Meet the woman keeping one of Toronto's favourite comedy clubs alive after demolition
Toronto's popular Bad Dog Theatre closed its doors last summer due to COVID-19, but thanks to the work of Artistic and Managing Director Coko Galore and her team, the theatre still lives on by adapting to a new online landscape.
Prior to her role at Bad Dog Theatre, Galore had worked as a producer, performer, and writer for a number of shows including headlining various improv festivals and her biographical solo show MIXED CHICK at the Toronto Fringe Festival.
Galore took over as Bad Dog interim artistic director on March 1, 2020. Two weeks later, the theatre announced they'd be cancelling all shows and closing their doors as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to spread through the city.
"That was my decision and it was the first decision that I made as interim AD," Galore told blogTO. "When we shut down, we thought we were going to just shut down until the end of the month."
"'We'll be back in April,' that's what we thought."
As the pandemic situation continued to worsen in Toronto, Bad Dog Theatre, like many other venues throughout the city, remained closed and was struggling to pay rent.
In July, the interim tag was dropped as Coko was announced as the theatre's Artistic and Managing Director. Just a few weeks later, another difficult decision was made to move out of their physical Bloorcourt space. The space in which the theatre company was housed has since been demolished.
"It was a combination of we're not using it so we we're focused on just staying alive as a theatre," explained Galore. "Paying rent for a space that we couldn't use was challenging."
During this time, the theatre transitioned its business model to begin offering online classes and shows. Suddenly, not only could local community members continue to enjoy everything Bad Dog Theatre had to offer, but so could comedy fans across the world.
The Bad Dog Comedy TV YouTube channel was created as producers and performers worked to adapt many of the theatre's most popular shows into an online format. Audience favourites such as Hookup, D&D Live, and The Oval began live broadcasts with fans eagerly tuning in.
The immediate popularity of the channel has led to Galore and the Bad Dog Theatre team expanding their offerings into eight weekly shows broadcast at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
With the assistance of former Academy & Corporate Director Vance Gillis, Galore also worked to develop a slate of online classes for students to learn everything from improv and acting to hosting and mindfulness.
"What I did not want was for Bad Dog Comedy TV or Bad Dog Comedy Classes to just be an answer to the pandemic," explained Galore. "I wanted it to be something that was long-lasting so we built it with the intention that it will continue after the pandemic."
Though learning or watching comedy while sitting in front of a computer is certainly different than in a comedy club, Galore says both performers and audiences have embraced the new format. Interacting with YouTube's live chat, and inviting performers from across the world to participate have been just a few benefits of the online venture.
Amidst the chaos of losing their physical space, the seemingly endless onslaught of political unrest and social issues weighed heavy on Galore and a theatre company that holds diversity and inclusion amongst its core values.
"That was challenging for me as a person but also as an artist, creator, and facilitator of the space," said Galore. "What I keep reminding myself is that the community stands with me and that's really cool."
Galore and the Bad Dog Theatre team have continued to hold a positive outlook moving forward, looking for the silver lining in an otherwise tough year. While she expects it will still be another year or two before Bad Dog returns to a physical space, they're taking this as an opportunity to grow as a theatre.
Finding an accesible venue, and working alongside staff and artists who reflect Toronto's diverse population are just a few of the ways Bad Dog hopes to continue to grow while resetting and realligning to their values.
During a time when countless beloved establishments were forced to close their doors, Coko Galore has reminded us all that the show must go on.
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