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

Date: 2012 August

August 31, 2012, by

Los Cuatro Generales (The Four Generals) – an anti-Franco song from The Spanish Civil War

by Michael Wheeler,

As mentioned in my last post, because Senora Carrar’s Rifles is atypically Aristotelean in its structure, Brecht recommends it be shown “with a documentary film showing the events in Spain, or with a propaganda manifestation of any sort.” Doing this at the actual performances would be nigh impossible for a number of reasons.

Online is a different story though, and I hope to post some relevant info about The Spanish Civil War in a way that relates to the piece between now and when we open on September 20th.

French members of the International Brigades

Early in the play, Senora Carrar’s house is passed by The International Brigades.  These were made up of volunteers from Western countries who wanted to stop the spread of Fascism in Europe and often paid their own way to join the fight against Franco. Orwell, Hemingway, and Jim Watts (the principal inspiration behind Praxis Theatre’s Jesus Chrysler) all went to Spain in the 30s to join the fight. Orwell would later write Homage To Catalonia about his experience, while Hemingway would pen For Whom The Bell Tolls.

The Canadian contingent were The Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion.  Canadians are one of the few contingents that don’t pass by the house in the play, but many other nationalities do, and each is identified by the song they are singing on the way to the front. In our production, all of the sounds are made onstage by Beau Dixon who acts as a drummer/foley artist/performer, so we took these songs and distilled them down to a few core rhythmic bars that are played on a snare drum as each brigade passes.

Due to the magic of YouTube, anyone can hear these songs now. If you have a favourite, let us know why.

German –Die Thälmann Kolonne

French – La Marseillaise

Polish – Warszawianka

American – Hold The Fort

Italian – Bandiera Rossa

August 27, 2012, by

by Michael Wheeler

It’s been a while since our last round-up of interesting ideas and discussions going on elsewhere.

Theater and the War Against Youth

American dramaturg, playwright and director (and fellow ART/MXAT grad) Marshall Botvinick investigates the way the supposedly ‘progressive’ theatre industry emulates many of the generational biases promoted by The Tea Party. He looks at a recent article in Esquire that explores generational conflict in the US and compares it to what is going on in the theatre industry for his post on Howlround. The post levels 3 accusations against the industry:

  1. Hoarding of Resources and Deprivation of Government Funding: For the 2012 fiscal year, the NEA awarded $3,216,000 in grants to 119 theater companies.  Only 7 (5.88%) have been in existence for less than ten years. Government funding is essentially not available to the under-35 set.
  2. Exploitation of Young Labor through Un/Underpaid Internships: Out of the sixty LORT companies that advertise professional internships/apprenticeships/fellowships, only thirty–four of these companies (56.66%) claim to pay interns a weekly stipend. The average weekly stipend offered by these companies is $149.50.
  3. Profiting from the Peddling of Impractical Degrees: Similar to Mike Daisey’s American MFAs as Ponzi Scheme critique. Botvinik wonders if many US MFA programs would meet the standards of The Gainful Employment Act which is applied to new programs and asks them to prove that their students will be able to find work in their field after graduating in order to be eligible for financial aid.

Toronto Theatre: 5 Points of contention

U of T prof Holger Syme and director and artistic director Jacob Zimmer have had an in-depth discussion that has bounced back and forth between Syme’s dispositio and Zimmer’s Small Wooden Shoe site. The 5 Points of contentions with ‘approved’ summaries are:

  1. Our theatre needs classics: There are not enough plays from before the 20th century done in Toronto. This is in part due to false notions of relevance and nationalism.
  2. Our theatre is predictable: There is not enough diversity of practice and approaches to work – new or old. Every play should be treated as new. Timidity is bad and a healthy competition for innovation would help.
  3. There is never enough time: You can’t be innovative, or radical, or especially deep, or especially thoughtful in a three-week rehearsal process. It’s just not enough time.
  4. Our theatre is a deeply immoral institution: It is immoral and unsustainable for theatre to be in a continual semi-pro status. It leads to under-realized projects, one person self directed shows and jack-of-all-trades master-of-none “theatre artists.”
  5. Money isn’t doing what money should be doing: The funding distribution is broken and supports an unsustainably large number of companies with unsustainably small amounts of money. There are options other than direct Council funding to projects.

