York’s Creative Ensemble takes Vacancy downtown

Just weeks after a successful run at York, the Department of Theatre’s Creative Ensemble is remounting its new play, Vacancy. Audience acclaim and sold-out performances at York (see story in the April 8 issue of YFile) have inspired a special return engagement May 4-21 in downtown Toronto, under the direction of Charles Roy.

The ensemble’s first downtown production will be performed promenade style in a Parkdale warehouse, where the audience is submerged in the atmosphere of street culture. The warehouse setting is an opportunity to take the play beyond the four walls of a theatre, while enhancing this dark drama and further engaging the audiences’ imagination.

scene from VacancyVacancy is a provocative journey into a disturbing, real-life story. Starting in the early 1980s, dozens of prostitutes mysteriously vanished from the streets of Vancouver’s downtown Eastside, an urban wasteland populated by junkies, hookers and gangs. It took 15 years for the void to be acknowledged.

Right: Scene from Vacancy

For the 18 fourth-year theatre students who comprise the Creative Ensemble, the shared starting point for the production was a missing-women task-force poster, illustrating the faces, names and dates last seen of 69 Eastside sex trade workers.

“The play was created to give voice and vision to the missing women who may otherwise have been given none,” said ensemble member Koby Rogers Hall.

This gritty examination of Vancouver’s seamy underbelly explores the diverging perspectives surrounding the city’s sex trade industry. The show voices opinions from the advocates of Expo ’86 and from the homeless, from the dangerous and from the ghosts of the dead.

Trained in the process of collective creation, the Creative Ensemble devises a wide range of works based on numerous sources of inspiration, all built from the ground up. “Working together within unbounded parameters of imagination and risk-taking, we bring to the stage what we believe to be relevant theatre today,” said Rogers Hall.

The ensemble members are: Julia Ainsworth, Heather Marie Annis, Sarah Dineen, Jordan Kennedy, Tom Kerr, Paul Lacey, Amy Lee, Duncan McCallum, Liam Morris, Kristy Piper, Serge Plourde, Maya Rabinovitch, Koby Rogers Hall, Shannon Roszell, Jason Sharman, Sadie St. Denis, Cassandra Tongneri and Andrea Winzer.

Vacancy was collectively written by the Creative Ensemble, and is co-produced with Professor Peter McKinnon from the Theatre Department. McKinnon is the founding director of two production companies, Rare Gem Productions and Front Porch Theatre. His production credits include the rock musical That’s Life, the runaway hit of the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and the award-winning Squonk Opera in Toronto and on Broadway 1998-2000.

Director Charles Roy is the co-founder and artistic director of Talking Camel Productions and The Classical Theatre Project. He has directed extensively in Toronto and Montreal. Recent credits include Shakuntala and The Life of Galileo for Theatre @ York, Hamlet (Hart House Theatre), Scenes from a Jazz Bar (Poor Alex Theatre Cabaret), Ordering Ives (Talking Camel Productions) and Romeo and Juliet (Classical Theatre Project). A graduate of McGill University and a Fellow of Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan, India, Roy is currently completing his MFA in directing in the Graduate Program in Theatre at York.

Vacancy will be presented at 372 Dufferin St. (at Queen St.) in Toronto May 4-21. Showtimes are Wednesday through Saturdays at 8pm with an additional late-night performance on Saturdays at 11pm. Admission is $20 and $10 for students, seniors, the unemployed and sex trade workers. Tickets may be purchased by calling 416-505-4619, by e-mailing vacancy_05@yahoo.ca or at the door.

For detailed information about the Creative Ensemble, including the play Vacancy and its cast, visit www.creativeensemble.cjb.net.

This article was submitted to YFile by Mary-Lou Schagena, communications officer in the Faculty of Fine Arts.