Like team sports, theatre is all about pulling together. That said, there are always some individuals who stand out in their efforts to help make a winning production. Here are our choices for this year’s Most Valuable Players of the 2012 Toronto theatre scene, in no particular order.
Artistic director-turned-cause célèbre
This summer, the local theatre community rallied around Factory Theatre founder Ken Gass after he was abruptly fired over a dispute with the company’s board of directors. High-profile artists from George F. Walker to Michael Ondaatje signed a petition and withdrew their plays from Factory in protest. When attempts at mediation failed, Gass called it quits in September and asked his colleagues to drop the boycott. But the collective outrage was a stirring display of loyalty to one of Canadian theatre’s stalwarts.
Photo: Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star
Rebel without a stage
This year, director Mitchell Cushman outgrew his up-and-comer status with shows that overturned the traditional theatregoing experience. He mounted edgy plays in unusual locations—a kindergarten classroom, hacker labs, and a reconfigured Royal Alex. Now that he’s mastered intimate settings and small-scale plays, Cushman looks poised to go big in 2013—or at least go long: This summer, he’ll be putting on Sarah Ruhl’s three-and-a-half hour epic, Passion Play.
MORRO AND JASP
Toronto’s classiest clowns
The dynamic duo of Morro and Jasp kicked off 2012 amid clouds of flour and carrot shavings and cemented their reign with a hit Fringe tour (the show Of Mice and Morro and Jasp). While this odd couple of clowns had crowds in stitches, they also warmed our hearts and reclaimed the clown as a figure of joy rather than fear.
Photo: Colin McConnell/Toronto Star
Weyni Mengesha has made a name staging black-themed works like A Raisin in the Sun, but this year she proved her versatility with her skilled direction of two terrific—and very different—productions: the warm-hearted Korean immigrant comedy Kim’s Convenience and the Québecois psychodrama The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs. After that dazzling display of dexterity, there’s probably nothing she can’t direct.
Man of the people
In Charlie Kaufman’s film Synecdoche, New York, Philip Seymour Hoffman played a director determined to put his entire life onstage. The ambitious artistic director of Theatre Passe Muraille, Andy McKim, seems equally determined to showcase all of Toronto. That’s the impression we got this fall, as TPM presented documentary and impressionistic works about streetcars, taxi drivers, the CN Tower, and CAMH—capped by a Christmas-themed satire of ousted mayor Rob Ford. No other theatre in 2012 was so passionately engaged with the community around it.
Photo: Colin McConnell/Toronto Star
A very RARE theatre artist
We’ll have to wait until next fall to see her new play, Watching Glory Die, but Judith Thompson still delivered the year’s most unique and heart-wrenching show. Co-created with nine performers with Down Syndrome, RARE was staged as part of the 2012 Fringe festival. While she wasn’t the main attraction, Thompson drew on her talents to lend empowering —but not overpowering—support to her remarkable collaborators, and we eagerly anticipate her work on similar projects over the next three years.
Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg/The Canadian Press
THE WAR HORSE PUPPETEERS
There’s not a lot of glory in playing a horse’s ass—or even its head, for that matter. Unless, of course, you’re part of the glorious equine puppets in War Horse. Their names are too numerous to list here, but the team of puppeteers who’ve operated Joey, Topthorn, and the other great beasts in the year-long production (which closes Jan. 6) deserve a huge shout-out for keeping the show magical night after night.
Photo: courtesy of Michael Cooper
Goddess of lighting
Fascinated by the shifting patterns of light in The Little Years? Entranced by the dark underworld gleam of The Penelopiad? Chalk it up to the artistry of Kim Purtell. In recent years, she’s become one of Toronto theatre’s go-to lighting designers, with the Dora kudos—three wins, 17 noms—to prove it. This year, her name was synonymous with excellence as she illuminated such outstanding shows as Clybourne Park, Crash, and The Normal Heart.
Most versatile player
If we were to assemble a Toronto theatre dream team, Maev Beaty would be first pick. In 2012, she played an astounding array of roles, each drastically different from the last, shifting from comic to dramatic to downright terrifying characters, and consistently mastering every single one. Leave it to this theatrical Renaissance woman to put on a producer hat and run the Edward Bond Festival—with husband Alan Dilworth—which brought the revered British playwright himself to Toronto.
The theatre community’s online soapbox
A few high-profile scandals made mainstream arts-media headlines in 2012, but for a closer look at the stories bubbling underneath, you couldn’t do better than the discussions on Praxis Theatre’s website and Twitter feed. Overseen by Aislinn Rose and Michael Wheeler, Praxis provides an outlet for informed, well-reasoned debate—on everything from Toronto theatre’s generation gap to federal cultural policies—for the community of independent theatre artists in Toronto and beyond.