Stage Door News
Toronto: Outside the March announces its 2020/21 season-in-progress
Thursday, September 10, 2020
Outside the March announces its “Season-in-Process,” a range of pandemic-responsive new works marking the first full season of original programming in the immersive company’s 10-year history. Building off the memorable five-month run of the internationally-acclaimed The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries, these projects will empower an expansive collection of voices, allowing them to create, interrogate and share in an organic way during uncertain and isolating times.
This slate of in-person and digital offerings is described by Artistic Director Mitchell Cushman as “about amplification and transformation. As a company, we’re in the midst of learning how to best meet the immensity of this moment: how to newly engage with immersive performance within the distanced context of a pandemic, and how to dismantle systems of racial inequity in which our organization has always been complicit”. With that in mind, this Season-in-Process presents initiatives designed to empower an extensive community of artists as they respond to our evolving present.
“This year we’re consciously supporting more writers and creators than ever before, served by an expanded team,” says founding company member and newly-appointed Associate Artistic Director Sébastien Heins. “Together we hope to meet the demands of the moment in responsible, flexible and compassionate ways.”
The season includes a trio of solo productions engaging pivotal themes of mental health and wellbeing (The Solo Together Series), four large-scale immersive new commissions (The TD Forward March Program), an anthology of new plays interrogating the medium of Zoom (The Stream You Step In) and a live multi-disciplinary offering as part of the NAC’s Grand Acts of Theatre initiative (Something Bubbled, Something Blue). Each of these projects is designed in their own way to be adaptable to our constantly-shifting reality. Whatever the next twelve months has in store, Outside the March is committed to finding ways to share these stories—be it on the back of a flatbed truck, through a feature film adaption, or inside inflatable zorbs—all of which are active parts of current planning.
“We’re in the process of figuring things out,” says Cushman. “For some of our upcoming programming, we don’t know exactly how and where it will be performed. For others, we’ll be experimenting in mediums we’ve never worked in before. We want to empower our community to learn as we go. We want to give artists time, space and money to react, create and reinterpret in real time. My hope is that immersive theatre can be a unique tool for connection and reflection at this moment.”
The SOLO TOGETHER Series
At the centre of the season is the Solo Together Series: three performer-created immersive memoirs exploring mental health, wellbeing and how individual minds filter and navigate our world. “One of OtM’s hallmarks has always been achieving a level of intimacy in our immersive work,” says Cushman. “And while our usual ways of creating intimacy are challenging in this moment, each of these shows offers the possibility for audiences to connect with their own humanity by experiencing someone else’s.”
The series is a natural next step for the company after The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries, which engaged audiences ages 4-99 about their individual anxieties, fears, hopes and curiosities while living in isolation. Solo Together is similarly designed to provide a forum for introspection, self-knowledge and care as all of us grapple with isolation and loneliness. OtM will share these stories across in-person and digital platforms over the next year, responsive to evolving health and safety precautions. The series includes:
The World Premiere of The Itinerary, created by Sébastien Heins, which poses the question “What do we do with the time that we have left?” Recently “playtested” at Kingston’s Kick & Push Festival, The Itinerary is a love letter to videogames and the artist’s Caribbean family history, with players using their smartphones to control the performer’s every action. With an intimate band of fellow players, audiences will explore a world of memory, imagination and compassion through Heins’ personal lens of the Windrush generation, familial loss and human perseverance. The piece “reflects an understanding of care, and what it means to provide it” (Kingston’s Theatre Alliance) and will be shared with OtM audiences this winter in a production envisioned to feature both in-person and digital elements.
Revisiting James Smith’s award-winning Lessons in Temperament, reimagined in relation to forces of isolation brought on by COVID-19. Hailed by The New York Times as “a memoir of minds gone out of tune”, Lessonsfeatures Smith tuning a piano, while exploring the concept of equal temperament in relation to he and his three older brothers’ experiences living across the mental health spectrum. In addition to offering a select number of live performances, this fall OtM is collaborating with Smith and cinematographer Gabriela Osio Vanden to adapt Lessons into a feature film shot in a dozen different shuttered theatres, in conversation with CAMH, and in partnership with The Stratford Festival, Soulpepper, TO Live and The Harbourfront Centre.
A site-specific reimagining of the award-winning musical comedy Stupidhead! Written and performed by Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson, and directed by Aaron Willis, Stupidhead! is about the glamour of failure and the celebration of futility. It’s about being a kid with a lot of dyslexia and not being able to fit in—and how being a human is really embarrassing. All of the time. “…riotously funny, musically charming, and emotionally resonant… a perfect blend of humour, heart, and soul.” (Kingston Theatre Reviews). OtM will bring Stupidhead! back to Toronto in a new immersive production planned to inhabit both indoor and outdoor venues in the spring of 2021.
TD Forward March 2020 Commissions
Outside the March is thrilled to announce the artists and projects commissioned through the 2020 TD Forward March Program: Devon Healey & Nate Bitton (Rainbow on Mars), Todd Houseman (The Children of the Bear), Jordan Laffrenier (A New Black Poet), and Me Time (R.A.V.E.). This wide-ranging group of new immersive experiences includes: a sensory reclamation of blindness encountered through the story of Plato’s cave; a mythic mask exploration of intergenerational trauma; a contemporary dialogue with the works of Langston Hughes; and a Black Mirror-meets-Berghain futuristic rave opera. See below for full bios of the commissioned artists.