This conversation seems significant to me not because Syme and Zimmer agree about all these ideas, but because I’m hoping it could denote a turning point in the Canadian theatrosphere: Maybe long-form intelligent discussion and exchange of ideas is possible online after all?

Factory Theatre Battle for Hearts and Minds Continues

Some major pieces of information have come out about the ongoing controversy surround the firing of Ken Gass, The Factory Theatre and its Board of Directors:

  1. Board chair Ron Struys confirmed: “We recently met with Ken with the help of an outside facilitator and agreed to get the wheels in motion for mediation in order to find common ground.” No information was given as to whether the search for a new artistic director, which is still on the Factory Theatre homepage, has ben halted.
  2. Michel Marc Bouchard has withdrawn his play Tom and the Coyote from the opening slot in their upcoming season. Bouchard cited the artist boycott of the theatre as his major motivation for the decision: “I cannot ask my production team to face the unheard of situation in which artists will be boycotting other artists.”
  3. The Factory Board responded to this withdrawal with a news release that lays the blame on what it calls, “boycott environment”.
  4. A whole bunch of famous Canadian artists wrote an open letter to the Factory Board regarding their use of the term “boycott environment”.
  5. The Actors Fund of Canada is accepting donations for the artists who just lost their jobs weeks before opening, with little hope of finding a replacement gig this late in the game. Social media commentators estimate lost wages to artists from the show’s cancelation to be approximately $80,000.
August 20, 2012, by

The cast and creative team of Iceland walked away with 2.5 Summerworks awards: the NOW Audience Choice Award, Outstanding New Performance Text and an honorable mention for producer Renna Reddie for the Arts Professional Award.

The NOW Magazine Audience Choice Award ($3000):


SummerWorks Prize for Outstanding Production (free trip back to the festival next year):

Terminus, Outside The March

Contra Guys Award for Outstanding New Performance Text ($1,000):

Iceland, Nicolas Billon

National Theatre School Award for Set or Costume Design ($750):

When It Rains, 2B Theatre Company

Buddies in Bad Times Vanguard Award for Risk and Innovation ($500):

Cliff Cardinal, Huff; Honorable Mention:  Kitchenband, Petrachor

Canadian Stage Award for Direction ($500):

Tanner Harvey, Big Plans

The Spotlight Award (VIP access to next year’s festival):

Ron Pederson, Extinction Song; Tamsin KelseyPietà; Terrence Bryant, Terre Haute

The Theatre Centre Emerging Artist Award ($500):

Jeremy Taylor, Playwright: Big Plans; Director: My Pregnant Brother

RBC Arts Professional Award ($1,000):

Motion Live Presents in association with Cric Crac Collective, Aneemah’s Spot; Honorable Mention: Aislinn Rose: Fierce Monsters, France or, The Niqab; Renna Reddie: Iceland

August 18, 2012, by

Summerworks 2012 Special- Philip Akin

Greta talks to Philip Akin, the Artistic Director of Obsidian Theatre,  about Summerworks and how being a martial arts expert helps him run a theatre company.

Philip Akin is the director of Violent be Violet currently playing at Summerworks. Next Shows: Fri August 17 at 3:00 pm ansd Sunday, August 19 at 10pm.  For tickets and info CLICK HERE.

Greta Papageorgiu is an actor, writer, teacher and director. She performs and teaches throughout Ontario and Quebec. Greta loves the theatre and hopes to share some of her love with you through 2 Minutes With Greta Papageorgiu.

August 17, 2012, by
1 comment

Senora Carrar’s Rifles by Bertolt Brecht

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Directed by Michael Wheeler

Written in 1937, Senora Carrar’s Rifles is heavily inspired by Synge’s Riders To The Sea, moving the action to a fishing village on The Mediterranean Sea during The Spanish Civil War.

Senora Carrar has already lost her husband to the war and struggles to prevent her sons and guns from going to the front as the Nationalist fascist forces approach.  First published in Prague one year before the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, written by Brecht at the same time as Fear and Misery in The Third Reich, it is a play that was written to explore an immediate moral dilemna facing pacifist progressives everywhere as Fascist forces took over Europe.

The style of performance is an anomaly for Brecht -it was what he called, “Aristotelian (empathy) drama” – complete with a rendition of Ave Maria during the tragic climax. To mitigate any negative effects created by theatre of this nature, Brecht recommends the play be shown with “with a documentary film showing the events in Spain, or with a propaganda manifestation of any sort.”


