A ballet in the AGO, a play in a tattoo parlour and seven other theatre-less shows to see this summer
The most glorious plays this season are being staged in parks, pubs and tents
Four inventive, immersive premieres
The Dreamers Ever Leave You
This dazzling new production from National Ballet choreographer Robert Binet was commissioned to run alongside the AGO’s massive Harris exhibit, The Idea of North. Dancers will perform in the Signy Eaton Gallery, prancing and weaving between gallerygoers. Ukrainian composer Lubomyr Melnyk, who has set world records for his rapid-fire piano skills, will play a feverish score. And the room will be bathed in an ethereal coloured light show, evoking the peaks and skies of Harris’s works. August 31 to September 10, Art Gallery of Ontario.
In the Paddock Tavern at Queen and Bathurst, a group of performers recreate interviews with people aged seven to 97, telling tales of romance and redemption. An MC conducts a heartbreak survey, a lovelorn videographer croons to the crowd, and anyone who shares a story gets a shower of rose petals. To August 12, Paddock Tavern.
The Hogtown Experience
Audiences run loose in the stately Campbell House Museum, where a cast of 34 actors—playing showgirls, gangsters and bootleggers—act out scenes from a sultry 1920s Toronto speakeasy. Guests wander from room to room like ghosts, watching a mayoral candidate curry political favour in the parlour, a couple having a clandestine argument upstairs and a jazz band crooning in the basement. To Aug. 28, Campbell House Museum.
Empire of Night
From 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., the Drake Underground throws a surreal slumber party ostensibly inspired by circadian rhythms. So-called sleep technicians guide guests to designated pillow areas, where they’re surrounded by music, ambient light, ghostly voices and sleepwalking dancers. Dozing is strongly encouraged. August 11, Drake Underground.
Four site-specific plays in one night
In the Pop-Up Experience (August 22 to 28), audiences watch four shows in as many locations. Here’s what to expect.
In a church
The theatrical scavenger hunt begins with A Gathering in Memory of Dr. Gordon P. Silver, a gospel funeral for a charismatic preacher. The catch? The remaining cult members are trying to lure the audience over to the other side.
In a Tattoo Parlour
Next up is Now We Are, set at a tattoo shop, where a teen boy gets his first piece of (staged) ink—in this punky world, that’s his initiation into manhood. Adventurous audience members have the option of going under the needle for real.
In a Store
The audience takes a trip to an abandoned retail location for A Community Target, a sly docudrama about the demise of the retail giant and how it affected the workers—it uses dialogue derived from interviews with ex-employees.
In a Park
Finally, the audience lands at a park TBD for The Golem’s Mighty Swing, a League of Their Own–style puppet show about the Stars of David, a fictional Jewish baseball team from the 1920s.
A one-woman play in a tent
In Burnish (to August 9 at the Theatre Centre), artist Erika Batdorf faces off with her audiences in a tent. We asked her how it works.
You bill your play, Burnish, as choose-your-own-adventure theatre. What does that mean?
One person at a time sits down at a small table in a tent and interacts with me. I’m wearing a mask, and there are video projections, lights and music. At different points of the show, I sing the guest a song, burn a small item and make them a gift—all depending on what they tell me. Outside the tent, there are peepholes where bystanders can look in, and a live video feed of what’s going on inside.
How much control do audience members have?
There are some boundaries. I have technology that allows me to change the background music and the lighting based on what the person says. I also wear biosensors so my heart rate influences what people see.
You have a bunch of objects on the table in front of you in the tent. What are they?
There’s paper so audiences can write stuff, or tell me what to write. The guest watches me mix perfume in teeny-tiny bottles. And there’s a lot of glass from the garbage glass fields in Venice. They’re random objects that become part of something beautiful.
How do people usually react to the show?
People are surprised how much it affects them. It’s cool and funky and unusual, and then it turns into something deeper. When they get up from the chair, they’re in a different state than when they sat down. They want an Alice in Wonderland adventure—but I take them somewhere deeper.
Does anyone ever touch you?
No one has yet, but they could. It’s a pretty small space.