Category Archives: 2018/19 Season

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
September 21 – October 6, 2018 (Mainstage)
Director: Barbara Larose
Producer: Ramona Baillie

FireWorks Festival 2018:
“The Pigeon” by Chloё Whitehorn / “Moving On” by Elmar Maripuu / “Animal” by Romeo Ciolfi
November 7 – 25, 2018 (Studio)

Top Girls by Caryl Churchill
January 18 – February 2, 2019 (Mainstage)
Director: Alysa Golden
Producers: Lori Delorme & Tina McCulloch

New Ideas Festival 2019
March 6 – 24, 2019 (Studio)

Impressionism by Michael Jacobs
April 12 – April 27, 2019 (Mainstage)
Director: Nicole Arends
Producers: Mary Barnes Amoroso and Kristine Greenaway

Impressionism: “The Girls in the Gang” – Part 3

The last of Alumnae Theatre Company member Diane Forrest’s series of blog posts on some lesser-known women artists of the Impressionist period.  Michael Jacobs’ play Impressionism (which is set in an art gallery) runs to April 27. Audience members are invited onstage before the show begins, to walk around Teodoro Dragonieri’s set and Suzanne Courtney’s replicas of Impressionist artworks.


Eva Gonzalès

“Woman Awakening” (1876) by Eva Gonzalès

Gonzalès was a protege of Édouard Manet, his only official student (and also a handy pawn in his on-again, off-again relationship with Berthe Morisot), and her work showed his influence. The daughter of a well-known writer, Gonzalès actually studied with several artists. While she exhibited at the Salon, and her technique and approach were admired, she never quite distinguished herself from the influence of her mentors – perhaps because she didn’t live long enough. She died at 34 from complications from childbirth, just five days after Manet expired.


Victorine Meurent

Born into a family of working-class artisans, Meurent became infamous as the model for Manet’s most scandalous paintings, “Luncheon on the Grass” and “Olympia,” along with a few other more sedate works. Until recently she’s been popularly dismissed as a loose woman who turned to alcohol and died young.

“Palm Sunday” (1880s ) by Victorine Meurent – her only surviving painting.


Perhaps that’s because the real woman was confused with the role she played on canvas. Because the shocking truth is that she was an accomplished artist and musician who died a respectable home owner at 83.

 It seems she fell out with Manet when she decided to pursue a more traditional style of painting. Soon after, she began exhibiting at the Salon and was later inducted into the Société des Artistes Français, with the support of the organization’s founder.

 Those who bothered to discover Meurent’s true story thought that her work had been lost. But in the early 2000s her painting “Palm Sunday” was discovered and now hangs in a local museum.


Suzanne Valadon

While Valadon started out as a model, she became a famous and controversial artist in her own right and was the first woman painter admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. While Valadon was, uhm, casual about her personal life, she was extremely serious about her art. The many men in her life stood in her way at their peril. In fact, most recognized her talent and helped advance her career.

“Self-portrait” (1898) by Suzanne Valadon

Born poor and illegitimate, Valadon started work at 11 and would have continued with her first love, the circus, but for a trapeze accident. Working as a model for a wide variety of artists, including Renoir, Steinlen, and Toulouse-Lautrec, Suzanne learned her art from observation. She also became close friends with Degas, who helped her develop her technique and range. Breaking the current taboo – you will find no naked women in Morisot or Cassatt’s work – she became famous for her female nudes, including self-portraits.

As if to cap off her career, Valadon also gave birth to the hero of postcard and hotel room art, Maurice Utrillo (whose father may have been Renoir – or any one of half a dozen others in Suzanne’s circle). Strictly speaking, her style was probably more post-Impressionist than Impressionist, and she would outlive most of the group. But it was the support of male artists from those circles that helped her break through as a heroic female artist.



For more information on the artists:


This is the final week of Impressionism at Alumnae Theatre – the play close on Saturday April 27, with performances Wed – Sat at 8pm.  Tickets on Wed are 2-for-1; $25 for rest of week.  See website or Facebook event  for details.