Set and costume design by Erin Gerofsky

Lighting Design by Conor Moore

Original Soundscape performed live by Beau Dixon

Stage Managed by Breanne Jackson

FourPlay by George S. Kaufman & Alice Gerstenberg

Roy Lichtenstein Modular Painting with Four Panels No 2

Directed by Krista Jackson

Thanks to Peter Millard for the title of my two show project: FourPlay. George S. Kaufman’s If Men Played Cards as Women Do linked with Alice Gerstenberg’s Overtones.

The show begins with four men meeting for poker and transitions into four women meeting for tea in a New York City flat in the early twenties. Gerstenberg’s most famous one-act  first played in 1915 in NY and went on to a vaudeville tour starting in her hometown of Chicago a year later. The Kaufman premiered at Irving Berlin’s third Music Box Revue in 1923 at his Music Box Theatre in New York.

I have discovered in my research that Broadway Revue’s were different from musicals or vaudeville of that period. Revue’s were editorial cartoons on a certain topic curated by the director usually with a theme in mind. We are incorporating elements of the Great American Revue into the music and design of both pieces.  I’m thrilled to be collaborating with this amazing team of actors and designers and to be presenting it with Brecht!


Set and costume design by Erin Gerofsky

Lighting Design by Conor Moore

Original music performed live by Scott Christian

Stage Managed by Marie-Claude Valiquet

* Are you an Artistic Director? Would you like to be invited to the industry performance of these works on Friday September 21 at 2PM? Send an email to let us know. Click here to read more posts about The Directors Project by Krista and Michael.

August 16, 2012, by

Summerworks 2012 Special- Amy Nostbakken

Greta learns about a not to be missed tourist attraction in Niagara Falls from Barrel Crank’s Amy Nostbakken.

Barrel Crank is the latest creation from Suitcase in Point productions. It is currently playing as part of the Summerworks Festival.  For more information about showtimes and tickets click here.

Greta Papageorgiu is an actor, writer, teacher and director. She performs and teaches throughout Ontario and Quebec. Greta loves the theatre and hopes to share some of her love with you through 2 Minutes With Greta Papageorgiu.

August 15, 2012, by

Summerworks 2012 Special – Beatriz Yuste

Greta chats with Bea Yuste about the practical side of wearing a niqab.

FRANCE (or, The Niqab) runs until Sunday, August 19th at the Summerworks Festival.  For showtimes and ticket info click here.

Greta Papageorgiu is an actor, writer, teacher and director. She performs and teaches throughout Ontario and Quebec. Greta loves the theatre and hopes to share some of her love with you through 2 Minutes With Greta Papageorgiu.

August 14, 2012, by
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SummerWorks 2012 Special- Margaret Evans and Laura Nordin

Greta gets some tips on how to handle firearms from the leading ladies of Fierce Monters. She goes a little overtime…but it’s worth it.

Fierce Monsters is the latest production from The Pop Group. For information on showtimes and to purchase tickets click here.

Greta Papageorgiu is an actor, writer, teacher and director. She performs and teaches throughout Ontario and Quebec. Greta loves the theatre and hopes to share some of her love with you through 2 Minutes With Greta Papageorgiu.

August 10, 2012, by

When Sunny the SummerWorks mascot was down on his luck, he applied for a job at the Toronto Sun (logical). Click the image to learn Sunny's Story.

by Michael Wheeler

Sunny’s here.  Every year SummerWorks seems to have an increasingly stellar and creative line-up.

Let’s set aside this evidence new and experimental work is increasingly made gratis by indie artists (with a faint hope that institutions might one day program it)  and celebrate this awesome festival currently the hottest thing going in Toronto theatre because it is artist-driven.

Here are three one-off SummerWorks ancillary events that are interesting you may not be aware of, including one I’m directing.

Hold for Applause

Staged reading of the winner of the high school drama competition, The Ontario Sears Drama Festival

Lower Ossington Theatre, Monday August 13 @ 3pm. Free

The question of artistic integrity and how far one someone will go to feed their creative needs is explored in this drama split between a violent robbery and playwright trying to finish a draft of a new work.

