THE COOKING FIRE THEATRE FESTIVAL a community dinner and quartet of shows by Zuppa Circus, Drama of Works, Theatre SKAM and Stranger Theatre. Opens Wednesday (June 14) and runs to June 18 in Dufferin Grove Park (Dufferin south of Bloor). Dinner at 5:30 pm, performances from 6:30 pm. Pwyc ($10 suggested). 416-538-6084. www.cookingfire.ca. Rating: NNNNN
With the ever-increasing loss of rental theatre spaces, performer Jane Wells points to the most likely source of venues - the great outdoors.
"You look around and see the decline of available space and wonder where to go," she muses. "An outdoor venue is the answer, at least for the warmer months, since you can rehearse and perform in dozens of locations around town."
Wells has lots of experience working the outdoors. She and fellow Number Eleven Theatre member Elizabeth Rucker return to Dufferin Grove Park for the third annual Cooking Fire Theatre Festival.
Under artistic director Kate Cayley , it's a multi-course event, beginning with an organic meal cooked in wood-fired outdoor community bake ovens and continuing with a series of plays.
Number Eleven performed in the two previous fests and returns to act as host for this summer's version.
"We hope to create a congenial feel for the audience as we move them from one performance to another," says Wells, who will be an elegant woman on stilts.
She really likes the park's community feel.
"There's a neighbourly relationship that exists in Dufferin Grove, which is run in many ways as a grand collective. It provides a little anarchy in the middle of the city, and the people involved in the collective want to give a theatrical face to that unpredictable quality."
The four performing companies are all artist-run, with joint decision-making part of their process, just like the park committee.
Halifax's Zuppa Circus Theatre 's offering, directed by Alex McLean , is Open Theatre Kitchen: All Possible Futures , in which a couple imagine into existence a child who's part human and part onion.
"They're the kind of company you'd come upon in a small Italian piazza," notes Wells, "with a gift for bringing something quite spectacular, both a bit mad and quite precise, to the stage."
New York City puppet troupe Drama of Works brings On The Backs Of Fishes , Crystal Skillman 's adaptation of a Japanese tale of Jingo Kogo, a pregnant empress warrior.
Visiting from Victoria is the splendid Theatre SKAM , reviving Sean Dixon 's Billy Nothin' , a Fringe hit from several years ago. Amiel Gladstone directs the piece, which combines music, magic realism and six-gun-toting cowboys.
It'll have a different feel in the park than it had in its premiere at Honest Ed's loading dock.
"I'm in awe of the company," admits Wells. "The elasticity in their creativity can be seen in the variety of performing spaces they seek out.
"Sean's plays stick with me in unusual ways," she continues. "What I remember about Billy Nothin' and his other shows are the quality of the air, the smell of the scene, the feel of the characters and the way they talk to each other."
Rounding out the bill is Stranger Theatre 's K'the Kollwitz , a puppet show directed by Cayley that draws on the German artist's writings. Performed in a tent at the evening's end, it's sure to have the intimacy and thoughtfulness that typify the company's work.