From physical theatre to improv, the theatre scene in St. Catharines is abundant and variant, coming in all different shapes and sizes. With the creation of the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre (FOPAC) and the Marilyn I Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts (MIWSFPA) in the downtown core, small theatre companies have been popping up with fresh and experimental takes on theatrical practices. Here are some of the few theatre companies making big splashes in the St. Catharines theatre scene.
Suitcase in Point:
Formed in 2001, Suitcase in Point in no stranger to the Niagara theatre community. The group was initially formed of Brock University Dramatic Arts graduates who committed to stay in the Niagara region to build more artistic opportunities and build careers. As of 2007, the company has become incorporated from it’s project-to-project set-up to a not-for-profit, allowing for full-programmed seasons. As of Oct. 2014, Suitcase in Point operates out of the third floor of the Oddfellows Union Lodge on James Street.
The theatre company operates with a core ensemble, creating original performances based in parody and satire. The work is for the community about the community, and uses playful exploration, collaboration, and humor to do so.
“Looking for the extraordinary in the everyday, we provide audiences with unique perspectives on Canadian life and culture,” as is stated in their mission statement. “We treat local topical issues in a way that encourages change, tolerance, self-awareness with an aim to promote a healthier, more connected community.”
Since its creation, Suitcase in Point has created and produced eighteen new Canadian plays as well as staging over 40 cabaret sketch comedy shows and special events, included one of the most anticipated events of the year in St. Catharines, the In the Soil Arts festival – which has been a St. Catharines staple for a decade now, giving an opportunity to showcase the artistic talent within and outside of the Niagara region. The three day long festival includes 400 performing and literary artists as well as musicians and media artists. This year’s In the Soil will take place between April 27 – 29 and early bird passes are available for $35 until April 1.
Among Suitcase in Point’s own productions and events, they also rent their studio space out for rehearsals, workshops, intimate performances and creative meetings.
If you’d like more information on Suitcase in Point and it’s upcoming shows, please visit: suitcaseinpoint.com
Twitches and Itches Theatre:
A multidisciplinary theatre company that operates out of downtown St Catharines, Twitches and Itches Theatre is a prime example of how diverse and experimental the local theatre scene can be. Through the use of physical theatre, this group made up of a core ensemble that create and produce new works through collaboration, or devising.
Twitches and Itches is one of the younger companies on the list, formed predominantly of emerging talent straight out of postsecondary, applying methods of
“In many ways we’ve decided to do everything backwards,” said Colin Anthes, the Artistic Director of Twitches and Itches as well as the Essential Arts Collective. “We didn’t go to a big city, we went to a mid-sized, Canadian city. We gathered emerging artists just out of theatre school. We made training the root of the company rather than production. We start every rehearsal with an hour of vigorous physical and vocal training. We have no auditions; we direct the company as the group sees fit, and the projects get layered on the top of that foundation.”
Aiming to continue pushing the boundaries of theatricality, this group is heavily influenced by the teachings of Jerzy Grotowski and Jacque Lecoq, as well as different images and themes from folklore and mythology.
This can be seen especially in one of their previous productions, The Bacchae: Or How to Give Birth to a Dancing Star, which took elements from Euripides 405 BC play, The Bacchae, and added in contemporary concepts and current social influences, like the current political unrest of modern society.
“We pull from various methodologies,” said Sean Mclelland, and ensemble member of Twitches and Itches. “A lot of European theatre practitioners so it tends to be a little more experimental in nature.”
Twitches and Itches is currently in the midst of working on its latest production titled “September Song”.
“That one is about the role of the university in the 21st century and we’re looking at changes that are taking place in terms of what people conceive the university’s role to be today which has become very much about capitalist economics,” said Anthes. “Traditionally posed secondary institutions are a place of a deep personal journey where they’re starting to get autonomy for the first time, question things and find out who they are as adults.”
This exploration of the relationship between university as an economic function and as a place for personal growth is especially relatable for the St. Catharines community due to the influx of students from Brock University.
For more information about Twitches and Itches as well as info on upcoming events, please visit their facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/twitchestheatre/
Essential Collective Theatre:
Another veteran company on the list, Essential Collective Theatre (ECT) has been operating within the Niagara community since 1998. Initially, the company, founded by Jason Cadieux and Stephanie Jones, was called “The Essential Players” before incorporating into a not-for-profit organization in 2006. Upon incorporating, the company took on its new name and continues to stage two productions per season.
