Groomed for it

by Kasey Dunn, http://www.brickandmortartoronto.com

I could have been one of the four women who came forward from Soulpepper to call for an end to the abuse in their workplace. I could have been one of them, being grilled about why I kept accepting jobs. Trying to explain that I had no other option, and couldn’t say anything. Those four women represent many.

I went to theatre school at George Brown, right across the hall from Soulpepper. I met many of the actors named in these articles. I met Albert Schultz. I remember him telling us that he was the most important man in Canadian theatre, and that we should take every opportunity to get to know him. I heard all the rumours; we used to whisper about them in the lobby. “What are you willing to do to get the job?”

As Kristin Booth alluded to, actors are groomed to believe abuse is normal. That grooming begins in theatre school.

How to Start a Cult
Fear and guilt are central. A fearful person is one who cannot think critically, allowing the leadership to maintain control.

We lived in a constant state of fear. You could be cut at any point if the faculty decided you were not talented enough. We were told that this would make us better. We came to accept and even celebrate it, hoping for our friends to be culled to make the herd leaner, stronger, better, leaving more roles for us.

When I was in second year, I was simultaneously a lead in two plays, and was stage manager for a third. It would all be presented as part of a 6 play performance. After the dress rehearsal, I was taping the props table as the director gave notes. He asked me if I played the ukulele.

No I didn’t.

Could I learn before tomorrow?

No. I couldn’t.

“Come on, anyone can play a ukulele. Even a monkey could do it,” came a voice from my peers.

I began to cry. I was exhausted, I was sick, I was overwhelmed. I was trying to track props and remember all my lines for the 10 hour long production, afraid that I was a bad actor, and ready to be kicked out. No, I could not learn the ukulelele over night. Sorry.

I got a poor mark on my report card. “Too thin-skinned” said my notes.

Isolation – Cults cut off members from the world. There is no free time to think or analyze. Members may be deprived of adequate sustenance and/or sleep.

We were in school from 9am-10pm, 6 days a week. At times, the days were even longer than that. We were hungry, tired, and sick. We weren’t allowed to take sick days, so we would be at school with bronchitis, touching each other and sharing small spaces. Our breaks were minimal, sometimes as short as 20 minutes for lunch. I went to the administration once, to ask if we could please have a longer lunch. I was instructed not to complain. Many before me had done it. Was I not going to be able to cut it?

You cannot legally pay people to work the hours we worked, or to be treated the way we were. Yet we paid them for the chance to be there, and feared we might be asked to leave.

When they thought we were getting too chubby they introduced mandatory 8am cardio classes.

Induced Dependency and Elitist Mentality – The group is all that is good. As part of cult tactics, members are made to feel special. Cults demand absolute, unquestioning devotion, loyalty and submission.

We were told that George Brown is the best school, with the best instructors, and the best reputation. You are lucky to be here. Be thankful. Thousands auditioned, and you were chosen – so make the most of this opportunity. Our teachers were above reproach. Their demands were to be met without question. There was no one we could go to when we felt something was wrong. The structure of the school was a hierarchy of fear.  

If you ask a question about a note you are given, you are labelled “defensive, hard to work with.” The correct response is silence, and to simply do it.

We had one teacher who would repeatedly show up unprepared for class, and we were falling behind on our dialect and accent work. Our directors were constantly telling us that our accents were an embarrassment. When we told the administration that we were falling behind, our concerns were brushed aside. Tired of this, I purchased a book with CD’s to help myself learn the accents I needed, and introduced my classmates to the book. When the administration found out, I was called to the office on lunch (which I missed) and reprimanded for reading a book that I didn’t have permission to read, for undermining the instructor by reading it, and for ring-leading this “revolution.” I was told not to read the book again.

The ends justify the means. Because the leaders are doing very important things members are led to believe that their behaviours are justified.

I remember our acting instructor appealing to us for pity once, after a particularly hard class. “Imagine what I go through,” he said. “I wade through the trenches year after year with these terrible young actors. Trying to make them better. It’s hard. Imagine watching this garbage!”

