RHUBARB! a festival of new works. Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Runs to February 19, with weekly program changes, Wednesday-Sunday 8 pm. $15, week pass $20, festival pass $40, late-night events $5. 416-975-8555, www.buddiesinbadtimestheatre.com. Rating: NNNNN
For Buddies' 28th Rhubarb!, festival directors David Oiye and Erika Hennebury have invited Queen West to party.
"We're excited about the meeting of minds that will happen during Rhubarb!" says Hennebury of the two dozen works that run through February 19. "With the involvement of people like Trampoline Hall's Misha Glouberman and 7a*11d's Shannon Cochrane, we're bringing the performance art world and its ideas into our theatre."
In fact, Rhubarb! has never been a festival that puts text at the centre of its presentations.
"What's happening this year, though, is that while script-based narrative is still represented, we've programmed a lot more non-linear and multidisciplinary works," adds Oiye. "That was a conscious choice when we went through the 125 applications to find 18 mainstage shows, and also a sign of where Buddies is headed."
With Rhubarb!'s first week overlapping with the Theatre Centre's Free Fall, Toronto audiences have a cornucopia of offerings that intentionally blur the line between performer and viewer.
"The increased amount of environmental work and our new mini-stage speak to that relationship," Oiye continues. "Many of the pieces question exactly what a theatrical performance is and where it happens. The audience won't always be sitting and watching an artist present a work."
Hennebury's pretty hot about The Ten Obstructions, a February 10 late-night series of short shows that work within formal restrictions rather like those subscribed to by the Dogme 95 filmmakers. Among the participants are Jess Dobkin, Theatre Viscera and Cahoots Theatre Projects.
"That's the kind of piece I've always been interested in," she nods, "those created within a strict form but not relying on traditional narrative.
"It's what distinguishes a lot of Rhubarb! pieces, which aren't destined for a conventional dramaturgical development process. Based on these works, the writers aren't going to be asked to join a playwright's unit and eventually present their work as part of a main-stage season.
"These are shows heading toward an indie production."
The mini-stage performance space, which offers different shows each night, explores enforced spatial restrictions along with changing roles for the audience, from observers to performers.
Among those participating are JP Robichaud, emergency exit, Sherri Hay and Canadia dell'Arte.
There are multiple works each evening, so there's always a chance of a traffic jam as audiences move from space to space.
"We're trying to control that quality this year, but we still want to allow the carnivalesque feeling of something happening around every corner," notes Oiye. "We want both to contain the madness and allow it to happen."
Look for returning artists like Bill Zaget, Patrick Conner, Greg Campbell, Donald Carr, Hume Baugh, Suzanne Bennett, Andrea Donaldson and Rose Cullis, as well as a slew of new creators who hope to make their mark.
And if you're looking to start your own troupe, you'll find lots of useful info at the Independent Theatre and Dance Trade Forum, co-presented by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts and Buddies, expanded to two days (February 18 and 19).
In the midst of all this artistic feeding, the organizers haven't forgotten about more traditional eats. This Sunday (February 5), as part of the Performance Creation Canada conference, Hennebury and Oiye are serving waffles.
"We both have really fancy waffle makers to show off," smiles Hennebury.
Can't choose among dozens of Rhubarb! shows? Here are a few tasty suggestions.
1969 & 1975
Performance art and Rhubarb! vet David Roche offers a stylized look at his affair with an older man and memories of being a gay libber in 70s T.O. (February 2-5, 10:15 pm)
Do You Have Any Idea How Fast You Were Going?
The Small Wooden Shoe collective brings a postmodern send-up sensibility to a look at the Industrial Revolution, the steam engine and accelerated locomotion. (February 2-5, 9 pm)
Shattered Glass - An Opera
A story of precarious love, composer Njo Kong Kie 's (Knotty Together) and librettist Douglas Rodger 's musical ties together a hopeful guy and a woman at the end of her tether. (February 8-12, 8 pm)
Suck And Blow
Judith Snow , Tara Beagan , Michael Rubenfeld (who also directs) and Caleb Yong concoct a piece about a quadriplegic woman who asks more than she should from her assistant. (February 8-12, 9 pm)
Talented actor/puppeteer Noah Kenneally baldly addresses gay men's obsession with body hair (February 2, 11 and 18, throughout the evening)
The Russian Play
Playwright Hannah Moscovitch (Essay) and director Natasha Mytnowych take a bittersweet look at a pair of lovers in decaying Stalinist Russia. (February 15-19, 10:15 pm)