We Knew Each Other Once Before (Sheridan College and Open Door Theatre Collective) 2021 Toronto Fringe Review

Photo of Anthony Goncharov and Hailey Christie-Hoyle in We Knew Each Other Once Before.

We Knew Each Other Once Before (now playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival) is a collection of experimental, abstract videos curated by Dante Green and created as part of a 3 week collaboration undertaken by Green and the students of Sheridan College’s Musical Theatre class of 2022. Each of the videos has some sort of tangential relationship to the theme of connection, which is the thread that ties them together. Taken as a whole, I found the experience to be like scrolling through an Instagram feed, filled with beautiful images focused on aesthetic, pretty little ukulele ditties, and slam poetry-style reflections on missed connections. If you like those things, you’ll enjoy the show.

Personally, though, I felt like the play needed a stronger through-line or a clearer thesis statement to engage me as an audience member. As a drama teacher, I recognize the value of this exercise in the context of a classroom, for helping students to think about the abstract nature of representation and to practice expressing themselves in non-literal ways. As an audience member, I couldn’t quite figure out what I was meant to do with it. I usually like this kind of performance art approach, but I didn’t feel like any of the segments had anything urgent or necessary to say. It felt more like they were writing to an assignment than naturally pursuing a passion for talking about “connection.”

I’m sure there is an audience for this type of theatre, but I’m just not all that engaged by watching close up shots of peoples’ hands or backs or headless torsos while they talk about the idea of connection or by a series of undefined characters connecting or failing to connect with one another. This is particularly true when the show hasn’t demonstrated why the creators are invested in sharing these particular musings. Ironically, I have trouble connecting when there isn’t a clear character to connect to.

On the plus side, the original songs in this show are tuneful and sweet. For the most part, they’re the kind of breathy-sounding, stream-of-consciousness love songs with hyper-specific lyrics that are so popular right now — think Olivia Rodrigo’s Driver’s License or Ben Platt’s Happy to Be Sad. As is sometimes the case with that genre, some of the songs’ lyrics leave something to be desired, but I’d probably add most of the songs in this show to my Spotify playlists.

If you want to spend 45 minutes watching some of the promising young voices in Canadian musical theatre and pop music exercising their instruments, or if you want to spend 45 minutes thinking about “connection” in the abstract, then you might want to spend a little time with We Knew Each Other Once Before.

Details

  • We Knew Each Other Once Before is playing on-demand at the Virtual 2021 Toronto Fringe Festival.
  • Purchase a $5 Membership to access the On-Demand programming on the Fringe website, then Pay What You Can to each show as you go, with the suggested price of $13 per show.
  • Memberships can be purchased here. View the virtual on-demand show listings here.
  • Accessibility notes:
    • On-Demand shows: videos are closed captioned, transcripts are available for all audio content, documents are screen-reader friendly, and all digital images are provided with alternative text descriptions. These access supplements have been generated by the company and reviewed by the Festival. They may vary slightly from company to company.
    • Fringe Primetime presentations will feature Auto-Transcribed Captioning.

Promo photo provided by the company.

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