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The hands of Donavon LeNabat on keyboard at Statler’s, Toronto, Canada


Statler’s is a bar on Church Street. Recently, I started to hang out there. The place is especially amazing on Monday and Thursday nights, around 10:00 pm. Monday night is SINGular Sensation, a show hosted by Jennifer Walls, with Donavon LeNabat on keyboard and Jamie Bird, on percussions. SINGular Sensation focuses mostly on Broadway songs. On Thursdays, LeNabat runs his own “Open Mic”, which lets anyone get up and sing. But usually, only the best voices in Toronto show up and entertain brilliantly. Occasionally, both evenings are “subbed out” to different hosts and musicians. For example, recently, Monday nights are headed by Jenna Warriner, who can belt out any song and acts as a glamorous ringmaster. But whichever of these two nights you go, there is stellar entertainment. The place just rocks!

© Burke Campbell 006 - Statler's Sign

I should mention that Donavon LeNabat is a brilliant pianist, and along with Jamie Bird, they make a phenomenal combo. Both are wonderful singers in their own right. In addition to these two, incredible musicians often just show up, and you’ll find yourself listening to a full band sound, spontaneously conjured. Statler’s is a window on Toronto’s complex network of musical talent. And if anyone is a true talent scout, this is the place to install a permanent chair.

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Donavon LeNabat at Statler’s, Toronto, Canada

Statler’s sits in the middle of the gay village, but music accepts all, on Monday and Thursday nights, the crowd is a mix of attractive men and women. The whole tone of the show is light, sophisticated, and SO much fun!

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MeL Côté – Chanteuse at Statler’s, on Church Street, Toronto

Toronto is splitting at the seams with gifted performers, and Statler’s is an easy showcase for both established and new singers. The type of music is all over the map. You can hear newly-written songs, pop, Broadway, and every type of classic, no matter the style. It’s all good and the atmosphere is cheering.

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Daniel Abrahamson, singing up a storm at Statler’s


So I do urge you, if you like to listen to the best in Toronto, live, you must go to Statler’s and try it. Summer is coming, and the sound will spill out onto the street, scribbled in neon. Warm nights and hot music. Who could ask for anything more?

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Scott Neary at Statler’s, Toronto, Canada

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Jahlen Barnes singing at Statler’s

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Jeff Beauchamp at Statler’s, in Toronto

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Matt Dell at Statler’s, Toronto, Canada

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Jamie Bird at Statler’s

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Statler’s owner, Michael James MacDonell

Check out Statler’s

All photos by Burke Campbell

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Closing party of The Storefront Theatre at its 955 Bloor West location. Photo by Burke Campbell

After a few brief years, The Storefront Theatre closed at its location, 955 Bloor Street West, near the Ossington subway stop. Rather scruffy looking, and on a corner, the small space become home to some of the most talented directors, actors, and designers of the independent theatre movement. In its short life it staged playwrights, ranging from Shakespeare, to David Mamet, to amazing new talents like Kat Sandler. The little theatre came to represent all that was fresh, and wonderfully youthful in the Toronto entertainment scene. Sadly, The Storefront was in mid-season when its lease came to an end and the place was rented to others.

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The Storefront is just part of the desperate plight that threatens Toronto right now, as rent and housing prices soar everywhere. The city is now carpeted with sterile condos and there is a lack of affordable space for small businesses and those offering entertainment.

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The closing at 955 was a shock to the various budding companies that have produced at the location, including the Red One Theatre Collective, Theatre Brouhaha, and others. There is a search for new venues going on now. Hopefully one can be found.

The Storefront had a major closing party in January, and just about everyone showed up. I took some pictures, and rather than write about its history, productions, and personalities, I just wanted to post a few images of that last great night of revelry.

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© Burke Campbell 204 - Amanda - & poster

© Burke Campbell 102 - Benjamin & gang - Copy

All photos by Burke Campbell.


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I Take Your Hand in Mine… is a drama, based on the letters exchanged between the Russian literary giant Anton Chekhov and his wife, the important actress, Olga Knipper.  In a script created by Carol Rocamora, and directed by Dmitry Zhukovsky, we view the intimacy of their marriage. We also glimpse moments of when and how some of the greatest drama ever created came into being.

Anton Chekhov was already famous when he met Olga Knipper. Though still young, he had only eight more years to live, and was to die at age 44, in 1904. Consumption would finish him, but his life was far from tragic. The play is inspirational because Chekhov’s decline was also his most productive. His love of Olga and his own insight into human life triggered a great volley of masterworks. In those closing years, he created The Sea Gull, Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya, and The Cherry Orchard. Any good writer is humbled by Chekhov’s subtlety, how he uses the ordinary door to open onto a panoramic view of human nature.


