The Toronto Independent Theatre Coalition (TITC)

Standard

I first had the idea for the Toronto Independent Theatre Coalition (TITC) 5 or 6 years ago. I had recently started up Bygone Theatre, and was watching what other indie groups were up to in an effort to figure out a growth strategy (aka what the hell I was doing). The first thing that became glaringly obvious was that it’s nearly impossible to grow a successful theatre business on your own. Especially in a city as expensive as Toronto.

Don’t get me wrong, theatre is first and foremost an art, but if you ignore the business side, the part that helps you find sponsors, partners and audience members, then no matter how good your art is, you’re not going to be around long enough for anyone to see it.

It’s nearly impossible to grow a successful theatre business on your own…(and) if you ignore the business side…you’re not going to be around long.

As indie artists, we are often stuck in a Catch 22 kind of hell;

You need advertising to bring in audience members, but you need audience members to make the money you need for advertising.

You need experience to get sponsors & grants, but you can’t get experience because you don’t have sponsors or grants to help you get started.

…and so it goes.

The theatre community is so small, but when it comes to companies connecting and supporting each other, suddenly there was all this distance between us.

While it’s hard to say just how many indie theatre groups there are in Toronto, I heard once that there are approximately 350 in the city. That’s huge. Yet there didn’t seem to be any kind of network set up to help those artists connect and help each other grow. The theatre community is so small, but when it comes to companies connecting and supporting each other, suddenly there was all this distance between us.

Why is that?

One of my least favourite parts of the theatre community is this strange belief some seem to have that we are somehow in competition with one another. It’s seldom if ever said out loud, but you feel it when friends with their own companies don’t bother to share your show info, when people hesitate to do a program ad swap, or one someone comes up with the great hashtag #indieunite and yet it never seems to be used by companies actually trying to support each other.

I have always wanted to change that. So, here is my official attempt.

The goal of the TITC is to provide a space for artists and companies to come together and do what we all should have been doing from the beginning; supporting each other. This can be by sharing resources like access to rehearsal space, props or costumes, or by doing labour swaps when there’s multiple companies without the funds to pay artists properly. In addition to that, each member company must agree to share, via all their social media networks, each other company’s show and audition info. If a company isn’t living up to their end of the deal, they get booted out. Only team players here.

So why make this an official thing? Why insist on the membership survey, track social media numbers and hold groups accountable? Why not just continue to share and work with those you already know?

The answer — strength in numbers.

The goal of the TITC is to provide a space for artists and companies to come together and do what we all should have been doing from the beginning; supporting each other

This is where we as indie artists can start to grow our companies as businesses. When you contact a potential sponsor, say a car dealership, chances are you are trying to convince them that supporting you will be good exposure. You tell them to think of it as a marketing investment — give us some money for our show, we give you a shout-out on our social media, all our followers see how great you are! Only, as an indie company you likely don’t have a huge following.

Currently, we have 9 Company Members at the TITC; that’s after about a week of applications being open. And to give you an idea of how much of a difference that can make for members already, note that, on average, each company has 646 Twitter followers, but combined? That number jumps to 5818. And we’re just getting started. Plus, that doesn’t include the following the TITC itself is now starting to grow…

We are stronger together.

Together, we have access to some of the best indie talent in the city.
Together, we have social media numbers and followers large enough to get sponsor’s attention.
Together, we can pool our funds to advertise a central hub where all the indie shows can be promoted on a large scale.

…and so it goes.

There are no membership fees required to join the TITC, all we want is your willingness and commitment to grow this community with us. It takes about 3 minutes to apply, and you can do so here. If you want to know more about what membership entails, you can find that here. And if you want to know what we have planned next, you can learn that here.

If you like the sound of the TITC, please take a moment to check out our website at www.thetitc.ca, to follow us on Instagram or Twitter, and to like us on Facebook. Share this post! Send links to your theatre friends! The more of us there are the more we can do.

#indieunite

To keep the TITC free we need some help raising funds for start-up costs. Want to help support Toronto’s indie theatre scene? Please visit our GoFundMe page and give if you can.

Toronto Fringe Festival Review: Anywhere

Standard
Anywhere - 2018 Toronto Fringe - Photo by Emily Dix

Cass Van Wyck and Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster in Anywhere at the 2018 Toronto Fringe.