Thanks to the support of TD Bank Group, each project receives a $5000 commission and is paired with a Co-Conspirator—Co-Conspirators are “outside eyes” from a variety of disciplines who will assist with artistic development. Forward March received over 140 applications submitted from across the country, with pieces selected by a jury composed of Cushman, Program Curator Jeff Ho, Rebecca Ballarin, Anahita Dehbonhie, Sébastien Heins, Lindsay Junkin, Griffin McInnes and Michelle Yagi.
“I was so inspired by hundreds of genre-bending, dynamic, and diverse proposals,” says Ho. “I am confident that Sarah, Todd, Jordan, Devon and Nate will ignite and redefine what it means to create immersive theatre, and I’m so thrilled that OtM will support these stellar artists in these new creations.”
OtM’s Forward March Program began in 2015. Its initial commissions included Anika & Britta Johnson’s Dr. Silver, a Celebration of Life, Marcus Jamin’s The Golem’s Mighty Swing and Robert Motum’s A Community Target, all of which went on to receive full productions from the company over subsequent seasons.
The first year of development on these new pieces will culminate next summer with the return of The Pop-Up Experience—a site-specific crawl through a Toronto neighbourhood in which audiences will experience excerpts of each piece.
The Expanded Outside the March Team
In order to make this eclectic season possible, OtM is expanding its core team with four new positions. Founding company member Sébastien Heins will serve as the company’s new Associate Artistic Director, New Platforms and Initiatives, with a focus on re-contextualizing where and how the company’s work takes place and developing new programs in support of BIPOC voices. “I’m honoured to design new services for artists that will give them meaningful avenues to create, collaborate on, and share their work,” says Heins. “As a founding member of OtM, it’s a personal privilege to support this expanding team and community as we work towards our shared goal to build a more plural theatrical ecology.”
Laura McCallum also joins the team as the company’s first General Manager, bringing to the organization a wealth of expertise from work with Studio 180, Project: Humanity and the Shaw Festival. “It’s an invigorating time to join the company as we shift our focus towards new work development and decentralizing our creative leadership to bring more artists to the table,” says McCallum.
Building on his work as the TD Forward March Curator, Jeff Ho will serve as OtM’s new Company Dramaturge, returning to the organization that, as Ho describes, was “my very first professional home after Theatre School, to continue amplifying QTBIPOC creators, and to support a greater diversity of representation through immersive theatre.” Ho’s responsibilities will include facilitating new play development, supporting the TD Forward March Commissions and developing new initiatives to support new generation and QTBIPOC theatre creators.
In addition to Ho, in November OtM will welcome another award-winning writer to its staff in Rosamund Small, a playwright who has been a favourite of OtM audiences (Vitals, TomorrowLoveTM), and who will serve as Artistic Associate in an Artistic Direction apprenticeship supported by the Metcalf Foundation.
Rounding out the Season-in-Process are two partnership productions conceived to uncover unexpected possibilities through new performance realities created by the pandemic:
Something Bubbled, Something Blue
First is Something Bubbled, Something Blue, produced by Talk is Free Theatre in association with Outside the March as part of the National Arts Centre’s Grand Acts of Theatre Series. Co-created by Mitchell Cushman & Anahita Dehbonehie with choreography by Cameron Carver, the piece casts a surreal lens on a COVID wedding by playfully manifesting the metaphor of personal bubbles as inflatable Zorbs, which will be inhabited by the formally-attired members of a wedding party. It aims to side-step the false choice between isolation or reckless endangerment by exploring and exploiting the necessary restrictions that keep us safe but apart.
The piece will premiere September 12th in Barrie, Ontario at a yet-to-be-revealed location, and will also be filmed to be shared later online. The wedding party will feature a cavalcade of exciting performers from both the dance and theatre world including David Ball, Jacqueline Burtney, Sierra Holder, Amy Keating, Emily Lukasik, Caitlyn MacInnis, David Andrew Reid and Margaret Thompson. For more information, visit nac-cna.ca.
The Stream You Step In
Then, in November, audiences from all over can experience The Stream You Step In. This co-production from The University of Windsor and Outside the March is an anthology of original plays commissioned specifically for the School of Dramatic Arts’ graduating BFA students occurring entirely over Zoom. Through the project OtM is supporting some of Canadian theatre’s pivotal playwriting voices: Elena Eli Belyea, Karen Hines, David Yee and Marcus Youssef.
The Stream You Step in will be presented in two double-bills:
November 5th to 8th
good white men
by David Yee
A first-person POV digital deep dive into the heart of the white ally industrial complex. Three young men on their journey to allyship get derailed by a neighbour who does all the right things in all the wrong ways.
The River of Forgetfulness
by Karen Hines
Four bright young artists grapple with a poisonous living situation. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”… they quickly learn is a meaningless platitude.
November 19th to 22nd
by Elena Eli Belyea
Thistle films an apology video. Blake and Alistair attend couples therapy. Natali plans to live forever. Love, loss and longing intersect in this new work written for and about the internet.
Thank You for Your Labour
by Marcus Youssef
A group of white students is organizing an online music show to show solidarity with their racialized peers. For tonight’s meeting, they’ve invited the faculty’s only brown student to join them. Good intentions meet unspoken desires in this Zoom comedy about whiteness, isolation, and how hard it can be to do the right thing.
Click here for more information and to book tickets.