Rena Polley and Richard Sheridan Willis in I Take Your Hand in Mine…

I Take Your Hand in Mine… is wonderfully cast with Richard Sheridan Willis as Chekhov and Rena Polley as Olga Knipper. Willis gives us the look of a man who sees more than he tells, a wise observer of people, and how they use words to hide their true feelings, even from themselves. Chekhov was of course a practicing doctor, and Willis plays him as a man who is both warm, and yet maintains a certain clinical detachment. Willis also portrays a shy man, who continues to hide his affair with Olga until she finally gives him an ultimatum. Then and only then does he offer to tie the knot.


I should confess I have a special fondness for Rena Polley, especially when we see her rehearse a scene from Three Sisters. In the scene, she plays Masha, a woman who is in love with a married man she cannot have, and she does so with a lightness that tears your heart out watching her. Whether you know anything of Chekhov’s life or his works, I believe you’d still enjoy watching these two fine actors communicate this marriage, through the couple’s own words. I Take Your Hand in Mine… is a play that has a strange resonance to it, of sadness and a larger joy.  It’s a perfect “date drama”.  Like fine wine, it’s a drama to savour.

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This play is running now at Tarragon Theatre Extraspace. April 6-23, 2017.

Tuesday – Saturday, 8:00 pm

Saturday and Sunday matinee, 2:30 pm

You can order tickets at:

 Tarragon Theatre

30 Bridgman Avenue

Toronto, Ontario

Presented by:

The Chekhov Collective in association with Theatrus

Produced by Yulia Rubina and Rena Polley


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Alekandra Maslennikova as Madame Giles in Burke Campbell’s new drama, The Red Lacquered Box

Love. Yes. Madame Tullée was an expert in matters of the heart. She could listen to any man, or any woman—to their problems.

Initially written as prose, my play, The Red Lacquered Box adapted easily to the stage.

In late fall, I submitted the work to the New Ideas Festival, in Toronto. Held annually at the Alumnae Theatre, the festival showcases new plays of every type, especially those of interest to women. Shortly thereafter, my psychological thriller was selected as one of the fifteen plays scheduled for performance, March 8-26, 2017.

The Red Lacquered Box is set in Paris, France, in the late 1880s, and explores an event that scandalized polite society. The play is in fact a dramatic monologue, spoken by Madame Giles, secretary to Madame Tullée, a woman known by men of power and influence.

But how could I have foreseen—how could anyone have foreseen that such a tragedy could play out in that room, so far from this house! And no one can say for sure what happened!

At the Festival, I matched up with director, Lynn Weintraub, who in turn recruited actress Aleksandra Maslennikova for the role of Madame Giles. It is through Madame Giles that we are offered an insider’s view of how the disturbing events unfolded.

Rehearsals went well, and I was lucky to have stage manager, Ksenia Sabulua.

The Red Lacquered Box premiered on March 15. Honestly, I could not have hoped for a better production. It is a special treat for a writer to realize what he has penned in private can hold an audience spellbound. And I was fortunate to have an actress as captivating as Maslennikova, who appeared so at home in my words. I also felt blest to have a director as accomplished as Lynn Weintraub, who worked so hard to illuminate and illustrate the text. In many productions today, men play women and women take male parts. But what astonished me was how instinctively women knew the role of Madame Giles, and understood implicitly the contours of her logic.

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“Madame Tullée was in perfect health. No, there were no medications of any kind. What are you thinking—she was hardly an invalid! The occult? A witch? Madame Tullée was not a witch!”

What an audience finds so compelling about The Red Lacquered Box is that it’s not so much a “who-done-it”.  Rather, it’s more of a “how this happened”.  Set in a period of intense sexual repression, the play showcases how the human mind can work. I doubt if this drama will date, and at its core is a fascinating character.

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Director Lynn Weintraub

Hopefully, my play will enjoy productions elsewhere. It is an ideal solo for any seasoned actress, especially a woman past the stock “ingénue” roles.  In the meantime, there are plans afoot for a production of my rather profane comedy, The Lady in Shoes From Hell, at the Red Sandcastle Theatre. For me, this is turning out to be a very interesting year.

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Alumnae Theatre, Toronto, Canada

All photos by Burke Campbell


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© Burke Campbell 011 - Aleksandra Maslennikova - cropped

Aleksandra Maslennnikova as “Madame Giles”, in The Red Lacquered Box. Photo by Burke Campbell

The curtain is going up on the second week of the New Ideas Festival, at the Alumnae Theatre. My play, THE RED LACQUERED BOX, will receive its premiere. The psychological thriller stars Aleksandra Maslennikova. As “Madame Giles”, she explains the incredible events that have led to a public scandal, one that has sent shock waves through polite society. Directed by Lynn Weintraub. Stage managed by Ksenia Sabouloua. Book early, as the festival usually sells out.

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Director Lynn Weintraub

The Red Lacquered Box by Burke Campbell
March 15-19, 2017
Wednesday to Saturday 8pm
Saturday + Sunday 2:30pm

In the late 1800s, in Paris, France, a tragic incident shocks polite society. Madame Giles, secretary to Madame Tullée, relates the details of the terrible event, casting light on this dark mystery.

