THE COOKING FIRE THEATRE FESTIVAL runs to Sunday (June 26), different programs at 6:30 and 8:30 pm. Dufferin Grove Park (south of Bloor on Dufferin). Pwyc ($10 suggested). 416-576-9751, www.dufferinpark.ca/arts/theatrefestival2005.html.
Time to rekindle the Cooking Fire Theatre Festival.
Last year's inaugural fest of outdoor shows, aimed at creating a strong sense of interaction between players and audience, was a grassroots hit with family audiences, as much for the communal meals served before the performance as for the productions themselves.
While artistic director Kate Cayley sees no need to change what's not broken, she's added a thematic link to this second festival: political resistance.
It's a fitting theme, given the community-oriented nature of the event and its staging in Dufferin Grove Park.
"That sharing aspect is one reason we wanted to continue presenting the festival along with a meal," offers Cayley, whose Stranger Theatre is again one of the performers.
Her company's production, The World Turned Upside Down, looks at the Diggers, 17th-century English revolutionaries who seized common lands held by wealthy landowners to make them available for farming by the poor.
Another history-based performance, Birds Of The Coming Storm, by Montreal's Le Petit Théâtre de l'Absolu, uses puppets to recount the events of Chicago's 1886 Haymarket Riot, which began with police deaths and ended with anarchist hangings. A second puppet work, red red roses' Joan, returns with its inventive look at Joan of Arc's fight against British forces and her skeptical French neighbours.
But not everything's about politics. Number Eleven Theatre's back with The Stolen Child, a show involving three company members and 15 kids.
"It's a reworking of the myths about abducted children that you find in many cultures," explains Cayley. "In those tales it's ogres, fairies or water spirits who take the youngsters away, but Number Eleven's been working on a piece about city children and their fear of being taken away, of the societal anxiety that teaches them street smarts from an early age.
"Here, it's the three grown-up actors who play the kids, and the children are the creatures who come at night."
There'll be more fun in Shakespeare's Interactive Circus, presented by Ottawa's clown-centred Company of Fools. Cayley calls it "a raucous, bastardized riff on Shakespeare's greatest hits."
In a festival one-off, Company of Fools also performs The Taming Of The Shrew Sunday at 2:30 pm. Cuban salsa band Poquito Grande plays Friday at 5:30 pm. And half the proceeds for tonight's performance (Thursday) goes to the African project Dance With Us, Not With AIDS, helping finance a 16-member company bringing relevant Shakespeare works to Mozambique.
Cayley returns to the eating aspect of the family-oriented festival, which she sees as important as the performing. The organic soup-and-bread meal is made in the park's wood-fire community ovens.
"When I talked with one of this year's chefs, we realized the similarity between preparing a meal and preparing a play.
"There's something ephemeral about both, but your hopes are also high. You anticipate that the meal or play will offer those who participate a transformative experience, a remarkable hour they'll remember for the rest of their lives.
"Both are about hospitality, about sharing space and connection. And that's why we're in a park, which offers the same sort of links."