Leave a comment

Filed under 2018/19 Season

Impressionism: “The Girls in the Gang” – Part 2

Alumnae Theatre Company’s production of Michael Jacobs’ play Impressionism, which takes place in an art gallery, opened April 12.  Audience members are invited onstage before the show begins, to walk around Teodoro Dragonieri’s set and Suzanne Courtney’s replicas of Impressionist artworks.  Alumnae member Diane Forrest, a writer and editor, has researched some lesser-known women artists of the Impressionist period – here’s the second of her blog posts.  Impressionism runs to April 27.

Mary Cassatt

Cassatt was the only U.S. painter to exhibit with the Impressionist group. As with Morisot, she came from a wealthy family who stood behind her work – sort of. Her father supported her personally, but not her art career, and Cassatt was determined to make a living as an artist. After several false starts, she decided to move permanently to Paris.

“The Child’s Bath” (1893) by Mary Cassatt

She achieved some success, exhibiting at the Salon for seven straight years. But as a dedicated feminist, she was appalled by the expectation that women artists would cater to the egos of the male jurists. In 1877 the Salon rejected her work – had Cassatt been a little too outspoken? — and her friend Edgar Degas invited her to join an Impressionist exhibition. Cassatt delightedly threw herself into this new alliance: “We are carrying on a despairing fight & need all our forces,”  she declared.


Cassatt and Degas became allies, combining to tackle technical challenges and marketing issues —  until Degas proved capricious. But Cassatt had already acquired considerable skill in pastels and printmaking from her friend. In later years, Cassatt opened up to other influences, including Japanese art, and focused on intimate portraits of women, particularly mothers and children. But she remained close to Degas and the other Impressionists throughout her life. She was also instrumental in helping to develop large Impressionist collections in the U.S.

Marie Bracquemond

With Cassatt and Morisot, Bracquemond was named one of “les trois grandes dames” of Impressionism. Unlike the other two, however, her family was neither well-to-do nor artistically connected.

“On the Terrace at Sèvres” (1880) by Marie Bracquemond

Nevertheless, she managed to have a painting accepted at the studio when she was only 17, attracting the attention of the great master, Ingres. She did not remain long with him, however: “…he doubted the courage and perseverance of a woman in the field of painting… He would assign to them only the painting of flowers, of fruits, of still lives, portraits and genre scenes.” She left his studio and kept getting commissions — including the Empress Eugénie – and appearing at the Salon. She came under the influence of the Impressionists – Monet and Degas in particular, and later Gauguin – adopting many of their approaches, but retaining her tendency to plan her paintings carefully. Her artist husband, an engraver and ceramicist, was part of the Impressionist circle, but disapproved of his wife taking up the style. Worn down by ill-health and her husband’s carping,  Bracquemond stopped painting for public viewing.

Impressionism (and its on-stage art gallery!) runs to Saturday April 27 at Alumnae Theatre.  See website or Facebook event for details.



Leave a comment

Filed under 2018/19 Season

Impressionism introduces some lesser-known artists – Part 1

April 12-27, 2019,  Alumnae Theatre Company presents Michael Jacobs’ play Impressionism, which takes place in an art gallery.  Audience members are invited onstage before the show begins, to walk around Teodoro Dragonieri’s set and Suzanne Courtney’s replicas of Impressionist artworks.  Alumnae member Diane Forrest, a writer and editor, has researched some lesser-known women artists of the Impressionist period – here’s the first of her blog posts.

THE GIRLS IN THE GANG – Forget the water lilies. Here are some Impressionists you may not know.

If you were one of the many budding women artists who came to Paris in the second half of the 19th century, what were your career prospects? There was plenty of work painting china, wall art and other home decor items.

 But if you wanted to be a star at the prestigious Paris “Salon” — the annual exhibit of the best of French art – you faced all the familiar obstacles.

