Opinion
3 min

Head in the clouds

An editorial about escaping reality through Toronto's vibrant theatre world

The cast of Once, now playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. It's one of the exciting productions in Toronto this season. Credit: Mirvish

Coming into the Xtra newsroom has been a glum affair lately. I usually walk to my desk, wink at the naked-guy calendar adorning the wall in front of it and head to the kitchen for coffee. Most mornings include hellos and how-dos, some complaining about the cold weather and a quick glance at the headlines on whatever news channel is murmuring on the TV in the background. These days, it’s less of a murmur, however, and more of a constant whine. The news provokes shock, disappointment and sometimes even outrage. Rob Ford fatigue doesn’t get a chance to settle in because the court jester keeps fumbling with every step and every word uttered, and the tone is set for the rest of the day. 

Sometimes I imagine a small army of (muscular, leather-shorts-wearing, ridiculously handsome) bodybuilders inside my vascular system, helping to lift my heavy spirits. The news of the city (especially recent news of Buddies losing funding for the Rhubarb festival this year), the country and the world can often bring us down. 

This is why I like to lose myself in the world of theatre, and that is the whole point behind this, our second annual theatre issue. This edition of Xtra is an escape from the real world, an excuse to break free from the sad or embarrassing news around us and dive into the stories told by the storytellers around us.

What better way to banish nightmarish thoughts of the stomach-turning Ford Nation than with an evil black swan? I fully intend to see the new production of Swan Lake at the Four Seasons Centre this winter. The latest production of the beautiful ballet is put on by Order of Canada recipient and choreographer James Kudelka (he’s the guy responsible for the successful comeback and modern reimagining of The Nutcracker). And though I don’t know the first thing about classical dance (despite having taken an adult ballet course for three months — my butt never looked so good), I love losing myself in the beauty of the movements, muscles and costumes of the dancers. 

That’s the great thing about the ballet, opera or even musical theatre: even if some aspects of the performance are hard to grasp, there’s usually something to bite into. If the story is over my head, I concentrate on the tutus.

One of my favourite stories in this issue is our profile of Grant Heaps, the assistant wardrobe coordinator at the National Ballet. He reminds me of that wand maker in the Harry Potter movies. At once charming and curious, but also a quirky and highly skilled perfectionist — he’s kind of a magician, too. His story shows off a whole other side of the stage: the behind-the-scenes world of costume making, fixing and styling. This, too, takes a small army to lift, but in this case it’s corsets, pointed shoes and cups.

Even when watching a ballet or an opera, where the drama runs high and emotions are intense, it’s still in a (mostly) comfortable room, doors closed and without the sounds and distractions of the city. A very easy, if only temporary, getaway.

On the other end of the stage spectrum, I recently went to see Evil Dead: The Musical. There’s no drama in this show, just buckets of laughs and blood. It’s an extremely entertaining night out, and for the duration of two acts I was transported to a cabin in the woods packed with horny teens and some ancient book of evil. It’s a spectacular feat when a small community theatre can transform a space and take the audience on an entertaining ride. 

News stories and reality might frustrate or sadden, but Torontonians have endless possibilities of places to run off to for a couple hours and forget about everything. We have stages for every type of theatre, we have blogs and awards dedicated to it; hell, we are even home to one of the oldest queer theatre companies in the world (hi, Buddies!). While it’s good to stay informed about what’s going on in the world and know how it affects your life, it’s just as important to lose yourself, stick your head way up in the clouds and be entertained by the wide and wonderful world of theatre.