Playwright: Burke Campbell
Director: Lynn Weintraub*

Actor: Aleksandra Maslennikova

Stage Manager: Ksenia Sabouloua

*With the permission of Canadian Actors’ Equity Association


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Stage Manager Ksenia Sabouloua

The Red Lacquered Box is part of the New Ideas Festival 2017
Presented by Alumnae Theatre
Produced by Carolyn Zapf, Jennifer McKinley and Patricia McCarthy

Each evening of the New Ideas Festival includes a curated presentation of new short plays. Shows are not ticketed individually. We invite you to join us for the entire evening and experience the whole selection of new works.

The Red Lacquered Box is part of WEEK TWO which will also feature


Y by Rosemary Doyle

Professionally Ethnic:
and a Saturday 12pm PWYC reading of Who You Callin’ Black, Eh?:

Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online at


 Alumnae Theatre’s home is the old Firehall No 4 
70 Berkeley Street
on the South West corner of Berkeley and Adelaide Street East.

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Alumnae Theatre. Photo by Burke Campbell



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Radiant Vermin by famed British playwright Philip Ridley has opened at DIRTY TALK, 167 Augusta Avenue. You arrive, descend a flight of stairs. There’s a waiting area, glowing with pink light and overhead, a huge sign that reads “DREAM HOMES”. After a few moments, you are directed into the theatre itself. Seated, we face a wide, white corridor with an unfinished ceiling, wires and supports exposed.

It’s here that we meet Jill (Julie Tepperman) and Ollie (Jonas Widdifield), a youthful, rather desperate couple living in shabby, crime-ridden, and over-priced housing district. Suddenly, an extremely cheerful and all-knowing bureaucrat arrives, (Marium Carvell) who explains that the government is giving Jill and Ollie a  brand new house of their own. Apparently, it’s been decided that they are the ideal couple to fix the place up, transform it into a “dream house” so attractive, others will fall under its spell and buy up all the surrounding homes, turning the whole area into a gorgeous neighborhood, eliminating a looming housing crisis. (To those living in Toronto, now carpeted in unaffordable condos, this might sound all too familiar). Marium Carvell is both sincere and sinister in her role as a government agent, anticipating Jill and Ollie’s every doubt.


Jonas Widdifield and Julie Tepperman in Philip Ridley’s Radiant Vermin. Photo by: Maylynn Quan


According to the government, beauty breeds beauty.  But as the young couple move in, they gradually discover that creating the perfect home requires moral compromises that grow more extreme and preposterous by the minute. Their own expectations sky rocket along with each moral crisis.


Jonas Widdifield, Marium Carvell, and Julie Tepperman in Philip Ridley’s Radiant Vermin. Photo by Maylynn Quan.


Radiant Vermin runs over 90 minutes non-stop but for me, the work zooms along largely because of the frenetic skill and energy of the cast, especially Julie Tepperman and Jonas Widdifield. The pair, as Jill and Ollie, don’t stop for a minute, illustrating and commenting upon the escalating story, which turns and twists on a dime. I have a special fondness for Jonas Widdifield, who played the roguish devil in the rowdy hit musical, Chasse-galerie, which premiered two years back at The Storefront Theatre and later played at SoulPepper Theatre. I am also a fan of the director, John R. Shooter, who brings a special spirit to the indie theatre movement in Toronto. He’s relentless in seeking out new and vintage plays, providing Toronto actors with a chance to do unconventional and demanding work.


Julie Tepperman, Jonas Widdifield, in Philip Ridley’s Radiant Vermin

While Philip Ridley’s main target shows how a consumer society corrupts all human values and reasoning, Radiant Vermin suggests something even more disturbing. Exalted morality is largely interior decor. Morals swing in and out of vogue, from one generation to the next, as folk scramble to get them what they want. Humans tell themselves lies and tolerate situations that are so preposterous, so bizarre, all of history ultimately becomes a nonsensical and surreal landscape. And as Radiant Vermin frolics along at a faster and giddier speed, you fall into the rhythm of the mania. The dark comedy might appear a wicked, zany romp, but for me, it has a strange and lasting echo.

As with all of Philip Ridley‘s work, there is a haunted and haunting quality. Both Radiant Vermin and his much earlier work, The Pitchfork Disney, take place indoors. Radiant Vermin plays out in a gloriously modern “dream home” while The Pitchfork Disney unfolds in a dingy, roach-infested apartment. In both these dramas, home is where nightmares start and where they continue. And the home is really the human condition, uproariously funny and deeply horrific.



167 Augusta Avenue, in Kensington Market

Hats off to the crew: Davida Tkach, lighting; Victoria Ius, set; Tim Lindsay, sound; Molly Marmaduke, costumes; La Banderilla, graphics; Stephanie Simonetta, stage manager; Michael Knutson, production manager.

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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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