A Mirvish Productions announcement is usually a pretty big affair, featuring a podium, a microphone and maybe a musical number or two.
On Monday morning, however, the city's biggest commercial theatre company dispensed with all that to tell us about Off-Mirvish, a series of "acclaimed new productions from our own community, local productions of award-winning international new plays and original productions of new works from the world festival circuits."
Translation: the company's trying for a bit of edge. They could also be trying to add balance to a current mainstage season that consists entirely of musicals, and drew a little criticism because of that.
The launch of four shows was announced to journalists standing on the stage of the Royal Alexandra Theatre. Appropriate, since the first show in the inaugural season is Outside the March's production of Mark O'Rowe's Terminus, which was one of the undisputed hits of the recent SummerWorks Festival and performed to audiences sitting on the stage of the Factory Theatre in August.
For the fest version, directed by Mitchell Cushman (who you'll remember was on our cover earlier this year), there was room for between 40 to 60 people; at the Royal Alex, approximately 200 people will be able to fit in, and there will be risers. The entire cast returns, including Maev Beaty (another recent NOW cover subject), Ava Jane Markus and Adam Wilson.
"I don't think there's a more exciting way to be doing this show than at this historic theatre, with this beautiful backdrop behind us," said Cushman in an interview afterwards, pointing to the hundreds of plush velvet seats. The production will have to be reconfigured for the larger space, but Cushman says it's important to him to maintain the play's intimacy.
The actors are up for the challenge of playing in the bigger space. Markus, who saw the play's original production in Dublin, says it'll require a different kind of energy. Wilson says there's a participatory component to the show, even though audience isn't asked to participate in the traditional sense.
And Beaty says the idea of the empty seats behind the performers should resonate for audiences.
"Each of us has a moment in the script when we talk about humanity, or people out there," she says. "The beauty of the production is we get reminded of humanity by having all these empty seats behind us - are they filled with ghosts? The communities they're involved in? A place you go after you leave?"
Terminus plays the Royal Alex from November 21 to December 9.
Anthony Rapp, familiar to theatre lovers as Mark in the original production of Rent, was seen in town a couple of years ago in the Broadway tour. Now he returns for Without You, an autobiographical show about the creation of that groundbreaking show and his own experiences with love and loss. It features music - including five songs he's penned - and a five-member band. It was a hit at the Edinburgh Festival and a subsequent run in London England. It plays the Panasonic Theatre December 13 to January 6.
Next up is a play that had a healthy run earlier this year but, like Terminus, had to turn away audience members near the end because of sold out shows. Studio 180's Clybourne Park looks at 50 years in the life of a Chicago house. Playwright Bruce Norris's script has won the Pulitzer Prize and last year's Tony Award for best new play. It goes up at the Panasonic February 12 to March 3.
And the season ends with This Hour Has 22 Minutes and original CODCO member Mary Walsh's solo show Dancing With Rage. The comedy - featuring a variety of Walsh's hilarious creations including warrior princess (and Rob Ford's nemesis) Marg Delahunty - was supposed to happen last March at Theatre Passe Muraille, but Walsh had to withdraw. She came down with pneumonia, and later in the summer was struck by a cyclist exiting a streetcar, leaving her with several broken ribs.
She seemed in great spirits at the casual press conference, however. The show goes up March 5 to 24 at the Panasonic.
Overall, Off-Mirvish is a hugely promising thing for theatre-goers and theatre makers. Through the years, Mirvish has given new life to shows that began at festivals or not-for-profit theatres: everything from The Drowsy Chaperone and Da Kink In My Hair (which both began at the Fringe) to Orpheus Descending and Medea (which started at Stratford) to Cloud Nine (Nightwood Theatre) and Stuff Happens (Studio 180).
Let's hope the Off-Mirvish season means there's now an incentive to find and program these shows quickly. David Mirvish agrees.
"We're surrounded by talented actors, and we have three theatres that concentrate on writers - Tarragon, Passe Muraille and the Factory are really about authors. When you have that creative hub around you, you want to find a way to connect to it.
"Over the years we'd do shows from those places, but we never really had a chance to build with them. Hopefully this will be an outlet for that."
And for someone like Cushman, who's been doing shows in intimate venues that seat dozens, moving to a larger venue like the Royal Alex is terrific.
"There are two theatre communities in the city," says Cushman. "There's a beautifully strong independent theatre community, which I'm very proud to be a part of. And we have big commercial theatres. If we bridge those two worlds I think some very exciting things can happen."
For information about the shows and the package prices ($99 to $199 for all four), go to mirvish.com.