The Toronto Independent Theatre Coalition (TITC)

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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.

REVIEW: The LOT’s “Dreamgirls”

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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

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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

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“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: Adult Entertainment

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Sex, violence and morality battle it out onstage in George F. Walker’s Adult Entertainment, produced by Triple ByPass Productions 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: Fastcar Man of Action

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Want to catch a show that completely encompasses the spirit of Fringe? Don’t let the prospect of a one-man show with audience participation scare you off;  Fastcar: Man of Action (produced by blind fool productions) is a delightful trip through the absurd, playing now at the Toronto Fringe Festival . Learn more via my Mooney on Theatre review.

 

REVIEW: Dan’s Inferno

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You may have seen versions of Dante’s Inferno before, but I doubt you’ve seen one with a talking toilet, and while we’ve all seen plays about the regrets we have at the end of life, chances are you haven’t seen one as strangely funny and sincerely touching as Dan’s Inferno, playing now as part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe.

The show comes from the minds of Toronto’s Fratwurst comedy troupe, and features the talents of Eric Miinch (Fratwurst), Josh Murray (Fratwurst, Second City Education Company), Evan Arppe (Fratwurst, Host of The Watchllist on CHCH), Natalie Metcalfe (2 Humans, CBC-True Dating Stories), Lance Byrd (The Weaker Vessels), Peyton LeBarr, (Twelfe Night- Ale House Theatre) and Chris Murray (Chaisse Gallerie- Red One Collective). It’s a story about Dan (Miinch), a young man who wasted his life on Earth but finds purpose in what comes after. Sound typical? A bit. But the twisted collection of characters (trolls, the aforementioned talking toilet, aptly named John) will keep you guessing and, frequently, laughing til it hurts.

The overall structure of the play is a little odd; at times it feels like sketch comedy, at times it’s a mini musical, and thrown together are cleverly crafted typical theatre moments (artistic transitions, moments of sweet sincerity) mixed in with absolutely absurd, almost improvised (sounding) comedy. As a whole it may require a little further polishing, but I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Highlights include some far-too-relatable songs by wannabe actress, Beatrice (Metcalfe); Purgatory babies soaring through the air and subsequently being torn limb-from-limb by Dan, desperate to go to Hell (Miinch); and a wonderfully timed lighting cue in which everything pauses so that a man and his dog can have a final goodbye before a second, sudden death (kudos to stage manager Maddox Campbell on the timing there).

I think this is the type of show best taken as-is and enjoyed. If I give it a lot of thought, I could pick out some issues, but the fact of it is I laughed through most of it and left with a smile on my face, something unfortunately difficult to do with many sketch shows, not to mention Fringe productions.

Verdict: Very weird, very fun – check it out.
Rating: 4/5 stars

Check out my Fringe Picks post for showtimes and more details.

A Review of the LOT’s “Buddy Holly Story”

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Nigel Irwin as Buddy Holly, Thomas James Finn as the Big Bopper and Mike Buchanan as Richie Valens -photo Seanna Kennedy.

Nigel Irwin as Buddy Holly, Thomas James Finn as the Big Bopper and Mike Buchanan as Richie Valens – photo Seanna Kennedy.

The challenge of mounting any Jukebox Musical is that you are taking songs people know and love and putting them in the hands of performers who, regardless of how talented they are, are unlikely to live up to the image we have in our minds of what they should be. When you have the added challenge of working with performers who simply aren’t as talented as singers they’re portraying you end up with a show that is unfortunately lackluster. Sadly, this was the case for the majority of the performers in the Lower Ossington Theatre production of The Buddy Holly Story, however, a few standout moments were powerful enough to still make for an overall enjoyable evening.

…a show that is unfortunately lackluster…however, a few standout moments were powerful enough to still make for an overall enjoyable evening.

Alan Kinsella directed the show along with musical director Mike Ross. While I question some of the casting choices, the staging was effective and Mikael Kangas lighting and set design (Michael Galloro also worked on set) was simple but bold and engaging. They made excellent use of a small stage and stationary set, creating a series of unique scenes primarily through the use of lights. As always, I’m going to be critical of the design; I found the costumes sub-par especially the women’s, and was surprised to see such a big name (Mark Boots) listed as “Wig Consultant” when I thought the wigs looked cheap and inaccurate.

…excellent use of a small stage and stationary set, creating a series of unique scenes primarily through the use of lights.

