This past weekend, U of T’s drama coalition hosted the annual U of T Drama festival. First established in 1936, and then resurrected in 1993 by Trevor Rines, this festival brings together U of T’s theatre communities from all three campuses. This three-night event grants U of T students the opportunity to present original one act plays on the historical Hart House stage, compete for awards, and receive feedback from the festival adjudicator. This year, the event was adjudicated by Autumn Smith, a Canadian artist, director, curator, and educator who has worked with companies such as the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus, U of T/Sheridan, The National Ballet/Stratford Project, The Shaw Festival, Tarragon Theatre, George Brown Theatre School and Canadian Stage to name a few. The adjudication provides students with critical feedback that they can use to improve their productions in the future. Many of the one acts featured in the Drama festival have gone on to be professionally staged, and over the years, the drama festival has featured performers who have gone on to become stars of stage and screen, most notably Ted Fellows, David Gardner, Don Harron, Arthur Hiller, William Hutt and Donald Sutherland.
Friday night’s line up featured three productions, Statistics written by Shreya Jha, directed by Anastasia Liu and presented by the SMC Troubadours, Outstreached, written by Emily Powers, directed by Jennifer Dufton and presented by the Trinity Collage Drama Society, After Icarus, written by Max Ackerman, directed by Mackenzie Burton and presented by the U of T Mississauga Drama Club.
Statistics was conceptually strong and humorous in places. This science themed musical connected the story of the famous scientist Rosalind Franklin with the struggles of a fourth-year pre-med student, and tackles themes of misogyny in the sciences and the pressure to perform in a competitive field. The show offers unique insight into the struggles of women in the sciences, however, Statistics has moments that border on cliché. Statistics shows a lot of promise, yet it lacked finesse in terms of writing and structure, which ultimately weakened the quality of the production. This is an ambitious show with great potential and a lot of great dialogue, but it could definitely benefit from a bit more workshopping.
Outstretched featured strong performances by the entire cast. Outstretched follows Kate, a young woman coping with the loss of her ex-girlfriend. A show predominantly about struggle, loss and self-love, Outstretched features beautifully written monologues about coping with death, rejection and self-loathing. There is a particularly beautiful piece delivered by Victoria Watson-Sepejak about dealing with an eating disorder. It was written like spoken word and delivered with heart and earnestness. This show is full of great moments, and with a bit of pairing down it has the potential to be a very strong play.
After Icarus displayed the most technical skill of the night in both writing and direction. This post-apocalyptic drama situates itself within a larger literary tradition, drawing references to a number of outside sources. A blend of young adult dystopian fiction, Greek mythology, social criticism and Samuel Beckett, After Icarus was the most conceptual piece of the night. After Icarus follows two travellers as they attempt to escape a corrupt and barren nation after a social collapse. The production had a beautifully designed set that payed homage to Beckett. Dark trees were silhouetted against a blood orange sky and the effect was both haunting and whimsical. Marissa Monk gave a stellar performance in her dual role as Ring Master and Farmer and the entire production was subtle and sophisticated.
The U of T Drama festival offers young theatre artists at U of T the opportunity to grow in their work as artists and gives audiences the unique opportunity to see the first iteration of productions that have the potential to expand beyond the confines of the festival space. The festival also allows theatre organizations across all three U of T campuses to connect and learn from one another. The U of T drama festival is an annual event and a long-standing U of T tradition. It you didn’t have the opportunity to attend this year I highly recommend attending in the future, if only to become more familiar with the variety of theatre taking place across U of T.
The U of T Drama Festival 2019 ran from February 7-9 at Hart House Theatre.