Encouraged by the response to touring shows like Thin Ice, Theatre Direct entered the 1990s with a mission to become more national in scope. Plays written by BC and prairie playwrights, as well as a co-production with Quebec’s Theatre le Carrousel, helped Theatre Direct to reflect more regions of the country.
And, increasingly dedicated to diversity in its theatrical offerings, the company put the spotlight on shows that featured writers and actors from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. One of the most popular shows of the era was Drew Hayden Taylor’s Toronto at Dreamer’s Rock, which explored the dilemma of a First Nations teenager caught between the old ways and the modern world.
1989: Horror High
Written by Banuta Rubess
Film by Keith Hlady and Music by Nic Gotham
Leif: Martin Julien
Sphinx: Lynda Hill
Sam: Richard Sacks
This examination of violence was a multi-media presentation that featured acting, dance, film, and music. Three friends share a love of horror movies, but one night one of them falls to his death from a subway platform. Was it an accident or suicide? His friends will have to decide how to carry on in a world where horror is sometimes all too real. The production ran not only in schools, but also at outside venues, attracting new audience members, and allowing for more technical effects and a sophisticated set design. This production marked current Artistic Director Lynda Hill’s debut with Theatre Direct!
Written by Suzanne Lebeau
Original dramatic adaptation by Jean-Pierre Carasso
Based on the novel Burt by Howard Buten
Translated into English by Maureen Labonte
Directed by Gervais Gaudrealt
Gil/Burt: Benoit Vermeulen
Jessica: Lisette Dufour
This production, originally from Quebec’s Theatre le Carrousel, was presented in both French and English. Adapted from the novel by Howard Buten, this “children’s tragedy” centres on an eight-year-old boy who has been sent to a psychiatric institution.
1990: Andrew’s Tree
Written by Martha Brooks
Directed by Alec Stockwell
Patrick: Dean Cooney
Neil: Bruce-Alexander Pitkin
Gillian: Shelley Adamson
Sarah: Siobhan McCormick
Patrick’s younger brother Andrew was struck and killed by a car, and Patrick is trapped inside his feelings of guilt and denial. But when the Peterson family moves in next door, Patrick makes three new friends who help him to come to terms with his grief.
Winner: Chalmers Canadian Children’s Play award, 1991.
1991: Toronto at Dreamer’s Rock
Written by Drew Hayden Taylor
Originally commissioned by De-ba-jeh-mu-jig Theatre Group
Directed by Lynda Hill
Keesic: Jeffrey Eshkawkogan
Michael: Jonathan Fisher
Rusty: Timothy Hill
Set and Costume Design by Shadowland
Music by Marsha Coffey
Stage Manager: Kirei Samuel
One of the most significant productions of this era was Drew Hayden Taylor’s Toronto at Dreamer’s Rock, a contemporary fable that puts a First Nations spin on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Rusty, a confused 16-year-old from Ontario’s Birch Island Reserve, climbs the sacred Dreamer’s Rock. Although he has been sent there to participate in the old tradition of fasting until he finds a vision, Rusty is intent on nothing more than knocking back a few beers and listening to some heavy metal. Instead, the spirits of the ancient site bring him face-to-face with Keesic, an Odawa youth from the time before the European invasion, and Michael, a totally assimilated Odawa-Ojibway from the year 2095. Combining humour, passion, spirituality and tough realism, Hayden Taylor’s script explores the past and speculates about the future.
The production starred three First Nations actors, and addressed issues that were crucial not only to indigenous teenagers, but to all young people: protecting the earth, relationships with parents, and finding one’s own unique place in the world.
The play, which began on Manitoulin Island, toured Ontario schools twice – in fact, the original production played 90 times in 60 days! Theatre Direct then launched an extensive western Canadian tour, which included the Vancouver and Calgary Children’s Festivals. This was followed by a run at London’s Grand Theatre.
“A fast-paced, challenging, and thought-provoking play about how it feels to lose one’s heritage and the power that can come from respecting and rediscovering old traditions.”
“Playwright Drew Hayden Taylor has done a wonderful job of weaving important issues in with light-hearted comedy.”
Winner of the Chalmers Canadian Children’s Play Award, 1992.
1991: I Met a Bully on the Hill
Written by Martha Brooks and Maureen Hunter
Directed by Andrey Tarasiuk
Designed by Shadowland
Stage Manager: Todd Hall
Always cognizant of issues facing children, Theatre Direct presented this production, aimed at elementary school audiences. When JJ moves from the country to the city, she has a lot to cope with – including the school bully, Raymond. But is Raymond really just afraid? Can a bully ever become a buddy?
1991: Flesh and Blood
Written by Colin Thomas
Directed by JoAnn McIntyre
Jim: Stuart Hughes
Ralph: Jim Jones
Sherri: Amanda Stepto
Allan: Frank Zotter
Set Design by Graeme S. Thomson
Costume Design by Stephanie Tjelios
Stage Manager: LJ Savage
At the height of the AIDS crisis, Theatre Direct produced this story about a young gay man with the disease and his relationships with his (healthy) lover and straight younger brother. While many films or plays of the time glossed over the prejudice that accompanied the epidemic, this searing drama tackled homophobia as well as AIDS.
Winner: Chalmer’s Canadian Play Award, 1991.
1993: A Secret Life
Written and directed by Edward Roy
Doug: Steve Cumyn
Mother: Debra Kirshenbaum
Father: John Blackwood
Principal: John Boylan
Art Teacher: Susan Jay
Andy: David Collins
Susan: Joanna Schellenberg
Set design by David Rayfield
Costume design by Teresa Pryzbylski
Lighting design by Mark Callan
Sound design by Evan Turner
A Secret Life was first presented environmentally in an abandoned school in North York, situating the audience in the centre of the action. Doug is at his first day at yet another new school. His home life is marked by financial instability and emotional strife – can he invent a different life for himself at school?
“This is, first and finally,a play about making choices. It is also an important, well-crafted, and potentially influential piece of theatre.” -Toronto Star
Nominated for two Dora Mavor Moore awards