Large-scale puppet horses run the racetrack in Clay and Paper Theatre’s outdoor production Horse Feathers
It’s off to the races for Clay and Paper Theatre, the company known for its outdoor performances that involve giant puppets and other larger-than-life creations.
The troupe’s latest production, Horse Feathers, takes over Dufferin Grove Park with a tale of the Dufferin Race Track, which occupied the site where the Dufferin Mall now stands, across the street from the park.
“From 1907 to 1955, the track drew thousands of people,” says director David Anderson, who co-wrote the piece with Krista Dalby. “It was bigger than the park in which we’re performing, and then in the 50s, developers got their hands on the site.”Rather surprisingly, the current show isn’t about developers.
“It’s actually a gentle play about dreams – people’s hopes for something better than what they have,” explains the director, “even though they might not need what they dream about.”
Expect the company’s usual complement of puppets both large and small, including some hand-and-rod puppet horses and a stiltwalker costumed as a huge dream horse. New this time around are human, half-masked characters drawn from the world of commedia dell’arte but wearing 50s costumes.
Clay and Paper’s been involved in an ongoing project called Building Local Stories, a series of plays that capture historical moments from Toronto’s past. That’s in addition to their two annual park shows, Day Of Delight in June and Night Of Dread around Halloween.
The Local Stories project is important for Anderson, who’s keen on animating public spaces and creating a sense of community.
“Because we perform in the park, we continually meet people from every ethnic background. The performance becomes a great focus for gathering people together, allowing them to meet and find a common resonance in the stories we tell.
“Even the rehearsals and the on-site building of the puppets are part of outreach and advertising for the show. People ask if they can watch, and some join in papier-mâchéing the puppets. It’s all in the service of making the park as congenial a place as possible.”
Lighting the way
There’s more Toronto history on display in Shadowland Theatre’s The Light That Stands Still, a walkabout show on Toronto Island celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Gibraltar Point lighthouse.
The building’s not only the oldest local stone building in its original location; it’s also the oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes.
And it’s haunted.
“I think after my research I know more about the lighthouse ghost than any other living person,” smiles writer Sarah Hood, who collaborated with the island-based company on the site-specific production.
“The show is a mix of history, myth and legend, but it’s amazing how closely truth and fiction can intertwine,” continues the Toronto history buff, who’s built costumes for Shadowland but never previously written for them.
“For example, I imagined that the lighthouse keeper, J.P. Radelmüller, would have written a petition to the lieutenant governor to get the job and that he had a wife and baby daughter. That all turned out to be fact.”
Legend has it that Radelmüller was a bootlegger, killed because he wouldn’t sell whisky to soldiers. Hood maintains that couldn’t have been the case, since he was collecting customs taxes on liquor for other people and, furthermore, he was a respectable married man with a child.
Thematically, notes Hood, the play is about “beacons that draw you to the good and sometimes to the bad. We all have tendencies to be distracted from our beacons.”
Characters include Lady Light, the spirit of the lighthouse, and a fox and raccoon who act as the show’s narrators.
Be sure to wear good shoes and have bug spray on hand, since you’ll be traipsing around parts of the island while taking a magical walk through the depths of the ocean and watching stilt figures, shadow play and a fire-based finale.
For details on how to reach the site, see shadowlandtheatre.ca.
Taste of Tirgan
Want to know more about Persian culture? Check out Harbourfront Centre’s latest summer fest, the first Tirgan: Iranian Festival, beginning Thursday, July 17.
There’s lots going on. Dance highlights include the Canadian premiere of the Los Angeles-based Djanbazian Dance Company and French musician/dancer Saeid Shanbezadeh. These two shows are free.
Another company from France, Nakissa Art Company, offers the first Canadian performance of Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam’s Arash, which uses poetry, music and movement to tell the story of a mythical Iranian figure.
In theatre, look for a free performance of The Mute Who Was Dreamed, directed by Tehran-based actor Attila Pessyani, a wordless play about the relationship between a deaf mute child and her caregiver. Blind Owl, a work inspired by modern Iranian writer Sadeq Hedayat and directed by Niloofar Beyzaie, is performed in Farsi but with an English summary available.
Not all the festival talent comes from abroad. Award-winning Modern Times Stage Company director Soheil Parsa has been leading an acting intensive based on the poetry of Forugh Farrokhzad, a woman whose work dealt with the conventions of Iranian society. Participants present a free workshop of the results of their investigation, Only Sound Remains, as part of Tirgan.
For more information on all the above, see Opening.