Studio 180 celebrates

Studio 180, whose productions have a strong social undercurrent, marks its 10th anniversary this year by returning to its roots.

The company revived The Normal Heart last fall at Buddies and is currently presenting another revival, Clybourne Park, as part of the Off-Mirvish series.

We still have strong memories of Studio 180’s first production, The Laramie Project, which also had several well-deserved remounts. The docudrama, based on the death of gay student Matthew Shepard in 1998 and interviews conducted by the Tectonic Theatre Project, is a vital piece of drama that never fails to touch an audience.

To mark its first decade, the troupe holds a staged reading of The Laramie Project, directed by Joel Greenberg and Mark McGrinder. It features over 50 artists who have worked with the company during the past 10 years, in productions of The Arab-Israeli Cookbook, Stuff Happens, The Overwhelming, Our Class and other shows.

The reading at the Panasonic Theatre is followed by a party, open to the public, at Fire on the East Side.

See listing.

Talking the Fringe

This summer marks another milestone, the 25th anniversary of the Toronto Fringe.

During the July festival, the Fringe regularly holds a series of Tent Talks, discussions helpful to emerging and established artists.

This year the free talks begin earlier, as a monthly, late-morning series, starting Wednesday (February 27). The first talk looks at creative funding, vital in a period when government arts funding is in decline.

Guest artists Philip Riccio (the Company Theatre), Roxanne Duncan (the Theatre Centre) and Elenna Mosoff ( and Acting Up Stage) will be part of the facilitated discussion.

Participants are invited to stay for the Little Lunchtime Office Concert in the Fringe office.

The event starts at 11 am at the Fringe Creation Lab, 720 Bathurst, suite 402. Just show up no reservation required. For more info, call 416-966-1062, ext 3.

See listing.

Playing black history

A couple of new theatre productions celebrate Black History Month, one a premiere and the other a look at two 20th-century black icons.

Nightmare Dream, conceived and directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu with text by Motion, looks at the experience of Simon, an African immigrant returning to Africa for his father’s funeral. Haunted by his disconnection from his traditional culture, Simon tries to sort out his past and his present.

The play, which evolved from the SummerWorks 2011 show Dancing To A White Boy Song, is now a site-specific production, staged in historic Campbell House. It opens tonight (Thursday, February 21).

The second work is Jeff Stetson’s The Meeting, about a fictitious encounter between Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X, who debate the means to achieve equality and civil rights. Presented by AfriCan Theatre Ensemble, the free production has a single performance Tuesday (February 26) at Hart House.

See listing.

Japanese visitors

Want a taste of Japanese theatre and dance without having to leave town?

As part of Spotlight Japan, Canadian Stage showcases the work of choreographer/dancer Hiroaki Umeda/S20 and playwright Oriza Hirata beginning Tuesday (February 26). Each presents two short works, and all four can be seen the same evening.

Umeda and S20 combine hip-hop and soundscape with video and lighting effects in their shows Haptic and Holistic Strata. Hirata’s two plays, Sayonara and I, Worker, are part of the Android/Robot – Human Theatre Project, a collaboration between Seinendan Theatre and Osaka University. Using live and mechanical performers, the pieces explore the intersection between human and artificial intelligence.

See listing.

Tempest tost

As part of Shakespeare in Action’s fundraising Shakespeare Challenge, the company stages a one-night production of The Tempest. The cast includes non-professional actors who are not only committed to performing but also to raising money for the troupe’s education and access programs for youth.

Among the actors are two realtors, a stock clerk, a vice-principal, an investment adviser and an ex-mayoral candidate, along with a group of aspiring thespians. Michael Kelly directs.

See listing.

Tootling Piper

The Ryerson Theatre School’s latest production, Colleen Murphy’s adaptation of the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, is a big piece that showcased a number of strong performances. The show closed last Thursday, February 14.

The Piper, with music by Don Horsburgh, is set in the contemporary town of Hameln, where the manipulative, glad-handing mayor (Howard Davis) does pretty much what he wants, encouraging the populace to indulge their personal appetites at the expense of the general community as long as he remains in power. The semi-human rats in this world, led by the loquacious Kingsley (Joshua Stodart), are treated as menials, though the behaviour of the humans is just as animalistic as that of the rodents.

Enter Piper (Chris Whidden), a wandering minstrel who immediately falls for Pink (Alanna Bale), the mayor’s daughter. Their love story isn’t a smooth one in a world where the ghosts of dead children haunt the mountains and social inequality is rampant.

Director Stewart Arnott shaped the sometimes unwieldy script well, giving it drive and nicely underplaying the sometimes cartoonish characters. Under musical director/composer Andrew Clemens, the cast frequently stepped into the role of musicians as well as actors.

Memorable in the cast were Hilary McCormack as Dot, the long-suffering mother of Tot (Alex Coté), a boy who disappears at the start of the play Dot’s fights with her husband, Ludwig (Jordan Campbell), were among the production’s sharpest scenes. Also worth noting were Whidden’s innocent, shy Piper and Bale’s Pink, most expressive in her musical numbers.

Best was Stodart’s quicksilver Kingsley, a Nietzsche-spouting, humanistic rat with a magical touch of poetry in his speech.

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