Category Archives: 2011/12 season

It All Leads To The Lemon Scene wins two awards at NY Avant Garde Festival!

Got word today that Pamela Winfrey‘s short play It All Leads To The Lemon Scene, which was such a hit in Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival this March, also resounded with New Yorkers at the 2012 New York Avant Garde Arts Festival!

Organizers report that  Avant Garde Arts Festival, which closed on Saturday evening (June 23) was their most successful ever.  It All Leads to the Lemon Scene picked up the award for Audience Favorite [it’s a New York award, so I’ll use the American spelling], and Lemon Scene‘s Sheila Russell won  Best Actress for her turn as the crazy lady in the laundromat.

Congratulations to Pamela Winfrey, director Lynn Zeelenberg, AD/SM Brett Haynes, and actors  Sheila Russell and Stefannie Flannigan for the win!


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Doors Open Toronto recap

Figures just in for the visitors to Alumnae Theatre during last weekend’s (May 26 & 27) Doors Open Toronto event:  On Saturday, when we were open from 10am – 5pm, we had 138 visitors.  On Sunday, we officially opened at 1pm, but the very obliging InspiraTo Festival folks who are renting our Main Stage were in the building early for their tech rehearsal, and allowed some eager Doors Open visitors into the building before the Doors Open guides arrived!  84 people came on Sunday, for a weekend total of 222.   Our stack of subscription forms and photocopies of next season’s lineup (the pretty colour brochures aren’t printed yet) were totally depleted – and that’s a good thing!

A couple of people (architects?) were fascinated by the roof structure in the 3rd floor Studio and the woodwork in the lower lobby.  I was stationed in the Studio, and got to tell some [true!] ghost stories to interested visitors.  May 26-28 was the Memorial Day long weekend in the U.S., and a young fellow from Cleveland stopped in.  We also had a visit from an actress who performed here in The Mumberley Inheritance many years ago.  I’m told that a photographer from the National Post took some photos of the Studio, with the original wood beams and brick from the very early 1900’s.  I pointed out a couple of hidey-holes to visitors: one inaccessible behind a radiator, and one behind the seating risers that can be reached when the risers are moved.  A few years ago, while helping re-configure the seating in the Studio, I took the opportunity to go through the door into what felt like the skeleton of the building.  Spooky, kids!

Downstairs in the lobby was a display of photos and newspaper clippings showing Alumnae Theatre through its proud history – the company’s been around since 1918, and in this building at 70 Berkeley Street since 1971.   The original brick firehall on this site was built in 1859, and replaced with what is basically the current structure in 1905.  The firehall was operational until 1970.

Also on display were photos, programs and newpaper clippings about Alumnae director Pamela Terry (1926-2006), who directed the very first play written by esteemed Canadian poet James Reaney – The Killdeer.   In recent years Terry promoted Alumnae Theatre’s participation in cultural festivals such as Doors Open Toronto, and took charge of the company’s participation in Toronto’s first Nuit Blanche in 2006.

Costumes were displayed too – the raggedy robes from January’s The Trojan Women (designed by Peter DeFreitas), and the home-made opera costumes from our April production of Cosi.  It gave me such a feeling of nostalgia to see those toilet paper-roll wigs and hula hoop skirts again. Heck, I wanted to wear mine! Costume designer Margaret Spence (also a guide for Doors Open) told me that they saved toilet paper rolls in her household for months to make those wigs!

Theatre manager Catherine Spence noted that “We got to introduce a number of people to the theatre  (who did not know we were a theatre) and give out information about our new season.”

That new season opens September 21 with the world premiere of Canadian writer Lisa Moore’s February.  Visit for details.

In the meantime, the building is still very busy!

InspiraTo Festival 2012

For the third year, InspiraTo, a festival of 10-minute plays, takes over the Main Stage at Alumnae from June 1 – 10.  InspiraTo’s load-in was on Saturday, so Doors Open visitors that day got a  sneak peek at the beginning of the set build and lighting hang.   Check their website for showtimes and ticket prices:






Filed under 2011/12 season, Cosi, News, The Trojan Women

Così – aftermath & photos

It’s always sad when the run of a play ends.  Many actors suffer from what I call “post-show depression”, missing their theatre family and feeling a vague unease that they should BE SOMEWHERE when what would be their call-time rolls around.

