You can’t swing a cat in this city without hitting a new emerging theatre company. And while it’s exciting to see so many artists working, many encounter the same problem: “Most theatre spaces available today are simply far too expensive for independent artists to make any money off of their productions,” says Benjamin Blais, of Red One Theatre Collective. “It’s much more sensible to build your own stage, thus providing you and your people with the resources and breathing room they need to thrive.” Which is one of the reasons a host of Toronto-based companies, from DIY upstarts to established pros, are opening their own venues. “It’s important for emerging artists to practise regularly,” says Chris Abraham, artistic director of Crow’s Theatre. “And to do so on their own terms and to define the terms of their own expression.” We’ve decided to explore this phenomenon by creating a guide to some artistic spaces recently opened (or soon to open) in Toronto.
Resident company: lemonTree Creations
Location: Queen and Spadina, 196 Spadina Ave
Artistic producer Indrit Kasapi had the idea to open the studio after a marathon year of writing grant, festival and residency applications. “I got fed up,” Kasapi says. “I realized I had spent so much of my time and energy trying to convince other people that my art is worthy of their support, when the truth is I don’t know if this art will be good or bad or amazing or mind-blowing or completely annoying because I have yet to make this art.” While the venue was opened as a home for lemonTree to create and develop its work, Kasapi is excited to collaborate. “Anything is possible. I invite artists to approach us with their ideas of how they would like to use the space.”
The StoreFront Theatre
Resident company: Red One Theatre
Location: Bloor and Ossington, 955 Bloor St W
“We needed a place to put up our shows,” Benjamin Blais explains. “Though the interdependent artistic community here in Toronto is very strong and ever-evolving, I find the state of available space for these indie artists quite inaccessible. Why else would you see so many young companies putting shows up in warehouses and abandoned parking lots?” Though the reclaimed former drugstore is primarily intended as a home base for Red One, The StoreFront Theatre promises to showcase the work of a number of new playwrights, installation artists and musicians.
Upcoming: Fredrick Knott’s classic thriller Wait Until Dark.
Resident artists: Jordan Tannahill and William Christopher Ellis
Location: Kensington Market, 187 Augusta Ave
Theatre power-couple Tannahill and Ellis started daydreaming about opening a space together on a road trip in the US. “We were really taken with Chicago’s storefront theatre culture and the innovative reimagining of abandoned buildings by artists in rustbelt cities like Detroit, Buffalo and Cleveland.” After taking over an old barbershop in the Market, Tannahill and Ellis launched Videofag in the fall, and it’s already played host to a slew of performances, including Salvatore Antonio’s riotous reenactment of Madonna doc Truth or Dare and an avant-garde residency by Nina Arsenault. “Ultimately, the art that works best in Videofag is work that embraces the space’s intimacy and grassroots spirit.”
Upcoming: Henri Fabergé’s Feint of Hart, Zack Russell’s Grindr Noir Rapture and Stewart Legere’s El Camino or the Field of Stars.
Aki Studio Theatre
Resident company: Native Earth Performing Arts
Location: Regent Park, Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas St W
“Native Earth Performing Arts is currently in its 30th season as Canada’s oldest professional indigenous theatre company,” artistic associate Cole Alvis says. “Our new venue is the first theatre we can call home. Aki is the Anishnaabemowin word for land, earth or place.” The Aki Studio Theatre prides itself on creating an exceptionally high level of accessibility. “We are talking about more than just a reduced rate on rehearsal space. The Aki Studio Theatre is equipped with wheelchair-accessible dressing rooms (including shower), as well as purposeful ventilation allowing artists to smudge (a purification ceremony that involves burning any of the four traditional medicines) at any time in our theatre and our office upstairs.”
Upcoming: Gwaandak Theatre’s Café Daughter and Monique Mojica’s Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way.
Collective Studio & Event Space
Resident companies: Theatre Lab and Pandemic Theatre
Location: 664 Lansdowne Ave, between Bloor & Dupont
“We have done projects in the past where basically 90 percent of our already tiny production budgets are sunk in the performance venue,” says Michael Orlando, of Theatre Lab. “We wanted to create a truly independent space that was affordably priced for the dozens of companies, ad hoc collectives and individual artists just like us who had the same roadblock to furthering their work.” With that in mind, Theatre Lab joined forces with Pandemic Theatre, snatched up an old barbershop on Lansdowne, and installed floating bamboo hardwood floors. “We have had almost every type of booking we could think of so far: pop-up gallery, pop-up clothing store, movie screenings, private voice lessons, photo shoots, small dance rehearsals — and, of course, a ton of theatre rehearsal.”
Resident company: Crow’s Theatre
Location: Dundas & Carlaw, The Carlaw condo building
Though it won’t open until July 2015, the announcement that Crow’s Theatre will be opening its own venue on the ground floor of a new condo development is major news. “It was obvious to me immediately the psychic barrier that exists between the east end and the rest of the city,” says Chris Abraham of opening a theatre on the other side of the Don Valley. “We wanted to make a long-term commitment to this specific part of the city without shutting the doors on the rest of the theatregoers in town.” Besides continuing to produce new Canadian work, Crow’s venue will have a strong focus on community outreach. “We will be trying to create space for non-professionals to exercise their creative muscles onstage, besides the work of professionals,” Abraham says. “That’s very important to us.”
Upcoming: Crow’s production of Kristen Thomson’s new play, Someone Else, is up and running at the Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley St.