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Best of Toronto

The Best Theatre Production Companies in Toronto

Posted by Todd H / May 9, 2011

Theatre Production Companies TorontoThe best theatre production companies in Toronto are programmatically all over the map. Have a hankerin' for a big budget musical? David Mirvish would only be too happy to oblige. Craving a classic that's tried and true? Albert Schultz and Soulpepper have your fix. Desiring a cutting edge play with the potential to flip the way you think about the world? Nightwood, Buddies in Bad Times, CanStage, Red One and Fu-Gen will have you reaching for your gravity boots. Want to see how theatre can help shape and build the future of our country? Then Clay and Paper, The Classical Theatre Project and Toronto Youth Theatre will give you a prescription.

But the kind of productions these companies provide is only part one of this three part story. Just as important is the level of accessibility and in some ways, this is where Toronto's theatre community really shines. From Pay-What-You-Can performances - available from almost all companies here except Mirvish - to ticket lotteries, student and senior discounts, online discount codes and even the T.O.Tix booth in Dundas Square, challenging, funny, curious, bizarre, and emotionally and visually engaging theatre can be yours for as little as a buck. Try to get that from your local multiplex.

Part three of Toronto's theatre equation isn't as easily seen from row ten, but in many ways it's the most vital - and it's the work that goes into mentoring, workshopping and building the next generation of artists and audience. Each and every company here doesn't just produce their own shows. They create opportunities for new artists and new voices to be heard, they collaborate with other companies, they push the boundaries of what audiences are willing to see, hear and feel and they (mostly) accept middling pay to do it because they understand the transformative power of live theatre and believe it's essential to our lives. With this, I wholeheartedly agree.

Here are the 10 best theatre production companies as voted by the readers of this site.

Soulpepper

Much more than just a theatre company, Soulpepper is so indelible to the Toronto theatre scene that it's hard to believe it's only been around for a little over a decade. A rep company founded by actors for actors, they continue to revisit and reinvent the classics, both well known and obscure, while mentoring and providing much needed space and production opportunities to new artists. It's Toronto's finest company and its staggering growth and innumerable accolades make it an absolute no-brainer for anyone who is even remotely interested in live theatre. Go. Just go.

Buddies in Bad Times

Self described as "Canada's Home to Queer Culture", Buddies was formed in 1979 and, like most fledgling theatre companies, moved from venue to venue until finally settling down at its present location on Alexander St. in 1994. Always provocative and artistically challenging, it has been the incubator for some of Canada's most important playwrights - Sky Gilbert, Daniel McIvor, Brad Fraser, and Robin Fulford just to name a few - and new Artistic Director Brendan Healey is renewing the company once again with viscerally evocative works that will sometimes leave you breathless.

Mirvish

Easily the most well-known and well attended of these companies because of its deep subscriber base and more accessible medium, David Mirvish is continuing to build the incredible theatre behemoth that his dad, Ed, started in 1987. While sometimes derided by the more "serious" theatre community, the Mirvish track record is outstanding. From producing all Canadian productions of massive hit shows like Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, Rent, Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You, to bringing in some phenomenal touring productions like Wicked and August: Osage County (personally the most amazing piece of theatre I've seen in Toronto in 10 years), Mirvish also gives local (even fringe!) productions a shot at the big time and sometimes they hit it out of the park and win Tony Awards. Case in point, The Drowsy Chaperone.

Red One Theatre Collective

Passionately committed to site-specific theatre that utilizes neglected and unconventional spaces in which to perform, ROTC creates visceral theatre that rarely misses the mark. Far more than just the old academic notion of "environmental theatre", their productions are co-op based and aim to explode our idea of what theatre is or should be. To almost prove the point though, catching a production can be tricky as the runs are sometimes as short as a single performance and rarely last longer than a couple weeks, so if you see they have a show running, drop everything.

The Canadian Stage Company

Canada's largest not-for-profit contemporary theatre company, Canstage has a long and impressive history in Toronto and under the new Artistic Direction of Matthew Jocelyn it's trying to re-establish itself as a force to be reckoned with by expanding the notion of theatre being just actors on a stage and including many more cross-disciplinary aspects to its productions. The 2011-2012 season is looking very promising with productions of the Tony Award winning Red, the incredible Another Africa (from Volcano's Africa Trilogy commissioned for Luminato 2010) and the Atom Egoyan directed Cruel and Tender among others.

Clay & Paper

As its namesake implies, Clay and Paper is a mask/large scale puppetry company that creates community driven, multi-disciplinary work that needs to be seen to truly be appreciated. Primarily performing in public spaces and incorporating pageantry, narrative storytelling and even parades(!), they rehearse in full public view and strive to make art accessible and available to all. Their upcoming Day of Delight (June 19th in Dufferin Grove Park) has become a ritual in the city and a witty, fun, joyous event that is counter-balanced with their fear-purging Night of Dread held annually every October. Do yourself a favour and seek them out. Super fun!

The Classical Theatre Project

OK, I'll admit it. I was definitely bored with a lot of Shakespeare in high school and that's exactly why I wish the CTP had existed way back when. As Canada's only rep company dedicated to performing Shakespeare for student audiences, the CTP acts as a collaborator and colleague with educational programs and teachers to engage and challenge students to see themselves and their lives reflected in the plays of the Bard. With ten years and over half a million students now behind them, the CTP is doing a LOT of things right. The best part? Anyone can buy a ticket and see a show. Watching Hamlet has never been so much fun.

