Monday, April 14, 2014


Each year 150 or so shows happen at each of the three big summer FRINGE festivals:  Toronto, Winnipeg and Edmonton.

About 10% of those shows are critical and commercial hits on the circuit.  A few of the intrepid creator/producers of those hit shows decide to try and remount in their hometowns during the main theatre season between September and May.

Two shows that ran here briefly this past week were remounted by their respective companies in independent rental spaces after being critical and box office hits on the Fringe.

I saw my first KEYSTONE Theatre show today.  Keystone has had DORA nominations for their work (for music) and had four and five star reviews in Edmonton and Calgary for THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, which I saw Sunday.

KEYSTONE performs theatre in style of silent film.

Like the lovely meringue pies onstage, the production was a frothy confection.  If you've ever made a meringue pie, you know it looks effortless, but it is not that easy to achieve that delicate, airy perfection.  I went with a friend and we ran into another actor-writer buddy of mine at the theatre. We all enjoyed it.

The work was highly stylized, using techniques derived from clown, buffoon, mime and physical theatre to create characters who are in make-up that functions as a kind of masque. Ginette Mohr did a great job of directing, making everything clean and precise. Dana Fradkin and Phil Rickaby were utterly charming as the star-crossed lovers and Sarah Joy Bennet, in a brilliant costume by Kimberly Beaune, very nearly stole the show as the Devil's minion.

In the end, the Devil (an excellent Stephen La Frenie) gets his due and everyone else also gets their just desserts, all puns fully intended.  The live accompaniment by David Atkinson was stellar. It was great good fun and unlike anything else I've seen staged in Toronto this year. They're doing GOLD FEVER at the Toronto Fringe this summer.  I'll be there!

I also saw THE HOMEMAKER, written and performed by Laura Anne Harris and SWELL BROAD which was written by Brooke Banning and directed by Harris. The shows went up this week at THE STOREFRONT THEATRE after being delayed by flooding in their venue back in February.  Friday night, they had a packed house and that made me happy. It was interesting and committed work, looking at women's lives in the 1950s, sexually, professionally and emotionally.

It doesn't surprise me that these shows were remounted by their creators.  What surprises me is that so few hit Fringe shows get picked up for a remount by one of the bigger theatres in town or offered a co-production deal.

KIM'S CONVENIENCE went to  MTC and the NAC in Ottawa, having had a long remount in Toronto at Soulpepper.  I think that's fabulous.  I also think it doesn't happen nearly often enough.

Laura Anne is a colleague and a friend.  I don't have to be her friend to say she had a five-star hit across the country with her previous show,  PITCH BLONDE.  I was astonished that no theatre in the country picked it up for a remount. The closest she got was a half-hour slot (for a polished one-hour show that had sold out the Tarragon Mainstage) from NextStage.

I don't think I'm alone when I say I've seen quite a few new scripts go onstage far from ready, here and elsewhere in larger theatres with systems for play development in place.  I also see great Canadian plays on the Fringe circuit that would be theatre ready, with minor tweaking, and a bigger production budget, and yet, never get a remount.

Instead of spending a fortune putting on a new play that's two drafts shy of a production, I don't understand why more ADs don't take more work that's already been developed independently on the festival circuit or smaller stages into a mainstage season.

At the Winnipeg Fringe, the Manitoba Association of Playwrights presents a Harry Rintoul Award for best new play.  That script is usually pretty great and rarely remounted by a theatre. Daniel Thau Ellef was here with a monologue at Summerworks this year.  I really wish someone had remounted his REMEMBER THE NIGHT here which took the Rintoul a few years back. SCAR TISSUE by Muriel Hogue also won, had a lot of great parts for women and it's never had a remount.

The CENTAUR Theatre in Montreal offers the best English language play in the Montreal Fringe a cash prize and a remount in their theatre.  Boy do I wish that happened across the country.

Ken Brown is a National Theatre school grad, theatre professor and creator of an epic trilogy of plays  called SPIRAL DIVE about WWII pilots. The critically acclaimed work sold out across the West on the Fringe circuit. He brought part one here a few summers ago and once he finally got reviewed, he got 5 stars and they sold out their last show.  Before that, they were a bunch of unknowns from Edmonton and played to tiny houses.  It's been remounted once in Edmonton and I think it got done in once in Ottawa.

Why Ken Brown, who wrote LIFE AFTER HOCKEY, one of the most successful plays ever produced in this country hasn't had a show put up at one of theatres in Toronto in over a decade is beyond me.  It's not like he hasn't written any hits.

Stewart Lemoine, another Edmonton stalwart has had a few shows produced here, but not many. Why in heaven's name has no one ever remounted a TJ Dawe show in Toronto as part of the season?  It's not like the guy can't fill a house. MEDICINE was fantastic.

The best production of Brecht I've seen in ages was done by PRAXIS Theatre at NextStage.  I really hope someone is going to give those guys an in-town show next year.  The writer who did the adaptation, Nicholas Billon, just won the GG for his ICELAND Trilogy.  Remount the trilogy, any ADs out there?

Yes I know, we have a sprawling farm system for play development.  There are pitch opportunities and playwright development money available from nearly every theatre in the province in Ontario, and festivals of new work all over Toronto:  Rhubarb, HATCH, Paprika, Wired, New Ideas.  I'd love to to know the ratio of production to development, from those incubators.

For those of us who put our bums in the seats and our cash in the box office, it is pretty obvious that the current new play development system isn't working very well.  Bad to mediocre new show, after bad to mediocre new show goes up, discouraging the writers from trying again, and dulling the appetites of audiences for new work.

What about paying a talent scout to find a show (or shows) that worked pretty well somewhere else, take it in, hammer it into shape and remount it?  I know it does happen, and I know there are a few people who run around town looking for companies to co-produce with or shows to remount.  The Theatre Centre has just given  several independent companies residency to develop work.  It's a great strategy and I hope more theatres in town will look for ways to co-produce with independent companies to bring more work here from other cities.

Great Canadian theatre gets made across the county but you wouldn't necessarily know that, looking at the season in Toronto. I'd love some shout-outs for great shows from the rest of  Canada you think are ready for a bigger audience.

I'm taking the next week off to celebrate Easter and have a much needed vacation.  Enjoy whatever spring festival you celebrate and the warmer weather.  I'll see BELLEVILLE when I get back and tell you all about it.

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