Praxis Theatre is currently on hiatus! Please find co-founders Aislinn Rose and Michael Wheeler at The Theatre Centre and SpiderWebShow, respectively.
May 30, 2007, by

Build Your Own Theatre – Part One

A proposition
by Michael Wheeler

One of the great laments of the Toronto indie theatre artist involves our chronic lack of performance space. For a city of 2.48 milion people, there are just six or seven rentable theatre spaces, many of which must be reserved more than a year in advance – and only after you have secured a considerable amount of funding. New condo developments have replaced the Artword Theatre and they’re moving in fast on The Diesel Playhouse and The Theatre Centre.

This lack of space does not make for a spontaneous, intense or particularly hardcore artistic process. 100-seat black box theatres – the bedrock of any theatre community that is creating and experimenting with its own work – are suddenly on the endangered species list.

I have a new job I believe presents an opportunity to change this dynamic. (Oh god, I sound like Roma – just pretend we’re in a Chinese restaurant). Before I get to the idea, let me tell you a little bit about the Queen West Arts Centre.

After rehearsing, teaching, and then directing a play at the Queen West Arts Centre – the powers that be have finally just put me in charge of developing, administrating and promoting the space.

The Queen West Arts Centre in the uber-trendy heart of Toronto.

It is the best of spaces; It is the worst of spaces.
There are a couple of rehearsal spaces, which are fairly nice (actually one of them is gorgeous). There’s also a 2,000 sq.-ft. room with 20-foot ceilings that really should be an awesome theatre, but isn’t yet. It has a massive double-lobby that should be the jewel of the building, but feels more like the entrance to a poorly funded community centre. Instead of a costume shop, it has a room with a large pile of costumes.

It is my job to fix these and other problems. Of course, this being theatre, funds are scarce. And since the Queen & Ossington neighbourhood is going from shabby to chic quicker than you can say “unemployed actor”, this theatre’s 10,000 sq.-ft. of prime real estate does not come cheap.

Change is needed to get this theatre up and running, yes. But, the trick is in making that change happen without incurring additional expenses to the overhead. All I have to work with as capital is the one resource the Queen West Arts Centre provides in abundance: space. Well kept, very well located space.

With these parameters in mind I have begun:

Build Your Own Theatre (BYOT)
Throughout this summer and fall there will be a series of weekend projects around the Queen West Arts Centre. Lots of painting, maybe some drywalling, some building of things . . .

And, here’s the proposal: Artists, theatre companies, and community members who contribute to these projects will be compensated in kind.

By this I mean:

1) Free rehearsal space; and/or

2) A box office-sharing arrangement, where we waive the theatre’s rental fee during your production’s run in exchange for a percentage of ticket sales.

Can you help Mike turn this 2,000 sq.-ft. space into a gleaming theatre?

Who’s in?
If this project appeals to you, check out the Queen West Arts Centre website and send me an email to the contact info provided. Let us know:

1) Who you are and your organizational affliations, if any (individual artists and lovers of theatre, generally or more than welcome, too); and

2) Your initial reaction as to whether you would like your labour to be compensated by way of rehearsal time or performance space.

There are only a couple of “performance” spots left. Of course, people who want to come help out – meet some people, contribute to your artistic community – are also welcome. It could be for a single afternoon, or for a longer, more involved commitment. We’re open to any and all proposals.

And for those of you playing along at home, I will be writing about our progress here on the Praxis Theatre blog. Comments and suggestions are appreciated almost as much as sweat and a good idea.

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  1. Scott Walters says:

    This is a great idea — cooperation rather than competition, the pooling of resources and the contribution of service. I wish you the very best of luck. If I were in Toronto, I would definitely contribute my time and energy. There are so few theatres who actually ask for help.

  2. Ian says:

    That’s wicked Mike. Great idea. Count me in. I’ll call you to set up my labour days and discuss compensation details.



  3. mike says:

    thanks for the kind words scott. i am a firm believer in the pooling of resources. the economics of downtown real estate might be an interesting spinoff from the previous discussion.

    bottom line: this shit only breaks even when every square inch is used by someone all the time.

  4. Laura says:

    I am sooo excited by this opportunity! You have really inspired me:) I will be in touch with dates and times I’m available. Uniting artists in this tangible way can only reap wonderous artistic rewards. Free space is an amazing offer.

  5. Simon says:

    Damn, what a sweet space, I’m fully green with envy. Congratulations Mike, great things can only come out of your new mission. Build a bar up in there and I may just move to T.O. and make it my new permanent work space. I can’t believe that there is as dismal a selection of affordable rental houses out there as there is here in Vancouver. Weird. I guess I just assumed y’all had one on every other corner. I wish I could lend a hand with the reno, but in lieu thereof I’ll be calling some friends on your side of the prairies. This is how the revolution starts, one black box at a time…

  6. pagno says:

    brilliant AND fun. can’t wait to get started and meet some others…