18 stage artists to watch in the first half of 2018

Its going to be hard to compete with the offstage drama that opened the year and whose effects will be.

Its going to be hard to compete with the offstage drama that opened the year and whose effects will be felt for years to come. But the following artists listed here in alphabetical order could restore your faith in the magic of theatre, dance and comedy.

What: Directing a remount of Michael Healeys play The Drawer Boy, at the theatre where it debuted 19 years ago, Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson), February 28 to March 25. 416-504-7529, passemuraille.ca

Why: Healeys play about how a young actors theatre experiment shakes up the lives of two older farmers is considered a Canadian classic. And what better way to test its endurance than with a non-traditionally cast production? Aquino, who as artistic director of Factory has overseen successful, diverse remounts of other CanCon classics, should find layers of new meaning in this production, which stars Craig Lauzon as the memory-challenged Angus, Andrew Moodie as his tough-minded friend Morgan and Graham Conway as the idealistic actor Miles.

Not only are Lauzon and Moodie Indigenous and Black, respectively, but theyre younger than those characters are usually cast. To get you in the mood, TPM hosts an advance screening of the new Drawer Boy film on February 12, and a special gala performance marking the companys 50th anniversary happens on March 8.

What: Unpacking classical Indian dance for a program called Decoding Bharatanatyam (February 14 to 17 The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance, novadance.ca). Shes also programmed the Discover Dance free lunchtime series, which continues through April at the Sony Centre and Toronto Centre for the Arts, and will participate in Kaeja dDances Solo Dance Xchange (February 1 to 3 Streetcar Crowsnest, kaeja.org). And watch for a series of pop-up installation performances by Bhattacharya starting in March as part of her new collaboration with the Theatre Centre.

Why: Bhattacharyas performance and choreographic practice has impeccable roots in classical Indian dance, but shes dedicated a career to reframing its intricate gestural language in an effort to increase accessibility. In addition to making work and performing, Bhattacharya is currently president of the Toronto Arts Council and active in local arts advocacy, especially conversations around diversity in dance.

What: Actor in Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Krons Fun Home, at the CAA Theatre (651 Yonge), April 13 to May 6. mirvish.com.

Why: Stratford veteran Buliung is an expert at playing characters whose tough exterior hides lots beneath it. So he should be superb as a dad with secrets in this complex, time-shifting musical adaptation of Alison Bechdels graphic novel about a lesbian cartoonist trying to understand her late father. Robert McQueen, who did such great work on Musical Stage Companys last show, Life After, directs a strong cast that includes Cynthia Dale, Sara Farb, Laura Condlln and the precocious Hannah Levinson, who was extraordinary as Matilda.

What: Actor in the world premiere of a new rock n roll reworking of Hamlet, on now at the Tarragon (30 Bridgman), to February 11. 416-531-1827.

Why: The fierce Indigenous actor does so much film and TV most recently in the excellent Netflix series Godless that theatregoers should jump at the opportunity to see her live. In this reimagined take on the Bards tragedy, she plays Gertrude to Nigel Shawn Williamss Claudius and Noah Reids Hamlet. Directed by Richard Rose, this is being called a rock and roll concert of Shakespeares play, with compositions by Thomas Ryder Payne. So whether Cardinal and co. are singing or speaking their lines remains to be seen, but count on the intense, grounded Cardinal to soar either way.

What: Choreographer of a new solo for the iconic Peggy Baker as part of the Map By Years program at the Theatre Centre (February 21 to 25). theatrecentre.org.

Why: Both Chase and Baker work in the intersections of storytelling, mathematics and movement in surprising and profound ways. A former Toronto resident now living on Hornby Island, BC, where she also does restorative body work, the elusive, much-revered Chase doesnt send dances our way often, so dont miss her. This new work (called unmoored) is a continuation of her and Bakers 2004 collaboration The Disappearance Of Right And Left. It shares the bill with several of Bakers own landmark solos danced by some of this citys most radiant artists.

What: Actor in Jez Butterworths Jerusalem, Crowsnest Theatre (345 Carlaw), February 13 to March 10. crowstheatre.com.