L-R: Tina McCulloch, Laura Vincent, Christopher Kelk, Jamieson Child, Michael Vitorovich, Patricia Hammond . RUTH & JULIE: “Despina? What is happening?”

Set & lighting designer Ed Rosing’s son attended the 2nd-last performance of Così on April 27, and took several photos of the opera-within-the-play, ‘cause it’s just so darn cute.  Toilet paper-roll wigs, hula hoop skirts, screens intended to look home-made by the insane asylum inmates – what’s not to like?


L-R: Tina McCulloch, Laura Vincent, Christopher Kelk, , Michael Vitorovich, Jamieson Child. ROY: “Why has the colour drained from your cheeks?

This morning, a random image popped into my head:  Mike Vitorovich(Roy) with his crazy-eye twitch, pawing the ground like a show pony as he presented Ruth with a “miniature in lieu of your heart, madam”.  I remembered how his expression and gestures used to make me guffaw with laughter every time we rehearsed that scene.  Didn’t think I’d ever manage to keep a straight face in performance, but somehow I did.  Mostly.  He never stopped trying to crack me up.

L-R: Jamieson Child, Tina McCulloch, Laura Vincent, Michael Vitorovich, Christopher Kelk. LEWIS: “Why are you so upset?”

 For those suffering from PSD, enjoy a last look at this very fun play.  Thanks for the photos, Ed!

L-R: Jamieson Child, Tina McCulloch, Laura Vincent, Michael Vitorovich, Christopher Kelk, Patricia Hammond.  RUTH: “Kill me with your sword now!”

L-R: Michael Vitorovich, Tina McCulloch, Christopher Kelk, Laura Vincent, Jamieson Child, Patricia Hammond. ROY: “Henry, faint.” HENRY: “My tuxedo will get dirty.”

L-R: Laura Vincent, Michael Vitorovich, Jamieson Child, Tina McCulloch, Christopher Kelk and Patricia Hammond. JULIE & RUTH pretend to sing Italian opera to their lovers while HENRY & CHERRY show the audience an English translation.

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“Così” – the unscripted moments

A question from an audience member at Sunday’s Talkback – how much guidance the actors received from movement coach Jen Johnson – got me thinking about the unscripted bits of business that actors put into a performance.  Things that aren’t specified in the script or even suggested by the director, but that the actors come up with as appropriate for their character and the situation, usually when they are not speaking or the focus of attention in a scene.

For example, if you’ve seen Così, did you notice what Roy (Mike Vitorovich)  is doing in that moment near the beginning of the play just after social worker Justin (Sean Speake) has entered and is talking to Lewis (Jamieson Child)?   They are not paying attention to him, so Roy circles behind them, taking in the burnt-out theatre that he hopes will give birth to his dream of performing Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte.  Like a dog, he sniffs a charred red curtain hanging from a fake pillar at the back of the stage, and squirms in ecstasy.

The charred curtain that Roy sniffs. Photo: Cathy McKim

This is not in the script; it’s just something Mike started doing, and those of us backstage at the time  find it hysterically funny.  We hope the audience does too.

Then there’s the interaction between sociopath Cherry (PJ Hammond) and me as Ruth.  Cherry knows that crooked chairs drive counter/arranger obsessive compulsive Ruth crazy (wait – they’re already in an insane asylum…)  So during the rehearsal of the opera scene when Lewis tells Ruth to just “walk and talk as you would in real life”, Cherry continually moves the chair from which Ruth is marking the counting of her steps.   On the other hand, there are several times when Ruth pisses Cherry off by picking up Cherry’s dropped script or bag and re-positioning them just so!

The moment when Zac passes out on the piano after accompanying Henry in his audition for the opera (as Roy matter-of-factly states, “He’s broken into the pharmacy again”) is specified in the script, but not what precipitates it.  So actor James Warner has been surreptitiously popping pills when nobody is looking!

And at the end of the play, Justin is helping Lewis clear the stage after the opera performance, and Ruth is the first of the patients to come out from backstage.  Her line “Thank you, I really liked it” always seemed to me like something rehearsed – like a speech someone had told her to make.  Only last week, I realized that Justin was the logical person to have done that,  so Sean Speake and I discussed it, and now Justin gives Ruth a “now it’s your turn” kind of nod after handing Lewis his pay packet.  I wait until Justin leaves and then deliver the speech.

