By Heart (Canadian Stage)

Canadian Stage presented a truly magical piece of participatory theatre in Toronto

This past weekend By Heart, a truly magical piece of theatre was put on by Canadian Stage, performed at the Berkeley St. Theatre. A limited engagement, from May 30 to June 2, in the Upstairs Space.

By Heart is an interactive theatre performance created by Portuguese actor Tiago Rodrigues, in which Rodrigues brings up ten audience members and over the span of ninety minutes to two hours, teaches them one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. As he does so, he breaks up his teachings with stories about his grandmother and his favorite authors.

Tiago encourages the entire audience, not just the ten people up front, to interact with him. He invites short dialogues and will sometimes go out of his way to engage people in the audience. Don’t be afraid of the audience participation though. Tiago is kind, funny, and genuinely wants to teach the audience to love literature as he does.

I’ve been tutoring high school English for the past year, and was recently wondering why the kids are forced to memorize monologues. By Heart completely flipped my perspective on that. This is a thoughtful, nuanced show that still has me thinking on the importance of the literature I consume; or as Tiago would say: “furnish my interior” with.

All of Tiago’s stories, along with the sonnet, come together in a deeply poignant manner. I was very disappointed when, about halfway through my performance, a woman walked out complaining about the show. She said something like ‘this isn’t real theatre’. And yet, the audience’s applause when Tiago continued his performance, and the standing ovation at the end suggest that most viewers will recognize that the ways this piece invokes emotion and reflection makes it a truly special piece of theatre.

The ten audience members called to the stage play a crucial role in the show. They’re not just part of some social experiment memorizing lines; over the course of the show, they become something of a cast. I got to know the ten brave participants in my theatre, and their willingness to participate, no matter how nervous they were, made this show feel deeply intimate and human.

Will the slow pace of this show appeal to everyone? Maybe not. And yet, I feel strongly that anyone would benefit from watching this. It is engaging, thought-provoking, and moving. It saddens me that By Heart had such a short run here in Toronto, but I’m sure wherever this show goes next it will continue to entertain, motivate, and educate audiences. I do hope it returns sometime and encourage you to keep an eye out for future performances in Toronto.


  • By Heart played at the Berkeley St. Theatre (26 Berkeley) from May 30 to June 2, 2019

Image of Tiago Rodrigues by Magda Bizarro.

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