After a gruelling pandemic election, Canadians of all political stripes could all use a laugh. Thankfully, live comedy has returned in the nick of time.
Yuk Yuk’s has reopened comedy clubs in nine locations at this point – with Marito Lopez behind the mic in Calgary this weekend, J.J. Whitehead in Halifax and Keith Pedro in Niagara Falls.
Rick Bronson’s chain is back up and running, too, with House of Comedy in New Westminster, B.C., presenting American comedian Drew Dunn this week and the Comic Strip in Edmonton showcasing Jessimae Peluso.
In Toronto, meanwhile, Comedy Bar reopened both its mainstage and cabaret in the Bloorcourt neighbourhood back in August – and, last week, the good news leaked out it will soon be launching a location on the Danforth on the other side of town this fall.
There were hints that the indie comedy theatre was about to become a chain when a job posting for a new bartender appeared on Twitter; then a teaser of the new location in what was once a mattress store was posted on Instagram before Now magazine properly broke the news.
Comedy Bar artistic director and co-owner Gary Rideout Jr. confirmed by e-mail that the new Danforth space will have around 186 seats – and that Second City Toronto, the legendary sketch and improv theatre that is in-between homes in Canada, is planning to take up a temporary residency there later this fall.
Second City left its old home on Mercer Street in Toronto in the fall of 2020 – and the Canadian/American sketch-comedy chain is in the middle of building a bigger space at 1 York St. that is set to be home to three comedy theatres and have room for its popular improv classes plus a bar and restaurant.
That expansion seemed imperilled a year ago when its chief executive officer Andrew Alexander stepped down in the wake of charges of systemic racism, and then the company was bought by private equity firm ZMC.
But Rideout Jr., who is also the director of business development at Second City Toronto, says construction is back under way and expected to be completed in mid-2022 (which could mean anywhere from June to September).
“The new owners are committed to the market and the excitement over the potential of the new space here was a huge selling point for them,” Rideout Jr. wrote in an e-mail.
That Second City Toronto can use the new Comedy Bar space on the Danforth and won’t have to wait until the end of the spring or summer to hire sketch comedians to perform shows again is great news for a scene that’s been hard hit by COVID-19 and has less access to grants than performing-arts companies to get through it.
Soulpepper’s long-dormant home in Toronto’s Distillery District is back in the spotlight this week in two ways.
Signature Soulpepper: From Where You Are (Sept. 23 at 7 p.m.) is a fundraising film screening that will take viewers on a virtual tour of the building – with performances promised behind every door and curtain. The theatre company is trying to make its annual gala more accessible, so tickets start at $10 – but there is a “mainstage ticket” available for $1,000 that includes a gift box with wine and gourmet snacks (and a tax receipt).
For audiences who want to physically visit the actual theatre again, The Home Project – a Howland Company production, in partnership with Native Earth Performing Arts – is being presented by Soulpepper in its courtyard until Oct. 3.
A show about home that combines live performance, sound and digital media installation, it is co-created and performed by Akosua Amo-Adem, Qasim Khan and Cheyenne Scott.
Look for a review in The Globe and Mail later this week.
In Montreal, Quebec star playwright Michel Marc Bouchard’s new show, Embrasse, about a son who attempts to redeem his mother’s character through fashion, is premiering at the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde. It is directed by Eda Holmes, who will then direct the English premiere (under the title Kisses Deep) at the Centaur Theatre in January.
Other openings this week:
- Jewel, a 1987 play by Joan MacLeod inspired by real-life tragedy on an offshore oil rig in Newfoundland, is the final show to open at the Blyth Festival as part of its mini-season on its new outdoor Harvest Stage. Rebecca Auerbach stars in this new production (Sept. 22 to Oct. 3) of the monologue that made MacLeod’s name long before she won the Siminovitch Prize.
- The Garneau Block, Belinda Cornish’s pandemic-delayed adaptation of Todd Babiak’s novel about an Edmonton neighbourhood, is in previews and runs to Oct. 10 at the Citadel Theatre.
- Child-Ish, an amusing web-series by Sunny Drake adapted from his verbatim play based on interviews with children, has been popping up here and there during the pandemic. The latest live watch party is organized through Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange and takes place Sept. 23.
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