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing the latest by Dora-nominated playwright Michael Ross Albert (Tough Jews, The Grass is Greenest at the Houston Astrodome): the 141 Collective’s production of Anywhere. In this timely new thriller, Liz (Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster), a young business woman away at a conference, returns home to her AirBnB to find her host, Joy (Cass Van Wyck), has been waiting up for her. What starts as a cordial and relatively typical conversation quickly unravels as we learn of their drunken encounter the previous night, one that leaves the two women fighting in a dark and increasingly frightening battle for control.

The show has a stellar cast – Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster epitomizes the uptight, bland businesswoman, one whose life has become so mundane that a bus tour conference and night partying with a stranger, her single-mom AirBnB host Joy, is clearly the most thrilling thing to happen to her in months. As the night wears on drinks are poured and secrets are revealed, leading to the unnerving realization that all the patience and polite conversation is a front, and the audience meets the real Liz, one who is cutting, competitive, and fiercely cynical. As Joy, the single-mother to a terminally ill 8-year-old, Cass Van Wyck elicits both sympathy and disgust, as her lifestyle choices make us question her suitability as a parent, and her motives in revealing herself to her guest make us question her morality. The clever writing combined with the subtle acting choices of both woman leave us wondering who the real victim is in this bizarre game of cat and mouse.

While I was impressed by the acting and writing, the directing by David Lafontaine unfortunately left something to be desired. Staging was too stationary, and often I felt as though the actors had been told to move just for something to do. We lost the full potential of some well-charged moments that were oddly staged upstage, obscured by the large and, I think, unnecessary dining table. Too often the actors, as well as the majority of the set pieces, were playing in the same plane, making it so that the movement was noticeably less dynamic than the words and emotion being presented onstage. I hope this show continues to have a life after Fringe, and that some changes are made to staging to allow it to see its full potential.

Cass Van Wyck Cass Van Wyck and Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster in "Anywhere" at the 2018 Toronto Fringe.

Photo by Emily Dix

**SPOILER ALERT**

Aside from the unimpressive staging, the only issue I found with this play was in the last minute and a half, where the sudden change in in momentum left me confused, rather than shaken, as I think was intended. After a fight between Liz and Joy becomes physical, Liz whacks Joy over the head with a large, heavy chessboard, knocking her to the ground and leaving her seemingly, for a moment, unconscious. This is how I expected the play to end; Joy, now seriously injured if not dead, is left lying in a pool of blood on the floor, while Liz, realizing there is no turning back from the culmination of strange events in what should have been the most mundane of weeks, takes the place she held at the start of the play. I imagined Liz would sit down and wait, knowing that what led them to this place didn’t matter, because regardless of who was right and who had “won” the battle, she had been the one to call “checkmate” and end the war. She had sealed her own fate. Instead, Joy suddenly leaps from the ground, now covered in blood, and stumbles forward confused, shrieking that she can’t see. The lights dim as Liz cradles Joy’s bleeding head her in her hands, telling her not to worry because her son Ethan is “right there”. I’m not sure what we’re meant to take away here – is Joy’s confusion the result of a head injury? Of the night’s drinking? Both? Is Liz’s sudden compassion out of fear? Guilt? Is Joy dying? After an hour of well-scripted, naturally building tension I found these last few moments questioned all of the night’s events, but not in a way that left me intrigued so much as just confused.

**END OF SPOILERS**

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this production. In a digital age where we can learn intimate details about a person before even meeting them, Anywhere is a necessary examination of the difference between intimacy and knowledge, and with a knock-out cast of rising indie stars Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster and Cass Van Wyck, this is surely one to add to your “must see” list.

E.

Toronto Fringe Festival Review: The Joy of Sax

Standard

What makes the Fringe Festival so fun is that you really never know what you’re going to get when you shuffle into the theatre at some odd time of day: I certainly wasn’t expecting what I saw this afternoon at The Joy of Sax, Flash in the Deadpan’s Toronto Fringe production. Described by the company as fitting into the “new genre of saxploitation comedy”, The Joy of Sax is a bizarre tale of a young man named Luke (Cam Parkes) who inherits his father’s saxophone and finds that he has a special gift – no, not a musical talent (much to my dismay, the only sounds to come out of the horn were loud, blasting screeches), but the inexplicable ability to arouse and lead to orgasm any who are within earshot of his “music”. Can’t say that it’s not original! Continue reading

REVIEW: The LOT’s “Dreamgirls”

Standard

There’s no denying Dreamgirls is a tough musical to pull off; large cast, flashy sets, tons of costume changes and vocal scores meant to mimic the great Diana Ross & the Supremes, make for a show that is difficult at best. The production currently playing at the Lower Ossington Theatre does an adequate job, but as I have found with all the shows I’ve seen at the LOT, it’s inconsistent, and while they have some top-notch talent, there are others that leave more than a little to be desired.

