Guess What Toronto!? It’s SUMMERWORKS

Summer in Toronto is a magical place for Canadian theatre. While many cities in this country consider themselves fortunate to have one summer theatre festival (often a branch of the Fringe circuit), Torontonians are treated to the Luminato Festival, the Toronto Fringe Festival, and then in August, the Summerworks Festival. The Summerworks Festival began in 1991 and since then has sought to support work that has a “clear artistic vision and that explores a specific theatrical aesthetic. It encourages risk, questions and creative exploration while insisting on accessibility, integrity and professionalism.” Like the Fringe Festival and the Luminato, Summerworks gives Torontonians the opportunity to see new, vibrant, dynamic works that may not be typically featured in a theatre’s season, but that has the potential to be vividly creative, and on the cutting edge of the aesthetics of theatre.
As I perused the Summerworks website longingly, I jotted down the names of a few shows that I would have been sure to happen upon were I in Toronto this week. I thought that I would jot these down with my own perceptions, opinions and knowledge for those who may find the narrowing down of choices particularly challenging. For more information on dates, times and venues for these shows and more check out this website!

1. benu

by d’bi.young
Directed by Natasha Mytnowych Presented by anitAFRIKA! Dub
Theatre Featuring d’bi.young
having recently given birth and now negotiating her own mortality, benu, a 30 year old womban contemplates life and death. her blood pressure mysteriously rises, like a phoenix, in a toronto hospital, triggering a series of strange physical and mental ailments that lead her down a path of fear, discovery, and renewal. Patron Warning: Mature Language Running time: 60 mins.

I would be eager to check this performance out, primarily because I have been eager to see a show directed by Natasha Mytonwych since her successful staging of The Russian Play by Hannah Moscovitch at Summerworks last year. I have heard extraordinary things about her talent as a director and tend to connect to the stories that she often chooses to stage.

2. Fear and Misery of the Third Reich
by Bertolt Brecht
Presented by Deus XM Directed by Esther Jun Featuring: Marjorie Chan, Edwige Jean-Pierre, Ash Knight, Lisa Li, John Ng, Ben Sanders & Hillary Thomson.
“Fear & Misery” is a collection of scenes depicting life in Germany between 1935- 38. The stories are a harsh and heart-breaking look into a terrorized population’s collective psyche. This is not a history lesson. But there is Lederhosen (or possibly a dirndl) and an accordion.
Running time: 60 mins.

I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a Brecht play. Why would you?

3. Impromptu Splendor by The company
Presented by The National Theatre of the World. Directed by The company. Featuring Matt Baram, Naomi Snieckus, Ron Pederson. The improvised play lives! Three notorious crowd pleasers and wizards of instant theatre : Matt Baram (Second City alumnus and nominated for a 2009 Canadian Comedy Award-Best male improviser), Ron Pederson (MadTV and nominated for a 2009 Jessie Award and a 2009 Sterling Award-Best actor), and Naomi Snieckus (Second City alumnus and nominated for a 2009 Canadian Comedy Award-Best female improviser) unite as a crack team to improvise a new one-act play in the style of a different famous playwright every time. Fresh, artful and provoking spectacle brought to life in the fashion of a cunning new one-act play. It’s the most exciting opening and closing of a play you’ll ever see! “The show is so spot-on it’s hard to believe they just made it all up”. (Toronto Star)

Three of Toronto’s biggest overachievers create six (yes, that’s right, six) brand new plays this Summerworks right before the eyes of their dazzled audience members. Yes, Impromptu Splendor improvises the sort of plays that New Yorkers pay hundreds of dollars to see; and each play is a singular marvel, never to be recreated or recycled. All the glamour and the prestige of the theatre comes at you in a spontaneous cascade of energy, wit and stories that will make you laugh with your heart. Schedule your time wisely, this is a show you’ll want to catch more than once.

4. Montparnasse by Maev Beaty, Erin Shields
Director/Dramaturg: Andrea Donaldson. Presented by Sheep No Wool Theatre CompanySound Designer/Composer: Anita BeatySet/Costume Designer: Jung-Hye Kim. Featuring: Maev Beaty, Erin Shields
Montparnasse is an erotic submersion into the world of artist models in Paris in the 1920s. Peek behind the canvas and discover a rich culture of voyeurism, paint, sexual autonomy, nakedness, identity, anonymity, jealousy, ego, cruelty and the Divine Muse.
Patron Warning: Mature Language. Nudity – lots of nudity, total female nudity. Yup. Running time: 55 mins.

Maev Beaty is a Canadian wonder. Put her name on a poster and I am there with shining eyes. I saw her in Judith Thompson’s Palace of the End at the Canadian Stage Company in 2008 and her haunting portrayal of Lynndie England was one of the best things I have ever seen onstage. She is a breathtaking performer. Also, have you read this play’s description? Need I say any more?

