Review: The New Ideas Festival, Week One (Alumnae Theatre)

Week one of Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival encourages some emerging Toronto talent

New Ideas at Alumnae Theatre is a festival of new plays, a starting place for playwrights and directors to experiment, to try out their works-in -progress.

So it is always an uneven night; the shows are of varying quality and are mostly in a nascent state. But by attending you may get to see a roughly cut gem and you do get to help develop new working – there is a feedback form in the program where each audience member can provide constructive criticism on each script. There are three weeks, each with a separate lineup of plays.

I saw Week One.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the festival and in honour of that Alumnae is remounting some of their former favourite pieces. Week One of New Ideas starts off with one of these remounts, Revelation. Rather strangely, both my companion and I felt it was the weakest offering of the night.

In Revelation John and Mary arise from their coffins on Judgement Day have some time after their awaking and before their reckoning to figure out their issues. They used to be married but John died young. Mary remarried and grew to be an old woman, but was still buried beside her first husband.

It’s an interesting concept, and the script itself did have some things to say, but it was hard to tell through the fundamental flaws of the production. The blocking was bad. Mary didn’t know what to do with her hands. Nothing that came out of John’s mouth seemed believable to us. He came across like an awkward teenager pretending to be a big man, which didn’t suit the character.

Still Waters is about two senior citizens whose children are now grown, so they have sold their house and moved into a cheaper condo downtown where they can walk to amenities – but they miss their old house and their old life. The woman, Monica, is pragmatic about their situation but her anxiety manifests as insomnia. Frank can’t stop tinkering, and he openly laments the loss of the house while trying to concoct white-noise solutions with his wrenches and garden hoses, ostensibly to help Mary sleep.

It’s a very sweet play. There’s not much more substance to it than that: the bitter-sweetness of growing old with the person you love. But it’s only fifteen minutes long so it doesn’t become too saccharine. The actors were charming enough but they anticipated their lines too much.

Say The Words is a woman who has suffered a loss, meditating on her regret. It’s a very nice monologue and it was delivered well. It did feel to me like a very polished audition piece and that to make it more of a play, to really draw in the audience, they just need an investment of rehearsal time to get the actor really in the moment. She was definitely skilled enough, she just needed some one-on-one time with a good director.

The final play, Stalled, was the most professional offering of the night. It’s about a woman and her car. She has had many important moments in her car and is very attached to it, but it is falling apart. She needs to let go, say good bye, get a new car. And yes, this is a metaphor for her life.

Along the way we meet her dad, her sister, her friend, her ex (who is now dating her sister) and a new potential love interest. When any of these actors are not in play they are making up parts of the car, both physically and in terms of sound. It’s a really great setup and works fantastically: it’s comedic, it allows for instantaneous scene changes, it’s visually enticing and it adds a further level to the metaphor.

It was obviously well directed and all the performances were very grounded and believable. The only problem my companion and I found with it was the very last moment. As Maggie sets out on her very last drive in her car she has no destination. Given the trajectory of the story up to this point, and the relationships in Maggie’s life, it seemed like where she should be going was to talk to her sister. Perhaps she would take the scenic route there, but it felt like she needed closure with her sister in order to move on. I also felt like driving aimlessly was what she was supposed to be moving on from, not indulging in further.

New Ideas is an important venue for emerging theatre artists to try out their work. Not everything you’ll see there will be great, but they are short so it’s not like you have to suffer through a full length play if you don’t like a particular piece. And there’s a good chance you’ll see something that really impresses you, like Stalled impressed me.


  • The New Ideas Festival is playing at Alumnae Theatre70 Berkeley Street. Week One goes to March 10th, Week Two to March 17th and Week Three to March 24th
  • Performances run Wednesday to Saturday at 8 pm with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm. There is a reading of another new play, followed by a talkback, each Saturday at noon.
  • Tickets are Wednesday – Sunday (evening or matinées) $15 per week; Saturday Readings PWYC; Festival Pass (1 ticket for each week) $35.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, or by reserving a seat at 416-364-4170 (box 1) then paying (cash only) at the Box Office.
  • Tickets for the Saturday readings are only available for in-person cash purchase. Box Office opens one hour prior to each performance