Many of these bits of business are discoveries that the actors have made late in the rehearsal process, or even partway through the performance run.  That’s one of the joys of live theatre:  you can continually ‘discover’ things!

There are 4 more performances of Così so you can catch these little moments.  Tomorrow (Wed April 25) tickets are 2-for-1, only available in person at the theatre.  Reserve at  For Thursday, Friday and Saturday, tickets are $20 at the theatre or online (with service charge) via  If you’re in the downtown Toronto area Thu – Sat, drop by the T.O. Tix booth in Yonge-Dundas Square, where you can purchase ½ price tickets on the day of show.  Catch the madness – come join the crazies!

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Filed under 2011/12 season, Cosi

Così post-matinee Talkback, April 22

An excellent report on the “Cosi” post-show Talkback yesterday Sunday April 22).

life with more cowbell

One of my fave things about theatre is the up-close-and-personal immediacy of the characters and the story, and the give and take between audience and actors – and this becomes even more the case when the audience gets a chance to interact with the actors and creative team in a post-performance Q&A (aka talkback). One of the newer, and popular features of Alumnae’s season is the Sunday matinée talkback, held on the second Sunday of the run for each play – and the Q&A for Così happened yesterday. (Photo: Tina McCulloch, as Ruth, and Laura Vincent, as Julie, in a scene from the opera within the play – photo by Dahlia Katz:

Moderated by co-producer Barbara Larose, the onstage Q&A featured the Così cast, director Jane Carnwath, assistant director Seema Lakhani, and designers Ed Rosing (set/lights), Margaret Spence (costumes) and Rick Jones (sound), as well as special guest…

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“Così”: the little rituals

Tonight (April 20) will be the 7th performance of Così, including the preview.  It’s been a wild ride!  Last Sunday evening, I was in a weird state when I went home after the matinee.  Feeling empty, lonely and restless.  What the heck was wrong with me?  Figured it out eventually:  it was separation anxiety from my stage “family”!

It’s such a strange process, making theatre.  You can become very close with the people you work with – it’s a brief but very intense relationship that sometimes carries on and develops long after the show closes.

Before the audience comes in, stage manager/lighting operator Margot Devlin and sound operator Emily Macnaughton run the cues to ensure everything is working smoothly, then let the actors have the stage for about 20 minutes to practice fights and the dance number.

Asylum inmate Henry (Christopher Kelk) is almost mute. But for "Cosi" he suddenly begins to sing - in Italian!

And what goes on in the dressing room during the run of a show, you wonder?  Well, in Così, there are a fair number of smokers in the cast, so the back door of the dressing room in the theatre basement is often propped open (there’s a below-ground stairwell outside) so the nicotine-addicted actors can grab a quick butt pre-show and during intermission.  On a typical night, Chris Kelk (stuttering former lawyer Henry) and James Warner (pill-popping musician Zac) entertain us with some really rude British limericks.  Get them to tell you the one about the bishop – it’s FILTHY!  PJ Hammond (sociopath Cherry) might step out into the hallway to practice her knife tricks.  Joanne Sarazen (Lewis’ girlfriend Lucy) powers up her laptop and works on a play she’s writing.  Jamieson Child (anxious director Lewis) plugs in his leaky iPod earbuds for some inspirational tunes.  We check out which of his collection of funny T-shirts Sean Speake (social worker Justin) is wearing.  There’s a cool Shaun of the Dead T-shirt, and my fave – especially for ‘80s music fans – five commas plus an image of a chameleon.  Get it?  While we’re getting dressed or putting on makeup, we will often run lines for certain complicated scenes where there are strategic interruptions.  Yes, we work hard to make it look effortless for the audience!

After Margot gives us the 5-minute warning, we do a brief, energizing warmup proposed by Laura Vincent (heroin addict Julie) – it involves shaking arms and legs alternately while counting down from 7, and yelling “Game Time!” in answer to Mike Vitorovich’s question, “What time is it?”.  Very appropriate for my counting-obsessed character Ruth!

