Friday, 12 January 2018

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Tuesday, 27 June 2017

My night at the Doras.

By Darren Stewart-Jones

It was a thrill to attend this year's Dora Mavor Moore Awards, which honour excellence on stage in the Toronto area. - Kinda like our version of the Tony Awards, I like to say.

I've always considered myself a bit of an outsider in the Toronto theatre community. I have my finger in many pies but none of them are fully baked. I run a ten minute play festival in Hamilton - HamilTEN; I produce an LGBTQ theatre festival in Toronto - Gay Play Day; I write a theatre blog (this one); I'm a member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada; I run my own theatre production production company - Baby Gumm Productions; and I have had the good fortune of working with some of the GTA's top talent - Sheila McCarthy, David Ferry, Elley-Ray Hennessy, Jennifer Walls, Nick Green, Shawn Hitchins and Nonnie Griffin, to name just a few. But I still usually feel like I'm on the outside looking in.

Attending this year's Doras was a chance for me to be part of the "in crowd", even if it was just for one night. And, yes, perhaps I was only there as a member of the media, relegated to the last two rows of seating at the historic Elgin theatre for the ceremony. But who cares? I was still there and it was a thrill to be in the presence of such a talented group of people.

The evening was just as I expected it to be. - Pre-show mingling over nibbles and cocktails with Toronto's theatre elite. Then the ceremony celebrating excellence in dance, opera and theatre, which went on a bit too long. (What awards ceremony doesn't?) And then more mingling with the theatre crowd afterwards, many of them now walking around the reception area with their Dora statuettes in tow.



Some of the evening's highlights for me:

- The empty "reserved" theatre seat placed stage left with Jon Kaplan's name on it. Kaplan, NOW Magazine's beloved theatre critic, passed away a few months ago and it was obvious throughout the evening just how much he will be missed by Toronto's theatre community.

- Shaking Albert Schultz's hand and congratulating him on Soulpepper Theatre Company's multiple nominations.  - I had a crush on him back in the day when he was one of the resident hotties on CBC's Street Legal.

- Nick Green's acceptance speech for Body Politic, which won Outstanding New Play (General Theatre Division). Nick memorialized the 49 victims of the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando last year, a horror that he woke up to on the day of the closing matinee performance of Body Politic at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre.

- Blues singer Jackie Richardson singing a duet with the evening's host, Raoul Bhaneja as a lead-in to the In Memoriam segment of the evening. Love her!

- The cast of Counting Sheep serenading the audience during their acceptance speech for Outstanding Performance - Ensemble (Musical Theatre Division).

- Oh, and the complimentary red wine. Did I mention the red wine?

Congrats to all of the winners and nominees!

Thank you, Dora Mavor Moore Awards. I like you. I really like you.


Monday, 5 June 2017

The Lavender Railroad

by Darren Stewart-Jones

Lawrence Aronovitch is a former Playwright in Residence at The Great Canadian Theatre Company. He has written plays about scientists (Marie Curie), poets (W.H. Auden), politicians (Ezekial Hart) and movie stars (Hedy Lamarr). He is the former Artistic Director of Toto Too Theatre in Ottawa and has served as a member of the advisory board for Canada's Magnetic North Theatre Festival. His plays have appeared at Vancouver's Clean Sheets Festival and Toronto's Gay Play Day LGBTQ Theatre Festival among others. Lawrence's play, The Lavender Railroad, is set in a world where homosexuality is a crime punishable by death. The play receives its Toronto premiere this month, produced by In-The-Moment Theatre. I had the chance to chat with Lawrence, who recently made the move from Ottawa to the GTA.

Gay Theatre Toronto:

What inspired you to write the script for The Lavender Railroad?

Lawrence Aronovitch:

I wrote the play in 2010 and intended it as a parable, a cautionary tale, to remind ourselves of what the world could be like if we neglected our responsibilities to ourselves and to future generations. It is troubling that only a few short years later so much of the dystopian air of the play is all too real in too many parts of the world. All the more important, then, that the play be presented to audiences today. I fear its message is needed more today than when it was first written.

GTT:

A lack of rights and freedoms for LGBTQ individuals seems like an alien notion to much of this current generation. Do you think LGBTQ rights could be in serious jeopardy for Americans during Donald Trump's presidency?

L. A.:

We are very fortunate in our society and enjoy considerable rights and freedoms thanks to the hard work of those who came before us. My concern is that the younger generation may be unaware of the dire situation their counterparts face in many other parts of the world today. And yes, as one of my heroes in LGBTQ activism has observed, sometimes the pendulum swings back - perhaps in the U.S., perhaps some day here in Canada. I hope that a story such as The Lavender Railroad might inspire us to find out more about our world and, more significantly, that it might inspire us to find ways to fix what's broken. As one of my character remarks, "Whoever saves a life - it's as if he saved the entire world."


