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

Category: Second Stage

November 29, 2012, by

(l-r) Adam Wilson, Ava Jane Markus and Maev Beaty are directed by Mitchell Cushman in the SummerWorks darling turned Mirvish hit Terminus

by Michael Wheeler

I haven’t seen Terminus yet – going with my Mom next week. I don’t want that to stop me from writing about it here though, as we don’t do reviews in this space in any case.

It bears mentioning though that local indie theatre has created a genuine artistic and commercial hit, and that this comes in the form of Terminus. The production is the first show in a pretty big risk Mirvish is taking with their new indie-focused, Off-Mirvish season.

One of our most read and commented discussions this year was, Mirvish Blows Up Downtown Theatre in which I argued that A) A Mirvish interest in regularly and commercially producing the work of indie artists could be significant in an awesome way and B) the Mirvish re-development on King St had the potential to bring a net benefit to Torontonians and theatregoers if it included a smaller venue than the Princess of Wales, which will be demolished.

Since that post, The Off-Mirvish season has probably gone even better than anyone at Mirvish or their indie partner Outside The March could have imagined. It has received stunning reviews, social media buzz is at a fevered pitch and shows are selling out. Hope you don’t want to go this weekend Friday – as tickets are not available.

Anyone who has paid a casual interest in our industry knows it has been tough times as of late. Theatres are closing, deficits have been posted, boards are overstepping their mandate – questions of relevancy abound. To see a potential upswing, a positive sign that artist-driven independent work is viable and can excite not just our own community, but the city at large, is worth noting. Not only can this thing get turned around, we’re the ones who can do it.

Certainly there is value in much of the other work our community creates that is not commercially focused. God knows I wouldn’t be running this company with Aislinn and making this work if I didn’t think so, but what gives theatre its intrinsic value isn’t really what is at stake here. Theatre will always exist and address core questions of humanity as long as humans can get together somewhere. What’s at stake here is establishing a viable sustainable professionalized urban theatre industry.

If you remove the artists who work at our major non-urban festivals, that is something we don’t have in Toronto currently. Those artists that do work regularly here almost all have secondary focuses. By creating a regular link between independently produced and created work and commercial theatre, Mirvish threatens to redefine this paradigm. Not because we will work on Mirvish shows, but because it has the potential to reignite interest from audiences and other producers in what we do.

So hats off to Outside The March Artistic Director and recent Praxis blog writer Mitchell Cushman. We all really needed this to go well coming out of the gate, and you are passing off the baton with an early lead.

David Mirvish with the Terminus team

October 1, 2012, by

Images from the Mirvish 'Second Stage' Season

by Michael Wheeler

Last week David Mirvish, the pre-eminent producer of for-profit Toronto theatre made two major announcements that reflect the rapidly transforming theatrical ecosystem to one driven by indie artists.

On Monday Sept 24, Mirvish announced the launch of a “Second Stage” season that will feature four productions of contemporary drama that are less mainstream than its general offerings. These shows are being offered as a package where four tickets can be purchased for $100-$200 depending on seating.

Two of these productions are Toronto indie theatre hits: Studio 180’s Clybourne Park produced originally in association with Canadian Stage last year, and Outside The March’s Terminus, one of the standout hits of the SummerWorks Festival two months ago.

The other two shows in The Second Stage Season also have indie roots: CBC’s Mary Walsh‘s Dancing With Rage was originally going to be a Theatre Passe Muraille production before it was cancelled due to illness, while Anthony Rapp’s (brother of playwright Adam Rapp) autobiographical one-man show Without You got its profile as a darling of the Edinburgh Fringe.

This seems an incredibly positive development for Toronto’s theatrical ecosystem by creating a plausible process whereby artist-driven, independent work created in the not-for-profit sector that demonstrates box office success can become a commercial hit.

Frank Gehry's proposed model for the King St Mirvish re-development.

Equally big news was Mirvish’s weekend announcement of plans to to tear down the 2,500 seat Princess of Wales theatre and replace it with a modern art gallery, a new campus for OCAD, retail space, and three condo towers – all designed by Frank Gehry who recently revamped the Art Gallery of Ontario. Click for photos of the buildings that will have to go to make it happen.

Anticipating a backlash to this news, Mirvish wrote a personal letter to the media in lieu of the regular press release outlining his reasoning and the Mirvish legacy in the neighbourhood.  Reaction to this announcement was much less generous than the response to the indie theatre season, leading many commentators to question the necessity of tearing down one of the crown jewels of Toronto performing arts.

Some thoughts to consider before critiquing this decision too harshly:

Big theatres in Toronto are in big trouble:

One needs look no further that The City of Toronto’s  Task Force studying what to do with the three municipally owned large-venue theatres: The Sony Centre, The St Lawrence Centre and The Toronto Centre for The Performing Arts, to see that no one really has a clue how to fill these massive venues on a regular basis. Mega-musicals with massive overhead and serious box office started to stop making sense around when Phantom and the original Ragtime left town.

The era of theatre as driven by expensive spectacle is waning. Or at least, Toronto cannot support too many of theses types of productions at one time and some of them now occur in tents on the waterfront and/or involve horses.

There is money in real estate not theatre

Regent Park mixed income redevelopment

Given the general benefits Mirvish provides the ecosystem – not just the Second Stage Season, but also a partnership with The Toronto Fringe and creator of a new home for Theatre Museum Canada, I’m reticent to go apeshit about the fact they will also transform their properties to create revenue.

Theatre is a sucker’s game if you’re looking to make a buck. How fast did Aubrey Dan burn through $50 Million? Better Mirvish Inc. makes money somewhere else so it can continue to be a healthy and thriving contributor to the theatre community.

Population density is good for downtown Toronto

It has become quite fashionable to critique condo development as garish cash grabs. Practically speaking, population density is something from which Toronto could benefit more from through social and environmental perspectives. In terms of transportation issues, this density is best added near existing subway stops, which the Mirvish development is.

I’m not arguing for sainthood for building condos, but I don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world right if done right. I would love to see some income geared housing in there to ensure these places don’t become homogenous palaces for the superrich… Hey – you never know!

There’s an opportunity here:

David Mirvish stated a willingness to build a new theatre if necessary as stated in his letter to the media. Frustration at the loss of The Princess of Wales would probably be better channelled lobbying for something 500 seat-ish that meets the demands of contemporary theatre and audiences to be included in the development.

With TIFF for film, Roy Thompson Hall for music, and a new modern Art Gallery on the strip, King West would be a perfect location for a Gehry-designed permanent home for the newly announced Mirvish/Indie Theatre season.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @michaelcwheeler