DARK an evening of performance in the Don Valley (T. O. Live with Culture). At Todmorden Mills Heritage Museum and Arts Centre (67 Pottery). Saturday (August 25), 7-11 pm. Free. 416-396-2819, www.livewithculture.ca Rating: NNNNN
Writer/performer Marjorie Chan has a theatre secret, but she doesn't want to keep audiences in the dark about it.
Instead, paradoxically, she wants audiences in the Dark, an evening of theatre, dance, music and comedy she's programmed at historic Todmorden Mills. Located at the foot of Pottery Road, north of the Danforth and west of Broadview, the site includes the recently renovated Papermill Theatre, so named for its function in the 19th century.
Dark uses the theatre and most of the rest of the area, including a historic house, a pond, an art gallery and a relocated train station.
And you couldn't ask for a more diverse group of performers, from Tapestry New Opera Works and musician Sean Dixon to the Actors Repertory Company and dancer Santee Smith.
"Like lots of theatre artists, I've spent time scrambling for space for rehearsal and performance," says Chan, associate artistic director at Cahoots Theatre Projects. "This gem of a theatre is unknown to most theatregoers in Toronto, and it's located in the middle of a beautiful greenbelt that people should make use of."
But Chan was really won over when she took a tour of the heritage site at night and realized there were lots of unconventional places to stage performances.
"Suddenly, I thought about context for the performing arts. What does it mean for artists to change their working space and perform in a totally different environment? We've got artists under a bridge, on a pond platform in the middle of the woods, right on the train tracks. What does it mean to an artist to create on a train track in the middle of nowhere?
"It's vital for us to re-envision how we think about performing, about how we relate to an audience. And this one-night festival is that kind of bare-bones exploration, where we turn on the lights and see what we get in the moment."
Chan hopes audience members will wander off the beaten path. The walking and majority of performing areas will be lit, but people are encouraged to bring flashlights to explore other areas.
"I went for the eclectic, to create the sense for audiences that anything can happen here."
If there's a problem, it's having to choose between works performed simultaneously. Playwrights Mark Brownell, Marcia Johnson, Lisa Codrington, Edwige Jean-Pierre, Elyne Quan, Mike McPhaden and Joseph Jomo Pierre read from their works, Melissa D'Agostino's comic character Lupe leads audiences around the site and youth troupe the AMY Project performs.
One of the highlights will be fu-GEN's remount of David Yee's Paper Series, a SummerWorks hit earlier this month. Appropriately, given that paper defines the play's theme and most of its visuals, it's running at the Papermill Theatre.
With Dark, Chan comes full circle, since the curator of the Todmorden Mills museum is Ulana Baluk, with whom Chan worked at the ROM when the performer was a teen.
"Back then I thought I'd be a teacher, contextualizing historic spaces and artifacts for audiences," Chan recalls. "These days I realize I'm less interested in the technical aspects of museum work but want to explore the drama behind these spaces and objects.
"I like the stories they tell."