Preview: Ultimate Theatre Championship (Theatre Passe Muraille)

Ultimate Theatre Championship by Taku Kumabe

The Ultimate Theatre Championship – billed as fight night meets theatre – is a 3-night, rock ’em sock’em drama-extravaganza featuring some of Canada’s roughest, toughest theatre, television, and comedy talent. It’s all happening ring-side at Theatre Passe Muraille April 14, 15, and 16th.

Through monologues, scene work, and “stage combat”, the 2nd annual UTC aims to make fierce acting legends out of welterweight, middleweight, and heavyweight contenders, and to give the audience a glimpse at what professional actors may face out there in the wild.

Creator Rebecca Northan took the time to answer a few questions about this unique theatre event:

Could you talk a bit about The Ultimate Theatre Championship, and what inspired you to create it? 

Two things inspired me to created the UTC. One, my boyfriend is a huge UFC fan, so I’ve watched numerous pay-per-views with him, and have always thought “wouldn’t it be amazing if people got this worked up about theatre?” Then, of course, I realized that my long-time mentor and teacher, Keith Johnstone, had the exact same thought about professional wresting back in London, England in the late 1960s – which is what inspired him to created Theatresports (teams of improvisers challenge each other to various scenes and are awarded points.)

What I really liked about the UFC format though was the idea of only two competitors, at the peak of their game, entering the cage for a one-on-one battle. I also really wanted to create something that would be easy for non-improvising, very talented actors to step into with not too much preparation, to challenge them with rounds that show off the special skills that actors have. 

Ultimately, for me, the UTC is a fantastic and fun way to package a variety show that showcases a number of Canadian talents on the same night. I encourage the actors to take risks, and do what inspires them. It’s a competition, but it’s also a huge celebration. 

How are the competitors chosen, and how are the “weight classes” decided? 

Andy McKim has a huge hand in setting up the matches. He’s the Artistic Director after all. He knows more people in the community. We meet, discuss, we both put forward names. This being our second year, we were both delighted that every actor we talked to had heard of it from last year, and even if they weren’t available, said how much fun it sounded and would like to be kept in mind for next year!

The weight classes Andy and I sorted out early on: Welterweight – less that 10 years professional experience; Middleweight – 10 to 15 years professional experience; Heavyweight – 15+ years of professional work.

How are the winners chosen?

We have a panel of celebrity judges who are using the UFC scoring method. The winner of a round gets 10 points, and the “loser” gets 9 points. The judges are able to score a round as a “draw” if they just can’t decide, and then we tally all the points from each round. We hope for a majority decision, but it is possible to go to a split decision. It’s all very nail-biting, and competition is fierce! I don’t envy the judges. It’s tough to make a call on talent.

Could you talk about what makes this event unique, and also what audiences can expect to experience?

All actors have what they call “party-pieces” up their sleeves. That’s industry talk for the monologues you haul out for an audition that you know show off the best of your abilities. I wanted to create an event that allowed actors to share their party-pieces with the public. The whole thing is packaged as a sporting-event but really, you’re getting a look at the kinds of things that professional actors might be asked to do in an audition. That is a rare glimpse behind the curtain. Last year, I felt very privileged to sit on the sidelines and commentate on the tremendous showing from the Toronto theatre community!

The audience should expect to be treated to a buffet of theatrical skills and entertainment: drama, comedy, song, dance, puppetry… we’ve asked the actors to throw caution to the wind and bring their A-Game to the cage. I think part of what is so enjoyable is that you get a better sense of just WHO a particular actor is based on the choices they make in the cage. There’s really nothing comparable. 

Where do you see the UTC going? Any plans for change and/or expansion in the future?

My collaborator, Lee Henderson (he does all the video graphics and live camera on the night) and I, hope that theatres across the country will pick this up as either a fundraising event, or simply as a wildly fun and entertaining way to showcase and celebrate a local theatre community. Theatre Passe Muraille‘s willingness to program it has allowed us to hone our vision. This being the second year, we’re building on our successes from last year, and we’re always open to surprises and on-the-spot inspiration! I believe the UTC will be back at Theatre Passe Muraille for at least one more year, but it would be amazing if it just kept gaining in popularity!

Finally, will there be any blood spatter for those at ring-side?

IF there is blood splatter, let’s hope it’s stage blood! You won’t want to get that in your eyes or mouth…the good recipes involve liquid soap, food colouring and corn syrup! Sticky, nasty stuff! There will FOR SURE be sweat, tears and a goodly amount of impassioned spittle flying about – that’s how you know the actors are giving it their all! And… you didn’t hear this from me… but there were a few infringements in last year’s match-ups. One actor smuggled a flask of gin into the cage that was missed in the pre-match pat-down. You just never know what an actor is going to try to sneak past the referee.

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Photo by Taku Kumabe Photography and Design