Now in its twentieth year after its resurrection in 1993, the University of Toronto’s annual Drama Festival has returned to Hart House Theatre this weekend. Since its founding in 1936, the Festival has launched the careers of many, and serves as a showcase for students, especially now in its 15th year of accepting only original student work. 

Playwright and actor David Yee will be adjudicating this year’s festival. Yee is a playwright-in-residence at Tarragon Theatre, and has been awarded the Governor General’s Literary Award for his work carried away on the crest of a wave. The student productions are eligible for awards including ones for technical achievement, playwriting, and best direction.

Read on for a preview of each of the nine shows that will be performed as part of this year’s U of T Drama Festival. 

Thursday, February 9

  • Family Portrait / St. Michael’s College — Troubadours

Family Portrait is a deeply personal look at familial trauma; playwright and director Kat Hatzinakos hopes the audience will be able to see their own family reflected in the characters.

Of the inspiration for the play, Hatzinakos says that the story is based on her own family’s history, and that she “found it remarkable that although we never openly discussed our trauma, we discovered other outlets for telling our story.” By channeling the pain and difficulty of her family’s experience into a new medium, Hatzinakos hopes to bring the story back to life.

  • Swipe Right / Woodsworth • Innis • New • Drama Society (WINDS)

Inspired by the alternately comedic and aggravating aspects of online dating, Swipe Right attempts to bring a “cheeky” perspective to the more discriminatory aspects of dating apps.

Savana James, who cowrote Swipe Right along with Mackenzie Stewart, says she hopes the audience identifies not only with the characters who face discrimination within the play, but also the ones doing the discriminating. Director Nicole Bell echoes this sentiment, saying “having the audience connect with all the characters on stage will hopefully help people see that sometimes what people say can be hurtful, regardless of intention.”

  • Just the Fax, Ma’am, Just the Fax / UC Follies

This marks Lucas Loizou’s fourth year participating in the Drama Festival, and his first year having submitted his own original work. He describes Just The Fax as a “world made up of fragmented dreams” that explores the tensions between our psychic and social lives, the fantasies we conjure for ourselves, and the characters in our lives.

“That’s where magical realism lies,” he said. Loizou also described director Deniz Basar’s vision of the play as a portrait in cartoonish and bright colours, while “encouraging a goofy, clownish atmosphere.”

Friday, February 10

  • Mama / UTM Drama Club

Shaquille Pottinger says that Mama was inspired by his desire to tell a “uniquely Black” story — one that serves as a showcase for the “many talents of Black artists who study at this very institution.”

Director Fuchsia Boston says that Mama might seem like a deceptively simple play about a conversation between two sisters. However, the structure of the play gradually reveals new depths to each of the characters, some of whom have dark histories. This served as an anchor for Boston, who aimed to have the actors “highlight reasons their characters are human and how they can connect to them.”

  • A Lullaby and an Apology / Woodsworth • Innis • New • Drama Society

The second offering from WINDS is a story that aims to respond to the problem of bigotry and overgeneralization in the media in the name of realism.

Playwright Cy Macikunas says that the play was written with the goal of telling “a story with diversity that isn’t about the tragedy of being different.” He also acknowledged the opportunities offered by the festival, saying “I just think it’s a brilliant idea, theatre made by and for other students. It provides a platform that many of us wouldn’t have, or wouldn’t attend otherwise.

On the takeaway for viewers of the play, Macikunas said, “If I wanted to make anything clear, it’s that this world we’re in is always changing, always falling apart, and it’s okay to look after yourself first, and it’s okay to be falling apart.”

ARTS_U_of_T_Drama_Festival_Precoverage-PHOTO_COURTESY_OF_GRACE_MANALILI-Trinity_College_Dramatic_Society_TCDS_production_Suzanne

PHOTO COURTESY OF GRACE MANALILI

 

  • Suzanne / Trinity College Drama Society

When asked about his inspiration for Suzanne, writer and director Jonathan Dick describes one image, at length — a photograph of a woman clutching the chest of a girl to whom the woman’s son’s heart had been donated after his death.
“I remember feeling so touched… I found that sentiment really quite beautiful, that idea of hearing the heart of a loved one beat one more time,” Dick said.

He also explained that many of the people who impact us the most are our loved ones, leading Suzanne to ask the question: what do we do with the things they leave behind? Without giving too much away, Dick said he hopes viewers come away with not only an emotional response but also a resolve to discuss organ donation with their loved ones.

Saturday, February 11

  • A Perfect Bowl of Phở / Victoria College Drama Society

Writer Nam Nguyen was inspired to write A Perfect Bowl of Phở after reading an article that discussed the more intriguing elements of the history of the traditional Vietnamese dish, leading him to realized that “pho was interesting enough to write about.” What resulted was a humorous musical touching on the Asian-Canadian experience that includes songs such as “Vietnam Pimpin’” and “Refugee Flow.”

Director Abby Palmer also noted the timing of producing a show about immigration, saying that upon reading the script, “it was… evident that this story of Asian-Canadian youth, historical characters, and refugees needed to be told in Toronto, right now.”

NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

  • Touch / UC Follies

Marium Raja’s Touch centres on Florence, who has difficulty making contact and forming connections with others. Raja says, “the need to reach out to someone but not knowing how to, the ease of touching someone who you have a strong connection to — these are things that everyone I know has dealt with at some level.”

In casting Touch, Raja emphasized diversity, wanting the characters to reflect the people she had come to know at university.

  • Monsters / UTM Drama Club

Monsters aims to examine the weighty topic of sexual assault with compassion. Director Kailtyn White says that audience will find the use of movement in the play compelling. “I was lucky enough to work with women who are incredibly connected to their bodies and understand how to tell a story through them,” said White.

While the crux of the play is to be taken seriously, White also noted that “if we were to make Monsters a straight drama, it would be draining.” Instead, she aims to incorporate elements of humour without being disrespectful towards an story that, though is a reality for many, is often underrepresented in media.

The U of T Drama Festival runs at Hart House Theatre from February 9-11.

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