5. Rabbit Rabbit by Amy Lee Lavoie
Directed by Ron Klappholz Presented by Rather Undisciplined Productions. Set and Costume Designer: Nancy Perrin. Stage Manager: Kate Sandeson. Featuring: Katie Swift and Alex McCooeye. Larry, a pedophilic birthday clown, is on a “date” with Britney, a sixteen year old prostitute. If Britney gets another shitty score from a client, her pimp will throw her out. Larry wants his usual girl, twelve-year-old Sabrina, but she’s busy. It is D-Day in this motel room.
Patron Warning: Mature Subject matter Running time: 55 mins.

This play sounds like a mixture of Sarah Kane and Lolita, which instantly intrigues me. I also know Katie Swift, a marvelous actor originally from New Brunswick who has always seemed to have a penchant for the gritty, oddities of the theatre and who I know to create immensely captivating and intricate characters with biting dark humor and a distinct air of play. I can only assume with pedophilic birthday clowns and prostitutes, this play has all the ingredients that make Swift such a unique performer.

6. The Ecstasy of Mother Teresa or Agnes Bojaxhui Superstar by Alistair Newton
Directed by Alistair Newton. Presented by Ecce Homo. Musical Director: Dan Rutzen. Composer: Reza Jacobs. Choreographers: Nisha Ahuja & Kaitlyn Regehr. Production Designer: Matt Jackson. Featuring: Kaitlyn Regehr, Nisha Ahuja, Andrew Bathory, Matthew Boden, Matt Eger, Jason Gaignard, Andrea Kwan, Michelle Langille, Chy Ryan Spain
How did an Albanian nun named Agnes Bojaxhiu become Mother Teresa, Catholic fundamentalist superstar? Was Mother T a friend to the poor or of poverty? Ecce Homo assumes the missionary position in the search for uncomfortable questions and complicated answers; an expressionist Pageant Play live from the slums of Calcutta.
Patron Warning: NudityRunning time: 60 mins.

This play’s description contains one single line which would guarantee my attendance were I in Toronto: “composer: Reza Jacobs.” Jacobs writes the loveliest songs about all the kookiness of the human experience. His music continually impresses and awes me, and I would jump at the opportunity to hear one of his original scores under any circumstances. However, this play is an expressionist Pageant Play, if that doesn’t pique your interest, I don’t know what will!

7. The Middle Place by Andrew Kushnir
Directed by Alan Dilworth. Presented by Project: Humanity. Stage Manager: Andrea Schurman. Featuring: Kevin Walker, Antonio Cayonne, Jessica Greenberg, Akosua Amo-Adem, Paul Dunn
“This is a really difficult house.” It’s where people like Kaali and Nevaeh live, but it’s not home. Constructed from interviews conducted at a Rexdale youth shelter, THE MIDDLE PLACE has five actors bring to the stage the extraordinary voices of 16 homeless youth, 3 tireless caseworkers and one outsider.
Patron Warning: Some strong language. Verbatim. Running time: 60 mins.

I have recently read a lot of Anna Deavere Smith plays, which are all verbatim theatre, and they are richly captivating and present such a challenge for the performer(s) who are tackling the creation of a character so strongly tied to a person who really exists. In this way, the performers use their experiences with the real people sharing the story, or their words, and inhabit them both like Kristen Thomson uses her masks in I, Claudia. This provides the potential for incredible theatre.

8. Underneath by Andrew Zadel
Directed by Simon Rice. Presented by Praxis Theatre. Producers: Margaret Evans & Michael Wheeler. Production Manager: Meredith ScottSet and Costume Design: Scott Penner. Featuring: John Gordon, Christine Horne, Pip Dwyer, Catherine Rainville, Jan Michael Weir, Paul Hardy
In postwar Kosovo, international forensic investigators exhume and identify the remains of missing persons. Yet underneath this noble cause is a world of lust, ambition, and secret agendas, as United Nations experts scramble to advance their careers. A gritty new play by Andrew Zadel, based on his experiences in Yugoslavia.
Patron Warning: Mature Language and sexual situations. Running time: 60 mins.

Christine Horne performs and Toronto goes crazy. She becomes the source of many a Facebook status and continual accolades from performers and audience members alike. If you haven’t seen her perform (like me), you should jump at the chance or you’ll feel sadly out of the loop when her talent is all that your friends wish to discuss.

Happy Summerworks, Toronto! Allow me to live vicariously through you! Also, if you enjoyed a particular performance, especially one of the aforementioned, do not hestitate to make a comment of your own below this post to stimulate conversations with other theatre goers and theatre champions

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