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i am your spaniel, or, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare by Gislina Patterson will be arriving at Toronto's Buddies in Bad Times theatre this month.Handout

Is your new year’s resolution to give up a bad habit? Well, We Quit Theatre is coming to Toronto next week to demonstrate how not to keep it.

Rather than giving up the world of the stage, per its name, this highly touted Winnipeg-based collective comprised of Dasha Plett and Gislina Patterson is bringing a triple bill of its outside-the-box performances to Buddies in Bad Times from Jan. 16 to 21: i am your spaniel, or, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare by Gislina Patterson, previously seen at the SummerWorks Festival; Passion Play; and 805-4821 (which will be accompanied by a sharing of Sadie Berlin’s response piece, This Alien Nation).

Per the collective’s website, the form and style of We Quit Theatre’s pieces vary but they “share a fundamental interest in the space of play between the real and performed self, a destructive impulse toward the canon, and a constant challenge of the expectations of form.”

I e-mailed Patterson and Plett some questions to learn more.

We Quit Theatre is the best name for a performance collective I’ve ever come across. Why did you quit theatre? Or have you, really?

Gislina Patterson: You know that scene in Coffee and Cigarettes where Iggy Pop and Tom Waits are going on and on about how great they feel since quitting smoking and then Tom Waits lights one and says, “the beauty of quitting is … now that I’ve quit, I can have one”? That’s how we feel about quitting theatre.

I’m intrigued by your description of your work’s “destructive impulse toward the canon.” Can you explain how that manifests in i am your spaniel, or, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare by Gislina Patterson?

GP: An accusation that’s often levelled against artists who are critical of what are considered ‘canonical’ theatre texts (primarily Shakespeare) is that we have failed to understand, or aren’t sufficiently serious scholars of those texts.

Part of the game of i am your spaniel is taking Shakespeare perhaps too seriously, using the nerdiest, most granular approach to studying Shakespeare’s plays (First Folio text analysis) to break down the social and political effect their constant repetition has on our lives and culture. After that, we bite its ankles and rip it up and make a big mess with it.

805-4821 is described as “a trans coming-out story made out of other stories” including Hamlet and a Facebook conversation told with the use of an overhead projector. My question is: Where do you avant-garde performance artists source your overhead projectors? And can you still get transparencies made at – oh, I just Googled Kinko’s and apparently it no longer exists.

Dasha Plett: I actually had three overhead projectors for a brief time! Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace would be my first recommendations for aspiring projectionists, but I believe the one we are using for the show came from a fantastic Winnipeg organization called ArtsJunktion, where you can buy art supplies by donation/weight. We’ve also modified it with the guts from an old LCD monitor, which allows us to use it with both transparencies and to display moving images. It’s all very phantasmagoria. You can get transparencies printed at Staples but for bulk printing it’s cheaper to buy the sheets and print them yourself!

You two seem to be the hottest collective to come out of Winnipeg since the Royal Art Lodge. How is that city (full disclosure: the place of my birth) as a base for developing outside-the-box performance these days?

DP: Complex! Not a lot of experimental performance work tours through the city, and there isn’t a lot of structural support if you’re wanting to work outside-the-black-box. Like everywhere, issues of bureaucracy and tokenism create a lot of barriers to political and formally adventurous work. At the same time, that isolation and lack of a formalized or well-funded alternative arts infrastructure lets us really go wild.

Hassaan Ashraf’s live art / music project Satan’s Chewtoys is the stuff of legends. Along with lead “vocalist” Jean Randolph’s improvised performance lectures, that project is a major influence on Passion Play. Frances Koncan is our very cool friend and colleague and they’ve had a huge impact on our work’s aesthetics and politics, in ways that are especially visible in i am your spaniel. The weirdness of 805-4821 was deeply informed by researching mythic Winnipeg performance collective, Primus. We’re lucky enough to be friends with some of the old members, which makes me feel fabulously chic.


A selection of what’s opening on stage across the country this week, west to east

- Made In Italy, Farren Timoteo’s popular solo show about an Italian teen growing up in Jasper in the 1970′s, hits the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. It runs to Jan. 28.

- Beautiful: The Carole King Musical – in a Kelly Thornton-directed production starring Tess Benger (Alice in Wonderland) that played Montreal’s Segal Centre this fall – reopens in Winnipeg at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. The biographical musical plays through Feb. 3.

- Crow’s Theatre production of Uncle Vanya opens at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton this week (to Jan. 27), ahead of an encore Toronto run as part of the Off-Mirvish season. Here’s Martin Morrow’s review from the show’s original run in 2022, though there have been a couple of changes for this incarnation: Director Chris Abraham’s in-the-round production has been retooled for proscenium stage, and adaptor Liisa Repo-Martell has stepped in to play Sonya (though bahia watson returns to the role next month).

- Toronto: The heart of the scene is to be found east of Yonge from indie theatre companies this week. Heartless – the last instalment of Genevieve Adam’s New France Trilogy – has its final performance at the Aki Studio on Sunday, while Other Hearts’ production of Quartet – a 1980 play by East German playwright Heiner Muller based on Les liaisons dangereuses – opens at VideoCabaret’s Busy Street theatre on Thursday and runs to Jan. 21.

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