I remember feeling bad for him, for how hard his job was – this man who had just told me that he had a hard time thinking of me as a woman, or imagining men being attracted to me – because he was doing god’s work.

This same man who told my best friend that she seemed like “one of those kids who was caged in the basement for years.”

Who told me that I belonged on the 4th floor somewhere, filling out forms from 9-5.

Who I watched degrade classmate after classmate, for being too gay, too prudish, too inexperienced (are you still a virgin?) too stupid, too smart, too tall, too unattractive. There were no boundaries. After all, we were making better actors here – and actors have to be open and ready for anything.

The member may be pressured to publicly confess sins, after which he is viciously ridiculed by the group for being evil and unworthy.

The worst sessions were the acting classes when you would stand in front of the class while the instructor picked and prodded to find your psychological weaknesses. They would comment on your age, height, weight, style, musical taste, and personality trying to find the key to unlock you and break you. Did your parents beat you? Were you the “fat kid”? Were you made fun of? We would admit to our worst secrets, which would consequently be used to explain to the class why we were bad actors.

They say acting school is about breaking you down so that they can build you back up. First of all, what kind of garbage is that, and what the fuck is it even supposed to mean? But secondly, I must have missed the ‘building up’ half, because I graduated believing that I was “too tall, and awkward about it,” “Over the hill (let’s face it you’re no spring chicken),” “weak and thin-skinned,” while also “too hard to work with and defiant.”

Dread – Once complete dependence is established, the member must retain the leader’s good favor or else his life falls apart.

Dread is the definition of my life for those 3 years. I woke up in the morning dreading going to school. I would cry.  I dreaded evaluations. I dreaded one-on-one meetings where extremely personal and inappropriate things were said that you would be pushed to laugh about over beers with classmates later. I also dreaded being kicked out. End of career. Only those who were successful would ever be true artists.

I could have been one of those four brave women, but I don’t know that I ever would have found the courage to speak up. I don’t know that it would have crossed my mind as an option. I don’t know that I would have been able to realize anything was wrong with the picture, because Albert Schultz would just have been the next person in a long line of people who had held my career in their hands and told me that I should live in fear while thanking them.

Maybe I was lucky. I didn’t get a great job at Soulpepper fresh out of school. I was slogging it in audition rooms, with agents and casting directors, classes and headshots. I had a lot of time and failure that allowed me to realize that there were some pretty big sacrifices that I wasn’t willing to make. I started my own theatre spaces with a belief and a dream that there was another way to tell stories that would let you be your own boss, and not at the mercy of someone in an extreme power imbalance. I found my partner, Vikki, who was also on a hunt for a different solution – and together we built our company Brick and Mortar. Read her story here.

Together we are trying to change the conversation, and help other artists break themselves out of the cult. Brick and Mortar will not be a part of accepting what we have been taught or allowing it in our spaces. We do not want anyone experiencing that dread when coming into our studios. We have begun developing a zero tolerance policy within our spaces and a support network where female identifying people can feel safe to report abuse. If you’d like to participate or hear more, there is a form at the bottom of this article.

Thank you to Diana Bentley, Patricia Fagan, Kristin Booth, and Hannah Miller.


How to start a cult sources:
https://people.howstuffworks.com/cult4.htm
http://www.decision-making-confidence.com/cult-tactics.html

 

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Ashtrays, empty pint glasses, ex-lovers… We can’t wait to see The Elephant Girls!

“Without doubt, they were the most notorious girl gang Britain’s ever seen.” –Brian McDonald, The Gangs of London Clever.

A fascinating piece of lost women’s history, this is the gripping tale of the all-female gang which terrorized London for over 100 years. Parry Riposte Productions tells us that The Elephant Girls is a story both captivating and repelling, humorous and terrifying. You won’t be able to look away. We wanted to know more about this hit play, coming to the 5th Annual One More Night Festival.

If your show was on Netflix, which category would it be in?
British True Crime Drama

What would my 90 year old Grandma love about your show?
The sex and violence.

What would my 90 year old Grandma hate about your show?
The sex and violence. (One 83 woman marched out of an Edinburgh performance, shouting “That’s disgusting! Filth, filth, filth!”).