Any performance that requires actors put on accents risks sounding cheesy or inauthentic; with the exception of Thomas Finn, whose Hi-Pockets & Big Bopper were spot on, this was a common issue for the show. As the title character, Nigel Irwin’s Buddy lacked the charm, charisma and authenticity the show required. In fact, the majority of the cast was lacking in energy, and moments like the fight scene between The Crickets and a music producer felt very forced. Similarly, numbers like “Party” that should have had the audience on their feet fell flat due to pitchy vocals and a dull performance.

Nigel Irwin’s Buddy lacked the charm, charisma and authenticity the show required.

Despite being too long and dragging much more than the first act (a fault of the writing, not performance), the second act was what made the show. Easily the biggest talent of the performance was Thomas Finn as The Big Bopper. Bursting onstage with all of the Bopper’s larger-than-life presence, Finn steals the show with on-the-spot vocals and contagious energy. You could feel the audience wake up during “Chantilly Lace”, and even less electric performances were given a much needed push with the help of Finn’s great stage presence.

Easily the biggest talent of the performance was Thomas Finn as The Big Bopper…Finn steals the show.

One number did stand out as a good Holly impersonation; “Guess It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”. That song has always been one of my favourites and I was happy to hear Irwin find his voice and channel Buddy beautifully in that song. Maybe some more work will add some consistency to his performance.

All in all the production has a definite amateurish feel, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an enjoyable night out. Upbeat, lovable music and a few stand out moments make it a fun time for anyone with a love of the oldies. For tickets and more information, check out www.lowerossingtontheatre.com.

-E.

Theatre 20’s 2015/2016 Season

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Standing with Jamieson Child, Matt McGrath & Michael Zahorak.

Monday June 8th was the Theatre 20 Season Launch Party, held at the snazzy Vagabondo Italian Ristorante + Lounge downtown. The event was a blast & well worth all the hard work. It was great to see a mix of theatre supporters, young & old, as well as industry members of all levels, from friends of mine just starting out to actors like T20 Founding Artist Brent Carver, who is not only a Tony winner but also the recipient of the prestigious Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for lifetime achievement; the highest honour in the performing arts.

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The place was packed!

The night consisted of a lot of fancy food, schmoozing & mingling, and of course our season announcement. There were preview performances from each of the shows we have in development, as well as some numbers by former Emerging Artists. Nora McLellan performed a beautiful piece from The End that we are presenting in November, and David Keeley sang a Leonard Cohen song as an introduction to this season’s production of Chelsea Hotel.

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Happy to see Kenton Blythe & Matt McGrath, neither of whom I’d seen in a while, and to meet Kenton’s friend, fellow producer Conor Fitzgerald!

I don’t usually do well in crowds, or meeting new people, but the party was very relaxed and, maybe because it was a room full of artists and we were there to celebrate, everyone was in high spirits and very easy to talk to. I definitely need to work on my name-memorizing skills, but it was nice to be able to do more than the usual “nice to meet you” and to actually engage with some people and hear about all the awesome projects happening in the city this summer and over the next year.

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I had met Colleen at the Musical Theatre Grant Writing workshop that JJ and I attended months back – great to hear a piece of hers. And Chris Weber (board member & YPT fundraising genius) proved to be a great way to meet people, as he basically knows everyone.

I’ll write much more about each of these as we get into them more (at the moment, I’ve basically just been working on booking spaces for workshops, rehearsals & performances, so I don’t have much to say on the artistic side of things), but for now here’s a summary of our various development projects;

Musical Works
Co-Produced with Musical Works in Concert
Rehearsal, Dramaturgy, Workshop:  August 18-23, 2015
Performances:  August 20-23, 2015 – Factory Theatre, Toronto

The celebration of new Canadian musicals in concert will run August 20-23, 2015. Stay tuned for more details.

The End
Based on the poems of Wilfred Owen and letters to his mother during the Great War
Conceived and Written by Peter Hinton
Music by Leslie Arden, Linda Catlin Smith, Allen Cole, Veda Hille, Alice Ping Yee Ho, Derek Holman, John Millard, David Sereda, Rodney Sharman, David Warrack
Co-produced with Theatres of War
Showcase Presentation:  November 11, 2015 – Tarragon Theatre, Toronto
This show centres on the letters written by Wilfred Owen to his mother during the Great War, as well as Owen’s poetry. A showcase presentation will be held at the Tarragon Theatre on Rememberance Day, 2015.

A Misfortune
Book by Kevin Michael Shea, Music by Scott Christian
Lyrics by Wade Bogert-O’Brien & Kevin Michael Shea
Co-produced with the Confederation Centre
Workshop:  July 14 – August 7, 2015
Showcase Presentation:  August 7, 2015 – Confederation Centre, Charlottetown

A married woman and a young lawyer walk through the woods. Their friendship has reached an impasse. Previously featured at the Toronto Next Stage Festival, this adaptation of an Anton Chekov story is described as “a romantic, bittersweet musical about small moments and momentous decisions.”

