York theatre students head downtown for two new productions

York theatre students take centre stage this month in productions at two of Toronto’s landmark locales.  

Graduate acting students star in Seven, the culmination of Kingston, Ont.-based playwright Ned Dickens’ monumental City of Wine cycle, tracing the rise and fall of the ancient Greek city of Thebes, at Theatre Passe Muraille. The Creative Ensemble graduating class premieres HardWired, a site-specific triptych that explores human behaviour in the wake of economic instability, in the historic Distillery District.

The City of Wine festival has been dubbed “an unprecedented event in Canadian theatre history” and designated a probable highlight of the year by NOW Magazine.

From its founding to its end on the battlefield of Troy, Dickens portrays the legends of Thebes and its mythic citizens in a seven-play cycle. From the stories of Cadmus and Harmonia to Oedipus and Antigone, the timeless themes that drive the characters and the plot are a reflection on what it means to be human and the responsibilities of civic life.

Fifteen years in the making, City of Wine is produced and presented by Toronto’s Nightswimming Theatre, which enlisted York and six other post-secondary theatre schools across Canada to each take on a piece of the cycle. Now these 105 theatre students and their award-winning directors have come together to perform the entire seven-play epic in repertory twice from May 5 to 9. York’s contribution, Seven, the final play in the cycle, is on stage May 7 at 4pm and May 9 at 8pm.

Directed by Canadian director, dramaturge and theatrical investigator Sarah Stanley (right)Seven follows seven soldiers, the last of the Thebans, as they try to make sense of their orders to lead a suicidal attack on Troy. Each struggles to make sense of their situation: Are they heroes, victims or pawns?

It’s only fitting that Stanley directs the conclusion of the cycle, as she was a driving force in its genesis: the Dora Award-winning play Oedipus, which she commissioned Dickens to write and which she went on to direct and stage under the Gardiner Expressway in 1994.

“At first Ned thought I was approaching him as an actor, not a playwright,” Stanley said with a laugh. “But I sensed an incredible talent for storytelling within him. As he watched the spectacle of that original production come to life, he started to think what it might be like to explore the back story behind Oedipus. He started on a three-play cycle, which grew into seven. It was a bold new beginning.”

Stanley is equally complimentary of the superb talent she’s encountered in her cast: York MFA theatre students Chris Karczmar, Adrianno Sobretodo, Chris Ralph, Cherissa Richards, Matt Walker Claire Wynveen and Meredith Zwicker.

“For me to be able to direct the most recent, and in some ways most mature, play in the cycle with this fantastic cast is either luck or fate, I can’t decide which,” said Stanley. “These actors are truly gifted, and the text we’re working with is utterly poetic. It’s been a rare and special opportunity.”

Stanley is the co-artistic director of Die In Debt Theatre and former artistic director of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. She co-heads the directing program at the National Theatre School of Canada and is a professional adjunct in the Theatre Department at Concordia University.

The other directors involved in the City of Wine cycle are Craig Hall, Eda Holmes, Tatiana Jennings, Ursula Neuerburg-Denzer and York theatre alumni D.D. Kugler (MFA ‘84) and Jillian Keiley (BFA ‘94).

Theatre Passe Muraille is located at 16 Ryerson Ave at Queen St. West/Bathurst. For tickets and more information call 416-504-7529 or online.

A short streetcar trip east and a few blocks south in the Distillery District, York’s fourth-year Creative Ensemble theatre students present HardWired, three original site-specific plays linked by a common theme: how a cash-strapped economy impacts society at large.

Collectively devised with the support and guidance of York Professor Michael Greyeyes (right) and independent dance artist Kate Alton, HardWired runs seven times in four days, with an 9pm preview on May 10 and performances at 7pm and 9pm on May 11 to 13.

The first work in the triology is a movement-based adaptation of the Lord of the Flies, set in a post-apocalyptic Toronto one hundred years after “The Great Fall”. The next piece flashes between the present day and a parallel world just before the stock market crash of 1929, examining the lives of five individuals in a world driven by money and power. The concluding work follows a group of revolutionary youth who find themselves restless in a morally bankrupt world. 

Admission to HardWired is pay-what-you-can, with a suggested donation of $8.50. All proceeds from the show will be donated to Tree Canada, part of the production’s efforts to embrace sustainable theatrical production practices and make the show a carbon-neutral event.

Tickets are available for purchase in advance in the lobby of the Centre for Film & Theatre at York, or at the door on location. The audience is invited to gather inside the main gates of the Distillery District, at the intersection of Mill and Trinity Streets, shortly before showtime each evening.