A look inside Streetcar Crowsnest, a new $11-million theatre in the base of a Leslieville condo
The nomadic Crow's Theatre company has a new home: a sleek cultural complex in the east end. Here, a tour of the space, a guide to the theatre's can't-miss shows and a chat with the man who made it all happen
The theatre sits on the northeast corner of Dundas and Carlaw, at the foot of a Streetcar Developments condo. It was designed by DTAH Architects, the firm behind Wychwood Barns and the Evergreen Brick Works.
The centrepiece of Crowsnest is a 2,400-square-foot, 220-seat theatre with cavernous 22-foot ceilings. The Scotiabank Community Studio—a second, more casual stage—has space for 90 and is meant for smaller concerts, comedies and cabarets.
The lounge that leads to the Guloien features reclaimed Douglas fir rafters, ceiling-height windows and a bar that will serve custom cocktails themed to the night’s show.
Gare de l’Est Restaurant
Audiences can grab pre-show dinner or post-show drinks at the French brasserie from restaurateurs Erik Joyal and John Sinopoli, the duo behind Queen East faves Ascari Enoteca and Hi-Lo Bar. The place seats 60 inside and another 50 on the sidewalk patio.
Q&A: Crow’s Theatre artistic director Chris Abraham on his company’s new home
Crow’s Theatre, the company you run, has always staged its shows in other companies’ theatres. Why settle down now?
The boring part is that the touring market is less lucrative, and it’s harder to get grants. The more interesting part is that I bought a house in the east end and saw there was no significant culture happening shy of the cinema and bowling alleys. I wanted to do something different.
You managed to raise a whopping $11 million for the theatre. How did you do it?
Our city councillor, Paula Fletcher, was our biggest cheerleader. She brokered a relationship with the condo’s developer, Streetcar, who ultimately became our lead sponsor. To lure philanthropists, we shone a light on the east end as a home to many young families, arts workers and a creative economy. I was surprised, frankly, at how much generosity there was in the city.
Toronto’s theatre scene is concentrated downtown and in the west end. What makes you think you can pull this off east of the Don Valley?
While we were fundraising, people acknowledged that the east end is popping. Gentrification has made it possible for us to start a mid-size theatre here for younger people who also want a space for their children to have some contact with the arts. That was not so much the case 10 years ago.
Theatregoers tend to be older. Is it crazy to count on young families to buy in?
If younger audiences got a taste of something they enjoyed, they’d check it out more often. Because we don’t have the subscriber base that other theatres do, we can do work that takes risks and doesn’t cater to an older demographic.
What kind of programming is that?
Many Toronto theatre companies replicate plays that have succeeded elsewhere. That’s where we’re different—all of our programming is new Canadian work, and it’s all edgy yet accessible. We want to be a gateway experience for people who don’t think much about theatre. Sometimes you just need to sweeten the deal for someone who’s contemplating Netflix versus a night out.
Four must-see shows this season
The Wedding Party
Playwright Kristen Thomson is known for her seminal one-woman show, I, Claudia, which filtered a messy divorce through the eyes of the couple’s 12-year-old daughter. In her fizzy new comedy, she spins yet another rite of passage into moving theatre—and this time, it’s marriage. Audiences double as the guests at an increasingly unhinged wedding reception, where tipsy friends and in-laws quarrel and confess secret loves. To Feb. 11.
In this giddy theatre-concert hybrid, soul singer Khari Wendell McClelland traces two journeys: his own, from his hometown of Detroit to Vancouver, and that of his great-great-great-grandmother, who escaped slavery along the Underground Railroad. He performs the liberation songs and spirituals she would have heard along the way, but with a Hamilton-esque twist: they’re reinvented as hip-hop, funk and soul numbers. Feb. 1 to Feb. 11.
Torquil Campbell, frontman for the indie band Stars, doubles as playwright and star in this juicy true tale about the elaborate criminal history of the German charlatan Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter: he killed a man in California, convinced his own wife he was a Rockefeller and kidnapped his daughter in 2008. Accompanied by a guitarist, Campbell tackles 30 roles, including Gerhartsreiter and his various aliases. April 4 to 15.
The Boy in the Moon
In 2008, Globe writer Ian Brown wrote a heartbreaking memoir about his son, Walker, who lives with a rare genetic mutation that prevents him from speaking or functioning independently. His book comes to life onstage, documenting the joys and innumerable challenges of raising a severely disabled child. May 9 to 27.
An earlier version of this post contained an incorrect spelling of Khari Wendell McClelland's name.