Canada’s biggest theatre company is introducing a new program to remount four edgier, critically acclaimed independent productions.
Known for bringing big budget musicals and star-studded casts from New York and London to Toronto, Mirvish Productions announced today at the Royal Alexandra Theatre that it’s going indie.
Starting this fall, the Off-Mirvish Series will introduce four new titles to the existing 2012/2013 season, which continues this month with Tap Dogs and Jekyll and Hyde (starring Constantine Maroulis and Deborah Cox) in November. The new program, however, is giving Toronto audiences an unprecedented opportunity to see some of the city’s most exciting emerging talents, while presenting some more familiar faces in an entirely new light.
Starting the series in November is the 2012 SummerWorks sell-out hit Terminus by Mark O’Rowe. Director Mitchell Cushman is bringing back the dark, torturous “spoken word rap opera” that won the SummerWorks Award for Outstanding Production in August, with the same cast (Maev Beaty, Ava Jane Markus, and Adam Wilson), crew, and unconventional staging. Playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, audiences of 200 will be seated on the stage facing out towards the rows of plush red chairs while the actors perform on the edge of the stage’s drop-off.
“We couldn’t dream of presenting it with such a beautiful and historic backdrop,” Cushman said. “We’re a small and new company, so to be able to bring the show back so soon is really a treat.”
Following Terminus is Anthony Rapp’s one-man show based off his 2006 memoir of the same name, Without You. Rapp, most famous for playing the role of Mark in the original Broadway production of RENT, has already performed sold-out runs at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as well as in London. Starting previews on Dec. 13, Without You will mark Rapp’s artistic return to Toronto since reprising his role as Mark in RENT at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (formerly known as the Canon Theatre) and appearing in The Adventures of Babysitting 25 years ago.
In February 2013, local company Studio 180 will remount Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park—a dark comedy about neighbours, territory, race, and gentrification. As of now, Studio 180 co-founder Mark McGrinder says the cast will return, including himself, Jeff Lillico, Maria Ricossa, Sterling Jarvis, and Michael Healey.
Concluding the first ever Off-Mirvish Series is Mary Walsh’s Dancing With Rage on March 5. Walsh wrote the one-woman show based on her myriad of characters on This Hour Has 22 Minutes, which follows warrior princess Marg Delahunty on her search for her lost love child. Dancing With Rage had to cancel its debut at Theatre Passe Muraille late last year when Walsh fell ill with pneumonia, but Mirvish has announced it will honour the approximately 2,000 tickets already sold for that run.
The Off-Mirvish Series harkens back to the early days of Mirvish Productions (now the biggest theatre company in the country), when it used to stage a varied mix of musicals, dramas, and comedies. David Mirvish said he realized it was time for an edgier program when he saw each of these four shows, and another five potentially slated for next season.
“We’ve been talking off and on about it over the years; we just needed something for it to coalesce around,” he said. “We said, ‘There has got to be an audience for this.’ We believe there is, so let’s give it a go.”
All Off-Mirvish Series productions, save for Terminus, will be performed at the Panasonic Theatre at an accessible package price—all four shows for either $99 or $199, depending on seat location. And Mirvish knows this initiative won’t be adding any to the company’s bottom line: “They don’t call us crazy for nothing,” he said.
But the addition of the Off-Mirvish Series means much more to the companies involved than mere ticket revenue.
“We didn’t do [Terminus] to be a commercial goldmine,” said Cushman, whose company Outside the March has made a significant impact in Toronto with only five productions. “They’re really taking a risk with us. It’s so not what we identify with Mirvish.”
Even McGrinder’s Studio 180, one of Toronto’s most reputable independent companies, appreciates the leg-up.
“We’re still five artists and a general manager clawing away,” he said. “I mean, I just worked at the box office at the Toronto International Film Festival. It means the world for an institution like Mirvish to indentify the importance of small theatre. This is not a wild moneymaking scheme. It comes from the purest place, and that vote of confidence means so much.”