 Women were not accepted into the official art school, the École des Beaux Arts, though they could attend certain studios or take private lessons – provided they didn’t attend “life classes.” (For some reason it was okay for men to stare for hours at naked women, but not for women to do so. Since the study of the nude was central to serious art training, this was a bit of a disadvantage.) Respectable middle-class women also found it difficult to paint landscapes or the scenes of public life that were becoming fashionable, since they could go nowhere unchaperoned. And, of course, there were family pressures.

 Nevertheless, a certain number of women did manage to break into what would become perhaps the most popular artistic revolutions of all time, Impressionism.

 The male Impressionists were surprisingly supportive of their female colleagues (although the senior member, Manet, could be a pain). And the women Monet, Renoir, Degas, et al. shared insights with came with their own impressive array of talent. Berthe Morisot had already exhibited at the prestigious Salon several times when she met the Impressionists, a feat most of the group had not accomplished. Marie Bracquemond had her first piece accepted at the Salon when she was only 17.

“The Cradle” by Berthe Morisot

Berthe Morisot

The star of the female Impressionists was Berthe Morisot. Morisot’s mother was warned by an instructor that her daughter could become a successful artist – a result he felt would be “almost catastrophic” in a haute bourgeoisie family. Nevertheless, Berthe’s mother continued to encourage her. Morisot first exhibited at the Salon de Paris when she was 23. One critic wrote approvingly, “You see, ladies, one may be an artist and take part in public exhibitions of painting and remain, as before, a very respectable and very charming person.” Some years later she was introduced to the Impressionists by a family friend and mentor, the painter Édouard Manet. While convention limited her to domestic scenes, she quickly became one of the most admired of the group.

 Morisot is also famous as part of a romantic Impressionist triangle. She and the married Manet likely fell in love (though it’s not clear they were ever, technically, lovers), but she eventually married his brother Eugène. Unlike other Impressionist partners, Eugène neglected his own career to support Berthe’s work. She continued to exhibit with the Impressionists, but unfortunately, both died young, Morisot at only 54. Her orphaned daughter, Julie, was treated as a member of the wider Impressionist family and appears in many of their paintings.

Edma Morisot

Berthe was not the only artist in the family. Her older sister, Edma, studied and exhibited with her and was a

“Edma and Berthe Morisot” by Berthe Morisot

strong support and influence. The sisters often modelled for each other. (That’s Edma and her baby in Morisot’s famous painting, “The Cradle.”) Unfortunately, Edma abandoned any serious attempts at art after her marriage – a common occurrence among women artists of the time.


Profiles of more female Impressionist artists to come!

See Impressionism the play onstage at Alumnae Theatre, April 12-27, 2019.  Directed by Nicole Arends.





Leave a comment

Filed under 2018/19 Season

My first audition, and other notes: A newcomer learns about the New Ideas Festival as a writer and participant

by Suzanne Bowness

New Ideas Festival 2019.
Image design: Suzanne Courtney

This week I attended the first of three opening nights in the 2019 New Ideas Festival (NIF). In two weeks, it will be my opening night as a playwright of one of the festival plays, The Reading Circle. It is my first opening night because it’s my first play in production.  Quite a lot of firsts for me, thanks to NIF, so I thought I’d share a few more of them.

My first audition
I went to my first audition in January. There, at least one actress confessed that it was her first audition as well. The difference is that that brave girl was saying it from the stage. I’m not an actress. I fear the stage. For me, it was just my first time watching an audition, so more fascinating than terrifying.

Fortunately, my director, a title I now like to name drop even though my director has an actual name, Marley Kajan, is much more knowledgeable about these things. My director is an actress herself and willing to be peppered with questions, something that I am testing the limits of. Do performers always have a monologue prepared? (Yes. Marley herself has several!). What’s a side? (An audition piece from the play).  What’s a better side to prep? (One that shows your range or ability to handle dialogue? Debates on this one). Are all auditions this short, like just 5 to 10 minutes? (Many are even shorter!) What’s a callback?

