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CULTURE

Opening night

Jim and Sandra Pitblado

Streetcar Crowsnest, a new home for theatre, is toasted in Toronto's east end

Following three decades of a nomadic existence, Toronto-based Crow's Theatre, renowned for fostering young talent in Canada, has found its forever home. Named Streetcar Crowsnest, the new theatre occupies the first floor of a 300-or-so-unit condo in the city's east-end neighbourhood Leslieville. Its builder, Streetcar Developments, donated $1.25-million to secure naming rights, and the resulting space – poised to become a multidisciplinary culture hub – opened with a bang.

The new theatre played host to its first gala on Jan. 29, and for many of the big givers who helped make it all happen, it was their first look at the space designed by Joe Lobko of DTAH Architects. While cocktails were being enjoyed in the lobby bar (an adjoining eatery from restaurateurs Erik Joyal and John Sinopoli is in the works), Crow's artistic director Chris Abraham – the man at the centre of the theatre's crusade to draw audiences and develop works for the stage – was making his rounds, introducing the playwrights and actors that the theatre supports to the movers and shakers in attendance, including early supporters Jim and Sandra Pitblado. On view that evening was an impressive lobby sculpture commissioned by the theatre to honour the philanthropic duo; the piece, titled Flock of Influence, is by artist and sculptor Jacob Yerex whose husband, Salah Bachir, co-chaired the do alongside Kate Alexander Daniels.

Actor and comedian Gavin Crawford was on emcee duties and introduced Nancy Lockhart, who chairs Crow's Theatre's board of directors and acted as honorary chair of this latest gala. She spoke to the crowd before introducing Abraham who thanked sponsors and donors for their ongoing support and underlined the important role a theatre of this nature will play in the revitalization of the neighbourhood. Dinner for the 150 or so in attendance was served in the new Guloien Theatre, which for the night had its perimeter dotted with marvellous white cherry blossoms. Inaugurating that very space in the weeks leading up to the gala was The Wedding Party, and the play's charming writer Kristen Thomson was in attendance. Also at dinner, to my left, was Andrew Kushnir, Crow's associate artistic director in residence and director of Freedom Singer, the maiden show to grace the Scotiabank Community Studio stage, which after its successful run in Toronto packed up and set off to tour the rest of Canada. There's still time to catch the final leg: The show draws to a close with performances in Montreal on Feb. 26 and Ottawa on Feb. 28.

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The Crow's Theatre's wide-ranging talent dazzled the audience with a handful of performances. Freedom Singer's magnetic lead performer and songwriter Khari Wendell McClelland was one; he was joined on stage by Tanika Charles and guitarist Noah Walker, which gave gala-goers a preview of the aforementioned show that traces and presents the songs of slavery and the Underground Railroad. Also performing to great applause was Sarah Slean, Sara Farb and the wonderful Brent Carver.

Out for the lauding of Streetcar Crowsnest and the talent it plays host to: Streetcar Developments founder and president Les Mallins and his wife Nancy; actress and artist Liisa Repo-Martell and actress Virgilia Griffith; Mongrel Media president and founder Hussain Amarshi; documentary filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal and her husband, director and producer Nicholas de Pencier; Nada Ristich, BMO Financial Group's director of corporate donations; The Hon. David Peterson, former Premiere of Ontario, and his wife, actress Shelley; and Crow's Theatre's managing director Monica Esteves.

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