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Toronto’s Canadian Stage is bringing in The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes from Australia’s Ibsen Prize-winning Back to Back Theatre. Written and performed by actors who are neurodivergent, it’s a play that asks whether the advent of artificial intelligence will lead all humans to eventually fall into that category.Handout

Say what you will about the PuSh Festival in Vancouver – and my colleague Marsha Lederman, in a column today, shares that some have redubbed it the “Push Over Festival” because of the contentious cancellation of The Runner – at least the West Coast city still has an avant-garde/international theatre, dance and performance gathering to get folks riled up.

In Toronto, by contrast, whole international festivals have been cancelled to no uproar at all. The once-mighty World Stage festival that started at Harbourfront Centre in 1986, and later became a series, slowly petered out before finally coming to an end in 2018. The younger Progress Festival, a partnership between the Theatre Centre and SummerWorks, has not been resurrected since the pandemic.

The Luminato Festival, meanwhile, goes on with reduced resources that led it to focus almost exclusively on Canadian work last year.

Fortunately, for those of us stuck in Hogtown, what has evolved out of Toronto’s festival-lite situation is that many of the local theatre and dance companies simply present touring work in January and February rather than create a festival of it – picking up shows that are already on the road to or from PuSh, or perhaps the High Performance Rodeo in Calgary (currently running to Feb. 4) or the cancelled, then quickly revived Under the Radar festival in New York (currently running to Jan. 21).

This week, Toronto’s Canadian Stage is bringing in The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes from Australia’s Ibsen Prize-winning Back to Back Theatre ahead of its PuSh Festival run. Written and performed by actors who are neurodivergent, it’s a play that asks whether the advent of artificial intelligence will lead all humans to eventually fall into that category. The Toronto dates are Jan. 18 to 28, while the Vancouver in-person dates are Feb. 1 to 3. (Those latter performances, plus one on Feb. 4, are available to stream online, too.)

Other PuSh programming is moving in the opposite direction. L’amour telle une cathédrale ensevelie, an opera-theatre piece set in Montreal that tells the story of exiled Haitian families from the Haitian/French company Nous Théâtre, plays in Vancouver on Feb. 3 and 4, before visiting Théâtre Cercle Molière in Winnipeg from Feb. 8 to 10, and then heading to Crow’s Theatre in Toronto from Feb. 22 to 25. (It is presented in French and Haitian creole with English surtitles)

Meanwhile, Deciphers, a dance piece created by Naishi Wang and Jean Abreu about the complexities of communication that mixes together Chinese folk dance, Brazilian dance styles and spoken word, plays at PuSh from Jan. 26 to 28, then at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto from Feb. 8 to 10, followed by runs in Montreal (Feb. 14 to 17) and Ottawa (Feb. 22 and 24). Full details are at Jean Abreu Dance.

What’s on at PuSh this week

If you’re not one of those boycotting the festival for cancelling The Runner (or boycotting it for being too slow to cancel The Runner), there’s some interesting programming to be found in its first week. Sound of the Beast, from writer/performer Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, is up from Jan. 20 to 23; I reviewed a version of the show at Theatre Passe Muraille back in 2017, but the poetry-forward piece about the fraught relationship between police and communities of colour has no doubt evolved since then.

There’s also asses.masses, a “custom-made video game about labour, technophobia and sharing the load of revolution, designed to be played from beginning to end in a live theatre” that I’ve been kicking myself in the you-know-what for missing when it was at the Theatre Centre in Toronto in the fall.

What’s on at the High Performance Rodeo this week

Prominent shows during week one of the Calgary festival include Kid Koala’s family-friendly hit The Storyville Mosquito (Jan. 17 to 19), Scott Thompson as Buddy Cole in King (Jan. 18 to 21; find Brad Wheeler’s interview with the Kid in the Hall here) and the provocatively titled The Immaculate Perfection… (Jan 17 to 20) from the BodyCube Arts Collective. It “revolves around the final year of high school for a group of students who spend their time smoking, crying and touching each other in the gender neutral bathroom.”

Shavians invade Shakespeare’s birthplace

Some notable news from out of the Royal Shakespeare Company in England’s Stratford-upon-Avon this week, where new co-artistic directors Daniel Evans and Tamara Harvey have just revealed their first season.

Tim Carroll, artistic director at Ontario’s Shaw Festival, will be directing Othello with the great Canadian-ish actor and Montreal Canadiens fan John Douglas Thompson playing the title role. Shaw associate artistic director Kimberley Rampersad, meanwhile, will be directing and choreographing a new adaptation of The Red Shoes.

What accounts for all this artistic movement from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Stratford-upon-Avon? When Carroll worked at the Globe Theatre in London, he was a mentor to Harvey, and the two have kept up their friendship. Indeed, she was over to visit the Shaw Festival last year. Here’s to building bridges.

A couple other shows of note opening this week online and in Ontario

Frances Koncan’s Space Girl is streaming across the country from Jan. 17 to 28 courtesy of Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange. I interviewed Koncan about the show last year in this space.

Edmonton’s Catalyst Theatre’s The Invisible: Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare makes a stop at the Grand Theatre in London, Ont., from Jan. 16 to Feb. 3. The Globe and Mail reviewed the musical when it was in Calgary in 2019.

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