After 33 years of flying around from venue to venue, Crow's Theatre is finally about to land – and feather down in a nice, new Crowsnest.
That's the name being unveiled this week for the Toronto indie theatre company's $11-million complex on the first floor of a condo development in the Leslieville neighbourhood east of the Don Valley.
The formerly nomadic Crow's will concurrently announce a flurry of programming for the initial five months in its first permanent space – including 11 productions, with a brand new comedy by Kristen Thomson called The Wedding Party kicking it all off in January, 2017.
"It's a big jump for a small organization," says a hard-hat clad Chris Abraham, the artistic director of Crow's and Siminovitch Prize-winning director, giving The Globe and Mail a sneak peek of the construction site near completion. "We've almost quadrupled our staff size and tripled our operating budget to $1.5-million for next year. Last year, we were $600,000."
Streetcar Crowsnest is the full name of the complex – which sits on the corner of Dundas Street East and Carlaw Avenue on the ground floor of a 330-unit condo building by Streetcar Developments, who gave a $1.5-million lead gift and get their company name on it.
Inside, Crow's will produce and present in two performance spaces. The Guloien, named after donors Donald and Irene Guloien, is the main hall and can seat around 220 theatregoers depending on the configuration, while the narrow Scotiabank Community Studio running along Carlaw can seat 90.
The Crowsnest will also contain an as-yet unnamed 65-seat restaurant operated by Erik Joyal and John Sinopoli, the local restaurateurs behind Ascari Enoteca and Hi-Lo bar. Part of the business model is to rent out the Crowsnest for events such as weddings.
The Guloien is the really exciting addition to the theatrical ecology in Toronto. From the Tarragon Theatre in the Annex to the Young Centre that houses Soulpepper in the Distillery District, almost all theatres of a similar size in Toronto are constructed inside buildings that initially had another purpose – such as factories, tankhouses and libraries. That means limited fly space and less than ideal soundproofing.
The Guloien, on the other hand, will be both impervious to passing police sirens and able to accommodate sets and designs up to three-storeys tall.
Programming in the Crowsnest will be divided into three categories – "signature" shows, where Crow's is the lead producer; partner presentations, where Crow's is involved, but to a lesser extent; and guest shows, which are curated rentals.
First out of the gates, previewing as of Jan. 12, is The Wedding Party – a new comedy by Thomson of I, Claudia fame and a long-time collaborator of Abraham's. The playwright/actress will perform in the show about a wedding that goes awry alongside the Stratford Festival's Tom Rooney and Trish Lindstrom, the Shaw Festival's Moya O'Connell, Jason Cadieux and Virgilia Griffith. (It's a co-production with Talk Is Free Theatre from Barrie, Ont.)
Breath in Between, Anton Piatigorsky's surreal love story involving a murderer seeking consensual victims, will be the next Crow's signature production – playing in the studio. Piatigorsky will make his directorial debut with this revised version of this play that shocked the SummerWorks Festival in 2012.
True Crime, a solo show by Stars frontman Torquil Campbell about a con man named Clark Rockefeller, comes next in April, followed by the Toronto premiere of playwright Emil Sher's adaptation of Globe and Mail reporter Ian Brown's memoir The Boy in the Moon in May. Abraham will direct both.
Partner presentations for the first five months of the Crowsnest's existence begin with Project: Humanity's Freedom Singer in February. Created by playwright Andrew Kushnir and musician Khari Wendell McClelland, the show retraces the steps of McClelland's great-great-great-grandmother's path to Canada via the Underground Railroad.
The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely, an award-winning solo show by actress Ngozi Paul, follows in April, as does another one-woman piece presented by Nightwood Theatre, opera singer Neema Bickersteth's Century Song.
Four guest companies visiting the Crowsnest this winter and spring before wedding season begins are Soundstreams (with Odditorium, a concert of "musical curiosities" from composer R. Murray Schafer's Patria Cycle); Toronto Masque Theatre (The Man Who Married Himself, based on a traditional Karnataka folk tale); SideMart Theatrical Grocery (with the English premiere of contemporary Russian playwright Ivan Viripaev's Illusions); and Theatrefront (with a new play by Sean Dixon called The Orange Dot).
Will any of these theatre companies be settling in for the long term with the Crowsnest? "We look at this first season as an opportunity to try out a lot of relationships," Abraham says.
In addition to these productions, the Crowsnest will be home to a variety of other comedy, cabaret and kids' events. It's all part of a desire of Abraham to figure out how the facility can best serve the area, where he and his family live just a four-minute bike ride away. "We wanted to create as many opportunities for the public to move through the space in the first months," Abraham says. "What I'm interested in our first season is to understand what kind of conversation we're able to start with our neighbourhood."