Questions continued into the rehearsal process. Others were also a target for them. I was paired with a dramaturg, Catherine Frid, who provided some humbling yet helpful insight that prompted me to deepen my newly introduced minor characters (my play started out as a one-woman show). Sometimes I’m not asking questions so much as observing what’s going on (not a stretch for me as an introvert writer): at rehearsals I’m mostly on the sidelines watching as my director does her thing, steering actresses’ intonations in different directions, asking about their character intentions and adding elements that never even occurred to me. Musical cues? Sure, why not. Oh, and it hasn’t stopped being surreal to hear the words you’ve written read by real people whose voices sound better than the voices you had in your head.

 NIF turns 31

I may be a newcomer to this festival, but NIF itself is already 31 years old. To find out more about what I had (happily) gotten myself into, I turned to former festival coordinator Carolyn Zapf, who was until 2018 co-artistic director/producer (with Pat McCarthy) of the festival for eight years. She tells me that the founding producers of NIF were Molly Thom and Kerri MacDonald. The first festival took place in May 1988. The plan was to create “a laboratory to develop new talent and new theatrical ideas.”

“Since then, NIF has played and continues to play a role in playwright and script development, and has also provided opportunities for many Toronto directors, actors, stage managers, and technicians at an early stage in their careers,” says Zapf.  NIF is also a source for Alumnae’s FireWorks Festival, which helps move plays a step further in Alumnae’s development process.

NIF plays can also move along to other productions. A play from NIF 2016, Omission, by Alice Abracen, was programmed in Alumnae’s hundredth anniversary mainstage season last year. A play called Theory, by Norman Yeung, was part of this year’s Tarragon Theatre season. Theory was a workshopped reading in NIF 2010, went on to SummerWorks 2010, and was produced at Alumnae’s FireWorks Festival in its inaugural season in November 2013.  Theory won the Herman Voaden National Playwriting Competition in 2015.


Back in the audience

While I’ve got couple of nervous weeks to get through before my words debut, this week I got to make my debut as a festival audience member and enjoyed seeing the works of fellow playwrights, which I’d only heard to this point  as snippets in auditions. From the hilariously funny and physical Bazookas (a final highlight of auditions was watching a parade of grown women each announce with straight face that they were “here to audition for the part of Boob One”) to the thought-provoking question raised by The Last Date, to the “modern fairy tale” qualities of Outside Looking In to the very current issues raised in Body Parts, Week One offered a good variety of characters and emotions.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

Alumnae Theatre Company’s New Ideas Festival continues to March 24 – a new lineup starts on Wed March 13; another on March 20.    Suzanne Bowness’ play, The Reading Circle, is part of Week Three (March 20-24). 

Tickets: $15/wk (4 short plays – all world premieres), plus a PWYC staged reading of one longer play  at noon on Sat March 16 (Waiting For Attila) and March 23 (Harbor).   Details/ticket purchase link at


Leave a comment

Filed under 2018/19 Season, New Ideas Festival

Mooney on Theatre review of “Top Girls”

Top Girls takes us into the world of six women from different countries, time periods, and positions in society, and we learn about their struggles, accomplishments and values. Their stories are vivid and have many parallels with today’s challenges… a timely important work that brings women’s voices to the forefront.” – Catherine Jan, Mooney on Theatre

Read the full review:

Top Girls Alumnae Theatre Toronto

Clockwise from L-R: Jordi O’Dael  (as Gret) , Jennifer Fahy (as Griselda), Charlotte Ferrarei (as Pope Joan), Alison Dowling (as Marlene), Lisa Lenihan (as Isabella Bird), and Tea Nguyen(as Lady Nijo).

