SUMMERWORKS: a festival of 40+ plays, readings, workshops, performances and music at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst), Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson), the Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West), Cameron House (408 Queen West) and Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen West). From today (Thursday, August 7) to August 17. $10, advance $12, passes $25-$60. Tickets on sale at the venue one hour before performance; advance tickets, up to half the house, sold until 5 pm the day before performance. See complete listings or summerworks.ca. 1-888-222-6608, in person at T.O. Tix (Yonge-Dundas Square) or totix.ca. See festival reviews and updates at nowtoronto.com/summerworks.
Eager to show off their talent, young theatre artists are bursting out of school looking for doors into the profession.
But the opportunities aren't often there, especially if they want to present new works.
Enter SummerWorks, which has an enviable reputation for premiering quality productions by and with unknown artists.
"I love the fact that the National Theatre School encourages writing and self-?creation by all students," says Natasha Greenblatt, who graduated in 2007 from its acting program. At SummerWorks, she's writer/performer of the multimedia We Lived In A Palace, part of the double bill 2½ Breaths (August 7 to 17 at Passe Muraille Backspace), and acts in a third production, classmate Darrah Teitel's Marla's Party (August 8 to 17 at Factory Studio).
"But I've never had a chance to show my work in Toronto," she continues. "SummerWorks gives me the opportunity to take charge and also work with more seasoned artists."
Palace turns on her own familiarity with loss and grief, something shared with Christine Aubin Khalifah's companion piece.
"Our society places a silence around death in our society," muses Greenblatt, "and we want to break that silence using storytelling and our own backgrounds. In the process, we realized how strongly the personal is tied to the universal."
Using the metaphor of paralysis and references to the Garden of Eden, Greenblatt's script traces the process of healing as well as the end of childhood innocence.
"It's always been important for me to speak from my own space, to create art from a personal experience."
Like Greenblatt, 2006 York grad Tawiah M'carthy gets to collaborate with a school friend, Cole J. Alvis, who directs M'carthy's first script, The Kente Cloth (August 7 to 17 at the Theatre Centre).
The play's central figure, Nana, is a young gay man from Ghana living in Canada and about to wed his Scottish partner. Can Nana put on the kente cloth, the colourful ceremonial garment his father's given him, since his father has rejected his queer son?
"Life in Ghana is so communal, a fact that helps define one's identity," offers M'carthy, who last year performed in The Fort At York. "You carry the community with you wherever you go. One of Nana's problems is that he now lives in a country where family and communal protection don't exist; he has to deal with and accept the past in order to move into the future."
The play combines poetic text and physical theatre. M'carthy believes in "words that sing and don't tell the story literally, words that can give over to movement. It's at those points that the soul rather than the mind speaks."
He hopes that Nana's tale communicates to everyone.
"That sense of how to rebuild your soul when it's been broken into pieces - the discovery of love and empowerment - cuts across cultures," he says.
You won't find the same seriousness in Margaret Sweatman and Glenn Buhr's Flux (August 8 to 16 at Factory Mainspace), an anti-war musical comedy set in medieval Scotland, where a cruel English king can't decide whether to wed or kill the "Scottish Woman-?King."
It reads a bit like a Monty Python script, but actor Kate Kudelka, who plays half of a comic couple who plan to slaughter their ruler, thinks the music gives depth to the tale.
"It's my first professional gig," says Kudelka, a recent George Brown grad who impressed audiences in The Way Of The World and Blood Wedding at that school. "I'm so giddy and excited about doing a play that allows me to use my training in opera and acting.
"And I get to put on a thick Scottish brogue."
The title refers to the shifting nature of life, but it's also applicable to Buhr's music, which Kudelka calls a blend of classic Celtic melodies and contemporary sounds.
"I'm excited about the whirlwind nature of the process. We have six days of rehearsal to put it up," says the performer, who's formed a new company, 3NON, with two classmates. "That's part of what makes theatre special - that air of spontaneity brought to a new project."
Not everything in SummerWorks is new. One of last fall's best shows was Ryerson's production of Pinter's The Dwarfs at Ryerson. Its three just-?graduated actors and director Jennifer Tarver remount the enigmatic autobiographical piece for the festival (August 8 to 16 at Passe Muraille Mainspace).
"We spent so much time back then researching the period and sorting out the involved relationships that now we can go deeper into subtext," says actor Ian McRoberts.
"The characters live in an atmosphere of competition, despite their friendship. The Pinteresque male aggression and dominance here has a friendly, more sporting quality than in later works. Still, there's also an element of betrayal and menace in the way they interact."
The Dwarfs is the kind of script that excites McRoberts and his fellow performers.
"This sort of material lured us into studying theatre. We want to share that thrill with audiences, and use this production as a stepping stone into the professional world as we move, in several senses, to a larger stage."