Notable Picks for Indie Theatre in Toronto

You’ve told yourself too many times that you should take in more of Toronto’s ever-growing arts scene. So, what are you waiting for? These days, experiencing theatre, dance and opera is more fun and attainable than you think. Theatre, for example, doesn’t have to break the bank, nor does it have to involve some massive production – both literally and on your part. The city is speckled with casual, fringe festival-style independent theatres that routinely feature the work of some of the city’s most talented performers in productions that are often more relevant to young professionals (YPs) than some of the city’s larger and established theatres, which now struggle with an aging demo. Toronto’s indie, grassroots theatre thrives, fuelled by young people determined to create and produce performance art themselves. Here are our favourites….

Sterling Studio Theatre
Just over a year old, Toronto’s Sterling Studio Theatre is a 50-seater indie blackbox in the Junction that features some of the city’s top talent (many of whom can be found on TV on most evenings) and carefully selected productions. Season two saw three world premiers of original Canadian plays, 18 different plays, nine talented directors and over 50 actors. In what may be described as gritty theatre, the small space is intimate and inevitably facilitates more of a connection to the actors and the production than you would have in the 30th row of a big theatre space. It is theatre that tackles the issues YPs and young people in general face, including the relationships we have (complete with all the raw, awkward and dirty details) and what they mean at this stage in our lives. An innovative initiative, last month’s Playwright Survivor saw six local playwrights go head-to-head in a Survivor-style challenge, where each night a playwright was voted off and more words were added to a script for the next night. The audience decided a winner on the last night – Castle Falderal by Nina Kaye took the title – and the script will now be developed and added into the season at Sterling. Next up, Sterling is mouthing The Lover, a juicy production written by the brilliant Harold Pinter in January Check out upcoming shows here163 Sterling Rd, Unit 5

The Downstage
The Downstage is Toronto’s newest indie theatre space, which officially opened on November 9th. Complete with low ceilings, it is an unadorned basement space on the Danforth (making for a slew of pre- or post-show dinner options) located beneath a Magic Oven pizza outlet (798 Danforth, east of Pape Avenue). The theatre is the brainchild of three young theatre enthusiasts, all with guerrilla theatre credentials and a desire to create attainable theatre. In addition to a performance venue, it also serves as a common meeting place for like-minded people to gather, socialize and enjoy a fully-stocked bar, and hosts things like bi-monthly open-mic nights, movie screenings, and a series of public art programs designed to make culture accessible to young people and the community at large. Check out upcoming shows here798 Danforth Avenue

Alumnae Theatre
Founded in 1919, The Alumnae Theatre, known most often as The Alum, is the oldest theatre society in Toronto It was founded by female graduates of the University of Toronto, who wanted to continue semi-professional theatre post-graduation, and the leadership of the society remains entirely female. Although it has moved a few times, it currently occupies an old fire hall at Adelaide and Berkeley streets. The building now features a main performance space on the ground level, which seats 140. Upstairs is a smaller studio venue on the third floor. The Alum makes a good option if you are looking for more classic theatrical productions, like the upcoming The Lady’s Not for Burning by Christopher Fry. A popular option (and a way you can get involved yourself) is the theatre’s 26th annual New Ideas Festival (March 12 – 30, 2014), an opportunity for playwrights, directors, actors, and technicians to create and stage plays, and get immediate feedback from the audience. Check out upcoming shows here70 Berkeley St.

Theatre Brouhaha features original works specifically designed for the next generation of theatergoers, with the main goal to give the audience something to talk about afterwards. The theatre develops new Canadian work that reflects the experiences and interests of our generation through creative workshop processes, an active writer’s circle and actor’s lab. For example, back in October, Delicacy centered on the storyline of a wealthy Yorkville couple, who meet a younger, open-minded couple at an underground sex club and invite them back to their condo two weeks later for wine and cheese, among other potential things. Whether you saw it on a first or second date, or with your significant other, the performance inevitably left the audience wondering whether marriage was all it is cracked up to be. 

In Kensington Market, you can find Videofag storefront cinema, a space that was converted from an old barbershop in October 2012. And yes, the theatre reflects its name: it centres on the work of video-based work from local gay artists. Far from traditional theatre, it is dedicated to the creation and exhibition of video, film, new media, puppetry and live art. This past fall, the rogue musical All Our Happy Days are Stupid was a hot ticket when it ran in October and November. Catch Unintentionally Depressing Children’s Tales, running January 13-15, 2014. Far from a feel-good fairytale, it will feature shadow puppetry, projections and stop-motion storytelling. There really is nothing like it in the city. The best part is that they plan to keep most of their shows free or pay-what-you-can. Check out upcoming shows here187 Augusta Ave

So, if you’re looking for something to do in the depths of January that goes along with your month-long booze-free pledge (though most offer beer and wine anyway), or anytime, hit a show at one of the Toronto’s independent theatres.


Cover Image from: Videofag; Set Design by Joe Pagnan for “Mature Young Adults”

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