As an opening night gift, Margot installed a huge basket in the dressing room, filled with various bags of treats: pretzels, chocolate bars, chips, etc.  The accompanying card promised refills, and boy does she deliver!  The treats are stored overnight in the fridge (to foil the theatre’s sneaky rodent population), replaced in the basket for the next night, and magically replenished when hungry actors demolish them.  Margot, we love you!  See what I mean about family?

After the matinee this coming Sunday (April 22), stick around for a Talkback.  The cast, director, and designers will come onstage, and audience members are encouraged to ask questions or make comments.  There will also be a special guest expert:  Jennifer Chambers from the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health (CAMH)’s Empowerment Council.  This organization represents current and former clients of CAMH, so you can ask her opinion on the portrayals of people with mental health and/or addictions issues.

Così runs to April 28.  Check  for performance times and ticket prices.


Filed under 2011/12 season, Cosi

LifeWithMoreCowbell says “Cosi” is brilliant crazy fun!

A very nice review from LifeWithMoreCowbell – thanks, C!

life with more cowbell

“Asylums are the most inefficient places on this earth.”

But they can be a very effective place to produce an Italian opera by Mozart.

Alumnae Theatre’s production of Così opened on the main stage last night. Written by Louis Nowra and directed for Alumnae by Jane Carnwath, assisted by Seema Lakhani, Così takes us on a crazy dream of a journey as we follow Lewis on his first job out of university: directing patients in a play at a mental hospital. The rag-tag assortment of patients, all with various conditions, is led by Roy, who conceived the project and is hell-bent on performing Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte. Only thing is, no one can sing opera. Or speak Italian.

The play takes place in early 1970s Melbourne, in a burnt-out, graffiti-riddled theatre. Ed Rosing’s set (built by Lionel Boodlal, Doug Specht & Michael Vitorovitch) and lighting design gives just the…

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“Così” : eyeliner, backstage clanging and the man-bra

Last night (Tuesday) was designated a tech run, in costume.  Stage manager Margot Devlin filled some of us in on new scene-change duties:  extra props to move or bring on or off; a newly-created curtain (thanks, Ed!) for the opera scene, etc.  By the time all that got sorted, assistant director Seema Lakhani led the cast in a warmup, and PJ Hammond ran the fight choreography, leaving about 10 minutes to get into costume.

Watching the show, in addition to Seema and director Jane Carnwath, were set & lighting designer Ed Rosing, costume designer Margaret Spence, and fight director Paul Babiak.  Assistant stage manager Pona Tran manned the smoke machine and kept us quiet backstage.  Not easy to do when the cast includes high-energy Mike Vitorovich (Roy), who kept banging into things that went clang.

Laura Vincent(Julie) tried out some stunning 60’s-inspired makeup and hair (not to mention the miniskirt and white go-go boots!) that I said made her look like famed British model Jean Shrimpton, known as an icon of “Swinging London” at that time.

Jean Shrimpton, whose heyday was mid-late 1960's, is considered one of the first supermodels.

Laura’s heroin addict character hasn’t been in the institution long, and doesn’t really fit in with the others, who seem like fixtures.  It makes sense that she’s much more fashionable than the others.

Matt Brioux (as pyromaniac Doug) was wearing a new T-shirt for the first time – a pale khaki-green waffle-weave long-sleeved affair that he said was very tight.  “I feel like I’m wearing a man-bra”, he commented!

The run went pretty well – again, we knocked some minutes off the running time.  Jane said afterwards that the pace in Act I was very good, but Act II lost the forward motion a bit.  We’ll do better!  Lovely compliment from Paul, who gave notes on the fights.  He hasn’t seen us for a few weeks, and despite knowing the script and choreographing the fights, he said that we really made him care about the characters – we brought them off the page and to life.  Plus, even though he’d know what was coming up in any scene, he laughed!

Tonight (Wednesday) is the official dress rehearsal, and tomorrow night we’ll have our first audience (of people unconnected to the show) at the preview.


Filed under 2011/12 season, Cosi

“Così” – dancing in the dark and [shhh!] preview info

It’s  crunch time, folks!  The show opens this Friday – yes, the 13th.  In the past 6 days, we have spent 3 evenings (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) at the theatre, plus all day Saturday, and the first half of Sunday.  And that’s just the actors, director and stage manager.  I heard that director Jane Carnwath and stage manager Margot Devlin were also there for much of Friday, re-doing some lighting cues with designer Ed Rosing.