GTT:

And now Canada has Andrew Scheer to contend with as leader of the Conservative Party. Any thoughts on what it might mean for LGBTQ Canadians if Scheer became our next Prime Minister?

L. A.:

I try to be an optimist and seek out the best in people - even as some of my characters in The Lavender Railroad deride those who believe in "the best of all possible worlds." Canadian society has evolved in the last few decades, which I think would make it very challenging for anyone to undo the many ways our society has evolved. As we saw with the previous Conservative government, whatever the personal beliefs or convictions of individual politicians may be, the desire to win elections is likely to be greater than the desire to enact changes that Canadians clearly reject. With this in mind, I believe it's important to keep communications open - there are many ways to win people over.

GTT: 

What do you believe is the reason - besides ignorance and bigotry - for this current push back against freedoms and rights for the LGBTQ community?

L. A.:

Ignorance and bigotry count for a lot, alas, and oftentimes what underlies both is fear. Fear is an extremely powerful emotion, and we have seen how it has animated the political conversations in a number of western countries in recent years. We are extremely fortunate here in Canada to have escaped the worst of these trends to date. But fear, ignorance and bigotry cannot be countered passively - we must always be active and positive in response. There are some hopeful signs - sometimes a bit faint, sometimes less so - that the pendulum can indeed swing back in a positive direction. But while I remain hopeful, the point of a play like The Lavender Railroad is to bolster that hope by reminding ourselves of the alternatives and, I hope, to inspire ourselves to work diligently to make sure that the pendulum swings the right way.

GTT:

Or, in fact, the left. Thanks, Lawrence! 

The Lavender Railroad by Lawrence Aronovitch runs June 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17 and 18 at 8 pm at The Box Toronto, Suite 103  - 89 Niagara Street. Ticket info at ITMtheatre.com



Monday, 20 February 2017

Sonny Mills returns to Rhubarb Festival

by Darren Stewart-Jones

I recently had the chance to chat with playwright and theatre artist Sonny Mills. Many will remember Mill's Dora award nominated script, The Danish Play, which appeared in Toronto in 2002 and again in 2007. The play, based on Mill's great-aunt's diaries, also enjoyed both a national and international tour. No stranger to the Rhubarb Festival, Mills returns this year with a new theatre piece, M/F (Choose One), co-performed with David Benjamin Tomlinson with direction by Elley-Ray Hennessy.


Gay Theatre Toronto:

Without giving too much away, can you tell us a little about M/F (Choose One)?

Sonny Mills:

It's an Odyssey of Love. It's an expression of frustration over this ridiculous, ingrained notion that there are two, and only two, genders. It's not true. It's fake.

GTT:

I (Darren Stewart-Jones) produce an LGBTQ theatre festival, Gay Play Day, at Toronto's Alumnae Theatre every September. During our five year run, we've only seen one trans playwright (Rex Emerson Jackson) submit a script. I'd like to improve that number. How important is it for trans stories to be seen on stage?

SM:

You'll see more soon. Trans stories are no less (or more) important than any other story. The younger generation is all over this shit (and it is shit, total bullshit). The line is blurring, and it's a slippery slope, thank goodness.

GTT:

You've been involved in Toronto theatre on and off for several years. Any words of advice for young writers who want their voices to be heard?

SM:

First, make sure you are working with people you trust, people who want to help you shine your light, not dim it. You're a sensitive artist, and you're prone to getting your heart broken, so choose your artistic relationships wisely. - MORE wisely than you choose your lovers (you'll get over those heartaches). Then, don't compromise. Don't limit your dreams to what is "possible". Colour outside the lines. Believe it. You can be the change.

GTT:

You use humour in your writing to deal with issues/struggles that LGBTQ individuals face in their daily lives. Is it enough to just laugh at Donald Trump's antics for the next four years or should we take his ambivalence towards our community seriously?

SM:

No one is laughing! That being said, the jokes are writing themselves. Remember Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator"? Humour, historically speaking, has had as much influence on social evolution as any staid philosophy or academic postulating. At least we HAVE a sense of humour! Ever notice how humourless the right-wing nutters are? I think the closest thing to a joke they've ever told was that "trickle-down economics" gag, which wasn't funny in the least. We also have better parties. Laughter engages people. It's not a way to "lighten" the seriousness of what's happening, it's a way to engage people, and indeed to encourage them to act. There will be laughter and dancing at the revolution, and I for one can't wait!