Written by Sam Godfrey a drama student in the Claude Watson Arts Program entering grade 12 who has just completed a dramatic writing course at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Godfrey has written and directed two plays at the Paprika Festival in 2011 and 2012.  Hold for Applause, went on to win both the B.J. Castleman and Wayne Fairhead best new play award at the Sears Ontario Drama Festival. He is the recipient of a MIRA award for excellence in playwriting.

Performed by Tony Nappo, Pip Dwyer, Greta Papageorgiu, Julian DeZotti, David Tompa and James Murray. Directed by Michael Wheeler.

Through The Gates

Concert Reading of a new original musical about Siddhartha as part of The SummerWorks Musical Works in Concert Series.

The Theatre Centre, Monday August 13 @ 9:30pm. $15

Prince Siddhartha comes of age in a palace where all sign of sickness, old age, suffering and death are forbidden. A musical adaptation of the Buddha’s youth by Daniel Cummings (Kid Cosmic, Act Now!) and Scott Christian (Hero and Leander).

This concert reading is directed by Adam Brazier and features  Ma-Anne Dionisio, Sterling Jarvis, Evan Alexander Smith, Jonathan Tan and Julian Richings. It also features additional pit singers and a five-piece orchestra. You can check out the blog here.

Artaud Symposium

TheatreRUN hosts a symposium on the legacy of Antonin Artaud and his influence on contemporary thought and theatre practice  in conjunction with Artaud: un portrait en décomposition.

Tarragon Theatre, Tuesday August 14th @ 7pm. Free

Joining host Adam Paolozza as panelists are Richard Rose (theatre director and artistic director of the Tarragon theatre), Jacob Zimmer (director, dramaturge and choreographer), Tatiana Jennings (theatre director, choreographer), Marc Lemyre (poet, theatre maker) and Aaron Rotbard (psychotherapist).

If you’re interested in coming please RSVP Adam Paolozza at

August 7, 2012, by

Ruff volunteers (l-r) Georgina Beaty, Molly Gardener, and Elizabeth McManus

by Brendan Howlett

I grew up in the Riverdale neighbourhood on the east side of the Don Valley River. Back when I was a kid, Riverdale and Leslieville were not the burgeoning hot spots they are today. In fact it was a bit of a cultural void. Even today you’ll be hard pressed to get anyone to cross the unaccountably ominous Don Valley in either direction.

A rare source of local high art was a humble little outfit called Shakespeare in the Rough. An outdoor theatre company started under a pair of hundred-year-old trees in the heart of the Riverdale neighbourhood – Withrow Park. At their inception they took the name “ROUGH” to heart – no lights, no microphones, and a bare minimum of costumes. With little more than Shakespeare’s powerful language, they transformed that park into kingdoms and courts, battlefields and deserts, the worlds they created, uncontained by the walls of a theatre spilling out on all sides of the audience making you feel dangerously engulfed in Roman politics or English rebellions.

It was these productions of Shakespeare that I was weaned on. The productions in Withrow Park became a yearly tradition for my mother and I – making the 5 min hike up the hill with our raggedy, thread-bare lawn chairs, watching a particularly violent yet bloodless production of Titus Andronicus… heading to the Danforth for a mint chocolate-chip ice cream.

First day

Under the Artistic Direction of Kevin Hammond and Sanjay Talwar who took the helm for what turned out to be its final 5 years, the company blossomed into a widely respected Shakespeare company renowned for their lively productions and bare bones aesthetic. It became the unofficial training grounds for young actors, directors, and designers to cut their teeth on the complex world of Shakespeare.

Many of the artists who worked for that original company quickly ended up at the festivals of Shaw and Stratford – including Stratford Associate Artistic Director Dean Gabourie (Interview with Dean Gabourie about Two Gents – ) who took some of the ideas he developed while directing The Two Gentlemen of Verona for Shakespeare in the Rough to his Stratford production in 2010.

Unfortunately, in 2006, that original company gave its last performance – a production of Antony and Cleopatra. For any theatre company in Toronto that’s been built on blood sweat and tears, one poorly timed bump in the road can spell the collapse of a seemingly well-established company; as was the case with Shakespeare in the Rough. During their process of handing over the reins to a new artistic director, the delicate ecosystem of board members, artists, and fundraising, hit one of those little bumps, and before anyone knew what was happening, the organization evaporated. And this was not an isolated incident for Shakespeare companies at that time – in the span of one year, the GTA area lost not only the original Rough company, but also ShakespeareWorks and The Oakville Festival of Classics.