Choreographer Jen Johnson polished the opera dance scene on Tuesday night, and we dancers (I use that term very loosely in my case) were gratified to earn applause from the rest of the cast who were sitting in the audience.  It’s such a moment of freedom for those of us playing the asylum inmates.  Jen suggested that for Ruth, I channel Jodie Foster in her role as wild-child Nell from the movie of the same name.  Mike Vitorovich (ringleader Roy), does a balletic jeté across the stage, in an explosion of “we did it!” kind of feeling.  And then the disco ball comes on – wow.  Bubbles on the ceiling = magic!

On Wednesday night we worked two complicated scenes:  Act I scene 4 – when Nick (Ryan Kotak) takes over Lewis’ (Jamieson Child) rehearsal with the patients, with unexpected results, and Act II scene 1 – which begins with simulated shock treatment and ends with what director Jane Carnwath refers to as “dancing in the dark”.

On Thursday, we did another run of the whole play, but not in costume.  During the notes session afterwards, the actors were sitting in the house as Jane perched on the edge of the stage.  Margot was busily clearing the stage of discarded props, and setting the backstage area in readiness for the next rehearsal on Saturday.   Jane had given notes nearly to the end of Act I, when suddenly the lights went out.  James Warner (Zac) immediately blurted his line from the similar blackout during the play:  “Let’s have an orgy!”  I chimed in with Ruth’s line “Doug!  It’s Doug!  Lewis, it’s Doug!”  Margot popped her head out from backstage (where the switches for ‘work’ lights are located, I’m just saying) and said innocently, “Oh, I thought you were done.”  A little stage management humour?

Saturday’s rehearsal concentrated first on scene changes – who does what, who takes off (or brings on) which props, etc.  We also did an Italian – or was that Greek? – run of the play.  “Italian” means picking up cues (leaving no dead space between lines) so everything moves at a faster clip.  Lines can be spoken quickly with no intention or emotion, and often without accompanying movements or blocking.  “Greek” or “Walking Italian” means picking up cues, but lines are spoken with intention and performed with the appropriate movements and blocking.  Fights (and in this case, also singing and dancing) are performed at regular speed.  Running at the accelerated speed knocked about 20 minutes off Act I, and 15 minutes off Act II!

Sunday (10 am – 1:45 pm) we did a fight rehearsal with fight captain PJ Hammond (Cherry), and a warm-up with assistant director Seema Lakhani.  Sound designer Rick Jones was on hand to tweak some sound levels,  and set/lighting designer Ed Rosing sat in to check on the lighting.  We did a full run in costume.  Overall, it went pretty well, despite a few technical glitches and some actor error resulting in missed entrances.  Note to self:  you do NOT have time to go back to the dressing room if you forgot to bring up your other costume for the quick-change!  I stranded Mike (Roy) and Laura Vincent (Julie) onstage repeating variations of their lines when I did not appear on cue.  Sorry, guys!   My quick- change costume will now be hung backstage.

The next couple of rehearsals (Tuesday and Wednesday) will be tech runs, then we’ll have our first real audience on Thursday for an invitation-only FREE preview.  If you hear about this, you can come!  No reservation necessary; just show up at Alumnae Theatre by 7:45 pm.  Please note that the lobby is likely to be crowded – Così is on the Main Stage, but that same night – Thursday 12th – is the opening night for rental company Panfish Productions’ The Melville Boys, running in Alumnae’s Studio  space until April 28th.  See

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Head scenic painter says the “Cosi” set is done! Check out the photos of some design elements.

life with more cowbell

Busy times this week on my staycation. Met up with set designer Ed Rosing early yesterday afternoon to put some finishing touches – and draw a peace sign – on the Così set. Mostly, it was about applying burnt umber to the graffiti and the chair to take down the brightness, and add some distress and grime. And you know what I like to say about the burnt umber on a set…

Così is by playwright Louis Nowra and directed for Alumnae by Jane Carnwath. This final production of the 2011-12 season opens on the Alumnae Theatre main stage in a little over a week, running April 13 to 28.

DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS: In yesterday’s post about Jessica Speziale’s Horseshoe Tavern gig, I incorrectly identified her drummer as Charlie Cooley – it was actually Dave Sufrin (Charlie plays on the EP). This has since been corrected in that post. My…

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