10 Toronto stage artists to keep an eye on this winter

From emerging directors staging ambitious projects to veteran lighting designers illuminating intimate spaces, here are the artists heating up 2024’s first quarter

1. Siavash Shabanpour (Director) — Migraaaants

Until now, Shabanpour’s Two Thousand Feet Up Theatre Company has stuck to small, scrappy venues like Sweet Action Theatre. But its upcoming production, the Toronto premiere of Matei Vișniec’s dark comedy Migraaaans, will be at the sizable Theatre Passe Muraille main space and feature a cast of nearly 20. The company has hinted that Shabanpour’s approach to the play will be immersive with multimedia design. An ambitious undertaking indeed.

Migraaaants runs from Sat., Jan. 13 to Sun., Jan. 28 at Theatre Passe Muraille. Click here for more information.

2. Cole Lewis and Patrick Blenkarn (Creators) — 2021: Mechanisms to Hold

This Guilty by Association offering is a follow-up to Lewis’s autobiographical 1991, which made innovative use of live projections when it played as part of Why Not Theatre’s 2019 RISER program. Lewis and Blenkarn are presenting an in-development staging of 2021 at Tarragon Theatre’s second annual Greenhouse Festival, an exciting residency program that emphasizes process over product. Expect heartfelt subject matter rendered via beautiful, experimental design. (And, at $15, tickets are relatively cheap.)

The Greenhouse Festival runs from Thurs., Jan. 11 to Sat., Jan. 20 at Tarragon Theatre. Click here for more information.

3. Luke Reece (Playwright/Performer) — As I Must Live It

Theatregoers might know Reece as the associate artistic director of Soulpepper Theatre, but he’s also a decorated slam poet. He’ll be showing off those skills in the world premiere of his play As I Must Live It, a Theatre Passe Muraille and Modern Times Stage co-production directed by Daniele Bartolini. Puns and projections in tow, the performer will share his experience growing up in a mixed-race family with a mentally ill father.

As I Must Live It runs from Sun., Feb. 11 to Sat., March 2 at Theatre Passe Muraille. Click here for more information.

4. Christopher Allen (Performer) — Rockabye

Allen’s been on a tear recently, turning in electric, impassioned performances in shows like Redbone Coonhound and The Master Plan. Before he leaves town this summer to make his Stratford Festival debut, he’s playing Tobias in Rockabye, the latest from ARC Stage. Directed by Rob Kempson in its Canadian premiere, Joanna Murray-Smith’s fast-paced dark comedy promises to be the perfect vehicle for another bold turn from the actor.

Rockabye runs from Fri., Jan. 26 to Sun., Feb. 11 at Factory Theatre. Click here for more information.

5. Sabryn Rock (Director) — Truth

The director-playwright duo behind the 2022 hit our place, about a Caribbean restaurant in Scarborough, is reuniting for the world premiere of Truth at Young People’s Theatre. Rock, also a noted actor, will direct Kanika Ambrose’s adaptation of The Gospel Truth, a sweeping 2014 novel by Caroline Pignat. Looking ahead to the spring, Rock is set to direct shaniqua in abstraction at Crow’s Theatre, a world-premiere solo show from Bahia Watson. So looking forward to watching Rock tackle these two very different pieces back to back.

Truth runs from Mon., Jan. 29 to Fri., Feb. 23 at Young People’s Theatre. Click here for more information.

i am your spaniel (Photo by Henry Chan)

i am your spaniel (Photo by Henry Chan)

6. Dasha Plett and Gislina Patterson (Creators) — We Quit Theatre Anthology

Plett and Patterson are the minds behind We Quit Theatre, a Winnipeg-based performance collective that uses irreverence and experimentation to challenge theatrical norms. This January, it’s performing three of its creations in one packed week at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. It’s rare to be able to see multiple different works from the same theatre artists in quick succession — and rarer still for those works to be connected by such a clear aesthetic mandate.

We Quit Theatre Anthology runs from Tues., Jan. 16 to Sun., Jan. 21 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Click here for more information.

7. Makambe K. Simamba (Performer) — Three Sisters

The cast of Soulpepper and Obsidian Theatre’s production of Inua Ellams’s Three Sisters is unbelievably stacked, but it’s especially great to see Simamba taking on the role of Udo, one of the titular sisters, in this riff on Chekhov. The actor most memorably displayed her virtuosity in her solo show Our Fathers, Sons, Lovers and Little Brothers, one of the first post-lockdown productions to hit Tarragon Theatre. Directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu and with a runtime of over three hours, Three Sisters should provide Simamba with an even bigger canvas to work her magic on.

Three Sisters runs at Soulpepper Theatre from Thurs., Feb. 29 to Sun., March 17. Click here for more information.

8. Emilio Vieira (Performer) — The Two Noble Kinsmen

Over the last few years, Vieira’s been climbing the ranks at the Stratford Festival, leading to a pair of explosive 2023 performances in Richard II and Grand Magic, both at the Tom Patterson Theatre. Coming up is a rare chance to catch him in Toronto, playing one of the titular roles in a new Shakespeare Bash’D production of The Two Noble Kinsmen, an underrated play co-written by the Bard.

The Two Noble Kinsmen runs from Thurs., Jan. 25 to Sun., Feb. 4 at The Theatre Centre. Click here for more information.

9. Heidi Strauss (Choreographer/Performer) — between me and you

Strauss is the artistic director of adelheid, a company that creates dance and performance works centring relationships — whether interpersonal, environmental or spatial. The group is part of Citadel + Compagnie’s Creative Incubator program; likewise, Strauss is premiering a new solo, between me and you, at the lively Regent Park contemporary dance venue. It’s slated to investigate the inconsistency of memory by playing with audience interaction.

between me and you runs from Wed., Feb. 14 to Sat., Feb. 17 at Citadel + Compagnie. Click here for more information.

10. Bonnie Beecher (Lighting Designer) — Dion: A Rock Opera

It’s not news that Beecher is one of Canada’s most consistently exciting lighting designers. But considering her collaborations with prolific director Peter Hinton-Davis tend to be large in scale — at places like the Shaw Festival, the Canadian Opera Company and the National Arts Centre — it’ll be exciting to see what the duo does with Coal Mine Theatre’s intimate space for the world premiere of Ted Dykstra and Steven Mayoff’s Dion: A Rock Opera. With a nine-person cast, the show looks to be an extraordinarily ambitious undertaking for the small company; and thanks to Beecher, there’s no doubt it’ll have gorgeous visuals.

Dion: A Rock Opera runs from Sun., Feb. 4 to Sun., March 3 at Coal Mine Theatre. Click here for more information.