Actor/Director/Producer John R Shooter. Photo by Burke Campbell

Life is worthwhile only if you make it interesting, and if you hang with interesting folk. For me, what usually makes others fascinating is their talent, tenacity, and the fortitude to bring that talent to the public’s eye.

About two years ago, I met John R. Shooter, mostly by accident. He’s a producer/director, from England, and he was directing Mike Leigh’s  Abigail’s Party at Theatre Passe Muraille’s Backspace. Abigail’s Party is a dark British comedy from the 1970s, and for it, Shooter assembled an extraordinary cast. Claire Burns, Cody Ray Thompson, Anna Hardwick, Dylan Roberts, and Astrid Van Wieren. Few reviewers came and the play received almost no coverage. But it was wonderful.

Undeterred, John went on to stage and direct Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, twice, at Campbell House Museum. John Shooter’s an extraordinary director. He sees a lot of plays and he’s aware of the local talent pool. Instinctively, he knows the best actor for any character. Further, he can offer an actor interesting parts, not just the usual bland commercial fare.


Designer George Quan (l) and Director John R Shooter (r) Photo by Burke Campbell

With really good material, as in Talking Heads, actors turn in performances that are revelatory and memorable. Shooter sports other traits that make him a person of interest. I’ve never met anyone who works so hard to promote a play, his cast, and crew.

As a director/producer, he’s obsessive about set design and costumes, finding the best designers he can recruit. His eerie and evocative production of The Pitchfork Disney, with designer George Quan, was an example of his heartbreakingly-detailed productions.


Nikki Duval and Justin Miller in Philip Ridley’s black comedy, The Pitchfork Disney. Directed by John Shooter/Precisely Peter Productions. Photo by Robby Bernstein.

I look forward to John Shooter’s upcoming production of Philip Ridley’s hit comedy, Radiant Vermin. I strongly urge every theatre professional to see it, and become acquainted with the work of this particularly interesting force in indie theatre.





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Dylan Brenton in John Patrick Shanley’s play Danny and The Deep Blue Sea. Photo by Burke Campbell

Drama in a Downtown Bar

Wolf Manor’s production of Danny & The Deep Blue Sea is making its appearance at several Toronto bars right now, starring Dylan Brenton and Bria McLaughlinJohn Patrick Shanley’s drama, which premiered in the early 1980s, is about two down & outs who meet randomly in a dingy bar. One is Danny, a young man with an explosive temper, his hands horrible bruised from street fights. The other is Roberta, a young single mother, aimless and twisted with self-loathing. Neither Danny nor Roberta have any insight into the forces that have shaped their lives. As isolated individuals, they are uneducated in every sense of the word. Nothing good can happen to these poor, lost creatures who wander the night, full of torment.  But then, when they meet, something of an extraordinary nature occurs.


Bria McLaughlin. Photo by Burke Campbell

Danny & The  Deep Blue Sea is really a short parable about how human beings have access to miraculous forces that offer forgiveness, healing, and redemption.  But for the play to work, you need highly credible actors. And that’s what Dylan Brenton and Bria McLaughlin are. From the first moment, you believe them, and the drama enters your blood at extreme velocity. By the way, this is a very sexy play, and these two actors are sweet and dangerous to watch, especially in an intimate venue.


As director, Anthony Prepuse keeps the action going. The play flies by, but with still moments that let the characters breathe. The scenes are really rituals, and there are strong echoes of the sacraments of the Catholic Church. There is confession, the last rites, communion, and others. Shanley gives his characters rough street talk, but like all language written for the stage, it is heightened, every word in the play is carefully orchestrated  It’s music really.

Shanley places lovely metaphors inside his dialogue. Roberta has had a dream about whales that suddenly leap out of the blue ocean, into sunlight, revealing their power and shape. Shanley is really talking about the greater forces inside of us that lie hidden, and which can come, suddenly, into view. Life affirming forces made visible.


Wolf Manor’s production of Danny & The Deep Blue Sea is making its appearance at several Toronto bars right now. I just saw it in the back room of The Imperial Pub, downtown, on Dundas East. This is about as bare-bones theatre as it gets, and it’s what makes Toronto a world-class city.  It reminds us that as long as we have actors like  Dylan Brenton and Bria McLaughlin around, we will never lack for talent in this town. And small, struggling groups like Wolf Manor remind us that incredible magic can be released in any bare room around.


The Wolf Manor Theatre Collective. January 2017, in front of the Imperial Pub, downtown Toronto. Photo by Burke Campbell.

