Over the past 10 years the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival has been a staple of the Toronto comedy calendar, showcasing up and coming acts and veterans troupes alike for ever increasing audiences. Since its humble beginnings as the brainchild of Julianne Baragar and Paul Snepsts with 15 troupes at the Gladstone Hotel, the festival has grown by leaps and bounds, to the point where last year the Kids in the Hall performed a live stage reading of their cult film Brain Candy to a massive audience. With this year being their 10th Anniversary, Sketchfest has set up a killer lineup of headliners and possibly even more exciting for sketch comedy aficionados, the Sketchrospective series showcasing festival favourites from the past ten years, some of whom are reforming for the festival.
Kicking off the Headliner Series of this year’s Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival is the Pajama Men at the Theatre Centre. Bringing their pioneering style of scripted comedy blended seamlessly with improvised links and an anarchic energy, there’s been a lot of buzz for this Albuquerque based duo, especially from Festival Producer and Executive Director Paul Snepsts who made the effort to introduce the show to a packed theatre.
The Empty Room explores melancholy through a quirky play at Toronto’s Collective Space
There’s something strangely comforting about the state of melancholy. It’s like a warm blanket that you know you really should just shrug off and get on with your day. But, no matter how much you rationally argue it, you continue to stay curled up in a big ball of slightly sad contemplation of the world around you. The Empty Room’s Melancholy Play makes a strong effort to explore the experience of this strange emotion from its manic highs to its crushing lows, all in a uniquely designed and performed package.
Experimental improv, sketch comedy and stand-up at Toronto’s Comedy Bar’s Festival of New Formats
Over the first week of January the Comedy Bar presented their annual Festival of New Formats; a 5-day event of free theatre where sketch troupes, improv teams and stand-up comics pitched their ideas for new shows to be showcased at what could be argued is one of Toronto’s foremost locations for improvisational and sketch comedy. Sadly, I was only able to see the final night of the festival, but if what I saw was anything to go by the Comedy Bar is sure to have some exciting new shows in the near future.
Seven Harry Potter books in 70 hilarious minutes, Potted Potter is on stage at Toronto’s Panasonic Theatre
Well, honestly, it doesn’t. Not exactly, at least. If you’re looking for an in depth analysis of J.K. Rowling’s famous series about the Boy Who Lived, Potted Potter isn’t going to give it to you. On the other hand, if you’re looking for an evening of sheer family friendly fun with Harry Potter trappings, you’re in for a real treat. Originally from the Edinburgh Fringe festival in Scotland, written and performed by Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, the production has come to Toronto with a new cast and all of the energy that earned it an Olivier award in 2012.
A Ticket on the 4 is a series of vignettes inspired by Charles Bukowski playing at Toronto’s Aluna Theatre
The big selling point of Peacock Productions’ A Ticket on the 4 is its inspiration, namely that of Charles Bukowski. Drenched in alcoholism and that gritty desperation that was so representative of his writing, A Ticket on the 4 is enticing for theatre fans and American literature buffs alike, and director Jennifer Lindsay deserves a great deal of credit for facing the sometimes difficult subject matter head on, even if the play occasionally loses its footing in execution.
A Ticket on the 4 is a bare bones production, using the intimacy of the Aluna Theatre with efficiency — utilizing just a few chairs, a bar and a few extraneous props to establish the world of the racetrack that the most of the narrative takes place in.
The humorous styles of Commedia Dell’arte are brought to life in The Glorious Ones at the Zion Cultural Centre in Toronto
There’s something exciting about seeing a play about one of your passions. When I was in university my very first research paper was on an Italian theatrical style called Commedia Dell’arte: an improvisational, sketch based style that catered to the common people with bawdy humour, slapstick and acrobatics that was at that time completely unheard of. The influence of Commedia Dell’arte is still felt in todays comedies with the most notable being the character of Harlequin, a witty servant character who often outsmarted boisterous villains with his athletics and humour, whose personality can still be seen in characters like Bugs Bunny or pretty much every Disney sidekick ever.
When I learned that The Civic Light-Opera Company was putting on a production of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’ The Glorious Ones I was very excited. Not only is it a play all about the origins of Commedia Dell’arte, but it was also written by the duo responsible for such Broadway hits as Ragtime and Seussical. Such an exciting choice was perfect for The Civic Light-Opera Company’s 100th production, so I had high hopes going into the show.
Three of history’s most notorious names in propaganda gather in Dinner with Goebbels at Toronto’s Red Sandcastle Theatre
Going into act2studio WORKS‘ production of Dinner With Goebbels I can’t deny I was nervous. Watching a play about Karl Rove, Joseph Goebbels and Edward Bernays having dinner together is a challenging and intriguing idea, but also one that requires some very careful navigation on behalf of the playwright to make sure it doesn’t dissolve into an uncomfortable caricature.
The good news is that for the most part the script is well written and fascinating, giving an hour long lesson on the art of propaganda and three of its most infamous practitioners that, on its own, shows that playwright Mark Leith knows his subject matter.
Retro 8-bit gaming blends with rapid-fire improv in The Video Game Show at Toronto’s Comedy Bar
I love video games. Ever since I was a kid I loved sitting in front of a screen and making pixelated characters run around fantastic environments, saving worlds using only my finely honed hand-eye coordination and wits. In today’s modern world, “Interactive Storytelling” has become a constant in our daily lives, which makes Bad Dog Theatre Company‘s Video Game Show an almost inevitable occurrence. Really though, is it surprising? Improv theatre is the most interactive of stage performances (short of the audience getting up and doing it themselves) and blends easily with the interactive soul of gaming; it’s a wonder it hasn’t been explored more often.
Upon arriving at Comedy Bar for the performance, I was immediately struck by the choice in décor the company made in the Main Stage area; dark lighting, lots of tinfoil and neon lights all framing a projected image of the demo program of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) port of Contra. It felt like I’d gone back to an early 90’s arcade, and aside from having some trouble getting around due to the near-darkness I already found myself getting into the mood for some 8-bit fun.
Perfect for Family Day, n00b is a story of teen addiction to video games, at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre
In today’s digital world, the analogue universe of theatre seems anachronistic. All too often playwrights seem to avoid technology as a theme, choosing to let the multi-million dollar world of film and television explore such concepts. Those that do choose to embrace technology on the stage often come across as latecomers, cashing in on trends that have long since passed, making their stories quaint at best or obsolete at worst. Going into Vertigo Theatre‘s production of n00b at Young People’s Theatre I found myself considering these obstacles, alongside the concern anyone pushing 30 might have of going into a production advertised “For ages 9 and up”.
It is truly a delight to say that my worries were almost completely unfounded. Calgary-based Vertigo Theatre has clearly recognized that Christopher Duthie’s script is about far more than simply “pwning n00bs”. The story of a teenager running away from home after his parents dismantle his gaming console when it takes over his life is rife with explorations of themes like the importance of belonging, the need for recognition from one’s peers and the constant struggle for balance and identity in a world that is still trying to find its own in the second decade of the 21st Century.