig Pickthorne (asking Deb and Gord for help with the shows was by far the smartest thing I did, logistically).

If Friday was a little touch and go at times (though that never showed on stage), Saturday’s Night Two at Comedy Bar went as smooth as silk. There’d been considerably more advance tickets sold for Saturday’s show, and the crowd turned up despite a pretty intense snowstorm. I was relaxed enough to get up there in my shirt and tie and do some ridiculously fun aerobics moves with headliners The Sweatshop Hop, and there were still enough people at Comedy Bar after 1am that the afterparty with The Bob Kerr Singers had an appreciative audience ( birthday boy Bob’s guests were Hawkmail, Adam Christie, Megan Fraser, and Levi Macdougall, who joined Maylee Todd and Ryan V. Hays as one of the elite few who performed both nights).

Below is a full roll call of the performers, in order of appearance (I encourage you to visit their online homes), and a few more choice photos of the night, all courtesy of crack snapshooter Skye Regan. Skye’s pics, and Albert Lees from Night 2, will be up online in a gallery format of some form or another very soon (I’ll update this post with the links when they’re posted) . Read more…

Laugh Sabbath Presents… Talent Show!

February 8th, 2009 Steve No comments

Sundays are usually, for me, the hardest night of the week to choose what to see. With theatre, I can always see a show another time – a matinee, later in the run, etc. Movies are even more flexible; while I’m a huge proponent of seeing a good film on the silver screen, it’s sometimes not until DVD that I get around to seeing films that I already expect I’ll enjoy. Music is a little tougher, though I can always console myself over a missed show that the band will usually play again soon if they’re local. But as comedy shows are typically unique, it’s see it or miss it, which leads to tough choices.

Comedian James Hartnett, normally more conservativley dressed and coiffed, hosts tonight's Talent Show at the Rivoli.

Comedian James Hartnett, normally more conservatively dressed and coiffed, hosts tonight's Talent Show at the Rivoli (photo by Joseph Fuda).

And Sundays are just packed, comedy wise, with no less than four quality weekly evening shows; improv shows Ghost Jail Theatre and Monkey Toast (which is bi-monthly, but still), sketch show Sunday Night Live, and variety series Laugh Sabbath (Thank God Bad Dog Theatre takes Sunday nights off).

I’ve previously mentioned Ghost Jail Theatre as being among Toronto’s premiere improv comedy shows in my Impromptu Splendor profile, and I’ve mentioned Comedy Bar’s flagship sketch show several times on this site, so Laugh Sabbath gets the pick as my first Sunday comedy profile.

Laugh Sabbath is a loose collective of Torontonian comics, mainly sketch and stand-up, who banded together several years ago to produce weekly Sunday shows at comedy institution The Rivoli. Patterned initially after the popular “Comedy And a…” series, which was a joint effort by sketch trio The Distractions (Levi Macdougall, Paul Schuck, and Tim Polley), sketch troupe Knock Knock(Who’s)There Comedy! and musician Bob Wiseman, the Laugh Sabbath series has gradually evolved into several distinct monthly shows. These monthly formats feature many of the collective’s members as hosts and guests, and also feature, as guests, some of the best comedy acts from around Toronto.

Those shows include “The Loner Show“, an “all solo no stand-up” character comic showcase hosted by Brian Barlow; “Let’s Get Hot!“, a loose talk show parody hosted by Chris Locke and featuring Aaron Eves on accordion; “The Hour of Power” a showcase series featuring longer sets from just a few choice guests, hosted by Sara Hennessey and Nick Flanagan; and tonight’s “Talent Show“, a variety show featuring stand-up, sketch, improv, video, and more, currently hosted by James Hartnett.

(More on tonight’s “Talent Show” after the break). Read more…

Ruby Coast / Williamson Playboys

February 5th, 2009 Steve No comments

(Ed. Note: I’ve fallen a bit behind on daily posts, due to the prep work for the launch parties. Yesterday’s planned post about the Rhubarb Festival should go up late tonight, and this post is just getting in under the wire. Busy busy busy! – Steve)

Ruby Coast at McMaster University's frosh week, Sept. '08.

Ruby Coast at McMaster University's frosh week, Sept. '08.

Tonight’s a tough call for music. I suppose it depends on whether you’re more into the indie rock or comedy scenes, but either way, you’ll be tapping your toes, if not participating far more vigourously.