What would Donald Trump tweet about your show?
“Nasty woman. Loser. So sad!”

If your show had a Tinder profile, what would you put on there to make me Swipe Right?
Maggie Hale — Convincing straight girls to “give it a go” since 1917.

What else should people know about this show?
The show has queer content, features a lesbian character, performed and written by a lesbian. On your way out of the theatre, you will be asking yourself: Did that really happen? How much of the story is true?

Twitter: @margo_thespian @PRPtheatre
Instagram: @margo.thespian
Facebook: The Elephant Girls, Margo MacDonald, Parry Riposte Productions

Get your tickets: HERE

Elephant_Girls_Promo_3⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – CBC
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Planet Nation
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Capital Critic’s Circle
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Winnipeg Free Press
“Best of Fest” and “Critic’s Pick” – Ottawa Fringe
“Critic’s Choice” – Hamilton Fringe
“Must See” – Arts Ally
“The Elephant Girls is one show you must see…bracing, vivid, sharply-observed.” – Lynn from Toronto

“The Forty Elephants” was a gang that terrorized London, England for over 100 years. And their members were 100% women.
With a pint glass in hand, Maggie Hale—the gang’s suit-wearing, bloody-knuckled, girl-chasing,”Enforcer”—tells the forgotten tale of how the Girls lived high on a lifetime of crime, and how it all came crashing down.

😱🤣😎😍 #LostStory #TrueStory #CrimeDrama #GirlGang #GrippingStory 

Written and Performed by: Margo MacDonald
Directed by: Mary Ellis

Previously Performed: Ontario Street Theatre: Southern Ontario tour 2017, Hamilton Fringe 2017, Winnipeg Fringe 2016, Edinburgh Fringe 2016, Ottaway Fringe 2015

Get your tickets: HERE

Joanne O’Sullivan, a Veteran in Standup, Explores How She Grew Funny

She Grew Funny was a hit at the 2017 Toronto Fringe, and sold out the last three shows. We are thrilled to give audiences one more chance to catch Joanne O’Sullivan in The One More Night Festival.  The autobiographical show – a mix of the funny and serious –  asks: “What did losing your mother so young do to you?” She Grew Funny is a look into the age-old connection between tragedy and comedy and how our pasts can irrevocably affect our future.

We asked Joanne to tell us why audiences love this show, and she kept us giggling with her answers.

What will we see in your show that we haven’t seen before?
Me, three months older.

What emojis best describe what you see on audiences’ faces when you perform this show?
Is there a “everyone’s face is completely obscured because I’m staring into a spotlight” emoji?

If I followed the main character of your show on Instagram, what would my feed be full of pictures of?
Two enormous cats and her very cute 7-year old daughter.

What would Donald Trump tweet about your show?
“At first I was like, who writes a show about their dead mother? Sad. But then I found out the dead mother was HOT. Tremendous play.”

If your show had a Tinder profile, what would you put on there to make me Swipe Right?
Joanne. Holding a mic. And when she’s nervous she really grips it.

What does your show give me that cat videos on Youtube can’t?
I’m not sure. Few things are better than cat videos on Youtube. But at 50 minutes in duration, She Grew Funny won’t keep you from cat videos very long.

Tell me what I should know about the playwright. Bonus points if they rhyme.
Joanne is a comic who wrote a play,
It’s the third that one she gets to say,
It was the hardest to write, but her pain did pay,
’cause Brick and Mortar gave her one more day!

As you leave the theatre, Joanne hopes you will be left thinking about how her tale relates to your own stories.

She Grew Funny plays Friday, October 20, at 9pm
The Commons Theatre
587 College St Toronto
Get your tickets HERE

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NNNN – Now Magazine
“Top 12 Fringe Pics” – Derrick Chua, Intermission Magazine
“O’Sullivan is a true original” – Toronto Star
“What an amazing, inspiring night. Thank you, Joanne O’Sullivan. I was deeply, deeply moved.” – Jacklyn from Toronto

When a person deals with loss and tragedy at a young age, what do they become? Writer for CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes and The Baroness Von Sketch Show, Joanne O’Sullivan tells a touching, funny and true story of how her life changed when her daughter turned 6, the same age she was when her own mother died of Cancer.