The spring production, Our Lady of Delicias, written by Brock University professor David Fancy and directed by Monica Dufault, a long term Brock instructor, is currently being staged at the FOPAC. The tickets for the show, which runs between February 23 – March 4, are $30 for adults, $25 for university and college students, and $5 for high school students. They can be purchased at: firstontariopac.ca/Online/default.asp
ECT, at its core, looks to support and give opportunity for emerging/local playwrights to showcase new Canadian work and stories. Additionally, ETC looks to mentor emerging talent within the Niagara region as well through providing workshops and classes.
For instance, a master class was offered on the Meisner technique with Actress and Meisner Instructor at the Neighbourhood Playhouse Stephanie Jones; the six week master class, offered back in 2017, was offered to 12 actors over the course of six weeks who would learn the repetitive process of the methodology before applying it in a scene. The Meisner master class will be offered again in May of 2018.
As for youth, there will also be a playwriting workshop available for high school aged students (14-18) in spring of 2018.
Big Chicken Improv:
One of the few improv companies in the Niagara Region, Big Chicken recently came into the Niagara theatre scene within the past year in the same fashion it operates on stage: fast, loud, and full of energy. Big Chicken creates theatrical experiences that are as unusual as they are exciting. Fun-packed and fast, once the performance starts the experience is something akin to a blur, and it’s pretty hard to believe that what occurs before you happens spontaneously.
Big Chicken Improv initially formed from a small core groups of improvisors who were looking for an opportunity to continue their explorations of Improv outside of their initial high school environment. Trevor McTavish, a teacher at E.L. Crossley Secondary School in Pelham, Ontario, taught improv lead his students to perform improv on a competitive stage. However, despite the interest students had in the theatrical practice, there wasn’t much pre-existing space within the Niagara Region to continue their explorations.
“What he found was that once a bunch of the kids graduated, he would try for a while to get some kind of improv team started in the community but not with any success,” said Carlee McTavish, the Artistic Director of Big Chicken. “And the kids were saying the same thing; they were hoping for an outlet for improv to happen.”
That’s when Big Chicken began to materialize.
“About a year ago, I want to say April, him and four of the other Big Chickens basically started to go to the park and do a little improv jam there once a week,” said Carlee McTavish. “What started out with five of them has sort of evolved into what is now Big Chicken.”
The improv group, which often performs in St. Catharines out of Suitcase in Point, has not only built up a group of over 12 performers, or ‘Big Chickens’ as they affectionately call themselves, and routinely sell out their small venue. They also offer free improv classes once every other week for anyone interested in learning more about improv/taking up a new, fun skill.
Big Chicken Improv will also be performing at this year’s In the Soil Festival.
For more information on Big Chicken Improv or updates on upcoming shows, feel free to visit their Facebook page.
Dedicated to providing diverse and inclusive stories, Carousel Players is a theatre company dedicated to young people.
The longest running theatre company on the list, Carousel Players has been offering diverse narratives and stories for youth since its creation back in 1972. The not-for-profit organization was founded by Desmond Davis, a Brock University Dramatic Arts professor who was looking to create and serve theatre for the youth of Niagara.
One of the defining features of Carousel Players is that they routinely perform in schools as opposed to operating out of a single location, touring all the way out to London, Orangeville, Toronto, Port Hope, and Midland. They have also toured nationally as well to theatres and festivals alike in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver.
Additionally, Carousel Players works towards offering this programming to as wide a reach as possible, taking large steps towards making sure their programs can be assessed by all families no matter their socio-economic backgrounds.
Not only does Carousel Players look to engage youth in diverse narratives and subject matters, but they also look to inspire and interest and love of theatre for future generations through the creation and accessibility of their productions. Beyond their productions, Carousel Players also offers a summer theatre camp each year for children between the ages of 5-13.
If you are interested in learning more about Carousel Players and their productions this season, please visit: http://carouselplayers.com
The above theatre companies are just a taste what the Niagara Region has to offer. There is the Shaw Festival, operating since 1962, offering beautifully staged productions from early April to late October in their historic and beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake locations. The Foster Festival is also another festival offered in St. Catharines through the summer months, utilizing the FOPAC and offering a couple different productions.
Additionally, Brock’s own Department of Dramatic Arts hosts a myriad of different theatrical events throughout the year including mainstage productions during the fall and winter terms, casted with and built by Brock students, the One Acts festival, Gimmie Twos which involve first year performance majors, and more.
Beyond Brock’s curricular theatrical events, there is also Brock Musical Theatre (BMT), a club on campus that puts on a musical during the year. This year’s production is Legally Blonde which will be taking place between March 15-17. Tickets for the show can be found at: firstontariopac.ca
St. Catharines is a hotbed for experimental, explorative, interesting theatre. If you get the chance, check these amazing companies out.