This year SummerWorks, celebrating its 18th anniversary, goes outside the traditional theatre box that's defined the juried festival by including short performance works and music. It's ironic, given that expansion, that the performance gallery is called Inside The Box.
But the material's sure to be miles away from the conventional, with brief pieces by the Tara Beagan, Allison Cummings, Daniel MacIvor, Chris Dupuis, Sarah Stanley, Chad Dembski, Rebecca Singh and others. You'll find the gallery of shows - you'll have to attend several times to see them all, for they run on different evenings - in different rooms of the Gladstone Hotel, until last Sunday the home of The Gladstone Variations, which also made great use of unconventional theatre spaces.
The Gladstone is the western end of this year's SummerWorks, which new artistic producer Michael Rubenfeld has located (more or less) along the Queen strip from Spadina to Dufferin. While it's a short walk between most of the venues - Theatre Passe Muraille, Factory Theatre and the Cameron House - it'll take longer to get to the Gladstone and the Theatre Centre. If you're travelling by transit and assuming the Queen car is running pretty frequently, the SummerWorks site says the trip will take not much more than five minutes. We'll see - don't you always have to wait for a car when you're in a rush?
The shows in venues are nicely staggered, though, with some starting on the hour and others on the half-hour. That's especially useful at Factory and Passe Muraille, where there are two venues; if you get to a show late (and latecomers aren't admitted), you only have to wait 30 minutes to catch another. That staggered timing also makes it easier to get to shows at the Theatre Centre, which begin at 1 pm, 3 pm and so on; at the more eastern venues, they're at noon, 12:30 pm, 2 pm, 2:30 pm and so on.
Not all the performances are happening indoors. A few days ago Reverend Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas announced they were going to picket tonight's opening of The Pastor Phelps Project: A Fundamentalist Cabaret at the Cameron.
Playwright/director Alistair Newton welcomes the visit, noting that it's helped call attention to the church's homophobic message. As part of that message, Phelps and his followers regularly picket funerals of people who have died of AIDS. With the notoriety around the church's visit, the cabaret's eight performances are likely to be sold out.
If you're a regular theatregoer, you might have seen Phelps depicted in The Laramie Project, a docudrama about the murder of gay student Matthew Shepard in the small Wyoming town. Phelps is the character carrying a "God Hates Fags" sign at Shepard's funeral.
What you might not remember is how Shepard's friends handled Phelps. Another of the characters, Romaine Patterson, had some 20 counter-protesters dress as angels sporting huge wings. They surrounded the Phelps and the other protesters, turned their backs on the congregants and lifted their wings, effectively masking the church's hate signs and sheltering Shepard's family and others from the virulent verbal attack. Patterson dubbed it Angel Action.
Its description in The Laramie Project is one of the show's most moving moments; what a brilliant idea to use a Bible-inspired counter to such an un-Christian act.
We'll be posting reviews of SummerWorks shows online as we see them, with full reviews of the entire festival in next Thursday's print and online editions. Check NOW's SummerWorks page for more. In addition, be sure to check for reports on the festival here.
UPDATE: The protest never happened, as the Phelps group was denied entry to the country.