M/F (Choose One) by Sonny Mills appears at the 38th Rhubarb Festival from February 22 to 26. Tickets and info at buddiesinbadtimes.com

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Elley-Ray Plays Margaret Thatcher at Next Stage Festival

By Darren Stewart-Jones

Elley-Ray (Hennessy) is playing Britain's first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, in The Death of Mrs. Gandhi and the Beginning of New Physics (a political fantasy) at the 2017 Next Stage Theatre Festival. In the play, Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto, Imelda Marcos and a young political novice, Kim Campbell, convene for Indira Gandhi’s funeral. The piece was written and directed by Kawa Ada.

Elley-Ray has portrayed countless real people on stage over the years, including Queen Victoria, Virginia Woolf, Lucille Ball, Bette Davis, Libby Holman and Katherine Hepburn - to name just a few. She has a chameleon-like ability to change her voice, stature and facial expressions to realistically portray politicians, royalty and celebrities alike. This isn't something many actors can do as convincingly as Elley.

I myself had the pleasure of directing Elley-Ray when she appeared as Judy Garland in my production of The Judy Monologues, a multimedia docudrama based on Garland's life. The Hamilton Spectator's theatre critic, not one to dole out compliments undeservedly, called Elley-Ray "Garland reborn". I recently sat down with Elley to chat about her upcoming portrayal of Margaret Thatcher.


Gay Theatre Toronto

You've played a myriad of famous personalities on stage. What have been some specific challenges in regards to portraying Margaret Thatcher?

Elley-Ray

Time. Margaret Thatcher and her Iron Lady persona is not a small impulse. One of the joys of working within a short timeline, like in a festival climate, is about the character discovery. Taking on Kawa Ada's ever changing satirical script is a roller coaster, it's wild and adventurous, because it's changing daily. It still is! Once we are up on our feet, in rehearsals, we tweak and do these little adjustments. Margaret Thatcher's mannerisms are so specific and I'm thriving on the pressure to get it right - and it's not an impression but finding the joyfulness and, in particular, what's best for the play. They even gave me prop teeth to play with!

GTT

Besides Thatcher, who has been your favourite person from history to portray on stage? 

Elley-Ray

Too hard to choose! Eve (from the Garden), Tatum O'Neal, Virginia Woolf, Libby Holman, Queen Margaret, Judy Garland, Heliogabalus' Mother, God, Elsa Lanchester, Candy Darling, Medea, Salvador Dali's sister, Queen Elizabeth, Cher - Shit, that's just a few famous people I've played that I can remember - I'm forgetting some. They're all pretty great. Fuck - can I swear? Sorry. 

GTT 

Is there an icon that you haven't yet portrayed that you'd really like to sink your teeth into? 

Elley-Ray

Me. Myself. And I! - I have literally voiced thousands of T.V. and radio commercials and voiced many animated series and films. So you can't blame me for being interested in exploring and portraying a character closer to myself!

GTT 

You've appeared in several Fringe productions over the years. What attracts you to independent theatre?

Elley-Ray 

The rawness. I'm always up for being ridiculous and having fun with a new script or a young writer because there is hopefully a bit of unconventionality. I'm attracted to the comradery of a team working together, building that momentum, like that roller coaster climbing to the top. Chuga-chuga-chuga! I'm giving you my blood, sweat, chuga-chuga, soul, sex, body. There's no air conditioning? No heating? Chuga-chuga-chuga. I'm hoping that my cast mates are ready to get ridiculous, experiment, see themselves in a whole new way and develop skills that translate far beyond the stage! In the age of technology you better be giving the audience something to think about or else they're going to go home to Netflix and never watch theatre again! Not on my watch! 

GTT

Finally, any thoughts on what Thatcher might think of Donald Trump's presidential win? 

Elley-Ray

In the words of Margaret Thatcher, "I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left." And in this case... perhaps not a single political position to begin with!

The Death of Mrs. Gandhi and the Beginning of New Physics (a political fantasy) plays the 2017 Next Stage Theatre Festival from January 4 to 15. Tickets are available online at Toronto Fringe Next Stage Festival or call 416-966-1062 between 10am and 5pm.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Our 2016 Toronto Christmas Theatre Round-up

Wow! Is it that time of year again already? December has sneaked up on us much too quickly this year but it is, indeed, time for our annual round-up of Christmas themed shows in the GTA.


The Michael Hughes Christmas Special, performed by Garland-obsessed Hughes, is a nod to gay icon Judy Garland's own family Christmas TV special from 1963. Hughes performs his show at the Young Centre for the Arts. - December 3.

A Very Christerical Christmas Cabaret, an annual show by Chris Tsujiuchi, is back at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre. Be sure to wear your ugly Christmas sweater to this one! – December 3 and 4.

A Very Leila Christmas happens at the Storefront Theatre this year. Izad Etemadi brings us his lovable alter-ego, Leila, in her Christmas-themed show. - December 16 to 18.

