Preview: New Ideas Festival (Alumnae Theatre)

Photo from the New Ideas Festival by Bruce Peters

What do three women mountain climbers at the top of their game, a dysfunctional parent council, three curious housemaids, a group of at-risk kids in a rehab yoga class, a street canvasser, a South American cardinal with a shady past, and Irish poet W.B. Yeats have in common? If your instinct was to say “nothing at all,” then you might want to check out the fascinating lineup in store for you at the New Ideas Festival, running March 9 – 27 at Alumnae Theatre.

The New Ideas Festival was founded 28 years ago by a group of University of Toronto graduates as a place for women to produce and direct work that wasn’t being taken seriously by the male-dominated worth of theatre, the language and topics have been updated but the mandate remains the same — and so does the problem it was created to address. Festival co-artistic director and producer Jennifer McKinley noted via emails that the Toronto theatre scene hasn’t progressed nearly as much as you’d hope in almost hundred years, according to statistics compiled by Equity In Theatre.

And so, The New Ideas Festival provides what Toronto Theatre historically lacks enough of — opportunities for women to try out something new and see how it shakes out. The scripts produced in this festival run from snappy ten-minute shorts to fully realized, 60-minute arcs. Shows run the gamut from hilarious to challenging, and the three separate bills over the three weeks of the festival are organized, says McKinley, “like a puzzle. We try to add levity if we find the night is heavy and vice versa. Ultimately, we strive to create a nice balanced meal so that audience members walk away from the evening well-nourished, neither famished nor glutted.”

Though the lineup looks generally quite promising, a few things stand out as especially appealing: a play called The Council, which treats the particular circle of absurdity that is the Parent Council Meeting, written by Deanna Kruger and certainly of interest to those of us who have sat through such a thing (as well as those who have avoided them like the plague).

Comedian Carolyn Bennett‘s contribution, Sick Kids Wanna Talk To You, which has the tag line “intergenerational rage has never been so much fun.” The festival also includes a lot of young and new playwrights, ranging from MFA students to elders who have recently taken up theatre as a form of artistic expression. (It’s also disproportionately white for a Toronto theatre festival, about which the co-producers note that while their casting is fairly diverse, the creative teams are not yet, and that this is a concern they’re working to address).

A number of the previous festival pieces have gone on to longer productions at Alumnae Theatre or other Toronto theatres, and the festival-of-new-works experience is always exciting — seeing where plays begin and imagining how they might grow is a privilege of living in a city with a world-class theatre scene. I’ll be looking forward to predicting which of these new works will make a splash in the future — or at the festival.


  • New Ideas Festival runs March 9-27 2016 at Alumnae Theatre, 70 Berkeley St.
  • Performances run from Wednesday to Sunday at 8 pm, each week of the festival is a completely different bill.
  • A six-ticket flex pass is available for $75 (admission for two people to one performance during each week of the festival), and individual tickets are $15 each.
  • Tickets may be purchased online, by phone at 416-364-4170 or at the theatre box office one hour before a performance.

Photo by Bruce Peters