Have you ever wanted to put on your superhero cape and fly over Lake Ontario? Or grow to Godzilla size and stalk around Nathan Phillips Square?
Talented designers Ben Chaisson and Beth Kates, who run Playground Studios, are bringing ToyBox back for the holidays. It's a chance for children of all ages - and we're looking at you, grown-ups - to explore that human desire for imaginative play.
In a room filled with technology, art, projectors, costumes, plasticine and Lego pieces you can indulge fantasies, using green screens to perform the impossible and simply have fun. Think of it as an interactive park with lots of entertaining possibilities.
Chaisson and Kates first put the ToyBox up during SummerWorks a few years ago and have been working on it since. A version was part of the Theatre Passe Muraille launch in September; it later moved to City Hall.
The fall ToyBox was tied to Passe Muraille's Theatre Beyond Walls theme, which has focused on various parts of the city.
"Artistic director Andy McKim wanted the company's shows to look at Toronto while making the theatre the centre of the compass," says Kates. "We ran with that by going around the city with our cameras, taking pictures and time-lapse images of places we knew and places we didn't know. The idea was to capture what's both fun and funny about Toronto.
"Making our work Toronto-centric let us see our town differently, too. Here people can engage with the city in a way they wouldn't be able to normally: they can stand in the middle of Queen Street while a streetcar approaches, walk high above Nathan Phillips Square or swim in Lake Ontario."
September visitors to the ToyBox really got into it. Kates recalls people of all ages flying along the Gardiner Expressway or roaring with monsterlike joy while stomping through the lake.
"The costumes work really well. We have a kind of invisibility cloak so you can be seen and then suddenly disappear. Dragon tails and capes are also popular; using the green screen, some blocks and someone rustling your cape, you can fly through the air."
Electronics gizmos also help the magic. Kates and Chaisson have discovered that the most successful special effects are short and exciting, like fireworks above Nathan Phillips Square or making the council chamber disc fly away like a spaceship.
"It's not just kids who get into it," smiles Kates. "One of our first groups at Passe Muraille was a recently formed adult literacy group. Its members didn't know each other very well and were reluctant to take part until one guy jumped up, put on a cape and started flying with the help of the green screen. He pulled another man into his playing, and soon the whole room was activated.
"Three days later, during the Passe Muraille street fair, he came back with his children and, beaming, showed the shy kids how to use everything.
"What we've learned is that ToyBox is a place that invites people to come and play. Without the participants, it's just a room with stuff; it comes alive when individuals indulge their imaginations and enjoy themselves."
ToyBox is a free event at Theatre Passe Muraille beginning Wednesday (December 12) and running through Saturday, from 12:30 to 8 pm. Chaisson and Kates will be around to help, so no one has to learn how to use the space on their own. See listing.
Anyone who saw Thom Allison's magnetic turn as Ragtime's Coalhouse Walker at Shaw knows he's one of our country's best. Last Friday (November 30) at Metropolitan Community Church he presented a concert showcasing his personal history with musicals.
The first half consisted of roles or songs he's actually performed onstage, beginning with a powerful version of Jekyll And Hyde's This Is The Moment that Constantine Maroulis (star of a recent production) could learn from.
Allison's low notes are like burnished gold, and his high notes are thrillingly majestic and clear. He's always authoritative and confident, as he demonstrated in numbers from Cabaret, Into The Woods, Songs For A New World (after a shaky start that had him drop his lines) and, of course, Ragtime.
A cut song from the musical Annie provided novelty, but the emotional highlight of the first half was Allison's simple, deeply felt version of Mark's All-Male Thanksgiving from Elegies.
In the second half, Allison sang songs from shows he's never performed, proving himself a great fit for the works of Jerry Herman (La Cage Aux Folles, Mame). And his version of Funny Girl's People was all about subtext and character, something brought out beautifully in Diane Leah's accompaniment.
He also delivered a moving version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, a song he'll likely reprise at his upcoming holiday show, Shut Up, It's Christmas! December 16 at Tallulah's Cabaret. 416-975-8555.
What the Dickens?
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, and Soulpepper is celebrating in proper style.
This year's Word Festival, running December 12 to 15, honours the work of the British novelist with a slew of events, including the return of adaptor/director Michael Shamata's version of A Christmas Carol. The excellent production has been a Soulpepper mainstay during the holiday season for over a decade (to December 29).
Another fest highlight is Dickens' Women, created and performed by British actor Miriam Margolyes. Playing several dozen of the writer's characters, she sheds light on various aspects of the man himself (December 12 to 15).
The National Theatre of the World turns its latest edition of Impromptu Splendour into a Dickens event, too. Naomi Snieckus and Matt Baram are joined by guests Colin Mochrie and Debra McGrath to improvise a play based on audience suggestions, in the style of Dickens (December 15).
Two free staged reading of stories by Dickens are also part of the festival. Derek Boyes adapts and directs The Haunted Man And The Ghost's Bargain (December 13 and 15), while Nancy Palk does the same with The Chimes (December 12 and 14).
Finally, there's a marathon reading in the Young Centre lobby of some of Dickens's best-known novels, including A Tale Of Two Cities, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. The reading will be streamed live at youngcentre.ca/thewordfestival starting December 12.
There's more holiday Dickens on tap, this time in the west end of town and nearby communities, courtesy of Humber River Shakespeare. The troupe revives its version of A Christmas Carol, touring to 11 venues including Casa Loma, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg and Belfountain Community Centre in Caledon.
The cast of five - Claire Francis Muir, Mark Huisman, Christopher Kelk, Sara Moyle and director Kevin Hammond- portray more than 30 characters, in both human and puppet form. The show's designers are Andrea Mittler and Nina Okens.
Expect seasonal songs as well as an energetic telling of the conversation of Ebenezer Scrooge, played by Kelk.
Gina Wilkinson Prize
Nominations for the second annual Gina Wilkinson Prize are now open.
Paying tribute to the late actor, playwright and director, the prize recognizes and assists professional female theatre artists who have spent several years in an area of theatre other than directing and who now want to make the move to directing.
The recipient, a Canadian citizen or permanent resident chosen from nominations made by members of the Canadian theatre community, will receive a $2,000 prize.
The winner of last year's prize was Halifax-based theatre artist Ann-Marie Kerr.
The nomination should include a letter from a recognized theatre professional, acknowledgement from the nominee and the nominee's resumé. People are encouraged to put forward their previous nominee.
Submit nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deadline is December 15, with the winner announced next March.