🤣😳😭😍 #LaughAndCry #Comedy #SoulOTheatre #BringTissues

Written and Performed by: Joanne O’Sullivan
Directed by: Chris Earle

Circles “could be one of the best pieces of theatre to come out of Toronto this year…”

Circles might be based on The Inferno of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, but Dead and Lovely Collective promises us we will leave the theatre thinking: “I never thought a 14th century religious text could rock so hard!” We asked them a few questions about their upcoming production in the 5th Annual One More Night Festival.

Describe how audiences react to Circles, using Emojis only.
🍆 😱🙈🤢😎👺

If your show was on Netflix, which category would it be in?
Critically acclaimed independent features, Cult sci-fi & fantasy, Showbiz Dramas, Faith & Spirituality Movies

Who is this show for?
Anyone who loves music! It is a totally unique approach to music in theatre. It’s a mix between a rock concert and a play, with a bit of magic.
Ok… maybe not your 90 year old grandma. Its loud, and it’s dirty.

If I followed the main character of your show on Instagram, what would my feed be full of pictures of?
Broken glass, dive bar bathroom pics, out of focus concert pics (from fake concerts staged in their garage)

What are critics saying about Circles?
“To be clear here, Circles isn’t a jukebox musical; every one of the 22 live songs are original pieces by Lucas Penner, and musically they’re fantastic. The songs are catchy and unique, blending spoken word, jazz, punk and dark pop together to create a mosaic of styles that works really well with the anarchic feeling of an open mic evening.” – Vance Brews, Mooney on Theatre

This is a story of a band called Dante playing at what they think is a regular open mic, but turns out to be an infernal trap and night of horrors.
Come for the tunes, stay for the rest of eternity!

Circles plays Thursday, Oct 19 at 9pm
at The Commons Theatre
587a College St

Get your tickets HERE

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In this adaptation of Dante’s Inferno, a band called Dante plays what they think is an open mic. As this innocent performance turns into an infernal trap and a night of horrors, their friendships and musical careers are put to the test.
Post-punk, jazz, dark-pop, theatre. This production is redifining how music works in theatre with 20 original songs by coposer Luke Penner woven into a compelling and complex narrative.

😱😳😂😈 #Musical #LiveMusic #Thriller #AdultsOnly
Created and Performed by: The Dead and Lovely Collective

Previously Performed: The Cameron House, 2017

Get your tickets HERE

Mockingbird Close will leave you asking: “What Really Happened??”

“Fake news! These people are lying. Totally unfit parents. Should be locked up. That wife is a beautiful, gorgeous woman though. At least she has that going for her.
– Imagined Tweet from Donald Trump, if he had seen Mockingbird Close.

Mockingbird Close is a Canadian play that had never been produced outside Alberta until INpulse Theatre mounted it at the RED Sandcastle Theatre in September 2017. It is edgy, unique, and fully entertaining. We believe that Torontonians deserve to experience 55 minutes of pure, unadulterated entertainment one more time, so we sat down with the team of INpulse Theatre to ask more about what we can expect from Mockingbird Close at the 5th Annual One More Night Festival.

First of all – what does your show give me that cat videos on Youtube can’t?
Why should I leave my house?
Mona Hobbs. ’nuff said. See the show. She’s the human “sad cat diary” video, but live!

What will we see in your show that we haven’t seen before?
Two actors play seven characters: Leonty and MacInnis play an entire neighbourhood over the course of less than an hour, and they never miss a beat!
Physical, stylized movement.
No one is who he or she seems!

If your show was on Netflix, which category would it be in?
Dramedy, Drama, Dark Comedy, Suspense

What have people said about this show after previous productions?
“haunting”
“gripping, darkly funny”
“it borders on absurd without ever losing itself.” – Mooney on theatre
“Leonty and MacInnis are a two-person master class in their performances” – Cowbell

You’ve been asked to perform your show in front of city council before they make final decisions on a big new law. What laws are they considering passing?
“All Neighbours must participate in the Block Parent Neighbourhood Watch”
“No witches allowed in Mockingbird Estates”
“Babies should be allowed to wear dresses and bows whether they are boys or girls”
“Policy on Adultery – Be faithful to your spouse in 1956”

How can we follow you on social media?
FB: @INpulseTheatre
Insta: @inpulsetheatre
Twitter: @INpulse_Theatre #mockclose

We say: Come for the facts, but stay for the fiction!

