The New Young Reviewers Program (previously, Teenjur Young Critics), supported by the Jon Kaplan Legacy Fund, is a workshop series and writing group for emerging theatre and performance reviewers Canada-wide, ages 15 and up.
Led by Signy Lynch (Contemporary Theatre Review, Canadian Theatre Review, Intermission Magazine) and Stephanie Fung (Kingston Theatre Alliance, Canadian Theatre Review, Single Thread Theatre), this program focuses on introducing participants to the basics of theatre reviewing and helped them develop responses to Toronto Fringe performances. It also encourages participants to explore new, creative approaches to criticism that are emerging in the field, and to begin to define themselves as critics and reviewers.
Finding Artistic Purpose in A Whey You A Go? A Jamaican Sojourn
By Visaree Bradshaw-Coore
Simplicity is highlighted through the richness of the story. A Whey You a Go? A Jamaican Sojourn describes life from the point of view of a recently immigrated Canadian from Jamaica. This play can be found at Tarragon Theatre, a work from Jem Productions directed by Anna Rolek and performed by Jennifer Merchant. It should be known that this narrative briefly treads around sexual abuse for a beat, so if that makes you uncomfortable, please be on guard.
This show is a first-time stage writing piece for Jennifer Merchant, it is also a solo performance with many voices and characters surrounding Flo. Her story is one to resonate with artists of any kind, unravelling the life of Flo as she tackles the world of artistry and adoration for culture. A bit scattered, A Whey You a Go? might benefit from more visual elements. Visuals might hold up the narrative structure and make it clearer for the audience to follow. The directing brings the piece to an enjoyable journey. It is challenging to keep an audience engaged, especially in a solo show. This show was promising and able to do just that, but I believe that more development to focus the piece and add extra cohesiveness through visuals and writing could absolutely push it over the edge from promising to great.
If you’d like to be transformed through a physicality-filled reflection of life you’ll find yourself satisfied here. Flo’s journey holds up a mirror to the intent audience, which leaves them questioning what makes an artist truly great? Is it fame? Moving? Or is it a positive effect and purpose? Personally, I prefer the latter. Like the island of Jamaica and its people, positive daily actions may be small but they are mighty, rippling throughout the whole world.
The Crack of Doom Will Leave You Cracking Up the Whole Show
By T.Y Jung
How would you spend your last hour alive if you found out that a meteor was heading full force to Earth? Would you finally confess your love? Face your fears? Stay in denial? How do these university students react when they find out at this Thanksgiving Day mixer?
The Crack of Doom: Or How I Learned to Love the Meteor is a brand-new musical with music and lyrics by Suzy Wilde and a book by Matt Bernard. Led by Bernard’s stage direction, The Crack of Doom conducts its plot in a very heartful and entertaining way. This show is funny. Very funny. And the humour lies within the characters’ ‘dynamics and the acting choices. The scenes go from completely absurd to very emotional, and the commitment of the cast makes all those moments believable and exceptional.
The show is well paced, and there is an excellent balance between the scenes and the musical numbers. Wilde’s contemporary score is catchy and diverse with songs like: the grandiose opening and closing numbers; the love-interests-getting-together song; that one standing-ovation-worthy song in the second half of the show; and of course, the sentimental-heartfelt song near the end. Each cast member gets a moment to shine and they make sure to deliver those notes and lines. The choreography adds a nice touch to the quirky and fun elements of the show.
Is it still funny to talk about a meteor wiping all of humanity after the past two years of pandemic? Turns out it is, maybe because we can relate even more to the silliness of the show after what we’ve been through. Whether you are a musical theatre fan or not, there is something for everyone in this show. It’s hilarious, it’s ridiculous, and it’s everything that makes up a great musical.
Theatre’s Next Generation of Artists make their mark in Under Pressure
By Jenn Boulay
Young people are under a lot of pressure today; from school to social life, to identity, and so much more. Produced by Sandcastle Theatre, written and directed by Stephanie Fowler in collaboration with a cast of young performers, Under Pressure seeks to highlight these very issues.
We follow CJ, a high school student who lands in the principal’s office after getting in trouble for forgetting her gym shorts and not adhering to the school’s dress code. The unfair (and sexist) dress code invokes CJ to encourage her classmates to speak out against these rules. This leads to the students staging a walkout to protest, and while it is not a huge success, their voices are able to invoke change.
The narrative encourages young people to speak out about the issues that they are facing and care about, just like the show’s protagonist. A show for all ages, the message is clear: for older adults, this show asks to keep an open mind and listen to the young people around them; and for young people, the message is that you should speak up, because your voice matters and can invoke change.
I felt a rushing sense of nostalgia from my days as a teenager because of the choice to use and poke fun at the typical high school character tropes. It was a reminder of the constant anxiety I felt trying to fit in, all while living underneath the thumb of a higher power.
Although this cast may have some inexperience performing and could be more diverse, this does not deter our attention away from the show’s message. With a simplistic set and great set change bops/music, the show does not disappoint.
I encourage people to see for themselves and have their perspectives opened by these brilliant, young, and upcoming artists, because young people’s voices matter.