At the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern, there’s a triple bill of hot indie bands playing, including Montreal’s current spastic dance rock stars in the making, Winter Gloves; Toronto’s jazz and electro party outfit Everything All the Time; and headliners Ruby Coast. These Aurora and Newmarket kids, barely out of high school, were the first act signed to local star promoter Lauren Schreiber’s Shameless label; and like the rest of the bands on the bill, they play music expressly designed to get you moving.

Ruby Coast – Laugh at Alice

Winter Gloves – Let Me Drive

From the very young and fresh faced, to the decrepit and wrinkled; if you’re looking for a good time, seated, you can rely on The Williamson Playboys. They may rock, but Rufus, at least, isn’t getting out of his chair unassisted.

“the world’s oldest father and son Cajun music duo” will be performing tonight on a double bill with The Human Statues. If you were to ask either act if they were musical comedy, they would deny it categorically; there’s a “novelty” stigma attached to any act saddled with that description. But both the Statues and the Playboys have both musical chops, and impeccable comic timing. The Statues have been compared to Flight of the Conchords, and the Playboys… well, there just isn’t anyone like The Playboys. They’re the original deal, as their live show makes abundantly clear.

The Williamson Playboys promo (A little dated, but then, everything about the Playboys is…)

The Williamson Playboys

The Williamson Playboys

Ruby Coast, Winter Gloves, and Everything All the Time play the Horseshoe Tavern Thurs. Feb. 5th, 9:30pm, $5; The Human Statues and The Williamson Playboys play Clinton’s Tavern, same night and time, $10. Oh, the humanity…

UPDATED: Gracing the Stage Launch Party Weekend!

February 5th, 2009 Steve 3 comments

It is with great pride and pleasure that I announce a weekend of top notch music, comedy, and theatre, to officially launch this website. Yes, we’ve been posting daily (or just about) since January 4th, but on February 20th and 21st, gracingthestage.ca will be announcing its presence in the real world in a BIG way, with two nights showcasing some of Toronto’s best music, comedy, and theatre artists, at two of the newest and most exciting performance spaces in the city.

JUST ANNOUNCED: two  new acts have been added to the bills, one per night! Friday, the music line-up will be bolstered by the addition of Tonka and Puma, AKA April and Dan from Hooded Fang! Saturday, the evening will continue well past midnight with performances from The Bob Kerr Singers, led by stand-up extraordinaire Bob Kerr. Bob, who will be celebrating his birthday that night, is well under way to meeting a New Years resolution to perform more than 100 stand up shows in 2009; the Bob Kerr Singers are, well, whoever BOB invites to share the stage with him!

Maylee Todd leads members of Toronto's indie rock community in a late night, drunken aerobicise rountine at the second ever Sweatshop Hop. In this picture are members of Entire Cities, Gravity Wave, Woodhands, Henri Faberge & The Adorables, the Bicycles, sketch troupe Bull Hooey, and more, including yours truly (photo by Joseph Fuda).

Maylee Todd leads members of Toronto's indie rock community in a late night, drunken aerobicise routine at the second ever Sweatshop Hop. In this picture are members of Entire Cities, Gravity Wave, Woodhands, Henri Faberge & The Adorables, the Bicycles, sketch troupe Bull Hooey, and more, including yours truly (photo by Joseph Fuda).

Here are the straight facts:

gracingthestage.ca Launch Party Night 1, w/ Entire Cities, The Williamson Playboys, Gravity Wave, Levi MacDougall, Maylee Todd, 10,000 to Flight, Convergence Theatre, Tonka and Puma, and Carnegie Hall, with hosts Iron Cobra, Friday Feb. 20th @ Bread & Circus (299 Augusta Ave), 8pm doors, 9pm showtime.

AND

gracingthestage.ca Launch Party Night 2, w/ Peter Katz, The Remainders, Maylee & Slippers’ Sweatshop Hop, Pat Thornton, Melissa D’Agostino, Makesi Arthur, Jehan Khoorshed, The Bob Kerr Singers, and Kathleen Phillips, with hosts The Flirts, Saturday Feb. 21st @ Comedy Bar (945 Bloor St. W.), 8pm doors, 9pm showtime.

Tickets for both nights are $12 in advance @ their respective venues and at record store Soundscapes (572 College St.), and $15 @ the door.

The venues (Bread and Circus, and Comedy Bar) were chosen for the fact that they are both artist-owned and operated; neither space is particularly large, and tickets will go FAST. Don’t wait long to pick yours up!