Mockingbird Close plays Sunday, October 21nd at 9:00 PM
The Commons Theatre: 587a College Street
Part of The One More Night Festival 
Get Tickets: HERE

MockingbirdClose_Poster-3006-Edit-2_0-485x323
⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Edmonton Journal
“It’s haunting” – Mooney on Theatre
“Part fairy tale, part psychological thriller” – Life with More Cowbell
“A theatrical buffet” – Vue Weekly
“Grabs you by the throat” – Megan from TorontoMeet the perfect 1950’s family; Iris, hank and their small son. They live in a nice home, in a nice, crime-free, gated community.
Then something happens and their little boy disappears. Nothing make sense and the neighbours aren’t helping.
In this haunting, intense drama, two actors play both the devastated parents and the neighbours they beg for help.😱😳😰😍 #Suspense #Dramedy #Mystery #WhodunnitWritten by: Trevor Schmidt
Starring: Tiana Leonty and David MacInnis
Directed by: Ryan F. Hughes
Produced by: Tracey Beltrano and Tiana Leonty

Get Tickets: HERE

Szeretlek is About Making Love, Not War!

The Grand Salto Theatre is the company behind the award-winning play, Szeretlek: A Hungarian Love Story.
They have travelled across Canada, performing their show in 7 different Fringe Festivals.  They have received rave reviews, standing ovations, sold out houses and even an award for “Most Adorable Show.” They are a company based out of Toronto, and yet they have never performed in Toronto.
That is until now!
We sat down with the creators behind Szeretlek: A Hungarian Love Story, to talk about their upcoming, one-night-only performance in The One More Night Festival.

First of all, tell me three things I should know about the playwright and creators of the show.
1) Playwrights/performers Zita Nyarady and Myque Franz are husband and wife.
2) They interviewed Zita’s Grandmother for the show.
3) Everything you see on stage happened in real life.

What else will we see in your show that we haven’t seen before?
The combination of true storytelling, masks, dance and linguistics!

If your show was on Netflix, which category would it be in?
Historical documentary and Romantic foreign film with a touch of comedy

What emojis best describe what you see on audiences’ faces when you perform this show?
😍


What would my 90 year old Grandma love about your show?
Our show is about Zita’s 90 year old Grandma! Grandmas love this show.
That’s true! Why Toronto, why this show, and why now?
The show is about love and how love can grow in dark times.
We are from Toronto but don’t often perform in the city. After performing this show at seven fringe festivals across Canada we are excited to have it’s Toronto debut at OMNF.
If the main character of your show had Instagram, what pictures would my feed be full of?
Stylish hats.

While we’re on the social media topic, if your show had a Tinder profile, what would you put on there to make me Swipe Right?
Pictures of 19 year old Katalin Szabo in 1946 or pictures of 90 year old Katalin Szabo in 2017. She was a hottie. She still is a hottie.
What does your show give me that cat videos on Youtube can’t?
Cat videos don’t teach you Hungarian.

If we were to turn your show into a documentary, we might rename it:
 How to survive ________ in Canada.

How to survive Being Hungarian in Canada

What is the one thing you want audiences to be talking about as they leave the theatre?

“How did they do that?” “Love can blossom in even the darkest times.” “I have an idea on how to perform/write/draw/archive my family stories!”

