York thespians abound on summer stages

Professors from York’s Faculty of Fine Arts are collaborating with alumni and students in a number of shows coming to Ontario stages this summer.

Theatre Professor Gwen Dobie and dance Professor William Mackwood’s theatre company Out of the Box Productions presents its sophomore Toronto show, Opera Erotique, June 1 to 5 at the Tranzac Club.

The play is set in the not-too-distant future when the use of cybernetics has become commonplace. Song, sci-fi and sex take centre stage when two opera singers meet a perfect pair of cyborg performers. Eventually, all four are drawn into a tumultuous tumble that leaves them breathless.

When the production premiered (with a different cast) in Victoria, BC, in 2004, the Times Colonist said: “Come for the eroticism… if you must. But stay for the wonderful music.”

Opera Erotique offers an opportunity to see some top-notch artists in an intimate, informal venue. Featured performers include baritone Alexander Hajek (who played Morales in the Canadian Opera Company’s recent production of Carmen) and cellist Liza McLellan of the award-winning Quartetto Gelato.

In addition to Dobie and Mackwood, who not only serve as co-artistic directors of Out of the Box but also as director and lighting designer, respectively, for Opera Erotique, a whole team of York thespians is involved in bringing the show together. Set design is by theatre Professor James McKernan and current MFA dance student Priscilla Guy has designed the video projections. Four fourth-year theatre students are also part of the team: Alex Kentris and Katie McCulloch are the production managers, Richelle Pollard is the stage manager and Emily Tratnik is the carpenter. Dance student Marieve Aube serves as assistant lighting designer.

Alongside their hands-on work as part of the creative team, McKernan and Mackwood are using Opera Erotique as a case study to look at the methodology and feasibility of sustainable theatrical scenography. Their blog, The Greening of Opera Erotique, is posted on the production Web site


After the opening night performance on June 2, the audience is invited to stay for a round table discussion. Joining McKernan, Dobie and Mackwood on the panel will be Faculty of Fine Arts Dean Barbara Sellers-Young and Elizabeth Asselstine, chair of the Department of Theatre. Other round table participants include Professor Jose Etcheverry from the Faculty of Environmental Studies and Adjunct Professor Arlene Gould, a senior fellow in York’s Institute for Research & Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS). External panelists are Ian Thaeker from the engineering services company Halsall Associates Limited and JF Canuel, the vice president of AC Lighting Inc.

Running concurrently with Opera Erotique is The Corpse Bride, playing June 4 and 5 at the Young Centre for Performing Arts in Toronto’s historic Distillery District. The show is produced by Theatre PANIK, a company helmed by York theatre Professor Paul Lampert and instructor Niki Landau (MFA ’03) as co-artistic directors.

The Corpse Bride – a gothic tale about a young bridegroom who accidentally weds an "undead" woman – is based on a Yiddish folk tale rooted in actual events in 19th century Russia, when anti-Semitic civilians would attack and murder Jewish brides. Landau adapted the story for the stage, and Shaw Festival veteran Lampert directs the production, with alumnus Robert Levine (BFA ’04) serving as assistant director.

The creative team for The Corpse Bride includes York theatre Professor Teresa Przybylski, who designed the set and costumes. Alumnus Colin Doyle (BFA ’01) is a part of the 13-member cast, which also boasts such luminaries as Evelyn Hart, former prima ballerina with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and Dora Award-winning actor Richard Greenblatt.

Film Professor Howard Wiseman directs a one-night-only workshop/fundraiser featuring his latest play, The Year of the Flood, on June 30 at 7:30pm at the Theatre Direct studio in Toronto’s Artscape Wychwood Barns, located at 601 Christie Street, south of St. Clair Ave.

Set in Winnipeg in1950, The Year of the Flood explores issues of culture, racism, family, trust and betrayal through the searing and touching story of a souring business relationship between two unlikely soulmates: a Russian-Jewish furrier and a First Nations chief and trapper.

Wiseman has assembled an all-star cast of performers including Lorne Cardinal of CTV’s Corner Gas; Sam Moses, seen last season in the Stratford Festival’s The Rice Boy; impresario, playwright and actor Michael Rubenfeld; and jazz diva Theresa Tova (Still the Night, Ragtime). They’ll perform selected scenes from the play, punctuated by musical numbers presented by Bob Wiseman, Theresa Tova with Brian Katz, and surprise guests. Ralph Benmergui of Jazz FM hosts the evening. Tickets ($30) are available by e-mailing hwiseman@yorku.ca or from co-presenter Threshold Theatre starting June 7.

Theatre Professor Shawn Kerwin is the set and costume designer for two Ontario productions this summer: A Killing Snow on stage at the Blyth Festival June 23 to Aug.13, and Master Harold and the Boys running July 22 to Aug. 21 at the 1000 Islands Playhouse in Gananoque.

Athol Fugard’s Master Harold and the Boys is an award-winning coming-of-age tale set in early apartheid-era South Africa. It’s been described as both funny and devastating in its portrayal of black-white relationships during the apartheid regime.

A Killing Snow, written by York alumnus and 2008 Governor General’s Award nominee Paul Ciufo (BA ’94, MA ’97), is a whodunnit thriller about four travellers stranded in the secluded farmhouse of a retired Latin teacher.

Also at Blyth this summer is a revival of the 1987 hit and 1990 Canadian Author Award-winner Bordertown Café written by York film alumna Kelly Rebar (BA ’78). The director of the acclaimed original production, York theatre alumna Katherine Kaszas (BFA ’76), returns to reprise her role at the helm of the show, which runs June 30 to Aug. 14.