BIPOC Women Are the Main Character: Inside Don Valley Girls
By Armon Ghaeinizadeh
Witty, funny, sharp, and with an occasional swift kick to the gut that somehow still keeps you laughing, Don Valley Girls is the show to see!
If getting on stage as a racialized artist / creative is brave, then getting on stage to talk about giving the land back to Indigenous peoples, freeing Palestine, and highlighting the lack of access to clean drinking water on reserves is even braver. Although there are many moments of visceral discomfort, you often can’t help but laugh at the colonization of how one cleans themselves in the washroom, and the recent influx in the popularization of bidets. Many moments were too real, so real that I was often shaken to my core hearing such familiar voices and stories explored on stage.
This show (to me) is for Women, People of Colour, Queer Folx, and those who live at the intersections of any or all of the above. It is for artists and people of colour who do not see themselves on stage, and those that have not had the honour of sitting in a theatre, and hearing Arabic and Korean music fill the space. At moments as an audience member, I thought to myself, “Oh no, I wonder if the white people in the audience feel uncomfortable not understanding all the references.” Mind you, I was sitting between two white audience members, who were both engaged and seemed to enjoy themselves (my cackling may have helped). Oh well, welcome to being a racialized audience member.
Although the show did not grab me from the moment it began, it took a few sketches for me to be invested, but once they had the audience, they had us with them. With cultural references to Parkdale, the TTC, and dealing with family members finding out that you’re a “they-gay”, this show is for those on the margins, and unapologetically so. How in an hour they managed to tackle toxic masculinity, corporations LITERALLY showing their asses, and white feminism, still baffles me. The tech and lighting were well executed and honestly just run to the theatre. I felt refreshed, revived, and seen.
Women of colour are the main character and should be. Ana habek Ya Habibti’s.
REVIEW: Sleeping, Tucked in the Lonely Purple at Tiger Princess Dance Projects/Theatre Gargantua
By Ethan Joshua
It takes a great deal of courage to admit to our loneliness. But if we admit to our loneliness, doesn’t that confirm we are damaged, or “damn! Aged”? From what may start as a roadblock, Sleeping, Tucked in the lonely Purple moves loneliness through new destinations.
“We all live with lonely,” is a phrase I wish I heard sooner in life. Spoken with honesty, it doesn’t make itself out to be a fact but simply offers itself up as a state of mind. Although the show may take from the experiences of three senior performers, the sentiment underneath reminds us all to be compassionate to ourselves, and that we are deserving of compassion.
The performers were not restricted to a set or props, so it felt as if they had the agency to move freely and thoughtfully within the space. I found myself reflecting on the physical limitations of the pandemic, and just how tense it has made my body. Even watching a simple pat on the back was evocative, because honestly, I don’t remember the last time I received one.
After that, I uncrossed my legs, and put my program onto the chair next to me. For the first time, I felt my vulnerability welcomed with the performance I was watching.
By the end of the performance, I shed a tear, and with it, so much of the weight I held onto since the start of the pandemic. I don’t think any other show could have done that.
Tucked in the program is a beautiful poem of all the phrases spoken during the performance, and I am so grateful for this act of generosity. Additionally, the score is available on Soundcloud, and I find it incredibly meditative and calming.
I have to give my thanks again to Sleeping, Tucked in the lonely Purple, because it reminds folks like myself, coming out of the pandemic, that it is absolutely okay to feel lonely from it. I was alone when I watched the show, but surely felt less lonely afterwards.
Meatball Séance: The Dinner Party You’ve Been Craving
By Za Hughes
“This is the most dangerous part of the show!,” shouts creator and performer John Michael, clad only in a frilly blue apron, silver underpants, and a pair of sneakers. Within minutes, the beam of each stage light is made visible as steam rises from the small griddle on stage, and the smell of meatballs greets you in your seat. Meatball Séance, playing at Crow’s Theatre, is a riotous show where audience participation isn’t just a part of the performance — it’s cooked into its very essence.
In three acts, Michael brings audience members onto the stage to play the boyfriends he’s dated since his mother’s death. The boyfriends help cook the meatball dish his mother was too ill to cook for the last boyfriend she never met with the hope that this culinary act will invoke his mother’s spirit. As audience members cook, John Michael shares stories of his own failings as grief rips through his life and relationships. Rousing music, dramatic sound and light cues feed into the ecstasy of the show. But no part is as spectacular as the performer who climbs seats, hollers, and dances through as an unhinged showman whose energy matches the madness of the premise.
Michael says he creates audience participatory theatre because he didn’t play well with others as a child. He carries this attitude through the show instructing participants, “Sit here. Now, you say this.” It’s a funny shtick that never feels overbearing as he tempers this by revealing a charismatic, sweet boy who tenderly asks participants if they are comfortable donning aprons and whispers jokes into their ears.
This tender heart comes through in the storytelling in just the right measure to give the piece an emotional structure and lasting weight as we learn that Michael is broken and it may be his greatest strength. Meatball Séance isn’t dinner theatre, it’s a party full of friends you just haven’t met yet.