Litmus Theatre’s Matchbox Macbeth proved that intimate shows pay off.
Up close and personal
In 2011, some dozen indie productions went up in unusual venues where, at times, you could reach out and touch the actors.
Red One Theatre took over two galleries, a warehouse space and, most excitingly, historic Campbell House, the last with a version of the many-sided Rashomon story. Litmus Theatre remounted its electric production of Matchbox Macbeth in a backyard garage, while Rogue Theatre took over a back-alley gallery with Neil LaBute's Reasons To Be Pretty.
Why are these shows so exciting? When actors get up close with an audience, the intimacy increases a performance's visceral, physical qualities. You can watch the shifting flicker of a character's gaze, a twitch of the head, a suggestive seduction in detail. You get the nuanced perspective that a camera's lens can offer, combined with the intensity of a live performance.
There's another kind of excitement, too, in the possibility of a misstep that'd change the whole show. In the LaBute, the two male characters had a fight on the narrow stage, with viewers sitting on either side of the action; one wrong step and the actors could've been in the audience's lap.
Kim's Convenience opened the door for new theatre audiences.
More diverse audiences
Besides being great theatre and providing a terrific role for Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Ins Choi's Fringe hit Kim's Convenience proved that if you build it, they will come. Choi targeted Korean-Canadian audiences, and they (and other Asian Canadians) packed out the Bathurst Street Theatre as well as the Toronto Centre for the Arts during the brief extension. Now that Soulpepper's launching its 2012 season with an expanded version of the play, a terrific cross-cultural pollination may occur. On the other hand, rumour has it that Studio 180's excellent revival of The Normal Heart didn't attract the queer community although it ran at Buddies in the village. So finding the right audience can be tricky.
Toronto's The Normal Heart was as good as, if not better than, New York's.
If you can make it there...
... you'll show up everywhere? That seems to be the case with plays and musicals that do well on Broadway and then end up here. And we're not just talking about touring productions. Shows like The Normal Heart, Exit The King and Red were produced here shortly after becoming hits in New York City. Often the local version compares unfavourably to the star-studded NYC one, exceptions being The Normal Heart, Nightwood/Obsidian's Ruined and SummerWorks' refreshing production of Mr. Marmalade. The trend's continuing with Acting Up/Obsidian's musical Caroline, Or Change in January.
3-D in theatre
Of course, live theatre and dance are the ultimate 3-D experience. But two films that screened in 2011 convinced us that you can enhance the experience. The Royal Opera House's 3-D Carmen and the Wim Wenders documentary Pina both made you feel like you were right onstage with the action. The question is, if you can see "shows" at a movie theatre, will you still pay to see the thing live?
We've all seen idiots who continue to use their cellphones during shows. And many theatre companies, wanting to woo new audiences, are exploring social media and performance. But in 2011 the innovative theatre company Praxis tried an experiment, asking certain people to text and tweet during a show. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em? Maybe at their next show they'll hand out candy that we can noisily unwrap, too.