Bobby Daniels shines as Curtis Taylor Jr., the car salesman turned agent. His smooth voice is the strongest of the male cast, and for the most part, his acting was solid as well. I did question his intention in some of the more serious scenes where he came across more melodramatic than sincere, but overall I think his casting was a wise choice.

Kyle Brown stole the show as the soulful Jimmy Early. His voice wasn’t quite strong enough to hit some of the harder notes, but what he may have lacked in vocal strength he more than made up for with his electric stage presence. He had enviable dance skills, and made a thoroughly believable character, especially in his second-act solo piece; Jimmy does indeed “got soul”.

I was surprised by the casting of Krystle Chance as Effie White, since much is made of the character being grossly overweight, and yet Chance was a fit, curvy beauty in her sparkled gowns. Personally, I would have padded her out some, as it changes the story to have her being switched out of the lead role over her weight when the actress is barely any bigger than her co-stars. Still, the attitude and vocal range made her a good match, and she wowed in numbers like “One Night Only”.

Other notable mentions go to Amanda Mattar as Michelle, Effie’s replacement in the Dreams, who had a lovely voice and a really magnetic stage presence, and to Alinka Angelova as Lorrell, who really found her voice in the second act. My favourite number of the whole show? Stepping To The Bad Side, beautifully sung and choreographed; I got chills.

Overall, the directing by Saccha Dennis was simple but effective. The stage movements were slick and well choreographed to move through the rapidly changing scenes. However, it seemed as though not enough time was spent on the character work, something painfully obvious in scenes like “You Are My Dream”, where there was a total lack of chemistry.

Costuming a show of this size is quite a feat, but I would have liked to see some more authentic and better fitting costumes; the sparkling gowns were lovely, but didn’t seem to fit the actresses. Kudos to lighting designer Mikael Kangas for his beautiful work, he really effectively changed the look of each scene and moved things effortlessly from “stage lights” to “real lights”, without anything ever looking cheesy or fake; really well done. Sound designer Curtis Whittaker might want to re-check some of his levels, as I found much of the dialogue difficult to hear.

In the end, I’d recommend the show. It has its faults, but it’s a big musical with a lot of fun songs that will have you dancing in your seat. Great for a fun night out.

-E.

Toronto Fringe Festival Review: 32 Short Sketches About Bees

Standard

Clear Glass Productions’s performance of 32 Short Sketches About Bees is a fast-paced mash-up of ridiculous scenes all tied together through the incredibly simple (but surprisingly diverse) theme of “bees” (or “Bea”, “B”, “be”… you get the idea). Playing now at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Check out another one of my 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival reviews via Mooney on Theatre.

Toronto Fringe Festival Review: Caitlin & Eric Are Broken Up

Standard

“You can’t be that attractive and funny” — well, not unless you’re Caitlin Robson and Eric Miinch. Catch the comedic duo in Caitlin & Eric Are Broken Up, produced by Squeaky Wheel, and playing now at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Check out another one of my 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival reviews via Mooney on Theatre.

Toronto Fringe Festival Review: Murder In The Cottonwoods

Standard

When leaving the theatre after seeing Murder In The Cottonwoods, I had stuck in my head a line from Rocky Horror that I think perfectly summed up my experience of the show; “a mental mind-f*ck can be nice.” A bizarre tale of murder set in a town that could be 1950s middle America if it weren’t for the Seinfeld references, Murder In The Cottonwoods may be the strangest show you’ll see at this year’s Fringe Festival. If you are a fan of David Lynch, then this show is for you: it’s Twin Peaks meets Pleasantville in this surreal “romantic nightmare.” Check out another one of my 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival reviews via Mooney on Theatre.