Photo: Bruce Peters

Leave a comment

Filed under 2018/19 Season

Women’s stories across the ages in the sharp-witted, illuminating & timely Top Girls

life with more cowbell

Jordi O’Dael (Gret), Jennifer Fahy (Patient Griselda), Charlotte Ferrarei (Pope Joan), Alison Dowling (Marlene), Lisa Lenihan (Isabella Bird), Tea Nguyen (Lady Nijo). Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Costume design by Bec Brownstone. Lighting design by Jay Hines. Projection design by Madison Madhu. Photo by Bruce Peters.


Alumnae Theatre Company opened its timely, updated production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls last night, directed by Alysa Golden, assisted by DJ Elektra. Sharp-witted, illuminating and theatrical, Top Girls is a both an observation and commentary of women’s lived experiences across the ages. Written in 1982 and given a contemporary framing in this production, it’s both funny and sad how little has changed for women in terms of opportunity, oppression, and the expectations of the spaces they occupy and the roles they play—a timely undertaking in the age of #MeToo and #timesup.

We open on a fantasy dinner party, hosted by Marlene (Alison…

View original post 789 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under 2018/19 Season

TOP GIRLS – “Making Wonder Woman, Lara Croft and Buffy look like wimps” (Isabella Bird)

British playwright Caryl Churchill’s award-winning drama Top Girls premiered in London in 1982.  The play begins with the main character, Marlene, hosting a [possibly imaginary] dinner party to celebrate her promotion at work.  Her guests are five famously strong women from history – some real (Isabella Bird, Pope Joan, Lady Nijo); some fictional (Gret, Griselda).

Alumnae Theatre Company member Diane Forrest, a writer and editor, has researched the guests who appear in the play.  Here’s the last of her five profiles, featuring Victorian-era world traveller Isabella Bird, who is portrayed onstage by Lisa Lenihan.

Alumnae Theatre Company previously staged the play in our 3rd floor Studio space back in 1996!  The new production of Top Girls is directed by Alysa Golden, and will run on the Mainstage from January 18 – February 2, 2019.  Tickets are available at

Making Wonder Woman, Lara Croft and Buffy look like wimps

If you’re making a list of the coolest Victorian women, Isabella Bird is right up there — riding huge stallions through the desert, reporting from war zones, and bunking down and escaping from burning buildings.

English traveller Isabella Bird (1831-1904) – travelling “as a lady”

Like many intelligent girls living in repressive 19th century Britain, Bird suffered from a variety of physical problems. Fortunately she came from a forward-thinking family. (Her father, an Anglican minister, was pilloried for suggesting labourers should have a day off on Sunday.) So when her doctor recommended a long sea voyage, and her father gave her £100 to do whatever she wanted, Bird hitched a ride with her cousins to North America, and caught a better illness – the travel bug.

The bug became a career for Bird when she turned her letters home into a book, The Englishwoman in America. From there she moved on to Australia, Europe, the Rocky Mountains, Russia, Tibet, Malaya, etc., etc. During an early voyage to Hawaii, she climbed volcanoes, wore trousers and learned to ride astride, which put an end to her backaches. She went on to ride through blizzards, win the love of a one-eyed mountain man named Jim Nugent, (murdered not long after he proposed to her) and explore forbidden areas of Japan, She often travelled alone or with men – rather shocking for a Victorian lady, but it didn’t hurt her sales. She did return home from time to time (often suffering bouts of illness when she did). But she could never stay in one place for long. She did manage to marry a doctor, but he only lasted for five years.

After his death, Bird studied medicine so that she could travel as a medical missionary. She went on to found two hospitals in India, speak before Parliament about atrocities in the Turkish Empire, report on the Sino-Japanese war, and survive mob attacks in China. She was also the first woman to be admitted to the Royal Geographical Society and, since her many books were illustrated by her own photos, joined the Royal Photographic Society. After travelling to Africa, she died in 1904 at the age of 73.

For more info, including a discussion of Isabella’s clothing choices, see

For more info on the cast of Alumnae Theatre Company’s new production of Top Girls (Jan 18 – Feb 2, 2019) and special events, please visit

Leave a comment

Filed under 2018/19 Season