LAB CAB FESTIVAL curated and produced by Aviva Armour-Ostroff and Andre du Toit. Presented by Lab Cab at the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst). Saturday and Sunday (September 9 and 10) from noon to 6 pm. Free. www.myspace.com/labcabfestival. Rating: NNNNN
True bohemia, untainted by pretension or consumerism, is hard to find.
So the Laboratory Cabaret - or Lab Cab, as those in the know call it - comes as a wild surprise.
This is Lab Cab's inaugural year as a multi- and inter disciplinary arts festival. It takes place at the Factory Theatre this week and hosts more than 15 short acts, from puppeteers to comedians, inside the theatre's rambling rooms.
Every space, from green rooms to lobbies, will be used as a stage for musicians, actors and dancers to show off their air-tight acts.
"I want people to see this beautiful old building," says Aviva Armour-Ostroff, co-curator (with Andre du Toit) and founding member, as she weaves her way through the complicated passages of the ancient structure.
Armour-Ostroff, who recently acted in Passe Muraille's production of The Rochdale Project, drew inspiration from the Factory Theatre building, where she once worked as a front-of-house manager.
"I feel having people walk through the theatre will give it new life. So much great theatre can happen in little tiny spaces."
After retiring Lab Cab in January 2006, Armour-Ostroff wasn't quite ready to relinquish control of the project. "I was getting tired of doing it month after month but I also knew I wasn't ready to let go."
Though burnt-out, she decided to reinvent the cabaret, harnessing its popularity and experimental spirit to pioneer a new festival.
Still, it wasn't enough for Armour-Ostroff to mount a plain old cabaret involving more than 100 wily performers in various disciplines. No - she set herself the additional tasks of making it child-friendly, using every inch of the labyrinth theatre and, oh yeah, ensuring it was accessible to everyone. In other words: free.
Armour-Ostroff, a tranquil young woman with casual authority, seems unperturbed by the fact that she has to clear out massive passageways stuffed with 50 years of theatre junk.
She's also composed about the fact that it might, literally, rain on her parade, or, rather on Sho, Mo and the Monkey Bunch, a children's band who'll be performing in the courtyard both days at noon.
Armour-Ostroff is more preoccupied by the human traffic involved.
"Someone's doing a piece in the bathroom," she points out, "and we're also utilizing the stairs for a performance, so herding people to the venues will be challenging."
Everything about Lab Cab, from its concept to its staging to its curators, is truly boho. Thespians are everywhere, orating from the building's dusty corners and plucking out tunes in the theatre's sunny courtyard.
Discovery, and the cross-pollination of performers and audiences, is key to the Lab Cab experience.
"When we started this in 2001, there was a surprising need for it and it was well attended, which showed me what a range of talent there was in this city and how all of our communities - actors, dancers and others - were so isolated from each other."
Maev Beaty, who performs this weekend from a short, solo show called The Critic, likes Armour-Ostroff's notion of bridging artistic communities.
Beaty goes a step further to talk about what few of the actors are willing to discuss: that the underfed and overly creative, art-for-art's sake type is an endangered species.
"I think multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary are becoming buzz words in the performing arts," says Beaty, who performed on the Factory Mainstage a month ago in the SummerWorks show Garden.
"But instead of being a trend - lots of different kinds of art in one shot - I think it's more of a necessity. The truth is, we all have to start sharing audiences in order to survive."