Zoo Story Play Toronto

Classic Play 'The Zoo Story' Coming to a Bench Near You this Weekend

'The Zoo Story', Edward Albee's 1959 masterpiece, is set on a park bench in a bustling city. I've seen it a number of times over the years...but never on an actual bench in an actual park. That is, until last Friday.

Red One Theatre's free, traveling production of the play is wrapping up this weekend with performances at De Grassi Street Park tonight and at the south end of Glen Stewart Park on Friday and Saturday at 7pm.

'The Zoo Story' is about a well-dressed fellow named Peter who's sitting alone, reading a manuscript on a Central Park bench until a stranger named Jerry interrupts him and tries to tell him about his day at the zoo.

The production was solid, I could hear the actors over the din of the passing cars and I even had a place to sit thanks to a tarp that the production provided. It's definitely an interesting experience; a perfect way to impress that theatre nerd you have your eye on.

I asked Lauren Williams, General Manager of the Red One Theatre Collective, about putting on the show.

blogTO: How did you guys come up with the idea to do 'The Zoo Story' on park benches around Toronto in the first place?

Lauren: We initially wanted to put on 'The Zoo Story' to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the play's premiere in Berlin, 1959. The decision to perform it in parks came about through a discussion among the theatre collective members about putting it on in an unusual venue.

'The Zoo Story' is a play about feeling isolated and desperate despite while living in a crowded, bustling city. We thought that using the park as a venue might aesthetically and emotionally highlight this dichotomy - where the action can unfold on a lonely park bench, seemingly unnoticed by the dog walkers, joggers and baseball teams playing nearby.

Have you ever been involved in public theatre before?

We were commissioned by Mildred's Temple Kitchen, a great new restaurant in Liberty Village, to perform guerilla-style theatre during their Valentine's Day dinner service. Various acts unfolded as the night wore on - for example we planted two opera singers at a table where they began arguing loudly. Their argument grew until it exploded into a full-fledged duet, after which the baffled yet delighted customers in the restaurant burst into applause.

How much red tape did you have to go through with the city to get these performances organized?

When we were first scouting parks for potential locations, we chatted with the Parks & Rec people who happened to be there, working. The general consensus we got from them was that if we weren't disturbing the park in any way (ie., building a set, hanging lights, etc.), if we weren't charging admission, and if we weren't taking over the park in such a way that others couldn't still enjoy it, then it wasn't necessary to apply for a permit. We may have just lucked out up to this point, but no one seems to bothered about us being there. The fact that the show only runs for 45 minutes is also in our favour, as we're usually packed up and gone by the time anyone might question our being there.

Have you been hassled or had trouble with public during your shows so far?

We've had absolutely no trouble with the public so far. People are generally delighted to discover that there's a free play happening in their neighbourhood park. We also make an effort to arrive early at each park to speak to everyone who happens to be there, whether they're walking their dog, playing frisbee, or temporarily residing in the park, to let them know what we're up to, to make it clear that we're not trying to infringe upon their space, and to extend the invitation to join our audience.

Should people bring chairs or blankets to the show?

We provide about 30 square feet of ground cover, by way of a sheet, which we lay out before each show for people to sit on. However most nights, our audience ends up occupying a much larger space. So I'd suggest arriving about 15 minutes early if you'd like to snag a seat on the sheet, or to just bring your own blanket, which you can place anywhere you like. Many people have also brought folding chairs, and even full picnics!

What other shows do you have in development?

You can definitely expect new and exciting things from Red One in the future. We would love to put on another show in parks next summer, as this experience has been so rewarding, but as of now, that goal is still in the planning stages.

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