The Secret Life of Dr. James Miranda Barry
Based on the book by Ivan & Anne Kronenfeld
Book by Jen Shuber, Music & Lyrics by Nicky Phillips
Development:  September, 2015 – April, 2016
A musical centring around the life of Dr. James Miranda Barry, a 19th century surgeon who lived his adult life as male, but was discerned as female upon his death.
JJ hits it off with David Keeley's wife, Laura Lynne Burton

JJ hits it off with David Keeley’s wife, Laura Lynne Burton

We’ve also got one major production, Chelsea Hotel;

Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen
Directed and Conceived by Tracey Power
Musical Direction and Arrangements by Steven Charles
A Firehall Arts Centre production in association with Theatre Passe Muraille
February 3-21, 2016 – Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto
The show, which had its world premiere in 2012 at Vancouver’s Firehall Arts Centre, features the music of Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. In it, six performers play seventeen different instruments in a tribute to the musical legend.
My Bygone buddy, Matt McGrath

My Bygone buddy, Matt McGrath

Then of course there are the training programs, the Conservatory & Composium, now both under the heading of “Academy”. Trimaine, our admin assistant, is spending the day calling & arranging audition times for the Conservatory, and I’m very happy to hear the names of a lot of talented people I know. Hopefully I’ll get to work with some of them this year.

So that’s about it! As I said, many more details, but I’ll get to those in time for the shows. For now my focus is bookings & fundraising here with T20, and then rehearsals & fundraising for Bygone; Kill Sister, Kill! is currently in the middle of auditions. Basically, I’m gonna spend the summer very broke, very tired, very busy & very fulfilled 🙂

-E.

A Disappointingly Small Show for a Big Company: A Review of Starvox’s “Cannibal: The Musical”

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Before the curtain had even risen, I knew I was in for a mediocre-at-best production; when a theatre the size of the Panasonic doesn’t even have show programs, you get the feeling they really aren’t putting their all into it. Then, when the show starts late (after a couple false starts where the terrible pre-show music died down, and we were all sure the show was finally going to begin) you start to wonder what it is you’re paying all that money for (the Mirvish name doesn’t seem to be on synonymous with quality, just with high prices **EDIT: a helpful commenter just pointed out that this was actually produced by Starvox, but I’m still going to stick by this comment!).

I generally try to keep my reviews positive, so I’ll keep this one short; the book & score is, as I suspected, mediocre. The same type of jokes you know to expect from South Park and Book of Mormon creator Trey Parker, but considerably less sharp and clever than his usual work; it’s like he pulled out all the ‘B’ material that didn’t make it into those shows, and then mixed in a few references to random things like vintage video games and Disney’s Frozen. There isn’t much to the story, and there is even less to the characters. The only song that stayed in my head for more than a minute after it played was “Eat Me” (I’m assuming that’s the title, having difficulty finding the stage musical’s song list online). Admittedly, that one was sort of catchy.

The directing took what could have been a dumb but fun show and made it into something almost painful to watch. Bizarre choices were made with elements like the blood and gore; why choose to have the squirting blood pack in the opening number only to ignore it for the rest of the show? Going from decent effects to Halloween-quality props & gore later on just makes you think they didn’t want to spend the money, or put in the effort to clean up stage blood. The costumes were also disappointing in that there were several malfunctions; wigs falling off (more than once), a nun with a long slit up the back of her dress – it just felt like an amateur college show.

Despite the odds being stacked against them, the performers did do an incredible job. Many of the jokes fell flat, but the awkward delivery I would blame more on the directing than the actors, as it seemed to be consistent across the board. Like it was being put together by someone who had no understanding of the type of delivery needed to pull off Parker’s style of comedy. Still, they had a great physical presence, a couple very strong dancers, and the actors playing Parker (Liam Tobin) & Polly (Elicia MacKenzie) were fantastic singers. MacKenzie especially stood out in her various bit parts. When playing the angel in the “Eat Me” number she showed off some amazing vocals, and as the old woman she displayed some strong physical comedy skills. It should also be noted that the actors all played multiple roles, sometimes with little time in between; switching characters and costumes quickly is a difficult job, but they all pulled it off.

Overall, I’m sorry to say, the show is a waste of time and money. I was really surprised and disappointed to see something this poorly done at a big theatre, but I guess it goes to show that you can’t judge a company by its budget, be it big or small. Hopefully the actors will all be cast in something of this scale, but higher quality, again soon; they would be worth watching again.

-E.