(416) 537-4191 info@theatredirect.ca 1 Wiltshire Ave. Unit 127 Toronto, ON M6N 2V7

I’ve come to Theatre Direct this fall as an associate artist, a position made possible through Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program, funded by the Ontario Arts Council. I’m here to work on some exciting new initiatives, and was thrilled to arrive just in time to help welcome visiting UK artist Rhona Matheson. Rhona is the head of Starcatchers, an Edinburgh based organization that specializes in theatre for children 0 – 5 years old. http://www.starcatchers.org.uk

Yes, that’s right. Theatre for infants and toddlers.

90% of a child’s brain is developed in the first three years. With this in mind, Starcatchers focuses on theatre for the very, very young. Actually, they start with pre-birth theatre projects, working with expectant mothers on creative engagement. “If a mother is creatively involved she will be less stressed. That means the baby in her womb will be less stressed. So already the baby is benefiting from the arts,” says Rhona with her broad smile.

The Scottish government has a stated aim to be the “best place to grow up. A nation which values play as a life-enhancing daily experience for all of our children and young people…” The document “Play Strategy for Scotland” is based on cutting edge research into the importance of play for the developing brain.

“Play creates a brain that has increased flexibility and improved potential for learning later in life.” (from “Play for a Change” by Stuart Lester & Wendy Russel, 2008)

“Play” is considered a basic human right, as is the right to enjoy art. Article 31 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child states: Children have the right to relax and play, and to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities. Starcatchers works from that basic right, the right to play and to enjoy artistic activities. In fact, who better than artists to create inspiring works that use play? And with 700 new neural connections being built per second in the first year of life, offering artistic experiences for babies has become a mission for Rhona.

Theatre for babies and toddlers is not just for the children. Early Years theatre is, by its very nature, holistic – babies, caregivers, grandparents, teachers, childcare professionals, family and friends enjoy it all at the same time. Starcatchers has done extensive documentation of their innovative performances, showing that these experiences strengthen the bond between caregivers and children, encourage social development and enhance the quality of peer and sibling relationships. So when Rhona’s artists create a piece, it has to be something that appeals, quite literally, to all ages.

While theatre for Early Years is a well-respected field internationally, dedicating arts experiences for babies and toddlers is almost unknown in Canada. Rhona’s visit to Toronto was an opportunity for Theatre Direct excite and engage local theatre artists, educational leaders and policy makers in the idea of developing and providing playful artistic experiences for babies and toddlers.

One of the highlights of Rhona’s visit was a trip to the new Fraser Mustard Academy, a school entirely dedicated to Junior and Senior kindergarten children. The school is an outgrowth of Thorncliffe Park School, the largest elementary/junior school in North America. Housing 2000 students, Thorncliffe Park needed to expand and built an addition designed around the needs of children 3 – 6 years old. They opened their doors to 700 children this September. They’re still under construction, but the passion and enthusiasm for young children is everywhere in evidence. http://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/education/2013/08/29/thorncliffes_allday_kindergarten_school_offers_bright_purposebuilt_space_for_700.html

Fraser Mustard Academy is dedicated to respecting the child, and everything is built for their perspective. There are large open spaces for physical activity, dance, and even riding tricycles. You can see the inner workings of the building. Pipes, tubes and electrical wires are left visible because “we want kids to see how things work,” says principal Catherine Ure.

“Scientific evidence demonstrates that neural pathways in the brains of children are built through the exploration, thinking, problem solving and language expression that occur during play.” (Ontario Early Years Policy Framework 2013)

Theatre Direct well understands the vital role of creativity in play-based learning. The company is partnering with the Fraser Mustard Academy to offer a series of artists’ residencies. The Firefly Project will take creative drama and story telling into all of the 24 kindergarten classes over the course of the year.

With new works in development for babies, toddlers and 3 – 5 year olds, it is a really exciting time to be at Theatre Direct. Just as young brains are developing, Theatre Direct will be there with inspiring and creative sounds, colours, movements, textures and wonder.

Next May, Theatre Direct is launching The Wee Festival, the first festival of work for the very young in English Canada. It promises to be a joyful and playful time for all.

Hello Theatre Direct friends, families, and educators!

One fateful afternoon – June 20th 2013, to be exact! – I received an amazing e-mail that informed me that the Metcalf Foundation had given me the Performing Arts Internship grant. This wonderful opportunity meant that I was going to be interning at Theatre Direct for an entire year with Artistic Director Lynda Hill as my mentor. Children’s Theatre and drama education is what I love so being here truly feels like the right fit.

Now that my first week is well on its way, I am even more excited than I was to start. Transitions into new projects are always a major adjustment as I always want to know how to do everything immediately without needing help, which I know is unrealistic. However, Lynda and Naz have made our work place an incredibly positive, generous and open space that asking my millions of questions has felt easy.

