Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Queer theatre returns to Ottawa

Toto Too aims for quality programming at low price

HISTORY PIECE. The first production of Toto Too is William & James, a story about two star-crossed lovers in the mid-1800s. The story is said to still resonate with today. Credit: (Christina Riley)

Fans of queer theatre should get riled about the newest stage troupe to hit the gay Ottawa arts scene.

In the wake of failed queer Ottawa theatre company, Act Out, comes a renaissance of the capital’s queer dramatic scene. Toto Too Theatre bills itself as “committed to the exploration of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender culture.” The new company also promotes an atmosphere of acceptance and inclusiveness, while providing a safe environment for members of the community to direct, act and perform.

The troupe was preceded by a number of failed attempts in queer dramatic arts. Gay theatre company Act Out expired in July of 2005. The company subsisted for four years, and amassed a debt of $15,000. The debt was sent to several collections agencies in the lead-up to their demise.

But Act Out had other problems aside from a litany of impatient creditors. Act Out’s former president Sean Moreman said that at the time, the problem was rooted in the community itself — that actions spoke louder than words in the apathy “infecting” queer arts and culture events. He said that the gay community would only support events that were both fabulous and cheap, a combination that proved too difficult to achieve and eventually led to Act Out’s demise.

Making Scenes, the local queer film and video festival also went under in October 2004 with rumours swirling about financial mismanagement.

The people behind Toto Too Theatre are aware of recent history, and determined not to repeat it. They’ve brainstormed ideas for engaging the community, winning their commitment to attend performances.

The company is co-founded by four prominent queer drama buffs: theatre veteran Marc Barrette, Queen’s drama alumnus Nancy Clue (stage manager of the troupe’s debut piece, William & James), newspaper columnist David Ferguson, and Ottawa’s Denis Schrybert who was previously part of the ill-fated Act Out troupe.

Initially, Ferguson, Clue and Barrette approached Schrybert to ask about how Act Out had been founded. Schrybert agreed to be part of a new attempt at queer Ottawa theatre and the founding then members decided on “Toto Too” as the title of their collective.

“It comes from the Wizard of Oz. Because we’re three guys and one girl. We thought the T’s were a catchy little phrase,” explains Schrybert.

“For our first production, we’re being co-produced and funded by Vintage Stock Theatre. They’ve been very good to us; they specialize in period pieces, so we had to go out and find a [queer] period piece as our first production,” says Schrybert.

The co-founders stumbled upon a play set in the 1850s, written by Robert Tsonos. William & James is a story about star-crossed British lovers that still faithfully resounds in modern times.

Schrybert says that Toto Too hopes to attract a “full house every night” and the profits would then be divided between Toto Too and Vintage Stock theatres.

Toto Too is also calling for submissions to plan ahead for subsequent projects, homegrown from the Ottawa queer community.

“[Community members] will be able to submit their own manuscripts on the website, or put in requests to volunteer-direct or volunteer in any way with a production,” assures Schrybert.

“We want the community to be part of the company. We want to be about the community getting involved. It is the only way this company will work. We want them to join us and help us take this on.”

In addition, Schrybert says that the troupe will be creating a community “playbill” to let everyone know what’s up and coming. They have also taken out a lot of ads and plan to put up as many posters as possible.

Most importantly, though, the debut piece will be an affordable night out! Toto Too members say they will always aim to bring forth thrifty, high quality productions. A regular adult admission to William & James is a mere $15 dollars, while students will pay $10.