How can we follow you on social media? 
@TheGrandSalto (Twitter and Instagram)
https://www.facebook.com/thegrandsaltotheatre (Facebook)

Szeretlek: A Hungarian Love Story plays Sunday, October 22nd at 7:00 PM
The Commons Theatre: 587a College Street
Part of The One More Night Festival 
Tickets: HERE

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⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2 – Winnipeg Free Press 
⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2 – Vue Weekly
“Most Adorable Show” – Ottawa New Critics 
Charming and Fun” – Theatre in London 
“This was, by far, my fave.” – Ron, theatre-goer from Winnipeg

On the eve of her grandmother’s 90th birthday, playwright Zita sat down with her grandmother and interviewed her about her life. What she didn’t expect was to hear a touching, heart-string-pulling love story about her grandmother’s first love in a tiny, war-torn, Hungarian Village.
Two actors perform a factual and comical re-telling of a beautiful and true love story, set in 1946.

😲😍😂😚  #LoveStory #HungarianCulture #Nostalgia #TrueStory #Mask #FolkDance #Comedy 
Written and Performed by: Zita Nayrady and Myque Franz
Directed by: Maria Wodzinska

Tickets: HERE

Keeping A Roof Over Our Heads

It’s 6:58 a.m. I wrench myself away from sleep to answer my phone.

“I need you here,” says Vikki, my best friend and business partner. “I can’t handle it alone.”

As seen in Intermission Magazine.

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Illustration by Emile Compion

 

I speed to our newest arts space and am greeted by a piercing fire alarm. Water is dripping from the ceiling into the board that controls the alarm, and it won’t shut off. The system is fried. In this moment, I learn that the word horror can be defined as learning that all three toilets in the bathroom above are clogged and overflowing.

Abandoning the alarm, I make my way to the stairs, and an unexpected smell hits me. Something more than just dirty bathrooms must lie ahead. Pot? Yep, that’s pot. Despite my growing trepidation, I realize the pounding sensation in my chest isn’t just coming from my racing heart. Drums are also thundering around me.

Wait…. why are there drums?

I reach the top of the stairs and in one sweep take in the full crisis. A commercial production company has rented our theatre today to film a project involving a fifteen-piece kettledrum band, and they arrived at 7:00 a.m. Surrounding the drummers are empty mickeys of vodka, rum, and gin, left behind from last night’s event. I have never seen bottles that big. The floor is covered in cigarette butts and loose tobacco that the production team has hastily swept to the edges of the room in their best effort to make the space usable for their shoot. Everything is sticky. Scattered drug baggies embellish the disarray. We worked hard to book this production company, and now we’re going to have to refund them a large rental fee.

In a fog, I make my way to the office where Vikki is holding our hostage: the young man who rented the theatre last night to host an “emerging artist showcase” event. A showcase for teen and preteen musicians, with no alcohol allowed, the contract had specified. In a final act of poor judgement, he had returned this morning to retrieve a sweater he’d left behind. Vikki dials the number for his parents as I hold up the condom I peeled off the bottom of my shoe.

I look him in the eyes.

“I’m just… disappointed,” I say.

I am a theatre artist. I started out trying to “make it” as an actor in the traditional sense. I would go to auditions, book commercials I was embarrassed to be seen in (a vegetarian selling KFC? come on…), and face the normal rejection over and over. Sick of constantly feeling unfulfilled, I decided to try to “make it” in a literal sense. As in, make my own art.

The first time I decided to self-produce, in all my naive glory, I called up Factory Theatre. “Hi, I’m a recent theatre school grad putting up a show. Do you offer discounts for young and emerging theatre companies?” The answer was no. I was outraged. Did they not know that I was an artist and I didn’t have money and my story was important?

After a hunt on SpaceFinder, I found a small indie theatre space called the Grocery, and I opened my production there. For the first time since graduating from theatre school, I felt really happy. I was creating something that I believed in, that I was proud of. Best of all, I had made it. Only a year after opening, however, the Grocery was forced to close, and I was faced with a stark reality: there was no where else for me to go. But I also saw this as an opportunity. If I was struggling to find space, there had to be other artists in the same situation. Instead of going back to auditioning, or searching for other theatres to rent, I began hunting for a commercial unit of my own that would allow me to continue making work while providing space for others. I found a beautiful little spot, just a block from the Grocery, and opened the Attic in October 2015.

Little did I know, Vikki had gone through an almost identical journey of her own and was already running a studio and theatre space: the Box.

