Building a production from scratch is the kind of work that actor Alisha Stranges likes best.
She's currently performing in People4Change, a collective show premiered at the Cleveland Public Theatre and reworked for its Toronto staging. The local production is presented by lemonTree creations in association with TheThem.
Devised by director Raymond Bobgan along with actors Colin Edwards, Marissa Zinni and Stranges, the show explores three people's reactions to a subway death that pushes them to "help the world."
"They're all Generation Y people who neither benefit from privilege nor suffer from social or financial disadvantage," explains Stranges, who appeared in lemonTree's Still Life during August's SummerWorks. "Aware of global suffering and knowing that things are getting worse, they want to find a way to effect change in their immediate surroundings.
"The characters lead different lives, but what they share is an attempt to connect to themselves, those around them and something greater than themselves. Their solution is to set up a charity phone line; they call people randomly and ask for donations for various causes."
Things don't go as they planned, in part because their personal lives influence what they're trying to do.
The idea for the show began in 2008 when Stranges and her fellow performers, grads of the Humber Theatre program, began collaborating with director Bobgan, who in addition to teaching stints at Humber runs the Cleveland Public Theatre. The four of them workshopped material on and off in Cleveland before presenting it in January 2010. After further work, the show played at New York's NACL Festival.
Unlike festival runs, which tend to be limited to a handful of performances, the run in Toronto gives the company a chance to settle in and explore the material in detail.
"It's a tech-heavy show, so we're happy to be able to set it up and run it with all the production elements; we don't have to take it down to allow another company to perform in the space."
What's it like to put on a show that's taken three years to develop?
"Even the other day, we were saying to each other that while it's sometimes frustrating to make a play, it's also amazing what the gaps in time have offered us in terms of connecting the journeys of our characters from one scene to the next. These are things we might not have learned if we had written the show in three weeks and then performed it for two."
The power of incremental building from the ground up is something Stranges discovered in the Humber program, which specializes in collective creation.
"I let go of my original idea of being a film actor and began devising works with fellow artists. It's far more exciting to be part of a work being made about our current experiences than to perform in an established script. That's the sort of theatre that floats my boat."
Next Stage news
The Toronto Fringe has just announced the lineup for January's Next Stage Theatre Festival, with hits from past Fringes that you might not have caught and also works in development.
The fest's fifth anniversary begins January 4, again in both spaces at Factory Theatre.
Shows and production companies include, in the Main Space, Hypnogogic Logic (Uncalled For), Living With Henry (Beyond Boundaries), Loving The Stranger Or How To Recognize An Invert (Ecce Homo) and The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go (Allison Beula).
The Studio Theatre hosts Lovesexmoney (Theatre Brouhaha), Modern Love (Theatre Caravel), Tomasso's Party (Rooftop Productions) and The Washing Machine (Red Betty Theatre).
Since it began in 2008, the Next Stage has received 15 Dora nominations and seen a 40 per cent increase in attendance.
You might remember that Fringe 2011 announced the establishment of several new awards to companies taking part in the fest.
James Gangl's Sex, Religion & Other Hang-Ups won the Ed Mirvish Award for entrepreneurship, having sold the highest percentage of its available seats during the Fringe. The indie show gets a remount next month at Theatre Passe Muraille.
Catalyst Theatre's The 5th Element and Afterglow Theatre's Ambiguous share the To Whom Much Is Given...'da Kink Award, given by Trey Anthony.
John Dietrich was presented with the Tinka Shanahan Super Volunteer Award.