Why: Rooster, the lead in Butterworths play, is an unpredictable, modern-day Pied Piper whos attracted a ragged coterie of lost souls to his strange caravan in the middle an English forest. The intense Coates, best known for playing Tig, one of the most violent characters on the FX series Sons Of Anarchy, fits the bill perfectly. Returning to the stage after nearly 30 years, Coates, whos played everyone from Stanley Kowalski to Macbeth, is surrounded by lots of theatre talent, including Philip Riccio, Diana Donnelly, Nicholas Campbell, Daniel Kash and rising stars Shakura Dickson and Peter Fernandes plus Outside the Marchs Mitchell Cushman directing. Look for a limited number of front row seats thatll make you feel like youre part of Roosters crew.

What: Writer and director of Calpurnia, at Buddies in Bad Times, January 14 to February 4. nightwoodtheatre.net.

Why: Count on Dwyer to turn a classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird on its head. The triple threat writer, director and actor has created a play about a screenwriter who wants to look at Harper Lees beloved book through the eyes of the Finchs maid. Set during a dinner at the home of a wealthy Jamaican-Canadian family, the play stars Andrew Moodie, Meghan Swaby, Natasha Greenblatt, Carolyn Fe, Matthew G. Brown and Don Allison, and examines hot-button issues like class, race and gender.

What: Sketch duo returning to Canada for The Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival, Theatre Centre (1115 Queen West), March 1 to 11. torontosketchfest.com.

Why: The full lineup of this years SketchFest is still to be released, but weve learned it includes local troupes Tall Boyz II Men and the Lusty Mannequins, Picnicface alumni Mark Little and Andy Bush as a duo, and a remount of the 2017 Fringe hit 32 Short Sketches About Bees. The act were most excited for, though, has already been revealed. Last years Audience Choice Award winners Flo & Joan (aka Nicola & Rosie Dempsey) will be returning from their native England for at least two shows. The musically talented sister act were viral sensations last winter with The 2016 Song they recently released a 2017 sum-up ditty, Have A Cup Of Tea.

What: Stand-up, hosting Sunday Night Live, at Comedy Bar (945 Bloor West), January 28. sketchersons.com.

Why: Gilmour had a breakthrough 2017 as a stand-up, winning the Just For Laughs Homegrown competition, but it was a lousy year for the comics mobility. On her way to perform at a show last fall, she fell and broke her leg the artificial one. Seeing her frustration with a series of flawed prosthetics, her family and friends started the #DreamLeg campaign to buy her a state-of-the-art artificial limb and surprised her with a kick-off party. Gilmour has since made the media rounds and fellow comics have organized a series of fundraising shows. The biggest this month will feature Gilmour hosting the Sketchersons weekly show all door proceeds will be donated to the #DreamLeg campaign.

What: Actor in Kat Sandlers Bang Bang, at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst), January 27 to February 18. factorytheatre.ca.

Why: Rising talent Heins has an open, spontaneous affability, which he showed to great effect last year in Stratfords School For Scandal as well as in his breakthrough solo show, Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera, which he continues to tour. In Sandlers new play, he plays a Black actor hired to play the real-life police officer (Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah) who’s shot a Black man. The twist? The scripts written by a white man (Jeff Lillico). With Sandler taking on this timely topic and a cast that includes Karen Robinson and Richard Zeppieri, expect some explosive drama.

What: Kiel contributes a duet for the National Ballet of Canadas Jenna Savella Stalzer and Kota Sato as part of the companys annual Choreographic Workshop (January 18-19 Betty Oliphant, national.ballet.ca). She follows up with Chasing The Path for her own company, Human Body Expression, at Danceworks (March 15-17 Harbourfront Centre), and has choreographed a new piece for Toronto Dance Theatres 50th Anniversary program Glass Fields (March 20-24 Harbourfront Centre, harbourfrontcentre.com).

Why: Contemporary dance in Toronto is rife with minimalism and conceptual experiments, so Kiels gift for crafting dense and emotionally resonant ensemble work really stands out. Dancers and audiences alike get excited by her ease in mixing classical and contemporary styles to create big kinetic washes of movement hence Kiels jam-packed schedule.

What: Actor in Lear, the Groundling Theatre Companys production of the Shakespeare tragedy, to January 28 at Harbourfront Centre Theatre (231 Queens Quay West). 416-973-4000.

