Get Off On The Right F.O.O.T

There is a small theatre that some of you who frequent the Toronto Fringe Festival may be familiar with called the Robert Gill Theatre. It is part of the University of Toronto, and it is news to people often that Hart House Theatre is not the University’s only theatre. I am here to tell you that not only does the Robert Gill Theatre exist, but it is also is the site of theatrical activity all year round!!
This week the Robert Gill Theatre, located within the Graduate Centre of Drama on the third floor of the Koffler Building (214 College Street), is the site of the 15th Annual Festival of Original Theatre (F.O.O.T) on from Thursday January 29th to Saturday January 31st.
Why should you go? I think this is a fair question. The practical theatre world and the academic theatre world very rarely collide, and often I feel like I must saw myself in half in order to even attempt to exist in both. As a playwright and theatre aficionado I read Stewart Lemoine and Daniel MacIvor plays, and I sift through http://www.playbill.com/. As a reviewer, I go to Tarragon, Soulpepper and the Canadian Stage Company. As an adult I read Steinbeck and Irving, as a person I root myself in Barrie and Seuss. And we can all relate, on some level, I think, to that.
As a scholar I read articles with titles like “Aller à la mer[1].” I read Artaud and Grotowski and far too much Schechner. However, the [ideal] aim of the graduate study of drama is to read and to learn in order to stimulate new ideas about how things could work practically on the stage. Ideally, it is about putting heady ideas on their feet, and seeing where that leads. My simple answer, why should you go to this Festival of Original Theatre, is that I think we need to bridge the gap. I think the theatre world and the academic world need to collide.
I think actors and directors and playwrights should go to a little piece of a festival of this sort, if only just to see what goes on in this strange academic world. It’s not about competition. It’s not about brain versus body or book versus experience. It’s about being able to use all the resources that you have available to you, and to immerse yourself in the thing you love. And if the thing you love is theatre, I guarantee you will find an interesting idea, or a kernel of one, at F.O.O.T. Maybe it will inspire a play, or a directing choice, or make you question something you once thought was set in stone. Or maybe it will just make you so grateful that you’re out there practically doing what you love, rather than in a stuffy classroom nitpicking it theoretically. And that is entirely fair too.
F.O.O.T always has a theme, and this year it is violence and its representation onstage. The keynote panel on Friday January 30th at 7:30 is sure to be an amazing discussion with the brilliant director and actor David Storch and one of Canada’s most successful playwrights Judith Thompson speaking about the Canadian Stage Company’s production of Palace of the End. I can’t think of two people more qualified to speak about staging violence than Storch, whose Artistic Directorship at the Canadian Stage Company last year also included The Pillowman and Misery, and Judith Thompson whose plays are sometimes parodied for their violence. It is also one of those rare experiences where you get to hear the thoughts, perceptions, and anecdotes from the people who created this piece of theatre. It doesn’t matter who you are in the theatre community, you are going to learn and grow from that sort of experience.
The Festival also includes performances, and if you’re interested in new work in development, I would suggest checking them out. Chris Jackman is a very creative young PhD candidate and he is staging Let Us Talk of Something Else: Violence and Death in the Music of Jacques Brel. Jessica Gardiner directs the first act of Dan McCarthy’s True Irish Hearts: both are on Saturday, January 31st at 8:00pm.
There are also readings from plays that have been written by playwrights within the Graduate Centre for Drama including The Curse of the Human Spirit by Ron East, Baby by Michelle Turner, and The Burning Shed by Leah Jane Esau from 4:30pm-6:30pm on Friday, January 30th. You should come by to support the development of Canadian theatre and to hear the work of some of the great playwrights of tomorrow.
Finally, F.O.O.T is an academic conference. Is it a theatre festival disguised as a conference, or a conference disguised as a theatre festival? I’m not sure. And I know the idea of a conference may immediately alienate some of my readers. It alienates me a little bit and I’m in academia. However, basically, students and other theatre experts from around the country are coming to the Robert Gill Theatre and reading some papers that they have written. Some of the titles sound fascinating. Seriously. There will be papers about violence in Shakespeare, about rape jokes in Restoration drama, about Sarah Kane, about The Duchess of Malfi, and ‘tis a pity she’s a whore, and violence as it is staged in film, and the Marquis de Sade (of course) and much, much, more.
The best part is that F.O.O.T is mostly all free, and it functions entirely on a drop-in basis. There is something going on at the Robert Gill Theatre from Thursday January 29th (2:00pm-10:30pm), Friday January 30th (12:30pm-10:30pm) and Saturday January 31st (10:00am-10:00pm). The only shows with admissions are Thursday and Saturday at 8pm, which are still very reasonable ($8.00 for the public, $5.00 for students). There is no obligation to stay for long periods of time. You have nothing to lose. And there is free food. It’s a win/win all around.
We are all in the theatre. Ergo, it can be argued that we are all geeks (embracing that term as one that denotes the highest achievement of theatrical brilliance, and used in the most endearing of ways). Let’s all be geeks together.

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