York talent evident in the 2005 Summerworks Theatre Festival

Independent theatre at its best is unfolding at Summerworks, Toronto’s annual juried summer theatre festival taking place in the Queen Street West district until Aug.14. Now in its 15th year, the 2005 event runs 11 days and features 43 shows, workshops and readings of plays-in-progress. Three productions by York theatre grads have been awarded coveted spots on the playbill.

Writer and performer Niki Landau (MFA ’03) is presenting her play Territories, which she initially scripted as part of her theatre studies at York University. The production is co-directed by York theatre professor and Shaw Festival veteran Paul Lampert (MFA ’98) and fellow York grad Robert Levine (BFA ’04).

Left: Niki Landau

Territories begins as a one-woman show with Landau talking about her feelings on Israel and Palestine, where she once worked as part of a grassroots peacemaking delegation. Things take a dramatic turn when a Palestinian man (actor Sam Kalilieh) joins Landau on stage and demands that she hear his side of the story. The play progresses with the two actors swapping stories and prejudices, as the stage becomes a microcosm of the Middle East’s conflict.

Performed with energy, understanding and conviction, Territories dares the audience to question the truth and, most difficult of all, to listen to the enemy. The play’s set was co-designed by award-winning York theatre Professor Teresa Przybylski and two others, and is stage managed by fourth-year York theatre student Jessie Shearer.

Territories is one of the most proactive-sounding pieces at the festival, both formally and politically,” wrote Eye magazine reporter Paul Isaacs in his July 28 review of the productions in Summerworks.

While Territories marks Landau’s debut as a playwright, she is no newcomer to the stage. Her performance credits include George F. Walker’s Suburban Motel cycle and Jason Sherman’s Reading Hebron at Factory Theatre, and York theatre Professor Rob Fothergill’s plays Borderline and The Dershowitz Protocol at the Summerworks festivals of 2004 and 2003 respectively.

Territories is playing at the Factory Studio Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street (at Adelaide). The remaining performances are Aug. 13 at 9pm and Aug. 14 at 3pm.

Another York-inspired production is The Way, presented by BareBack Theatre and directed by Angela Besharah. This interdisciplinary piece was written and performed by six alumni of the Department of Theatre’s Creative Ensemble at York, all of whom graduated with their BFA degrees this spring.

Right: The cast of The Way

The group includes: Julia Ainsworth, Heather Marie Annis, Amy Lee, Duncan McCallum, Cassandra Togneri and Andrea Winzer. They scripted and developed the play as part of their theatre studies at York. The production is stage managed by third-year York theatre student Adam Kirkham.

Annis explains the alchemy behind The Way: “This collectively created work explores the reactions to urbanization and individualization of today’s society, as we move further and further away from human connection. In the hunt for self-gratification and power over all things, we are sacrificing much. The earth and its resources are the primary victims in this rat race to the top.”

The Way made Summerworks’ Top Ten Producers’ Picks list, published in the Aug. 4 issue of the Toronto Star. The Way is being staged in the Mainspace at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Street. The remaining showtimes are Aug. 11 at 10:30pm,  Aug. 12 at 9pm and Aug. 14 at noon.

The third production is Downtown, presented by The Question Company and directed by Julia Gray (BFA ’98). Yorkies make up the entire cast: Liz Pounsett (MFA ’98), nisha ahuja (BA theatre ’05), Nicole Arends (BA theatre ’90), fourth-year theatre student Guy Ducette and first-year York theatre student Roshan Ahmadvand. The play is stage managed by fourth-year York theatre student Dale Yim.

Right: Julia Gray

“Downtown is a new dance/theatre site-specific piece. It tells the story of a young woman who is new to Toronto – a world of business, money and glass – and how she learns to take up space and where she thinks she fits within this world,” said Gray.

The play is being presented in the TD Tower courtyard, 77 King St. West, Toronto (west of Bay Street). The remaining performances are Aug. 11, at 5:30pm; Aug. 2, 7:30pm, and Aug.13, 7:30pm.

For more information, including a full schedule of productions and venues, visit the Summerworks Web site.

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