Not only did these 10 dramatic superstars distinguish themselves by putting out great work this year, they were outstanding team players. These shout-outs are in recognition of both their individual talents and their contributions to their larger community.
Man of the moment
To put it in fancy terms, this has been an annus mirabilis for white-hot director Chris Abraham. His Shakespearean debut at the Stratford Festival, a gorgeously moody Othello, was hailed as a triumph; his provocative touring shows continued to attract raves; and he finished up the year by landing the much-coveted $100,000 Siminovitch Prize. East-enders, however, were most excited by Abraham’s announcement that his company, Crow’s Theatre, is building an $8-million arts space—its first permanent home—in Leslieville.
Black theatre in Toronto could easily get marginalized, but Philip Akin (pictured above at centre) has made damn sure that it doesn’t. Both as the artistic boss of the venerable Obsidian Theatre Company and as a director himself, he’s pushed to put black-themed works in the mainstream by forging successful alliances with the likes of Canadian Stage, Factory Theatre, Acting Up, and the Shaw Festival. This past year was no exception, as Akin hitched Obsidian to the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company for a gripping co-production of the Civil War drama The Whipping Man.
If a good year involves receiving the country’s largest literature prize, then, yeah, Nicolas Billon had a pretty good year: His collection Fault Lines (a trilogy that includes Greenland, Iceland, and The Faroe Islands) earned the 2013 Governor General’s literary award for drama. Toronto’s new master of the monologue, Billon’s plays have the weight of classics and the urgency of contemporary issues. We can’t wait to see where he’ll go next.
WILLIAM ELLIS AND JORDAN TANNAHILL
Exploring a new (store)frontier
In November, William Ellis and Jordan Tannahill celebrated the first anniversary of Videofag, the former barbershop they transformed into a bustling indie art space for Toronto’s theatre community. In just over a year, Videofag has provided a home for not only Ellis and Tannahill, but also Toronto’s more experimental productions spanning visual art, theatre, and film. Meanwhile, this art power couple has sparked a larger conversation about alternative performance spaces in Toronto, inspiring other young artists to make a home for their work in the city’s storefronts.
Stratford’s transportation visionary
Toronto-based Stratford Fest fans should be grateful to the company’s new executive director, Anita Gaffney. Responding to the enduringly crappy transportation situation between Canada’s biggest city and Canada’s biggest theatre festival, Gaffney initiated a twice-daily nonstop bus service between the two. Not surprisingly, the Stratford Direct was a roaring success, transporting some 15,000 people this past season—more than half of them first-time festival-goers.
Buddies in Bad Times BFF
Even when a script isn’t up to snuff, you can’t help but marvel at Brendan Healy’s unparalleled ability to create a world on stage that is smoldering, sexy, and unmistakably his own. The Buddies in Bad Times artistic director also cemented his MVP status when he published an open letter in April that addressed poor sales for Daniel MacIvor’s Arigato, Tokyo, a revelation that showcased unexpected courage and humility.
Audiences know Ravi Jain best for A Brimful of Asha, in which the actor-director-playwright shares the stage with his mother to recount his family’s attempts to manoeuvre him into an arranged marriage. But that charming show—back for yet another Toronto encore in March—is just one of many Jain-related projects. Whether premiering a Governor General’s Award–winning play (Iceland), co-presenting Fringe hits, or helping theatres market to the South Asian community, Jain and his multifaceted Why Not Theatre have become a pervasive and welcome presence on the Toronto scene.
After touring her acclaimed one-woman show, Oh My Irma, across Canada, New York, Mongolia, and beyond, actress and playwright Haley McGee finally made it to the holy grail of theatre festivals this year—the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. And while it can be a struggle to find an audience in Edinburgh, her witty writing and fearless performance was a bona fide hit.
While many Toronto theatre companies are chiefly focussed on developing homegrown productions, Tina Rasmussen’s global perspective is a huge asset to the city. During World Stage’s 2013 season, Rasmussen brought international shows to Toronto that were lighthearted (Dachshund U.N.), dramatic (KAMP), and profound (She She Pop & Their Fathers—Testament). As she continues to support and commission work from local artists as well, Rasmussen is one of our biggest theatrical cheerleaders at home and abroad.
Karen Robinson (at right) has always been an emotionally powerful actress, but this year she reduced us to tears with a pair of unforgettable maternal roles. In Salome’s Clothes at SummerWorks, she gave a shattering performance as a poor single mom who must choose between material comfort and moral responsibility. She followed that by playing a vivacious matriarch stricken with early-onset Alzheimer’s in Factory Theatre’s The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble. In the future, theatres may want to hand out free Kleenex whenever Robinson is in a show.