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Arts in Motion

Aaron Rothermund for Culture Days

Jun 29, 2021

RE:IMAGINE Series Equity & Inclusion Interdisciplinary Performance Theatre

Throughout 2019, many arts organizations were signing off on programming, budgets, and finalizing crews for the year ahead. Then in early 2020, everything paused due to the global pandemic. It would have been properly and unnervingly effortless to fall into a pit of despair over the loss of live performance but, through sheer determination, various theatre companies were able to reimagine, restructure, and reintroduce opportunities to engage with audiences and offer exciting discourse on the future of hybrid media and theatre arts.

Artistic Directors David Anderson and Tamara Romanchuk produce cranky movies and often construct crankier puppets as part of Clay & Paper Theatre. Near the end of 2020, the theatre’s annual Night of Dread parade went from hundreds of participants and thousands of spectators to a modest troupe of twenty-five performers.

Night of Dread Parade. Photo credit: Michael Zender.
Night of Dread Parade. Photo credit: Michael Zender.

“Although it took on a smaller form, the sheer number of people on their lawns and porches to join in on the noise was moving, and of course we employed clowns to remind people to stay at a safe distance,” Anderson tells me over the phone.

Clay & Paper’s current focus is helping artists acquire new skills for community engagement including online lantern building workshops culminating with LuminUS: an evening performance festival infusing light-based physical animation, with live musical accompaniment by Chris Wilson. Another notable creative initiative was teaching residents of the Parkway Forest community to make paper theatres, which they used as platforms to present image-driven stories of hopeful resilience. The resulting virtual Third Eye Showcase was Clay & Paper’s first live show using an open broadcast system which had the capacity to cut to artists in multiple locations.

Ruefully, the annual Day of Delight Festival will not be returning this year as organizing a curated theatrical event during quarantine is challenging, but the summer show in Dufferin Park will persevere newly conceived as the nomadic Art Ambulance: bringing puppets to priority neighborhoods, healthcare facilities, and outdoor community events.

In early 2021, Obsidian Theatre celebrated 21 years of sharing the human condition through storytelling by producing 21 Black Futures, currently streaming on CBC Gem. Artistic Director, Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu explored the future of Blackness by presenting 21 short films by 21 Black directors and featuring 21 Black performers.

21 Black Futures, an Obsidian Theatre production. Photo courtesy of the author.
21 Black Futures, an Obsidian Theatre production. Photo courtesy of the author.

“As we continue forward, I want to reach out and find more new Black voices nationally, give them the support they need to grow and a wide-reaching platform on which they can be seen. I also want to create opportunities to experiment with content and form and to consider the possibility of a Black aesthetic,” states Tindyebwa Otu.

The company’s carefully crafted view on intersectional bias highlights marginalized communities, including folks on the gender spectrum and represents multi-generational Black and Indigenous people. The prolific pre-recorded vignettes feature stellar artists like Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, Lisa Codrington, Tanisha Taitt, and Weyni Mengesha. They meditate on the challenges of seeking an equitable living standard including safe working conditions, access to health care, and affordable housing in underrepresented communities. 21 Black Futures acts as a guided reference for future content creators and theatre artists to showcase diverse stories of individual isolation and collective triumph.

Toronto’s reigning Satanic Supreme and club kid Bom Bae. Pride Tea Dance. Photo courtesy of the author.
Toronto’s reigning Satanic Supreme and club kid Bom Bae. Pride Tea Dance. Photo courtesy of the author.

As the world’s longest-running queer theatre, Buddies in Bad Times achieves artistic excellence through its essential programming including award-winning mainstage productions, innovative artist residency programs, and necessary youth-based initiatives. The cavernous main space has welcomed numerous esteemed theatre artists such as Waawaate Fobister, Nina Arsenault, Moynan King, and Tawiah M’Carthy.

“Buddies is not about assimilation and never has been about glossing over the differences between gays and straights,” stated the theatre’s founder, Sky Gilbert. “We are interested in life on the edge, the avant-garde, forbidden territory.”

As a pandemic disproportionately affects our queer communities, the need to create more space for queer intergenerational representation is critical. In this regard, Buddies is bringing back Queer Pride in Place, highlighting the function of queer art in transforming, informing, and enlivening the streets in our neighbourhoods and the virtual world via pre-recorded or live-streamed events.

There are family-friendly events such as decorating and activating mini Pride parades with Zita Nyarady of The Grand Salto Theatre, and the socially distant in-the-park performances of Pirate Tails, a high-flying circus by Erin Ball and Jayeden W. More provocative offerings include the reading of Eva in Rio, a thoroughly developed live play-reading by Gabe Maharjan, and directed by Cole Alvis. The always popular Buddies’ Pride Tea Dance will be transformed into an online cabaret by way of, providing space to connect with iconic bartender and artist, Patricia Wilson. The Pride Tea Dance, hosted by the always effervescent Ryan G. Hinds will provide homo-base advantage to nonconforming performers such as Elvira Kurt, Bom Bae, and Wrong Note Rusty.

Dancer Pulga Muchochoma. Photo credit: Kevin Jones.
Dancer Pulga Muchochoma. Photo credit: Kevin Jones.

In May 2021, the Artistic Director of Canadian Stage, Brendan Healy, published a press release leading the way for the reemergence of live performance with the first fully formed theatrical season since lockdown began. Utilizing the spacious High Park Amphitheatre with a gated entrance enables extra safety measures like timed admission and on-site health screenings.

“We cast a very wide net and contacted many different organizations whose work excited us. What was most important to us was building a summer season that felt reflective of the diversity of expressive forms and people in Toronto,” articulates Healy.

Canadian Stage is offering an intricate look into our nation’s cultural mandate including pivotal contributions by the Polaris Prize-winning musician Jeremy Dutcher, Raging Asian Womxn Taiko Drummers, Roseneath Theatre, and new work by dance immersion choreographed and performed by Casimiro Nhussi and Pulga Muchochoma.

As we head into our second year of quarantine these vital arts organizations are forging collaborative tools to persevere and present our ability to meet new challenges head on. And although digital culture moves instantaneously, these companies were able to remain flexible and influential, signalling a cultural shift towards an encouraging future of shared mixed media and theatre arts.

This article is part of a special blog series featuring writers and creatives from across Canada (and beyond!) with stories that both highlight and celebrate Culture Days’ 2021 theme, RE:IMAGINE. Explore more stories below.

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