Stage Door News

Barrie: Talk Is Free Theatre announces its 2023/24 season

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Today, Talk Is Free Theatre Producer & CEO Arkady Spivak and Artistic Director Michael Torontow announce their 2023/24 season, which leaps into new territory (sometimes literally) and challenges the boundaries that exist to be pushed, dismantled, or destroyed–a season full of new works and past favourites on stages (and in forests) not just at home in Barrie, Ontario, but across the far reaches of the planet to South America, New Zealand, and the South Pacific.

The season begins with the Canadian premiere of a new, roving production entitled Outheis (Greek for “no one, none, nothing” and roughly pronounced “oo-THAYS”) that will take audiences on a mysterious journey through multiple locations throughout Barrie from September 19 to 23 after a July visit to The Kick and Push Festival in Kingston. Written and directed by company member Griffin Hewitt (who co-wrote and co-directed last year’s hit season opener, The Written In Blood Trilogy), the play combines immersive and interactive experiences, audio-visual content, and a technological treasure hunt and asks, “Where can we go when we are lost?” Outheis began as a companion piece to TIFT’s roving and immersive production of Sweeney Todd which toured to Buenos Aires, Argentina, this past February.

Next, TIFT’s new production of Jake Epstein’s solo act, Boy Falls From the Sky, developed with and directed by Robert McQueen, will play the Five Points Theatre October 12 to 20, after a smash sell-out run at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto last year. Epstein, star of “Degrassi: The Next Generation” and Broadway leading man, shares his entertaining show biz tell-all about pursuing your dreams under the shadow of rejection, stage fright and heartbreak. Boy Falls From the Sky will then tour through the fall to Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton, with other dates around the world to be announced.

The flagship musical of the season is a fierce new rendition of the seminal Andrew Lloyd Webber classic, Jesus Christ Superstar, directed by Saccha Dennis. Dennis reimagines Superstar–the story of the days leading up to Jesus’ death from the perspective of Judas–through the lens of Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton. A leader among his people, Hampton’s efforts toward helping his community and leading by example were seen as a threat to the FBI. With the help of informant William O’Neal, Hampton was shot and killed in a pre-dawn raid in December, 1969. Jesus Christ Superstar will play the Five Points Theatre November 23 – December 1.

In the new year, a pair of long-time friends will share the Five Points stage in a double bill of their new solo productions January 25 to 27. I’m the Greatest Starr…(but no one knows it), written and performed by Starr Domingue, is an autoethnographic, musical-style cabaret which takes its audience on a journey through the performances, both on and off the stage, of a successful, working musical theatre actor in Canada. Confessions of Motherhood, written and performed by Jennifer Stewart, is an intimate recollection of the trials, frustrations and uncertainties experienced during one woman's journey to motherhood. Interspersed with theme-appropriate songs from the music theatre canon, this personal story questions what it takes to become a mother in the twenty-first century and at what cost.

Next, TIFT will host First Métis Man of Odesa–the runaway hit production by Punctuate! Theatre playing to rave reviews across the country–at the Five Points February 22 through March 2. Based on actual events, this captivating real-life love story, written and performed by Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova and directed by Lianna Makuch, is set against the backdrop of the COVID pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

After a triumphant run in Barrie last fall, David Hirson’s hilarious La Bête transfers to Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre Theatre March 1 - 17, with a limited run of four performances per week. Mike Nadajewski returns to star as Valère and Dylan Trowbridge will again take the helm as director. Inspired by Molière, La Bête details the upheaval in a famous acting troupe when its patron insists that a frivolous and foppish street performer, Valère, join the ensemble under the leadership of stuffy and dignified Elomire. Winner of the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy, is an exuberant, wildly distinctive comedy that encompasses timeless concerns about life and art.

Back at the Five Points, Cock, the hit comedy by British playwright Mike Bartlett, will take the stage April 18 to 27. John, a gay man, has been in a relationship with his partner for seven years. But when he meets and falls in love with a woman, he is forced to contemplate the boundaries of his identity and decide what he really wants for his future.

