State of Theatre: Mitchell Marcus

Mitchell Marcus is the founder and Artistic Producer of Acting Up Stage Theatre Company. For three years, Mitchell has served as the Production & Marketing Coordinator for the It's Always Something Variety Show at the Princess of Wales and Elgin Theatres, working closely with stars like Eric McCormack, Bryan Adams, Eugene Levy, Kim Cattrall, Jann Arden, Drew Carey, Victor Garber and Colm Wilkinson. Mitchell produced the 2006 Dora Mavor Moore Awards, has been the General Manager of the Paprika Festival, and was the Marketing/Fundraising Assistant at the Tarragon Theatre. He is currently the Production Coordinator for the inaugural Luminato - Toronto's Festival of Arts and Creativity.

What is your opinion on the current state of theatre in Toronto?

"There is a funny duality in Toronto at this moment, especially in musical theatre. On one hand, certain shows have received unprecedented attention and sales (Phantom of the Opera, Wicked) while other shows very worthy of being seen have had a difficult time getting the necessary audiences (Songs For A New World, Urinetown). I think that people are starting to be more careful in how they spend their money. Gone are the days in Toronto where the city is buzzing with large scale musicals and tourists choosing Toronto as an alternative to New York City. I think those days were important for all theatres.

Tourists coming to the mega-musicals would also sometimes pick up a show at one of our amazing regional theatres. There was an attitude of respect given to the theatre in our city. Now it seems that convincing someone to spend their disposable money on theatre requires a show with a brand name, or exceptional word of mouth."

What needs to be improved upon?

"I think that we need to accept the choices of our audiences at the moment. Let's all acknowledge that we are no longer the third largest theatre centre in the world and move on! By continuing to uphold this incorrect fact, I don't think we impart clearly enough the challenges of producing work in our city. Too many people produce work that benefits them without really considering the audience in the process.

Once we have done that, we need to produce more specific work. I think a lot of companies faced with dwindling audiences have gotten more and more general with their work trying to attract everyone, and thereby pleasing no one. I think we all have to define ourselves and what we are trying to do very clearly so that we can be very specific in our work and our marketing to make sure that what we are producing meets the needs of our audiences and find avenues to reach the people we are trying to attract. "

Where do you see yourself in all this?

"I think that Acting Up Stage is unique in that it is the only company in the city dedicated to contemporary musical theatre. Other companies occasionally enter into this genre, but no one company has consistently produced this type of material. There is definitely an audience for this - not a huge one, but an audience.

There are youth across the province who collect and listen to the CDs of all our modern musical theatre composers (Jason Robert Brown, Andrew Lippa, Michael John LaChiusa, Jonathan Larson, etc.) and a generation of Torontonians who love the musical works of the previous generation of composers who are still writing incredible work (Stephen Sondheim, William Finn). I think that for die-hard musical theatre lovers, we are the company who brings the work they never thought they'd get to see in Toronto to the city. I think for musical theatre appreciators, we are the company that lets them enjoy great singers and thought provoking material in intimate spaces once a year. I think for the musical theatre performers, we are the company that allows them the chance to perform material that is truly challenging and emotionally engaging."

Is your current show representative of that?

"Elegies: A Song Cycle is written by Tony Award winner William Finn whose work is popular in New York (Falsettos, A New Brain, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee), but who has had limited exposure in Toronto (Falsettos, In Trousers). For musical theatre lovers, William Finn is a massive talent and I think the chance to see this powerful work will be exciting for William Finn fans. For people who like musicals, Elegies provides 18 of the most beautiful poignant songs I have ever heard, sung by five INCREDIBLE Canadian performers. It takes the audience on a musical journey looking at loss in our modern world. It is tugs at the heart strings, and makes you smile. It is a very fulfilling evening of theatre."

Acting Up Stage Theatre Company presents the Toronto premiere of Elegies: A Song Cycle February 15th-March 3rd, 2007 at the Berkeley Street Upstairs Theatre.

The State of Theatre in Toronto is a weekly series where theatre artists and affiliates, professional and emerging, will be interviewed on their thoughts on the subject.

(image: actingupstage.com)

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