The State of Theatre in Toronto

Following a difficult and bizarre summer in 2003 (SARS, Blackout, Mad Cow, The War In Iraq and our stance on it, Schwarzenegger, and a failing American Dollar) a slumping tourist industry in Toronto only added to a theatre scene that was beginning to suffer from being...stable. So what is the current state of theatre in Toronto today?

Original works from indigenous Canadian artists began to truly emerge in Toronto in the 1970s. Since then numerous theatres, including the Factory Theatre, Tarragon Theatre, Theatre Passe Muraille, and Buddies in Bad Times have arisen, all dedicated to original Canadian works. Other theatres, like CanStage, balanced new and old, foreign and indigenous.

There are also many new classical companies such as Soulpepper and Shakespeareworks and numerous comedy houses, namely Second City, that cater to various audiences. There is also a plethora of commercial giants that shower the big trends in big bright colours; the Canon, The Royal Alex, The Princess, and the Panasonic. Not to mention the many theatre companies and one-off theatres around the city. Opportunity is everywhere. So what's the problem?

The theatre community has seen a certain level of stagnation, partly due to tourism. Musicals, one-man shows and sketch comedy performances are found on every corner and in every coffee shop. This inundation has made it difficult to find a consistent audience who, generally, prefer to watch their entertainment at home.

There are also several theatre companies and festivals self-consciously catering to low brow trends that, though do bring audiences in, are just 'quick fix strategies'. The closing of several important independent theatres has also hurt the community. Some theatres include The Poor Alex, The Artword and The Theatre Centre. Their losses have and will make the independent theatre scene more obscure.

But theatre is essential, and things are looking up. I believe the state of theatre in Toronto can be great . I feel a great renaissance in theatre emerging, thanks to the many talented and passionate artists and theatre companies, as well as the diverse voices in the community. Wonderful productions like John Mighton's 'Half Life' and Rick Miller and Daniel Brooks' 'Bigger than Jesus' were some of the powerful pieces that have shone over the last few years. We are still young, with barely 50 years of history behind us. So where do we go from here?

Some thoughts for audiences and artists:

-Critique, don't criticize.
-Be lenient perfectionists.
-Don't be scared of new works. Don't be scared of new works with old formats.
-Take pride in supporting ourselves without need of support from elsewhere.
-Work with people you trust. Trust new people.
-Self-respect, self-promotion, self-support, self-reliance, solidarity, success.

It's always easier said than done, until someone does it.

The State of Theatre in Toronto is a new weekly series where theatre artists and affiliates, professional and emerging, will be interviewed on their thoughts on the subject. Next week: Da Kink In My Hair's playwright Trey Anthony, whose newest production, 'I Am Not A Dinner Mint' makes its remount at the Diesel Playhouse.

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