(Edit: the following tune is not produced by anyone affliated with Maylee & Slippers’ Sweatshop Hop, but it comes Maylee-approved – have a listen to get in the mood!)

Neon Neon (feat. Fat Lip and Yo Majesty!) – Sweatshop


Dragons of Comedy

February 3rd, 2009 Steve No comments

Tonight, at Rear View Mirror, a gaggle of very funny ladies (and a few token guys) will be celebrating two years of monthly comedy showcases.

In the local comedy scene, two years is a landmark that definitely deserves to be celebrated; like a marriage, most monthly and weekly shows hit snags at the two, five, and seven year marks. It’s even worse for a solo produced show; the workload that comes along with consistently booking quality acts, and promoting those acts, can be crippling, if not willingly shared.

Dawn Whitwell & Deborah Robinson, hosts of Dragons of Comedy.

Dawn Whitwell & Deborah Robinson, hosts of Dragons of Comedy.

It helps that Dragons of Comedy’s founders, Deborah Robinson and Dawn Whitwell, are genuinely likable, even-tempered, and friendly ladies.

Whitwell is an experienced stand-up, having performed at just about every venue in Toronto, from the tiniest holes in the wall, to large venues like Massey Hall for benefit fundraisers. An openly gay comic, she’s been practicing her craft for over a decade, long enough that she’s become a informal mentor to other female comics, like Mae Martin, a regular performer on the Dragons’ shows.

Robinson is a prolific producer, having collaborated on several long running shows, like the wildly popular “Wet and Sticky” late night blue revue with Darryl Dinn, and on “Brown Hair and Glasses” with “Bingo: The Show” founder Megan Fraser. Of late, Robinson, who’s a frequent guest on the Laugh Sabbath series (her husband Brian Barlow hosts “The Loner Show“), has also starred in a popular series of short comedy clips online, “Deborah Robinson’s Comic Strips“, produced in association with The Wrong Box filmmakers.

(More on tonight’s bill, including a “Deborah Robinson’s Comic Strips” video, after the jump.) Read more…

The Gents @ Bread & Circus

January 29th, 2009 Steve No comments
bc-lobby

The lobby of Bread & Circus at its new location, a few hours before the doors opened for the opening night party.

Is this really my first post about a show happening at Bread and Circus? B & C’s move north up Augusta from their old location on Baldwin (now known as Rear View Mirror), to the new one directly on Augusta (between Oxford and College), has increased the venue’s capacity considerably, and patrons going for a drink at the bar no longer become part of the show; in fact, the bar is in the lobby, the stage is well raised, with a proper lighting grid, and there’s even great vertical sightlines. The artists/owners/managers (Jackie English, Kiran Sachdev, & Asher Ettinger) left part of the half pipe that previously occupied the back room (from when the location was a skate shop) intact, so that the back section of the audience area is raised.

Since the move and subsequent re-launch in November, Bread and Circus has played host to a variety of acts and revues. With a flexible mandate that includes theatre, comedy, music, dance, and more, it’s become home to weekly acts like a musical series produced by pop band The Human Statues, the vaudeville revue “Carnegie Hall” (produced by The National Theatre of Canada, who are also behind “Impromptu Splendor“), and has already played host to short run shows like Boylan’s General Motors Circus, and Melissa D’Agostino’s sold out “A Very Lupe Christmas” (which subsequently helped earn D’Agostino a pick as one of Torontoist’s Heroes of 2008).

(More about this weekend’s big draw, the sketch supergroup “The Gents“, after the jump). Read more…

10,000 to Flight

January 21st, 2009 Steve No comments

I plan on doing an in-depth profile of PROJECTProject some time in the weeks to come, as for such a new show, it’s done a remarkable job in bringing different segments of the comedy community together, serving as a fertile training ground for some of the best of the new generation of improvisers and sketch comics working in Toronto (like Cream of Comedy nominee Alana Johnston), and helping some veteran performers add improv to their repertoire (like sketch comic and stand-up Pat Thornton, whose show “The Hot Boxdebuts next month on the Comedy Network).

10-000-to-flight-logo

But I’m going to shine a little spotlight on two of the founding members of PROJECTProject, Julie Dumais & Mark Andrada, since tonight they’ll be doing a rare set as their improv duo, 10,000 to Flight.