Tickets online at:

Wolf Manor Theatre Collective:

Production Team

Kate McArthur, Kate Stenson, and Julie Foster

All photos by Burke Campbell


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Fashion applies, even to snowmen. And we think there is nothing better than vintage Aussiebum. AussieBum is an Australian company, and its apparel is associated with hot beaches. But its clothing is sold worldwide, and worn even in the coldest climates.


I added the brass turtle doves. Even a snowman likes accessories.


I wonder if anyone at AussieBum will notice this. It would be great to get some new outfits for the man before the sun melts him.

All photos by Burke Campbell.


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Cast and Crew of “Aladdin…his cat”, the Holiday Pantomime at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 2016. Photo by Burke Campbell


Every year at Christmas time, The Red Sandcastle Theatre stages a pantomime, for kids and grown ups. A pantomime is a kind of silly fairy tale, full of hammy acting, songs, dances, and audience interaction. The pantomimes at the Red Sandcastle are always great fun, but this year, Aladdin…his cat turns out to be a show you must not miss!

The minute you enter the theatre, you are greeted by Rosemary Doyle, the theatre’s Artistic Director, dressed as a pirate. Loosely based on Aladdin and His Magic Lamp, the pantomime turns into a cavalcade of pirates, fishermen, royals, and fabulous genies in lamps. The plot itself is a story within a story, but it’s the energy and style with which it is told that makes Aladdin…his cat so terrific.

What makes this venture such fun is watching skilled comedic actors, singing, dancing, racing about (sometimes on wheels!), and engaged in what seems like hundreds of costume changes.  I have never seen so much fabric in my entire life. The outfits are bright as lollipops and the action is so tumultuous, it’s like you’re on a drug trip. The audience loves it! On a deeper level, this inventive and extravagant production reminds us that theatre is an incandescent display of the human imagination, and we are revitalized watching it. In the case of Aladdin…his cat, we’re so amazed by what we’re watching, we can’t stop laughing.


Hats off to the whole brilliant cast: Jackie English, Kristopher Bowman, Kristen Foote, Adam Bonney, Brenda Somers, Bernie Henry, Susan Finlayson, Jennifer Lloyd, and Ada Balon. These actors work together as precisely as a swat team, and with amazing spirit. Pirates, creatures, genies, and all things improbable gather to entertain. They also remind us of the valuable things forgotten or misplaced in our lives and how the pure and intense joy of theatre can bring them all back to us.

Special mention to stage manager Deborah Ann Frankel, who operates the show’s dazzling special effects as if she is running the command deck of the Starship Enterprise. And of course, congratulations to the playwrights, Jane Shields, and her muses, Ransom and Gage, and also Rosemary Doyle.

This pantomime is on only during the holiday season, so don’t miss this treat. Get out your phone and call the theatre now.




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Alumnae Theatre, Toronto, Canada. Photo by Burke Campbell


My short play, The Red Lacquered Box, is one of 16 short works that will go on in March 2017 at the New Ideas Festival. Broken into groups, the various plays will be performed over a three week period at the Alumnae Theatre. Cold readings went on this past week, so the playrights and directors could hear the works spoken. Casting will take place later.


The 16 works  were picked from over 200 submissions, from Canada and the United States. The Alumnae staff has worked tirelessly to introduce playwrights to directors, and have sent out a call for actors to participate in the upcoming auditions.


The New Ideas Festival is an incredibly complex enterprise. For me, it’s an opportunity to meet a huge number of theatre artists and also have a lot of fun.


The Alumnae Theatre is a gorgeous theatre, created out of a refurbished fire station, a Toronto landmark.


I took a few snapshots the night my play was read. If you’d like to come to my play as well as all the others, you should book your tickets now.



Celebrities often drop by, but they shun my camera. What can I say?


All photos by Burke Campbell.


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Chasse-Galerie at Soulpepper Theatre. Photo by John Gundy

Chasse-Galerie is a joyful, rip-roaring musical. It’s so much fun, the audience can hardly keep still. Watching a brilliant cast, singing their hearts out, you find yourself joining in, and laughing out loud.


