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

By Toronto Life| Illustrations by Chloe Cushman
A ballet in the AGO, a play in a tattoo parlour and seven other theatre-less shows to see this summer
The Dreamers Ever Leave You. Photograph by Liza Voli
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.

#7LOVE 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.

Campbell House.
Campbell House Museum. Photograph by Daniel Neuhaus

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.

Erika Batdorf.
Erika Batdorf. Photograph courtesy of Erika Batdorf

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.


Sign up for This City, our free newsletter about everything that matters right now in Toronto politics, sports, business, culture, society and more.

By signing up, you agree to our terms of use and privacy policy.
You may unsubscribe at any time.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.


The Latest

Kiss and Tell: "I started dating my best friend's ex. It ruined our relationship"

Kiss and Tell: “I started dating my best friend’s ex. It ruined our relationship”