Thirteen years of hard work and development disappeared over night. I believe the biggest loss was suffered by those of us in the surrounding neighbourhoods of Riverdale and Leslieville, who had come to rely on Shakespeare in the Rough not only as a staple of our summer traditions, but also as the most accessible, welcoming, yet high-quality theatre available to us. Seeing the shows every summer as I became more and more involved in theatre as a pimply highschool kid and bourgeoning Shakespeare geek, I always had the fantasy of performing with this company in my own backyard. But the company closed down a just before I finally graduated theatre school and moved back home.

Eventually I sat down with a bunch of young theatre artist friends and pitched them the idea – resurrect an old company, away from the hip downtown theatre scene, with a stripped-down aesthetic and a focus on serving the community where we were putting down roots. A very personal project on my part, we would be performing 100 meters from where I had my first kiss. A fact that, much to my humiliation, made it into our promotional video, which I still can’t watch without blushing. We put a twist on the name – Shakespeare in the RUFF – and set about building the new company on the foundations left by the old.

It’s no secret that across the national theatre community the major topic of conversation is how do we get new audiences to see theatre. This issue bubbled up with the closing of the Vancouver Playhouse, and I believe that it’s also at the core of the lively debate on regarding the fate of Factory Theatre. A younger generation is looking at the theatre scene and seeing that there isn’t necessarily a place for them in the older institutions (I can’t believe that I’m considering companies founded in the 70’s as ‘older institutions’), nor do the younger generation necessarily want that place along with the millstones of full season programming, competitive and unending cycles of grant writing, increasing debt, and fickle audience numbers.

We speak of new models for theatre creation, but perhaps we don’t really need new models but rather simpler models that are able to adjust to an ever-changing cultural and financial landscape in this city.

This company is our attempt at exploring a more basic model for our work. At the very core of this company’s ideals is the idea that we as artists must serve and be nourished by a specific community. We receive no government funding, but we reached our modest budget goals through micro-fundraisers we’ve been calling “Serving Shakespeare”. These salon type events are our attempt at avoiding the dreaded “pass the $20 bill” fundraisers where our theatre community shuffles around our resources from one project to the next without bringing any new money into the picture.

Doggie auditions!

Help came from the neighbourhood through community organizations like Friends of Withrow Park and the local Farmer’s Market, through local businesses that provided space or food like Broadview Espresso and Combine Eatery. We’re also sourcing our canine performer (yes there is a real dog in Two Gents!) from the local dog walking association of neighbourhood owners.

We perform and rehearse in the park, which without fail attracts a small gathering of people who watch us building our work right out in the open. Rooted in this one area, we’ve been able to maintain a presence in the community in the months and weeks leading up to our performances.

Concurrent with the show, we are running two community-based initiatives: The Guerilla Ruffians, a marauding band of amazingly talented current students or recent grads of theatre programs that have been attending workshops with established professionals to create a mobile performance troupe that appears at local events. Our other initiative is an Intensive Youth Apprenticeship Program offered free to neighbourhood high school students. Over six weeks the students sit in on rehearsals, take part in workshops led by members of the company, and create their own short play to be performed as an opening act on our closing weekend of performances.

There is a pervasive sense of recklessness that we’ve cultivated among our company – a sense that nothing is sacred or precious. For our inaugural production we’ve taken Shakespeare’s least produced play, The Two Gentlemen of Verona and re-wrote the ending. Albeit using all of Shakespeare’s text, stealing sections from all of his other plays and sonnets. I expect that we’ll offend some Shakespeare purists out there, and we’re looking forward to any debate we can spark about the sacredness of a text vs. responding to our current surroundings. There are already some passionate views out there against mucking about with the classics.

Our challenge moving forward will be to constantly renew what it means to be artistically reckless; to follow our curiosity when it comes to looking forward to another season, rather than to try to give the audience more of the same each year, even if what we do is a raging success. I believe our hope for any kind of ‘success’ will lie in our investment in the youth apprenticeship program as well as the young emerging professional artists that are hungry for challenging work in this beautiful city. I hope that we can build this company into something the entire theatre community can take ownership over, invest in and benefit from in addition to empowering own artistic development.