To quote myself – here’s what I wrote about them in a review of their 2007 Fringe show:

“10K2F is the utter chaos and lunacy that occurs when a technically polished performer who has mastered (and utilizes) all the “rules” of improv ( Julie Dumais) shares a stage with a performer who knows, but disdains (and takes great delight in breaking) most of said rules (Mark Andrada). The result is a gut-bursting show that routinely breaks the fourth wall, and can result in almost anything happening on stage.”

Julie Dumais & Mark Andrada

Julie Dumais & Mark Andrada

10,000 to Flight shows are very very difficult to describe, as, even more so than usual improv shows, they are never the same twice. Common elements do occur: the pair enjoy feeding their audience; they encourage the audience to leave their cell phones turned on (Andrada loves chatting with random, confused callers); and the laissez-faire attitude they take towards the notion of a “scene” starting or stopping (particularly Andrada) can be found as charming, or infuriating. They had several walkouts during their 2007 Fringe show, and some truly negative reviews. But most people who see a 10,000 to Flight show find themselves unable to resist the pair’s charms (their exceedingly positive press outweighs the exceedingly negative stuff), and the random occurrences the pair invite and encourage at their performances can end up as memorable highlights; at one performance at the Helen Gardiner Theatre, a unsuspecting pizza deliveryman named Farouk walked in on a crowd cheering his name, and called after leaving to thank the pair and the audience for making him feel so appreciated (you can read Dumais’ Fringe diary post about the night here).

Andrada and Dumais plan to relaunch their curated Manifesto series again soon, but for now, 10,000 to Flight sets remain a rare treat; other PROJECTProject highlights will happen this evening, too, like Adam Cawley’s (Game)Show, so tonight would certainly be a good night to check out the weekly Comedy Bar Wednesday showcase, if you’re rather see some improv over music.

Download Neko Case, save a kitty

January 21st, 2009 Steve 2 comments

I’d planned on writing about the Rainbow Market Square for today’s post, but since there are two well reviewed films opening there as of this weekend (“The Wrestler” and “Slumdog Millionaire“), I’m going to wait to do that properly next week.

Another thing I’m planning on doing? More posts, but shorties: the sort of posts that don’t require a (more) break. I’ll still be posting at least a couple of in-depth profile pieces every week, but they don’t all have to be as comprehensive as, say, my write-ups of Wombat Wednesdays (Maylee Todd and Gravity Wave are up tomorrow night!) or Impromptu Splendor (They’ve got guest Ted Dykstra for their Samuel Beckett show this Thursday!), though I’m awfully proud of those.

New Pornographer, Corn Sister, and all around cool cat Neko Case.

New Pornographer, Corn Sister, and all around cool cat Neko Case.

So, briefly; we’re a new blog, so we’ve still got plenty of bandwidth, and I’m hoping you and all your friends will start gobbling it up. Here’s how to start: Anti- Records is donating $5 to the Best Friends Animal Society for every blog that posts a free download of the first single from Neko Case’s new album, Middle Cyclone, between Jan. 14th and Feb. 4th.

I loves me some Neko; you can hear me whooping between songs if you listen closely to her album “The Tigers Have Spoken“, recorded live at Lee’s Palace and The Matador in 2004. And Neko loves Toronto; after all, her favourite backing band’s from here. Yes, the cash will go to an American animal lovers society, but Yankee cats are cute too, right? So, here’s the lovely Ms. Case’s newest – grab it until Feb. 4th.

Neko Case – People Got a Lotta Nerve

Oh, and here’s a kitty (a Torontonian one).

Pip, by Craz11 from the Flickr pool (http://www.flickr.com/photos/craz11/2651069335/)

Pip, by Craz11 from the Flickr pool (http://www.flickr.com/photos/craz11/2651069335/)

UPDATE 254 (Jan. 9th – Jan. 16th, 2009)

January 11th, 2009 Steve No comments

The first update posted to the site! A little late, but better that then never. Email steve@gracingthestage.ca to get on the weekly mailing list, if you aren’t already getting it.  Full listings follow below. Read more…

Impromptu Splendor

January 8th, 2009 Steve 4 comments

I mentioned several of the recurring shows at Comedy Bar in my post about Catch 23 earlier this week. Of all the shows I mentioned, though, Impromptu Splendor is an anomaly. It’s certainly funny enough to deserve a weekly slot at Comedy Bar, but it’s not actually a comedy show. It’s something uniquely different from the many improv shows in Toronto; it’s improvised theatre.

Naomi Snieckus, Ron Pederson, Kayla Lorette, and Matt Baram performing in the style of Henrik Ibsen.

(I explain my potentially contentious assertion after the break!) Read more…