Our meeting was serendipitous. Vikki rented the Attic from me to rehearse one of her productions because the Box was fully booked. She called me during her rehearsal, in the dead of winter, because the furnace had suddenly stopped working. I sprang into action, rushing over to play HVAC technician and customer service rep, apologizing profusely while replacing the parts I had Googled. She didn’t yell at me for ruining her rehearsal, and I didn’t leave her stranded in the cold, so it was basically love at first sight. We knew that as a pair we would be stronger, so we married our spaces to build Brick and Mortar, and opened a third space together.

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You’ll be surprised to know that as little girls, we didn’t dream of growing up to be furnace fixers, toilet uncloggers, locksmiths, and general contractors. Running an arts space is not glamorous. Some days, it feels like all we do is mop floors. What we love to do is tell stories, to be involved in bringing people together. Our spaces provide a place for people to deliberately exist in a moment that will never happen again. The Attic offered a way for me to produce my own work, but it quickly grew into something bigger: a vehicle to help artists share their stories with the world. When we achieve that, it makes it all worthwhile.

Toronto has watched many small spaces close over the past year. We said goodbye to the Grocery, Unit 102, the Fort, Videofag, Storefront Theatre, Fraser Studios, and the Fringe Studios, and we are now losing Storefront Studios.

One of our own spaces was forced to close last year, too. We had finally reached a point where we could hire some help for cleaning and maintenance, so were conducting interviews. The first candidate beat us to the theatre and was waiting in the lobby with the envelope they had found taped to the front door. I made small talk as I led them inside and opened the letter.

Evicted.

My heart hit my intestines and my face burned. Evicted. I tried to mask my inner panic.

Vikki arrived and called for help from the front door. I excused myself and peered out the window to my lovely partner who was single-handedly hauling up the couch she had found for free on the side of the street. “You may want to leave it outside,” I called down. She saw my face and just knew.

They evicted us to renovate. We were invited to return after the work was complete at triple the cost. Knowing we couldn’t ask our artists to absorb such an increase, we began hunting for a new space. Navigating commercial tenancy in this city is a story all to its own—rent is exorbitant, and it seems there is no shortage of creepy real estate agents who joke about slipping us roofies or ask to film us doing renovations in bikinis. Don’t get me started on the landlords.

After our eviction, we felt like we had failed. Failed our business, failed the community, failed each other. Through that failure, however, we learned how to write better contracts and how to protect ourselves, and we gained clearer insight into what artists really need. This knowledge fuelled our search for the perfect new location. We were incredibly fortunate to find an established arts space that was closing its doors: Opia Studios. We took over the location and reopened as the Commons Space in January 2017. It was bittersweet to add a space while losing another.

Our main competition is backyards, living rooms, parks, and condo lobbies. If artists are going to spend their money on an arts space, then it had better meet their every need. The list of expectations is great: a clean, private, beautiful space stocked with furniture and tech equipment, managed from a distance with respect for their artistic process. And we have to consider the demands of neighbours and landlords, along with managing the bills. The expectations are great, even though the budgets never are.

Our greatest strength? The artists. There is no shortage of creators who want to create. Every year, more and more artists take up the torch and start searching for a space where they too can “make it.”

I often think back to the time I tried to rent Factory Theatre. They did know I was an artist, and that I didn’t have any money, and that my story was important to me. Yes, they knew. But they also knew that their work is too important to put themselves at risk of closure. It wasn’t until I began running Brick and Mortar that I could see the bigger picture: artists need affordable arts spaces, but in order for those spaces to stay open and flourish, they have to earn enough to be sustainable.

The people who run arts spaces are fighting for you. We are you. So be kind. Be patient. Do not ask for free space. If you have no budget, offer something else: your time, your work, profit shares. Please be understanding when discounts aren’t possible. If you arrive to find the garbage overflowing, forgive whatever slob left it that way. If you want to go the extra mile you can even take it out! We apologize for the hot dog that someone left between the couch cushions, and for the bagel that was dropped in the greenroom. Know that we are on your side and we are just as disappointed as you are.

We are in this together.

And, please, don’t host secret illegal raves and call them all-ages emerging artists’ events.

We really don’t like that.