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Crow's Theatre artistic and general director Chris Abraham, and executive director Sherrie Johnson at Streetcar Crowsnest in Toronto on March 5, 2020.

Cole Burston/The Globe and Mail

Crow’s Theatre is set to be the first major not-for-profit theatre in Toronto to reopen its doors this fall, welcoming audience members inside who can either show they are fully vaccinated or present a negative COVID-19 test.

On Tuesday, artistic director Chris Abraham and executive director Sherrie Johnson are announcing a 2021-22 season of live, indoor performances at its east-end venue, Streetcar Crowsnest, as well as a parallel digital season featuring performance captures from the regular season and additional streaming content.

A mysterious new work by mischief-making playwright and performer Cliff Cardinal has the honour of kicking things off in person on Sept. 22 – with full productions of plays by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Rajiv Joseph and George F. Walker set to follow.

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“We felt it was really important to try to turn the tide a bit around risk aversion and really get our theatre to create opportunities for artists to do what they haven’t been able to do in the last 16 months in the city,” Abraham told The Globe and Mail, in advance of the announcement.

In the Toronto theatre scene, Crow’s follows only the commercial giant Mirvish Productions, which announced its 2021-22 season a week ago, in announcing a requirement for artists, staff and audience members to be fully vaccinated.

As with Mirvish, however, there is also an option for spectators to present a negative COVID-19 test – either a PCR test taken within 72 hours of the performance start time, or an antigen test taken within six hours.

Johnson says that while Crow’s may be the first not-for-profit theatre in Toronto to announce such an attendance policy, it was decided upon after behind-the-scene discussions with other companies that run their own venues in Toronto.

“We are all working closely together to be aligned,” she says. “It’s very important to all of us that we do that, because it shouldn’t be competitive.”

Cardinal, best known for solo shows such as Huff, will reopen the Crowsnest with what’s being billed as a “radical retelling” of Shakespeare’s As You Like It from Sept. 22 to Oct. 10. No other details, including casting or even cast size, are currently available – adding an air of mystery to the project.

Mixtape, a solo show from writer and musician Zorana Sadiq described as “part memoir, part scientific inquiry, and part love-song to listening,” will be the next full production at the Streetcar Crowsnest, directed by Abraham and running from Nov. 9 to 28.

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A couple of well-regarded American plays are set to take the stage in 2022.

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, a drama by Rajiv Joseph that had a run on Broadway in 2011 starring Robin Williams as the tiger in the title, will be performed in English and Arabic from Jan. 11 to 30, directed by Rouvan Silogix, Crow’s Theatre’s associate artistic director.

Gloria, former New Yorker employee Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s play about editorial assistants at a “notorious Manhattan magazine,” will then play from March 1 to 20. This will be a production by the indie company ARC and mark the directorial debut of versatile actor André Sills, who starred in the Shaw Festival’s provocative production of Jacobs-Jenkins’s An Octoroon in 2017.

Orphans for the Czar, a brand new play by George F. Walker inspired by a Maxim Gorky novel and set shortly before Bloody Sunday in Russia’s St. Petersburg, will be directed by Tanja Jacobs and run March 29 to April 17. Singulières, a documentary play from Quebec about single women 30 or older, will be presented with English surtitles from June 1 to 10 in partnership with the Théâtre français de Toronto.

Crow’s will additionally be presenting public workshops of two stage adaptations of novels: Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita (Oct. 28 to 30) created by Mikaela Davies, Hailey Gillis and Polly Phokeev; and André Alexis’s Giller Prize-winning Fifteen Dogs (Feb. 10 to 19) written and directed by Marie Farsi.

There will also be a parallel 2021-22 digital package available for Crow’s fans who are not yet ready or able to physically return to the theatre. The company has had unusual success in selling this type of work during the pandemic. All of its virtual productions – including a filmed version of the musical Ghost Quartet, which will return next season – “paid for themselves and then some,” Abraham says.

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Separate from the seasons but available as an add-on, Crow’s Theatre will be partnering with Ross Petty Productions on its next virtual holiday production, Alice in Winterland – an encouraging development for those who would like to see that Toronto panto tradition not die out when Petty retires from producing it. “We’re laying the foundation for a partnership that we hope will continue,” Abraham says.

Back in March of 2020, Crow’s Theatre announced what was set to be its biggest season ever – including a co-production of the Broadway musical Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 at the Winter Garden.

While Crow’s 2021-22 season is smaller by comparison to that cancelled one, it is equally gutsy in bringing back indoor performances ahead of its peers.

Soulpepper and Canadian Stage, Toronto’s two biggest not-for-profit theatres, have outdoor productions on the schedule but have yet to announce what comes next when the weather turns cold. A number of theatre companies of a similar size to Crow’s, such as Tarragon Theatre and Factory Theatre, have already announced that they will not return to live, in-person programming until 2022.

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Editor’s note: (Aug. 31) An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Marie Farsi as associate artistic director at Crow’s Theatre, a role she left in June, 2021. This version has been updated.

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