Today's one of those important birthdays with a zero at its end.[rssbreak]
SummerWorks, the festival that annually offers Toronto audiences 11 days of exciting theatre (and music, too, in the past few years) turns 20, featuring a packed schedule that begins today (August 5) and runs to August 15.
A few years ago, under artistic producer Michael Rubenfeld, the festival carved out a new geography for itself, along and near the Queen West strip from Bathurst (Theatre Passe Muraille and Factory) on the east to Dovercourt (the Theatre Centre) on the west. New this year is the Lower Ossington Theatre (LOT), just north of Queen, and several offsite venues, including T.A.N. Coffee on Queen and Trinity Bellwoods Park (the site for a 17th century play about witchcraft and how a community can demonizes certain of its members).
Founded by Benj Gallander, Greg Holmgren, Carol Pauker, Rob Sherwood and Ben Stadelmann in 1991, the festival grew from a first-come, first-served list of participants to a fully juried festival. I remember speaking with the group back in the spring of that year, discussing the feasibility of a second summer festival - the Fringe was already established in town - and agreed with them that Toronto artists and audiences could support another theatrical event in August.
This year's SummerWorks features nearly 50 theatre works, local and national, plus an expanded music series that offers new musical theatre works in concert, a performance bar hosted by the National Theatre of the World, SummerWalks (a trio of artist-led strolls and talks around the Bathurst/Queen area, including A Heartbreaking Walk Of Staggering Genius).
But don't think that the festival is all grown up: it's still a kid at heart.
As evidence, look no further than Playground, created by designers Beth Kates and Ben Chaisson (Bigger Than Jesus). Located in a LOT studio, the space is a mash of two childhood worlds, the simple and the complex. You can play with plasticine, Leggo and Tinkertoys, challenge others to various board game competitions and nosh some of the 25-cent candy available; there's an honour-system piggy bank provided.
For the 21st century kid inside you, fool around with the interactive multimedia installation set up by Chaisson and Kates; it includes computers, cameras and projections both live and prerecorded. A green screen lets you be filmed and projected onto a wide wall, while someone at the controls covers you with butterflies, stars or birds. One control even explodes your image; it's a safe way to be blowed up real good.
What else? Toys float through the air and chase people, images change colour, flowers emerge from people's mouths.
On the weekends, curators Cara Gee and Natasha Greenblatt host various special events, including an interactive flash quiz (August 6), an off-site game day in Trinity Bellwoods Park (August 7), an arts-and-crafts day (August 8), a make-your-own-music-video competition (August 13), and a scavenger hunt, dance class and party (August 14).