BWW Special: Crow's Theatre to Make a Nest in Toronto's East End
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by Kelly Cameron
Crow's Theatre has been doing exciting and innovative work on the Toronto theatre scene for almost three decades, and now they are about to embark on their biggest and most ambitious project to date. Under the helm of Artistic Director Chris Abraham, Crow's Theatre is set to become the theatrical epicentre of Toronto's East End. Plans were announced today for the construction of a brand new theatre and cultural space inside a condo development planned for Dundas and Carlaw that will serve as home to Crow's as well as become a hub for artists and theatre lovers who live east of the Don Valley Parkway.
The landscape of Toronto Theatre has been changing for many years, with people crying out that we need to take a long hard look at what we want to be known for as a city. Long gone are the days of the commercial mega musical on which we made a name in the nineties, and yet in many ways we have yet to find our niche for the new millennium. Critics and supporters alike have been stating that the key to Toronto's future success as a worldwide theatrical leader is for us to stop lamenting the days of yore and start looking towards the future and examining how we can foster continued growth, excitement and most importantly engagement among the residents of the city.
This is exactly what Crow's Theatre plans to do with their new space. The East End of Toronto claims 1.3 million people as residents and yet still does not have a theatre to call its own. The mid-sized theatres which have seen much success over the last few years in our city are almost exclusively located in Toronto's West End, with most of our large houses being in the central 'entertainment district'. As the East End continues to grow, Crow's Theatre hopes to grow with it and provide residents of the area with a place they can call their own. Abraham described their vision by stating that his 'profound desire is to be a trailblazer in cultivating a new audience in the East end of the city. We have examined this challenge and perception of waning audiences and asked ourselves how could we lead the charge of engaging that problem. We want to make a commitment to the neighbourhood and grow an audience there that will be filled with young, adventurous risk takers who artists throughout the city will clamour to play to.'
With an ambitious vision and the help of city councillor Paula Fletcher, Abraham and Managing Director Monica Esteves got in touch with Streetcar Development, a condo development company who are focused on rethinking urban living. The visions aligned and the two companies agreed to work together on building something unlike anything Toronto has seen before. The new condo building will house a performance space that Crow's can call their own, featuring a 200 seat flexible space and a smaller 1300 square foot studio and rehearsal space plus a lobby/bar/bistro that will be capable of accommodating cabaret style performances. As Monica Esteves said 'it was serendipitous. It will be a community hub on the ground floor of a beautiful condo building.'
Abraham is excited for the opportunity to not only build a theatre and a community in the East End (which he and Monica both call home) but also the chance to be the Artistic Director of not only a theatre but a presenting venue as well. When asked what he felt the biggest challenge would be, he stated 'creating a sense of belonging to what we do. I want our neighbourhood and our audience to feel like we are interested in addressing the world in which they live, and providing a forum and a context for them to have meaningful and emotional experiences with art.' Esteves agrees and adds that long term feasibility is also a challenge but one which they are well prepared to handle. 'We've built a business model which could be financially sustainable and which is very robust in terms of breadth of both feasibility and operating models. We have been strategic in mitigating risks and have utilized a lot of resources to help increase our chances of long-term success.'
And as for the state of Toronto theatre? Does Crow's think it is really as dismal as many critics would have us believe? 'I think my answer is in my actions,' Abraham says. 'I think there are audiences out there for us to find. As theatre practioners it is our job to do the heavy lifting if we want to build new audiences and make the general public care more about what we do. We have to make it possible for them to have meaningful and life changing experiences at the theatre. If we do that, we will create new theatre goers.'
That is exactly what Streetcar Development and Crow's Theatre hopes will happen when The Carlaw North Stage opens in 2015. Together they hope to give people not just a great place to live, but a place to truly call home. And in the process hopefully they will inspire a new generation of theatre goers, and play a big part in helping Toronto define its role on the theatrical world stage for the new millennium.