Twice a week, the cast of Toto Too’s latest production climb the stairs to the second floor of the Crichton Community Centre. The rehearsal room is yellow — yellow walls, yellow cupboards and yellow blinds. There are few windows, the lights are low-lying and there is no air-conditioning. It is hot and humid and the cast spends hours sweating — both literally and figuratively — rehearsing for Kilt, which opens on Sept 1.
Written by Jonathon Wilson and directed by David Ferguson, Kilt marks the return of Toto Too in its new configuration.
In April, Toto Too’s board resigned after finishing the third season. The following week, the new board — Mark Webster, David Ferguson and Marc Barrette — announced the new season, which reflects the original mandate of Toto Too: to promote Canadian plays in a way that unapologetically reflects the gay community.
“We are becoming more unapologetic about who we are — that’s what it really comes down to. One of the things, when we first started Toto Too, we wanted to be able to tell our stories, to tell the stories of gay and lesbian people in this city and, in fact, this country,” says Ferguson. “My problem was that we were moving away from that, and I am very happy to say that we are completely back on, reconsidering and trying to stay true to that path.”
Kilt is the least controversial play scheduled for this season — the other two, Martin Yesterday and Happy, explore darker sides of gay culture, whereas Kilt deals with gay identity, coming out and society’s changing perceptions of homosexuality.
All six cast members have been involved in community theatre before, except for Craig Richardson, who plays the main character, Tom — an exotic dancer in a gay club who wears his grandfather’s kilt with style and in complete regimental fashion.
“When I originally decided to do this, I wanted to dip my big toe into the acting pool, but I went and auditioned, read for the part of Tom and was lucky enough to get it,” says Richardson.
Although Richardson has the least experience in community theatre, he is surrounded by a cast that, cumulatively, have years of acting behind them.
Mary Harvey, a veteran of improv theatre, plays Tom’s mother, Esther, who is trapped in an old-school parenting role.
“I love Esther and I feel sad for her, because she is of that generation where moms did what they thought they should do — they did the best they could, and it’s not always a really healthy decision for them or their families,” says Harvey.
Others in the cast are Paul Washer — who sports a natural Scots brogue, Caroline Bowden as Tom’s feisty, whiskey-swilling aunt, and Alain Lachapelle as a young soldier coming out in WW2.
“In terms of the character, he’s kind of a young guy who back then is, of course, in the closet and everything. I grew up in the closet as well. I didn’t come out until my early 20s, so, you know, there’s some similarities,” says Lachapelle.
None of the cast members were familiar with Toto Too before the auditions — except Washer, who has seen some of their productions. They have now been rehearsing twice a week since May, and all are happy with the direction of the rehearsals.
“He is just very much hands on; he has a very definite vision of how he wants the play to look, how he wants the characters to be, and so you are literally being moulded by him,” says Bowden of Ferguson.
Ferguson, for his part, is completely happy with the cast of Kilt.
“We have such a fantastic crew of men and women right now who are thrilled to be part of the process — I can’t tell you how invigorating it is. It really does the spirit good,” says Ferguson.
While rehearsals for Kilt have continued, Ferguson has also held auditions for Martin Yesterday. This will be the first time Toto Too produces two overlapping plays — as rehearsals start for Martin Yesterday, Kilt will open at the Arts Court Theatre.
A normal season consists of three productions every four months, but because of scheduling problems, the first two plays come within three months of each other.
By January, production will be back on track, and by then, Ferguson will already be in the midst of working towards the next season.
“I have had the unique opportunity to get three original plays for the first time ever,” says Ferguson. “We are doing three original plays for the season, and they are written by three Ottawa residents: two gay men and one gay woman.”
If the last season for Toto Too ended in a quagmire of conflicts, it has not halted Ferguson’s quest to get Toto back on track — he is fired up, and if the rehearsals are anything to go by, Kilt will be a fitting play to open the new season, with a cast that is hot in so many ways.
Kilt runs Sept 1–4, 2010, at the Arts Court Theatre, 2 Daly Ave. Tickets $25. Available at After Stonewall Books, the Second Cup (Bank and Somerset) and the Arts Court Theatre box office. For more information, go to tototoo.ca