Chasse-Galerie at Soulpepper Theatre. Photo by John Gundy

It premiered last year, at the tiny Storefront Theatre, and the minute the lights went up, it was a hit. Staged so that audience sits on both sides overlooking the set, we are caught up in its giddy motion and baudy humour. Chasse-Galerie spring from an old French Canadian folk tale about the Devil appearing to a small group of whiskey-starved, half-frozen coureur de bois. In this version, the coureur de bois are all played by women, and the Devil makes them a deal too alluring to refuse.  If the women forego their crucifixes and promise not to swear, they will board a magic canoe and visit a bar in Montreal, the famous Chasse-Galerie (or Flying Canoe), where they may enjoy a wondrous night, finding romance at every turn. All will go well if they adhere to the agreement, and return by dawn!

They do, and soon, all four find themselves in a charmed canoe that can fly miles in minutes. This is the tale, but the inexpressible magic of this show belongs to a flawless cast, foot-stomping music, and a spontaneous energy rarely seen on any stage. If any Canadian musical should tour the world, this is it!


Chasse-Galerie at Soulpepper Theatre. Photo by John Gundy

For Soulpepper’s incarnation of Chasse-Galerie, many of the actors return from the original Storefront production, and the whole cast is perfect. More importantly, the ample space at Soulpepper Theatre allows the play to reach higher and wider.  Director Tyrone Savage, who also appears as the Devil, shows us the full range of his particular genius. Savage is handsome as hell, and knows the art of temptation. It’s fascinating to watch him carouse the stage. As Satan, he has it all—everything from a sweet, sly smile to a devilish twinkle in his eye. Though young, he’s a Stratford veteran and he never misses a beat. And if there were such an award, Tyrone Savage would win as having the finest male legs in Canada, if one may say that sort of thing. This production is also informed by legendary actor/director Janet Laine-Green, as assistant director. The inventive costumes by Holly Lloyd are both wicked and gorgeous.


Chasse-Galerie at Soulpepper Theatre. Photo by John Gundy

Others composing the cast of Chasse-Galerie include Ghazal Azarbad, Tess Benger, Hunter Cardinal, Mike Cox, Kat Letwin, Nicole Power, Shaina Silver-Baird, James Smith and Alicia Toner; and musicians Justin Han and Jason O’Brien. Everyone is absolutely great, but my personal standouts are Kat Letwin, who will, I’m sure, gain international fame on TV and in movies. Hunter Cardinal is thoroughly delightful as Uriel, a relative on the Great Horned One. And Mike Cox is adorable as an unfaithful rascal, swilling down booze, a regular at the Chasse-Gallerie. But honestly, it’s difficult to single out any individual player in this production. The entire cast is so integrated, so exquisitely choreographed by Ashleigh Powell, they move as one.

I should mention that the freshest, most daring work is not coming out of the established theatres. Rather, the established theatres are beginning to pick up the “commercial hits” that are pouring out of the small, shoe-string ventures around Toronto. Collectively, they compose a phenomenon dubbed the “independent theatre movement.”

The problem is that hundreds of gifted artists who work in “indie theatre” are very nearly starving. Important and emerging playwrights, actors, directors, designers and technicians hold down low-paying jobs during the day so they can work at night, trying to create world-class entertainment. Half the time, these beleaguered souls barely make the rent, let alone have the funds to promote or advertise their shows. The result is that a brilliant play will open in a neighborhood where thousands might like to see it, but they rarely even hear it’s on. Half the time, some of the best shows in Toronto are not reviewed or seen.


Chasse-Galerie at Soulpepper Theatre. Photo by John Gundy

Hopefully, patrons, corporations, government, and arts councils will realize this is an unproductive state of affairs. Why should a country produce such trained, skilled, and gifted professionals only to toss them away? Toronto is already is one of the world capitals for theatre, and easily ranks with other great North American cities.  Cultural reputations are highly prized and commercially important. Why ignore the human gold the gods have given you?

Soulpepper is to be congratulated for bringing Chasse-Galerie to a wider audience, and given it a spectacular production. Hopefully, we are at the start of a closer alliance among all parties who realize how significant the entertainment industry is to our lives, and our economic prosperity.

For TICKETS and more details visit “” or call the Young Centre Box Office at 416.866.8666.

Soulpepper Presents Chasse-Galerie
Produced by Kabin and The Storefront Theatre
Book adapted by Tyrone Savage
Music and Lyrics by James Smith
Original book created by Sam Al Esai, Tess Benger, Daniel Briere, Nathan Carroll, Michael Cox, Kat Letwin, Emma Mackenzie Hillier, Chris Murray, Dana Puddicombe, Heath V. Salazar, Tyrone Savage, Shaina Silver-Baird, James Smith, Alicia Toner, Jonah Widdifield.
Original dramaturgy by Emma Mackenzie Hillier.