It's A Wonderful Life, the cherished holiday film classic, is re-imagined as a 1940s live-radio broadcast by the Soulpepper ensemble. - December 9 to 24.

Eat, Buy, Repeat is Second City Toronto's boisterous comedy to help you celebrate the best (and worst) of the holiday season.- Now until January 6.

Together For The Holidays sees some of the biggest names in Canadian music gather to perform at Massey Hall. This concert features Sarah McLachlan, Johnny Reid, Holly Cole, and Jordan Smith. - December 19.

Sleeping Beauty: The Deliriously Dreamy Family Musical is Ross Petty Productions’ annual holiday show this year at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre. This is the first year in many that Petty steps away from playing the villain, giving that job to design expert Hilary Farr from HGTV's Love It Or List It. - Now until January 7. 

A Jann Arden Christmas features one of our favourite Canadian songstresses in a holiday-season extravaganza at Roy Thomson Hall with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Etobicoke School of the Arts chorus. - December 13 and 14.

Sharron & George's SUPERFUN Christmas Singalong! happens once again at Buddies In Bad Times. This talented duo are sure to put you in the mood for the Holidays with their fun, festive frivolity! – December 17.

A Christmas Carol has become a Toronto holiday tradition at Soulpepper Theatre. Follow Ebenezer Scrooge as he is visited by three ghosts who help him understand the importance of charity in the holiday season. – Now until December 24.

The Nutcracker, the gorgeous Christmas-themed ballet, is performed once again by the National Ballet of Canada at the Four Seasons Centre with choreography by James Kudelka. - December 10 to 31.

Happy Holidays and Make the Yuletide Gay!!!

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Wordplay

Nick May is the Artistic Director of Theatre Topikos. He is also an out gay actor that passionately works within LGBT film and theatre. In 2007 Nick starred in the LGBT film, The Houseboy, released by TLA Entertainment. In 2013, he appeared as Watson opposite Nathaniel Bacon as Sherlock in the Toronto production of Sherlock & Watson: Behind Closed Doors, a short play that portrays the world's greatest detective and his sidekick as more than just friends. Nick's one act play, Wordplay, was co-written with friend and writing partner Jess Bryson. The play began its life a few years back at Toronto's Gay Play Day LGBTQ theatre festival and was performed at the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival in Ireland earlier this year. Wordplay appears at The Commons Theatre as part of  The One More Night Festival this upcoming Saturday night. I had the pleasure of speaking with Nick about the play's progress thus far. 

Gay Theatre Toronto

Where did the idea for Wordplay come from? 

Nick May 

Wordplay is based on real conversations that I've had with my co-writer, Jess Bryson. We would get together for drinks and often find ourselves embroiled in disputes about words and why our unique experiences affected our opinions. Appropriate word use is very topical, and always changing. It's something that the both of us are very passionate about and sometimes that passion (along with a few bottles of wine) inspired some pretty heated debate. Years later, we've found humour in how ridiculous these conversations were. But also, we recognize the importance these conversations have on helping to form personal and popular opinion. Words can be so powerful, they can move us, hurt us, or make us laugh. 

GTT 

You took the show to the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival in Ireland earlier this year. What was that experience like? 

NM

The experience was absolutely incredible. The show was tweaked slightly in performing for a European audience, but it was a great learning experience, as words affect people differently there. There is less taboo behind a lot of the more 'shocking' words that we address in the show. Because the audience didn't get lost in the outrageous language, they were able to focus on the importance of the friendship and the dynamic shared between a gay man and his straight girl friend. Also, it's a very exciting time for Ireland. We attended the festival one year after their referendum on marriage equality, and as a result the festival was buzzing with excitement. Audience members commented that the show was a great example of the types of conversations that they're excited to be having post-referendum.


GTT 

The play actually began its life at Toronto's Gay Play Day LGBTQ theatre festival a few years back. Has the piece changed much since its initial performance? 

NM

Absolutely! The show started off as a 20 minute short at Gay Play Day. We received great feedback which drove us to write more and we've since developed it into a 50 minute one-act. We added a third character and really developed the relationship between the characters of Nick and Jess. When we decided to write the play, we based the characters on dramatized versions of ourselves and our first draft was much more dramatic. We've made a big shift though and the show now lives in a world of comedic realism. This was important to us because we believe that the subject matter can still be important without hitting the audience over the head with how heavy it is. With each new iteration of the show we are allowing ourselves the opportunity to add pieces that are topical and current; letting the show live in the present moment despite the venue, festival, or country that it is being performed in. 


GTT 

Time for some word play. What are your 5 favourite synonyms for "gay"? 

NM

Poof
Finocchio
Mary
Kween/Queen
Fairy


Wordplay plays The One More Night Festival on September 17 at 9pm at The Commons Theatre – 190 Richmond St East, Toronto. Tickets are $15.