of CanStage in Toronto

Interviewed by Robin Breon

"CanStage StagingPassion" is the logo on the publicity kits handed out to arts journalists this season at the theatre's two downtown Toronto locations. Actually CanStage programs four spaces in all counting the Bluma Appel mainstage at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts on Front Street, with two smaller venues at CanStage Berkeley located at 26 Berkeley Street as well as the city's largest summer Shakespeare event annually produced in High Park. Passion might also be the best way to describe CanStage's commitment to musical theatre, which has increasingly worked its way into the programming over the past decade.

"First, I want to say we are not a presenter, we are a producer of musicals–a big distinction for us at CanStage," says Martin Bragg, Artistic Producer in an interview with Aisle Say recently. The distinction is, in fact, critical in that CS has become the country's foremost producer of original musical theatre. Pèlagie (An Acadian Odyssey) written by Vincent de Tourdonnet and Allen Cole (based on the novel Pèlagie-la-Charrette by Antonine Maillet) tells the story of the Acadian expulsion from Nova Scotia in the 18th century and has just concluded its run at the Bluma Appel (see Joel Greenberg's Aisle Say review). The production was co-produced with the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

This follows on the heals of more established fare such as Cookin' At The Cookery (Joel McConvey's bio-musical on Alberta Hunter) which had a sold-out run featuring local blues artist Jackie Richardson and is now playing an extended run at the New Yorker Theatre. Ms. Richardson returns next season in the venerable Ain't Misbehavin'. Upcoming this month will be the Canadian premiere of Urinetown while concurrently at the smaller Berkeley Street space is The Last 5 Years, Jason Robert Brown's two-sided conjecture on why his relationship didn't work out.

"I think musicals remain popular because basically they make people feel good. People have always loved musicals, they have always loved opera. I think that the musical form allows people to connect on an emotional level to a work more easily," Bragg continued.

Iris Turcott is the long time resident dramaturge at CanStage and had this to say about the theatre's dedication to original work: "Our commitment is to the long term development of artists who create musical theatre in Canada. A musical is a very complex form that requires the integration of many elements. Our New Play Development Program puts many resources - both human and financial - into large scale music theatre pieces that are stage ready."

Turcott went on to say that CanStage has several works currently in development and remains one of the few companies in the country that artists can turn to "to seed, support and nurture their work."

And this they do with a passion.

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