Review: New Ideas Festival 2015 (Alumnae Theatre)

Image of New Ideas Festival at Alumnae Theatre 2015

This year the annual New Ideas Festival graces the Toronto stage for 27th time and still delivers

Recently I was fortunate enough to visit one of my favourite venues in Toronto – Alumnae Theatre – and finally saw a sure sign of spring: The annual New Ideas Festival. It’s as much reminder of spring and things just around the corner as the date on a calendar.

The New Ideas Festival is everything that is right about theatre. It’s also as exciting and optimistic as spring.  Now in its 27th year, the festival fosters new ideas and theatre talent, inspiring actors, directors, playwrights, designers, technicians and, of course, audiences. This year more than 120 artists will stage 12 plays and present 3 readings over three weeks. Now this is the type of positive energy that means spring is in the air!

A Theatre Festival with Global Appeal
If you aren’t familiar with the New Ideas Festival, check out this in-depth article written by Mooney on Theatre’s own Mark Mann. While the festival may not be on the scroll on CP24, it certainly deserves to be. As a juried festival, The New Ideas Festival received nearly 400 play submissions this year. That number alone is impressive, but when you consider that submissions came from at least five continents, it is astonishing.

Four Plays in One Night
The four plays I saw during week-two of this year’s New Ideas Festival varied in length from 10 to 35 minutes. Some themes were shared throughout the four, but what was truly consistent was each play’s ability to engage its audience. The week-two plays are onstage until Sunday March 22 and they are:

(En)Lightening by Catherine Frid
This is an interesting play that equates internet surveillance with Greek Gods. While it’s not that far of a stretch to equate those who spy on “mortals” as puppet masters what makes this play worthwhile is the actors and their interaction with one another. They all seemed to be having fun. There was a ‘je ne sais quoi’ about (En)Lightening, and I would be surprised if it didn’t evolve into something more substantial. All the ingredients are here for something great, so let’s hope we get to see it again.

Canis familiaris by Carlyn Bennett
This play involves two couples, one around 30, the other about the age of their parents. Both have lost something they love. In the case of the younger couple, it is a colleague at work. The older couple? Oh, their pet dog has recently left this mortal coil.

Having recently lost my best friend and dad, I thought this play might be problematic for me to attend. On the contrary, Canis familiaris was thoughtful and fun. It seemed very comfortable and natural. Characters question one another, and there is no lecturing. Well cast, written and acted, I could relate to all four characters. What I liked was that they were “real” people with thoughts of their own, not soulless stereotypes.

Sandworms! by D.J. Sylvis
At ten minutes in length, this apocalyptic vision takes us into a cabin in the middle of a barren landscape and makes us afraid. What’s out there? Vigilantes? Zombies? NO! It’s sandworms and they aren’t “out there”, they are EVERYWHERE! This play consists of a cast of two who much decide who ventures out for help and who stays in the relative security of the cabin. It’s a fun play, with playful, humourous dialogue.

You Can Ask Me How I’m Doing by Norman Yeung
Like (En)Lightening, this play explores contemporary issues. This one explores a high school girl as she is trying to achieve an inflated GPA in order to get into a far away, prestigious university, leaving Toronto for Montreal or Los Angeles. She wants to “break out”, throwing off the shackles of her parents and Toronto.

That’s pretty standard stuff, and maybe even timeless. What makes it somewhat different is the advent of the online world. Mix Anthony Weiner sexting scandals with what has been happening in high schools since the creation of high schools and you have the jist of this play. Oh yeah, this play just feels like bullying is bad, too! OMG *hugs*.

An Overall Appreciation for New Ideas Festival
My friend Stan joined me for the evening and afterwards we agreed that we both loved the “tapas” style presentation. At other festivals one has to plan ahead and hurry from one theatre to another. At the New Ideas Festival, we get to enjoy the luxury of staying at the Alumnae while the table, or stage, is cleared between settings. For us, that allowed us to allocate our attention to the plays, rather than logistics. And these plays deserve attention. Oh New Ideas Festival, you spoil us!

The New Ideas Festival is an important one, and it’s right in our backyard. Would you go to Sundance if it were a streetcar ride away? Of course you would! Look for me when you head over this weekend or next week, because I will likely be going back to see more new plays or a matinée reading and talkback. See you there!


  • New Ideas Festival is playing until March 29, 2015 at Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley St)
  • Shows run Wednesday to Sunday at 8pm, with an additional matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm. Saturday readings are at noon
  • Ticket prices range from $15 for an evening to $25 for a Festival Pass Matinees PWYC
  • Tickets are available online or through the box office at 416-364-4170 (Press 1) or email reservations@alumnaetheatre.comBox office opens one hour before the show for cash purchases. Please note: Alumnae box office does not accept credit/debit at the door.


Photograph provided by Alumnae Theatre