The Best Theatre Production Companies in Toronto
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 clichéd Asian male stereotypes. Check 'em out.