The Bad Dog Theatre will be barking no more - at least at its current location on the Danforth.
The homegrown comedy spot - the only theatre in the city devoted strictly to improv comedy - will be closing at the end of the month after eight years.
"The rent was just exorbitant," explains Julie Dumais, the company's artistic director since last September.
An email sent last week to the Bad Dog community said that staying at the current location would have spelled financial disaster for the company, which offers a full slate of shows and classes as well as corporate work (workshops, teambuilding and performances).
Current classes will finish up this month and will start up again in April in an as-yet-to-be-revealed location. (Some comedy labs will be set up at the Comedy Bar in March.)
As for programming, which has been busier than ever, Dumais says there'll be a hiccup.
"We'll be taking a few weeks off in March, and then we're going to be nomadic for a little while," she says.
The company's flagship show, Theatresports, which has a decades-long history and boasts alumni like Mike Myers, Bruce Hunter, Lisa Merchant, Sandra Shamas, the Kids in the Hall's Mark McKinney and Bruce McCulloch and even actor Keanu Reeves, will start up again in April. Dumais says the company's in talks with three different venues.
"The majority of our programming will find its way onto stages," she assures me.
That's good news for comedy lovers, who have come to expect shows of high quality at the shaggy east end venue. The main stage is intimate and acoustically good (a deal-breaker for improv), and the vibe relaxed, casual and spontaneous - befitting an art form where you exist completely in the moment.
Among the more successful fare at the Bad Dog have been their clever parodies of popular shows: Dreadwood, Stars Warz, Battle Awesome Awesomestar, Sass And The City, Inside The Out-Of-Work Actors' Studio and the annual A Twisted Christmas Carol.
"People would come thinking, ‘Hey, I know that show, book or TV series," says Jan Caruana, a Bad Dog performer and teacher. "They were fun to do because within their structure they allowed for so much freedom to play and be silly and have a great time."
Caruana recalls performing in the very popular Sass And The City series, which landed her on NOW's cover, looking out and seeing "those 905 ladies who loved high heels get insane and rowdy."
James Gangl, now a teacher and performer at Bad Dog, says the parody series Dreadwood was a huge launching pad for him.
"The show allowed me and Kris Sidiqqi to move up from being bit players, it allowed us to punch above our weight, to perform with people like Jack Mosshammer and Aurora Browne."
The show went on to get a Canadian Comedy Award nomination.
Moving away from the Danforth will mean life east of the bridge will be a lot less funny, although you can still find comedy at the Black Swan, the Timothy's and Eton House.
Dumais and Bad Dog hope to find a venue where there's already some comedy action.
"It'd be great to have a destination area in the city, where people will know there will be places they can go to laugh."
Among the neighbourhoods they're looking at are Bloorcourt Village, Kensington Market and the Ossington corridor.
Dumais doesn't see the west end Comedy Bar as one of the reasons why their venue is closing up.
"Comedy Bar is really healthy for the scene as a whole," she says. "But of course they're licensed, and not being licensed limited us. We've had family-inclusive shows, but it'd be great to have the flexibility to have booze at later shows. Even beer and wine would help. Because our nightly programming isn't catered to families."
In the meantime, look out for two kickass weeks before 138 Danforth puts the lockdown on funny.
Next week, the improv vets Slap Happy are returning to the Bad Dog, with openers Burning Sky. And on February 26, the final night, Caruana, Gangl and others are arranging Hasta La Vista Danforth, a star-studded show featuring Kerry Griffin, Sandy Jobin-Bevans, Lisa Merchant and others. A party will follow at the Black Swan.
"James and I want it to be fun and have it be like a huge sendoff," says Caruana. "If we could, we'd pick 100 people to perform. But it'll be great to play together in an open forum - and great fun for the audience. It'll be all these people who've loved this place, and now you can see them one last time over free pizza and beer [at the Black Swan]."
In true improv fashion, Caruana adds: "Sorry, the beer won't be free."