The regular season in Barrie concludes with (Saint) Joan, running May 23 to June 1 in co-production with Living Edge. A peasant from France rose to prominence as a military commander by heeding the voices of the saints in their head. Despite leading French forces to victory, she was burned at the stake for being a heretic and subsequently became a queer icon in the Catholic Church. Exploring the gender binary in Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw's incendiary work will be re-interpreted site-specifically by seven identities of Joan. Each of the play’s seven acts features a new performer as Joan, whose performance will be directed by Joan’s portrayer from the previous act. How does our past self-edit the hero we can become?

With a history of touring to nearly a dozen countries across four continents (and counting), this season boasts one of Talk Is Free Theatre’s most ambitious itineraries yet. TIFT has a long history of touring its productions, specializing in taking work that wouldn’t normally tour (e.g., immersive, site specific, etc.) to international markets where audiences wouldn’t typically experience those forms of theatre, and to other destinations where a professional theatre ecology is highly limited or difficult to access.

Tales of an Urban Indian by Darrell Dennis has been a favourite for years, having played hundreds of performances in locations across Canada, Australia and Argentina. This season, Dennis’ play about a young Indigenous man navigating life in the “big city” and staged entirely on a moving city bus, will play this fall in Paramaribo, Suriname, and Santiago, Chile. In January, it will head to Auckland, New Zealand, and then to Fiji. This production of Tales is directed by Herbie Barnes.

Appearing in Chile concurrently with Tales of an Urban Indian will be Adam Meisner’s For Both Resting and Breeding, directed by Maja Ardal and staged in a suburban home. Set in a futuristic, genderless society, two historians discover a millennium-era house and hatch a plan to turn the building into a re-enactment museum of life in the year 2000. Examining the fashion, furnishing and family roles of their millennial forbears through the lens of binary gender roles, the project turns risky when one of the historians and a young volunteer begin to explore sexual acts, deemed illegal in that society, in secret. After Chile, For Both Resting and Breeding will continue with another set of performances in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In January, a double bill of What She Burned–created and artistically led by Joe Pagnan and based on the folklore written by Alexander Afanasyev–and Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into The Woods–directed by Michael Torontow–will inhabit a forest in Auckland, New Zealand. What She Burned, the story of a young woman facing an evil witch in the woods, takes audiences on a walk through an immersive installation that uses mid-century bootlegging techniques fused with modern augmented-reality technology, retracing the heroine’s steps. They will then be treated to Torontow’s lightly-staged, concert version of Into The Woods–the hit fairy tale mash-up musical that explores the consequences of pursuing wishes–which Barrie audiences enjoyed at Springwater Park and Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre in 2021.

TIFT will also make a leap into the tech world this season, with some international productions making use of a new translation tool developed under their Service Projects umbrella. Company member, Joe Pagnan, and Boredom Project’s Igor Chernukhin, a professional computer engineer and engineering manager with Airbus Defence and Space division, have been developing ARIA (or Augmented Reality for Immersive Accessibility)–a wearable device for immersive and traditional productions, whereby translations of performed text appear in each patron’s personal view using small binocular screens embedded in a pair of smart glasses. ARIA will be utilized in our productions Chile and Argentina, and will begin to be integrated as part of the on-going home seasons. Spivak is enthusiastic about the potential for connecting people of different cultures and linguistic realities, not just abroad but at home as well:

“Engaging audiences to connect beyond the language boundary and engaging artists to communicate using their own language is a revolutionary tool for immersive theatre makers and traditional producers alike.”

This year also marks the end of TIFT’s first three-year term of their Artist BIG (Basic Income Guarantee) program, in which artists experiment with new creation and production processes and push the boundaries of leadership and curation.

“At TIFT we put artists first. What follows is that we allow the adventures of the season to directly reflect the needs and desires for growth and transformation expressed by those within Artist BIG and by many others who are outside of the program as well,” says Spivak.

News of the next iteration of Artist BIG is forthcoming, as are continued announcements of artists added to the 23/24 season.

After a three-year pilot program that offered complimentary admission to the regular programming, TIFT is pleased to continue with an offering of a hybrid of free and regular paid performances for the new season. The effort has been made to help dismantle economic barriers to attendance and provide for more universal accessibility to the arts.

Tickets are available now for projects occurring before December 31. For productions occurring after the start of 2024, tickets will be available in October.