Why: The Second City veteran and Whose Line Is It Anyway? star is comedy royalty, of course. But unlike many of his Lear co-stars (Deborah Hay, Jim Mezon, Diana Donnelly and, in the title role, Seana McKenna) he doesnt regularly tread the boards at our classical rep companies. Still, Mochries dramatic instincts are finely honed, and a few years ago he even penned a humour book about the classics, so he obviously knows how theyre supposed to sound. So look for him to make a fascinating Fool next to McKennas Lear, under Graham Abbeys sensitive direction. And if Mochrie forgets his lines, Im sure hell know how to improvise even in iambic pentameter.

What: Directing Mozarts problematic opera The Abduction From The Seraglio for the Canadian Opera Company at the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). February 7 to 24. coc.ca.

Why: Best known as the playwright of the powerful Scorched, which was adapted into the Oscar-nominated film Incendies, the Lebanese-Canadian Mouawad switches genres this winter. Mozarts comic opera has often been criticized for its culturally insensitive plot involving a German woman abducted and imprisoned by a Turkish pasha and his lecherous guard. Mouawad has added a prologue and new dialogue to the libretto, essentially reframing it and pointing out the cultural insensitivity of the European characters. The production was a hit at Lyon Opera in 2016, where its Konstanze (one of the most demanding soprano roles in all opera) was played by Canadian Jane Archibald, who reprises the role here.

What: An adaptation of Victor Hugos Les Miserables at the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen West), March 16 to April 1. theatresmithgilmour.com.

Why: Over more than three decades, the physical and clown-inspired company has brought many literary works to the stage, from the short stories of Chekhov, Lu Xun and Katherine Mansfield to William Faulkners epic As I Lay Dying. Now theyre taking on Hugos massive, multi-generational novel about a man following his conscience something thats pretty relevant these days. With Michele Smith directing actors Dean Gilmour (a natural as Jean Valjean, no?), Nina Gilmour, Diana Tso and others, count on this show to bring out themes and ideas not found in the mega-musical.

What: Writer and director of Declarations, at Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley), January 23 to February 11. canadianstage.com.

Why: Tannahill, no stranger to acclaim and lists like these, is having a moment this season. First comes this multimedia piece that uses text, choreography and imagery to evoke a womans mortality. This personal piece is inspired by his mother, whos living with stage four cancer. His first novel, Liminal, also comes out that week from House of Anansi and deals with a similar theme. And in February, Xenos, his collaboration with dance legend Akram Khan, premieres in Athens. Seems like a natural fit for Luminato programming, no?

What: Stand-ups debuting a new series, Pat After Jackie, at Comedy Bar (945 Bloor West), January 27. comedybar.ca.

Why: This is Thorntons favourite time of the year known to Toronto comedians as #JanuGary. Hes so keen on the event, which sees his best friend (and Comedy Bar owner) Gary Rideout Jr. photoshopped and meme-ified by the local comedy community, that this year, Thornton even commissioned a series of promotional videos. (Rideout Jr., for his part, seems resigned to the annual online tribute/roast.) Still, Thorntons finding time to work up new material to debut at Comedy Bar, where he and Pirico, a Laugh Sabbath stalwart, will split the stage time. Thornton and Pirico also share a comic sensibility of being playful without being immature.

What: Touring Letterkenny Live across Canada, with a stop at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (190 Princes), March 10, letterkenny.tv/tour.

Why: The phenomenally popular Letterkenny TV show has already proven theres an appetite for their content onstage a table read of an episode with members of the cast sold out during last falls JFL42. The Letterkenny Live tour will feature series stars Jared Keeso and Nathan Dales, as well as Wilson and Forward performing original sketches and fan favourite scenes from the show. But perhaps the best part is that Wilson and Forward will be the opening acts, performing stand-up sets as themselves. Wilson is one of Canadas best stand-up storytellers, and Forward is one of our most refined comedic oddballs qualities perhaps hinted at on TV, but best experienced live.

What: Writer and co-creator, No Foreigners, at the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen West), February 21 to 25. 416-538-0988.

Why: Playwright Yee, currently artistic director at fu-GEN, is hard to pin down his scripts range from genre send-ups (lady in the red dress) to style-shifting vignettes (his Governor Generals Award-winning carried away on the crest of a wave) to intergenerational dramas (acquiesce). Now he and fu-GEN collaborate with Vancouvers Hong Kong Exile in this multidisciplinary look at how shopping malls provide a way to tell stories of the Chinese diaspora. Featuring ideas about consumerism, culture and what Chineseness means, were sold.

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