Less “spice” and more good theatre

My blogging has been delayed this week as I have been working feverishly to successfully open the Paprika Festival. It launched on Friday evening at the Tarragon Theatre and thankfully it was a great success. If you’re not sure of what the hell I’m talking about I’ll explain. The Paprika Festival has been in operation for about 9 years now, functioning as an annual festival featuring the work of young theatre artists under the age of 21.  It happens every March in the second floor studios of the Tarragon. In its history it has fostered a great number of emerging artists who now work professionally in the Toronto theatre industry. This year is a very different year with a new artistic producer, Rob Kempson, and a primarily new executive staff including myself. The branding of the Festival has shifted significantly and there are several new initiatives, one of which includes an Alumni program that showcases work from artists over the age of 21 who have been in Paprika from past years.  It’s an evolving festival and one that I’m proud to see grow.

Something that has become a crucial mission for this new team of producers behind this festival, is how the artists involved are being recognized, as artists. Paprika is a charity in terms of being a charitable organization, but it is not a charity in terms of saving “at risk youth” by putting them in drama class. This isn’t to say that “at risk youth” are not valued, it simply isn’t the focus for this festival. There are many organizations who cater to these community members by offering programs that keep young people involved in creative pursuits. As new producers of this Festival, we have been battling an odd stigma about what goes on at Paprika. There is a stigma that we help “youth” by getting them to do drama pieces and therefore the work is not good, it’s just a bunch of kids. Not true. We figure that anyone in this program is here to become the next wave of professionals in the Canadian theatre scene and for this we treat them as such: artists. They’re asked that their work be personal and that they continually push themselves to try new creative methods. This is all in thanks to our professional Mentors who, on embarrassingly small salaries, guide the participants throughout the year.  I think we’re beginning to change how many view what this organization is, and that’s pretty great.

The work that I have seen so far from the artists in this Festival is honest, brave and committed. There is a wonderful energy that they’re bringing to the Tarragon and I think our Adjudicators are taking note. Daniel MacIvor, our Adjudicator on opening night said something along the lines of “I don’t know what’s going on at this Festival, but someone is doing something right, the work is fantastic”. Come check it out for yourself, it’s still on until Saturday March 27th. Every night at 8:00pm in the Near studio of the Tarragon. Also not to be missed is the Studio-Cabaret series beginning at 9:30pm each night featuring bands and performances by a range of amazing artists.  You should see the Cabaret space, designed by Robin Fisher… it looks sexy.

Also you should know that SummerWorks own Michael Rubenfeld is a mentor for one of the productions this year, a play entitled “Thinking Too Hard” by Ben Gilgan. I saw it last night and it was very funny. Hope you can come on out!



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