This week, Rhona Matheson has joined us from Edinburgh- based Starcatchers and it is such an interesting opportunity to learn about early years work that is being developed abroad.  Please keep an eye out in our Newsletter and Blog for more excerpts from my experiences as an intern here at Theatre Direct this 2013/2014 season!

Melissa Haddad

1. How do you make the fleas perform?

First, the fleas are not “made” to perform. They do so voluntarily because they love to be in the lime-light. I audition fleas from across the country, and young larva come from far and wide to participate in our renowned circus. The successful fleas, the ones with sparkle and that certain, show-business “It”, undergo a lengthy training and conditioning process, to learn their various acts. Like people, fleas are individuals with individual talents. A juggling flea, for example, might make a terrible strong flea. An educated flea might be great at mathematics, but lousy at ballet dancing. Each flea is placed in the act that best exploits their natural abilities.

2. What’s the best trick you’ve ever taught a flea?

About ten years ago, one of my tightrope fleas hurt four of his legs and had to go into early retirement. He was a gifted learner, so I trained him to do my housekeeping chores. Vacuuming, dusting, a little ironing. He loved to brew my morning coffee too. I never had the heart to tell him he made it too darn strong.

3. Have you thought of using other insects in your circus or are you strictly a flea trainer?

The relative strength and longevity of the pulex irratans, or the Human Flea, make them ideally suited for show business. However, I once tried to train a grasshopper to chirp on command thinking her musical accompaniment would make a clever addition to the circus. Sadly, she was terribly lazy and shiftless, and eventually ran off to live with some industrious ants. I’m not sure how she fared. After the winter came, we never heard from her again.

4. When you travel, how does the production travel together? Does everyone get their own sleeping quarters?

Most of our fleas travel together in the same Empty Candy Inn. However, our star attractions often negotiate their own match box. During the off season, when shows are scarce, they like to holiday together on the back of a mangy old Cockerspaniel named Jethro. And of course, mealtimes the fleas gather together and nibble on my left arm.

5. What’s the next tour stop for you and the fleas? I think they’d be a huge success in Russia!

Funny you should mention. But the first known flea circus is said to have occurred in a Siberian prison in the 1500s, where inmates trained fleas to race and pulls small pieces of refuse along little makeshift tracks.

6. How did you get into flea training? Who did you learn the trade from?

Well, I could answer that question. However, that is the subject of my autobiographical play, “Buster Canfield and his Amazing Fleas” which can be seen in a special, advanced sneak preview presented by Theatre Direct at the Artscape Wynchwood Barns, on March 16th!

Buster Canfield and His Circus of Amazing Fleas 


Thank you to all who expressed interest in our January 11th Day Camp.  The camp is now full.

Between December 9 – 15, warm up by purchasing a Hot Cocoa and help support Theatre Direct while celebrating CocoaLatte’s 3rd birthday!


Join us on November 10th at 4:00 pm for a benefit performance of Head à Tête, followed by a light family friendly reception. Tickets are $10 for a child and $20 for an adult. All proceeds go to our Lights Up!Drama School Bursary Fund.

Head à Tête is a show perfect for the whole family – best enjoyed by those 3 ½ and older.

For Tickets, please visit our Box Office page, or call 416-537-4191. You can also email imagine@theatredirect.on.ca

This Wednesday, our afterschool ensemble begins for ages 9 -13 and on Saturday, our programs for ages 3 -5 and 6-8 get underway! We can’t wait to see everyone again.  There are still some spots available so contact Kristin at education@theatredirect.on.ca to learn how to enroll.


In the Christie Studio: New Adventures in Sound, the intrepid sound art folks, are once again making magic in our Christie Studio with a unique installation entitled Whorl. Created by artists Craig Fahner and Neal Moignard, Whorl is an interactive sculpture that visualizes the resonant phenomena in salt. Using simple gestures, users generate visualizations based on touch.

In the Wychwood Theatre: The GeoArt Collective presents Paralandscape, an interactive adventure that explores imaginative geographies through Google Earth projections on a parachute. Going anywhere is just a shake away!

For other Wychwood Barns Nuit Blanche experiences, check out Magdalen Lau’s Morpheme and Canada’s smallest theatre as Rebecca Singh presents an evening of theatrical surprises.

Visit Scotiabanknuitblanche.ca to plan your all night art journey!

Registration is now open for all Fall/Winter/Spring programs. Please contact our education department for registration forms and visit our Camps/Classes page for more information!

Theatre Direct is pleased to provide funding to theatre artists wishing to create new work for young audiences through the Ontario Arts Council’s Theatre Creator’s Reserve. Proposals will be accepted between Septmeber 4, 2012 and December 15th, 2012. For more information, click here!