Nightwood Theatre

Founded in 1979, Nightwood is Canada's oldest professional women's theatre company and has produced, nurtured, directed, and toured so many seminal Canadian plays and female artists that to say they've helped indelibly shape our theatrical landscape is no understatement. Ann-Marie MacDonald, Djanet Sears, Monique Mojica and Sonja Mills are but a few who've benefited from Nightwood's process and any theatre lover would be remiss without attending at least one of their productions on an annual basis and their Groundswell Festival of new works.

Toronto Youth Theatre

Dedicated to providing opportunities for youth to participate in theatre - be it on or off the stage - TYT uses theatre to aid in the "personal, cultural and social development of young people". Providing classes, intensive workshops and performance opportunities out of its theatre on Ossington, TYT productions, while not professional, are definitely worth checking out. It's rare to leave a performance without a massive grin on your face.

Fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company

Founded in 2002, Fu-GEN's founding members started out with the simple aim of filling an Asian void they saw in the Canadian cultural landscape, and man, have they filled it. From the get go of their first production of Banana Boys, their shows play to sold out houses and much deserved critical acclaim. Last fall's 7th annual Potluck festival hosted Canada's largest gathering of professional Asian-Canadian Theatre artists and the collaborations continue with their most recent offering Brown Balls (running til May 15th at Factory Studio Theatre) poking a serious and seriously hilarious look at western society's use of clich├ęd Asian male stereotypes. Check 'em out.

Photos by gallow_chris, the Daily Planet and Roger Cullman on Flickr.

Discussion

14 Comments

cultureshot / May 9, 2011 at 12:00 pm
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Great list - there are some awesome companies here. Interesting though that the "Founding Fathers" of Toronto Theatre (Tarragon, Factory, Passe Muraille) aren't included...
Erin / May 9, 2011 at 12:26 pm
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What about the Children's Peace Theatre? They run child and youth programming all year round with a focus on conflict transformation and social issues through the creation of theatre. They go into schools, communities, etc to teach restorative justice and look at the true depth of conflict.

This is a gem in our community that never gets recognized because the word just doesn't get out.
KiaV / May 9, 2011 at 12:48 pm
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Although I'm very happy that BlogTo seems to be covering more theatre lately - this list is just bizarre and schizophrenic. If there are three lists to be made - make three lists! You don’t make a list called: Best Ten Pizza Joints, Coffee Bars or All You Can Eat Sushi places, do you? That would be silly. Comparing Buddies to Toronto Youth Theatre to Clay and Paper is comparing apples to artichokes to prawns.

How about Best place to see plays-in-development? Best playwrights under 35? Top ten places to see theatre outdoors? Best musical production companies? Best amateur theatre companies? Best places to send your under 18 year old drama king/queen? Best theatres for rug rats?

For a site that has gotten as specific as “Best cinnamon buns” and “best hummus” I think throwing it all into one big pot is a little belittling of the incredible diversity of artists, companies and audiences in this city. . .
tylerstreet / May 9, 2011 at 01:37 pm
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This is a joke. No tarragon, no factory, no passe muraille. who's the theatre expert here?

Red One? Red Who????
Guest / May 9, 2011 at 03:03 pm
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I think people should note that these are nominated and voted by readers. BlogTO is not claiming this is done by any experts. If you have an issue with it, you should have nominated or voted accordingly.

I, for one, am glad that lesser known theatres can get exposure on BlogTO whether they deserve to be called "The Best" or not.
Anna C / May 9, 2011 at 03:30 pm
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Please provide caption credits for the photos. Your editors should familiarize themselves with the Canadian Actors' Equity rules: when there are fewer than five people in the shot, you must credit the actors, director and creator(s). The producer pays a fine if your publication fails to credit members of CAEA. Also, it is customary to acknowledge artists who illustrate your story.
sb singh / May 9, 2011 at 09:20 pm
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@ tylerstreet
Hey, Theatre Expert. You just named the 3 big b-houses in Toronto. What about them? Been doin' great stuff since the 70s, eh? Great.
Red who? Find out, man. This list isn't about everyone you've already heard about. There's lots of room for more great theatre and the fact that some of these names are totally unfamiliar means that I should get out more as well. The fact that there are equally exciting groups that were left of the list means that Canadian Theatre is getting healthier and healthier!
Seems there is room to get more specific, KiaV, but this is a fine start. And comparisons in performance are not unreasonable or impossible.
Rock&Roll Megaphone / May 10, 2011 at 09:38 am
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To find more information about the Red One Theatre Collective please visit our website

www.redonetheatre.com

and "Tylerstreet" just keep your ear to the ground and next time you wont feel so left out ;-)

Thanks everybody. See you at the show!
mark replying to a comment from tylerstreet / May 10, 2011 at 02:05 pm
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Clearly Tylerstreet has never seen a Red One show..... that's his loss. Its powerful, unsettling theatre. We need more like them. Love the list. CanStage is trying again to do some awesome stuff too. We need it.
Frank Cox-O'Connell / May 11, 2011 at 01:58 pm
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The picture on the left is a company shot from The Mill, Part 4: Ash by TheatreFront. They make great theatre but, FYI, are not on your list.
Rosemary Doyle / May 12, 2011 at 08:55 pm
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Hi! We hope to be a part of this list next year! Look for us soon RED SANDCASTLE THEATRE - 922 Queen East! It's going to be a fun year, you heard it first here!
Rosemary Doyle,
Artistic Director
RED SANDCASTLE THEATRE
betty / September 26, 2012 at 03:04 am
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your search link promises a list of the best amateur theatre. where is that?
COSPLAY / September 26, 2012 at 11:52 pm
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This is a joke. No tarragon, no factory, no passe muraille. who's the theatre expert here?
Georgia Walker / February 5, 2014 at 04:10 pm
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check out dream theatre productions in toronto..

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