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Craig Lauzon. Photo: Scott Cooper. Courtesy of undercurrents festival.

Show picks from the 9th annual undercurrents festival—until 02.16.19

By Eric Coates on January 31, 2019

Eric Coates is the Artistic Director at Great Canadian Theatre Company

Every year at this time I summon the nerve to announce my picks for undercurrents, knowing that my reasons for prioritizing one show over another may not make sense to the lay theatre-goer. My taste in performing arts constantly shifts according to whatever is particularly interesting to me, professionally and personally.

Not unlike the person who has tired of heavily-hopped ales and artisanal bacon doughnuts, I occasionally find myself longing for the simplicity of a good old Saccharomyces pastorianus-based lager and a Saltine cracker. This is where I love to find the real essence of life—in pairings of the simplest ideas that create complexity.

Raising Stanley/Life with Tulia

Performed by Kim Kilpatrick and Tulia | Directed by Bronwyn Steinberg | Paintings by Karen Bailey

Tulia, Karen Bailey & Kim Kilpatrick. Photo: Justin Van Leeuwen. Courtesy of undercurrents festival.

Full disclosure: GCTC played an arm’s length role in the development of this work, thanks to a chance meeting at a community symposium on partnerships. I overheard Karen Bailey talking about Stanley the dog and, after insinuating myself into the conversation, determined that this was a worthy project.

From the outset, I was beguiled by the idea of visual art co-existing with stories of life with a guide dog. Bronwyn Steinberg’s production had a terrific initial run in GCTC’s studio last summer, and now it’s gaining momentum as other festivals catch wind of its unique aesthetic. Kim’s stories, infused with her irrepressible sense of fun, and Karen’s sumptuous, colourful paintings are a beautiful tonic for the bleak midwinter.

Coach of the Year

Created and directed by Pierre Brault

Photo: Justin Van Leeuwen. Courtesy of undercurrents festival.

I’m tempted to say that I want to see this only because I can’t believe that Pierre Brault has written a show but isn’t appearing in it. But I would never say that because it would come out wrong and people would think that I’m dissing Pierre Brault, the actor. Poppycock. I would do nothing of the kind.

What I’m saying here is that I like it when playwrights tackle naturalistic, conventional narratives, written to be performed in real time with a different actor assigned to each role. Why do I like it so much? Because it’s friggin’ hard work and I wish that people would appreciate just how difficult it is to do. I saw the first iteration of this at the Extremely Short Play Festival a few years back and I felt that, in addition to its timeliness, it was the most promising piece in the line-up. I’m delighted to see it emerging now as a longer piece, hopefully poised for further production.

Tales of an Urban Indian

Created by Darrell Dennis | Directed by Herbie Barnes

Craig Lauzon. Photo: Scott Cooper. Courtesy of undercurrents festival.

I am ashamed to say that, despite a few opportunities, I have not seen this production. No excuses. Talk is Free Theatre launched it in Barrie, of all places, and it has been making an impact on public transit ever since. Am I maligning Barrie by saying “of all places”? Maybe I am. If you take issue with that, please feel free to tweet your heartfelt defense/celebration of Barrie.

Now, back to the task at hand: I love it when site-specific work transcends the form by making the site an integral character of the show. In this case, the bus ride itself seems like a metaphor for colonial/Indigenous relations, as two cultures are trapped together inside a vehicle when one of them decides to sound off.

Also, the idea of using my Presto card to see a play makes me laugh.

The 9th undercurrents festival is running from February 6–16 at Arts Court Theatre (2 Daly Ave). Tickets cost $20–25 online and admission to some shows is on a pay-what-you-can basis. Visit for the full lineup and schedule.