Director: Tyrone Savage; Asst Director: Janet Laine-Green; Musical Director: James Smith;
Choreographer: Ashleigh Powell; Stage Manager: Kate Porter; Assistant Stage Manager: Liesl Low; Set Designer & Prop Design: Lindsay Dagger Junkin; Asst Scenic Designer: John Leberg; Costume Designer: Holly Lloyd; Lighting Designer: Melissa Joakim; Sound Designer: Andre Stankovic; Projections and Puppetry: Daniel Briere; Producers – Kabin: Katherine Rawlinson & Alan Kliffer; Producer – The Storefront Theatre: Claire Burns; Associate Producer – The Storefront Theatre: Sonia Vaillant; Marketing & PR (Storefront): Karen Knox




If you are interested in my comments on the original Storefront production (2015), follow the link below:

All photos by John Gundy


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KATA by Theatre Parallax Toronto. All photos by Samantha Hurley

In the dramatic presentation KATA, we enter the stark space. There are large monitors, left and right. We, the audience, are “investors” there to view four soldiers, examples of ideal men, their bodies stressed to the limit. The four “products” sit, mostly nude, in a circle on the floor. In the next hour, we observe their behavior and how they are driven to physical and mental exhaustion, in various demonstrations of their endurance.

The four young actors are almost constantly in motion, in stylised movement, in military exercises, in physical confrontation. While all this intense activity unfolds, several small interactions may be observed, alliances form, perhaps deeper relationships within the group. One man physically defends another, one shares his water. One man likes to bully anyone who displays any flaw or weakness.


Competition and bonding are male traits or qualities, and they come to the forefront in groups of men, in everything from the Boy Scouts to Navy Seals. The men are even labelled Alpha Man or Beta Male, to designate their likely standing in terms of leadership. KATA asks if this “ideal” human male sustainable? One begins to wonder if any “ideal” of what you are “supposed to be” can be sustained? In fact, is the ideal actually “you” or does it simply mutate into some weird “persona” that is merely a form of slavehood.  I short, is any ideal something to be achieved, or is it in reality the ultimate imprisonment?


I could go on, analysing what KATA is supposed to mean or might mean. Instead, I ask you to go see it. It won’t be on long, and you will have to act quickly. Just buy tickets and go.  And this is why.


KATA is fascinating to watch. The four male actors are mostly fresh out of school, but they are highly skilled, and they can speak a great deal through a language that is intensely physical. They can communicate a story through their anguished muscles; and the sweat that pours down their faces.

The cast, Anthony Di Feo, Thomas McDevitt, Dylan Shumka-White, and Luke Pieroni are all excellent. I’m sure you will see them in many other shows in the next few years, but you should see them now, in the flesh, because this particular play displays a particular kind of talent. They have almost no spoken lines, costumes, props, set. It is just them, nearly naked, and the bare bones of a stage.


Actors, theatre producers and directors really need to see this show. Even designers. Although the set, lighting, and sound is minimum, it is as efficient and chilling as a laboratory, and it always interesting. This show just works.

Maite Jacobson directs the show brilliantly.  Jacobson uses the harshly lit space as a canvas, showing us the emerging conflicts among the men, an arena where their bodies are so extended, their sinews nearly give way, tearing their bodies apart. As a woman, Jacobson stands outside the male psyche, perhaps letting her know how to make it so accessible. I only wish that there had been few more isolated moments of dark intimacy, confusion, smiles or hurt among the men. But overall, it’s hard to forget this performance. My guess is that Maite Jacobson will be a new, and interesting force in Canadian theatre.


Once again, if I can persuade you, please invest time this week and see KATA before it closes. There are only 7 performances left. In Toronto, there are about hundred other shows on right now, but you need to pay special attention to this one, and these new talents. And they actors are in phenomenal shape, mostly naked, so indulge yourself.



Dancemakers, 9 Trinity Street, #313,  Distillery District, Toronto

Buy Tickets At:

Produced by:

Theatre Parallax Toronto

Concept, Theatre Parallax Toronto; Maite Jacobson, Director; Evan Sandham, Head Technician; Luke Pieroni, Set Design; Ross Hammond, Sound Design; Chin Palipane, Lighting Design; Andrew Pieroni, Projection Design; Marie-Claude Valiquet, Stage Management; Karen Knox, Publicity; Deadcat Design, Promotional Design; Kenna Jacobs, Assistance Stage Manager.

All photos by Samantha Hurley



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