The Theatre Ball was a hot ticket last Thursday evening (March 7th) for Toronto’s arts supporters and charity ball regulars. Held at The Carlu, the Canadian Stage’s annual gala event was a particular cause for celebration this year as the theatre company marks its 25th anniversary season. Refreshingly, young professionals (YPs) were part of the mix of more seasoned theatre-attendees as well, clad in no shortage of brightly coloured dresses and ties that assured us that spring was (finally) approaching. Canadian Stage provides what event host Seamus O’Regan called the “best, innovative, contemporary theatre in the country,” offering a memorable night on the town for the YP, especially when accompanied with a pre-show dinner and post-show drinks.
The birthday party-themed evening kicked off with a cocktail hour, filled with hors d’oeuvres from Mildred’s Kitchen, wine and bubbly. Guests (all 400+ of them) milled about the impressive silent auction that featured fine wines, art, sports and entertainment packages, as well as a variety of “money can’t buy experiences.” Guests included some well-known faces from favourite YP shows past, like Jason Priestley (who stars in next month’s CanStage production of David Mamet’s RACE) and actress and comedienne Caroline Rhea (the aunt from Sabrina, the Teenaged Witch, as you may recall). In good spirits, both stars danced, mingled and posed for pictures with party guests. Other notable guests included host of Newstalk 1010 John Tory and wife Barbara Hackett, CBC Q’s Jian Ghomeshi, arts advocate Helen Burstyn, Canadian Stage’s artistic and general director Matthew Jocelyn, Theatre Ball chair Adrian Lang and CanStage actor Jonathon Young, among others.
Once the dinner doors opened and guests found their way to their tables (which were elegantly dressed with sparkly centrepeices, tasteful party hats and noisemakers), the dinner portion opened with a live musical performance from a medley of some of the country’s most talented artists. The performance paid homage to Canadian Stage’s most memorable productions of the past 25 years with Adam Brazier, Kevin Dennis, and a choir of musical theatre performers from Theatre20.
Opening speeches were filled with comparisons of Canadian Stage to a 25-year-old as the company celebrates its own quarter century anniversary – rich with history but not stale and tied down. References were made to the success of recent CanStage shows, most of which received 3 and 4 stars, featured talent from around world and provided innovative new concepts in Canadian theatre. The audience was reminded that, in tough times, arts funding is being cut and that CanStage is the largest not-for-profit theatre in Canada.
After a three-course meal that culminated with individual vanilla-flavoured birthday cakes with vanilla icing and silver sprinkles, it was time to raise some serious funds with the live auction and seasoned auctioneer Brian Bell. The live auction featured five lots; a popular lot with guests again this year was a unique day-long experience for 12 with the Toronto Police Emergency Task Force, selling twice for a total of $24,000. Other items included a private concert for your house party with the Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson along with a guitar from his private collection as a keepsake; an East Coast, century summer home escape; a ski getaway at a condo at Stonebridge Lodge in Big White Ski Resort; and (something we would have bid on had our clutch been deep enough) Jason Priestley’s Canadian Stage debut, an elite seat in the audience for the first day of rehearsal of the show, access to view the dress rehearsal, tickets to Opening Night (Thursday April 11), and a private dinner with Priestley himself.
Other fund-generators included an exclusive viewing party for an episode of CBC’s popular show The Lang & O’Leary Exchange, including a tasting of O’Leary wines as well as dinner with the show’s hosts, Amanda Lang and Kevin O’Leary. The coveted raffle prize (well worth the $100 ticket price for the lucky winner) was a sparkly pair of custom-made and stamped 18-karat white gold earrings from Mindham Fine Jewellery with a matching set of triangular facetted pink tourmalines and 30 small diamonds – a prize that required extra on-site security.
Our personal highlights? Caroline Rhea’s comment: “This is definitely a Sabrina thing” when we asked for her picture, before pulling us into it with her and handing our camera to her guest, who so energetically snapped at least two dozen shots in six seconds; Priestley examining the series of shots with us post-photo shoot (during which, for a rare occasion, we were slightly star-struck…what do you say to someone you had a doll of as a kid?); Seamus O’Regan popping out from a massive cake; and the packed dance floor of guests of all ages who danced the night away to the sounds of Bellosound’s DJ Daniel Buckman and team of live musicians, who performed among the guests.
The evening raised more than $300,000, with funds used to help the company stage over 300 performances, employ over 400 artists and provide theatre education to over 5,000 students every year.
Click here to see the full gallery.