As we leap into this chilly month of October, I realize that I have been actively reviewing theatre in Toronto for six months. While I was already familiar with several of the theatres in the city, I’ve been invited to several new spaces. It’s such a delight to experience theatre in new places and see what those spaces are capable of. I’ve also been impressed by the way so many of these theatres which I thought I knew are able to reinvent and morph themselves from production to production. I wanted to do a quick rundown of some of my favourite new spaces and talk about some productions which used existing spaces in innovative ways.
You truly can’t go wrong with a black-box theatre. Designed to be malleable and ever-changing, these are essential for companies to be able to truly flex their creativity. One of my favourite spaces I’ve recently discovered is the Red Sandcastle Theatre down on Queen Street East. This is also a storefront theatre which I think is it’s own funky little subsection of theatre space. I’ve seen this room transformed into several different configurations, some with a great deal of set/backdrop, like the beautiful wall of pages from The Merchant of Venice, and others just using the blank space with props. Who’s Afraid of Titus? made use of the whole space by even taking us into the basement and back alley of the theatre. Their unique ethos of the uncanny and cooky makes every trip a memorable experience. Another store-front black box theatre which I’ve loved is Coal Mine theatre. I’m very excited to see where they’re going to end up now that they’re moving from their current space on the Danforth. I know they’ll be able to make their new home just as delightful and welcoming as their previous one.
Another new space for me this year is the Streetcar Crow’s Nest Theatre, home to the Crow’s Nest Theatre company. Also located in Leslieville, this beautiful theatre space houses two performance spaces! I had gone to see several performances there, both of Crow’s productions like Orphans for the Czar, but then also other guest residencies like Anthropic Traces or Percussion Theatre. For all of those productions the Guloien Theatre (their main space) was configured in a standard proscenium set-up with the audience on risers on the one half and the stage space taking up the other. So boy was I ever shocked when a wall greeted me as I walked in for Uncle Vanya! I had no clue that that space could be transformed into a theatre-in-the-round configuration. It was a delightful discovery and it fit the play so well, I feel like I can’t imagine seeing that play any other way. I was excited to be in their smaller space for The Shape of Home which certainly warranted that cozy vibe, and I can’t wait to see how they’ll transform the space again for Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.
Canadian Stage has also shown impressive transformative skills in their mainstage productions. Is God Is was a sprawling, multi-level set with fascinating use of projection. When I came back for Public Enemy I was surprised to see a raised stage with essentially only a specified cut-out in a large black wall. To have that space in the wall open up to not just a set but a revolve was fantastic! It was such a great design and allowed for us to understand the full layout of the apartment where the play takes place. One of my favourite moments was when the two male leads fought each other through each of the three rooms as the revolve turned in the opposite direction; the fight choreography would have to be so tight to prevent injury and it gave us such a brilliant sense of movement that it’s still what I’m thinking about all this time afterwards. Of course Canadian Stage also has their beautiful space in High Park which I cannot wait to visit more often! I’m looking forward to seeing what both locations have in store for their upcoming productions.
Just a quick final note about one of my favourite spaces in the city: The Winter Garden Theatre. Sitting atop the Elgin Theatre in the heart of downtown, it is one of the few surviving Edwardian stacked theatres. The Winter Garden is magical; with the tree pillars and leaves and lanterns dangling from the ceiling, every performance there gets an extra dose of whimsy and beauty from the venue alone. If you haven’t seen a performance there yet, I would highly suggest it.
There are so many incredible theatre spaces around Toronto. I feel so lucky to have experienced performances in so many of them. With companies in full swing of their 2022/23 seasons, it’s the perfect time to get out and see some theatre and discover new and fascinating places to see live performances.