Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) has had a busy September. With a new Executive Director, a 10th anniversary national tour, and historic livestream in the works, it’s fair to say the gamble of founder and Artistic Director Joel Ivany is paying off.
As of September 16, 2019, Robin Whiffen took over the reins as the company’s first Executive Director. Whiffen holds a Bachelor of Music degree in voice performance from the University of Toronto, and is a Masters of Business Administration candidate at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. She worked with Opera on the Avalon in St. John’s, culminating in the role of General Manager. She’s a passionate advocate of opera as an art form, and has been invited to speak in that role across the country.
Whiffen shared her thoughts in a media release. “I am excited to join Against the Grain as Executive Director. I look forward to working in collaboration with Joel, the AtG Collective and the Board of Directors to continue to push the boundaries of the operatic art form, allowing audiences to see themselves reflected on stage through the power of the human voice.”
The appointment comes along with some other shuffling of personnel, including the move from Artistic Advisor to the more public position of Associate Artistic Director for Miriam Khalil.
Along with the administrative growth, to commemorate its first decade, AtG announced its first national tour, remounting their acclaimed production of La Bohème, and taking their updated brand of opera to bars, legion halls, and other intimate settings across the country.
The tour kicks off in Alberta on September 27 at the Banff Legion, and then travels back east, with dates in Calgary, Medicine hat, Regina, Brandon, and Winnipeg. It then hits Ontario with performances in Kenora, Thunder Bay, and Sudbury, before landing in Toronto with several dates at the Tranzac Club, a staple of the Annex since 1931. After that, AtG makes history when the tour moves on to Whitehorse, and Dawson City as the first opera staged in the Yukon in more than a century. The tour will encompass 23 performances in all.
La Bohème is the production that started it all for AtG back in 2011. AtG’s production re-imagines Puccini’s much loved opera into a makeover that turns the moody setting of the 19th century Paris Latin Quarter into Toronto’s Tranzac Club. The touring company will feature an all-new Canadian cast, most of them graduates of the Opera in the 21st Century program at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. The Banff Centre is co-presenting the tour.
With the libretto translated into English, the roles have been given a Toronto makeover too. Tenor Marcel D’entremont sings the role of Rodolfo, a screenwriting hopeful, and soprano Jonelle Sills sings the part of Mimì, a florist. COC Ensemble grad Clarence Frazer (baritone) sings the role of an illustrator and OCAD grad named Marcello, and Musetta, his philosophizing artist girlfriend, is sung by soprano Danika Lorèn, another COC Ensemble alumna.
Baritone Andrew Adridge as Schaunard, a street musician, bass-baritone Giles Tomkins as PhD student Colline, and baritone Greg Finney as the landlord Benoît, and Alcindoro, an investment banker, complete the cast. Award-winning director, AtG founder and Artistic Director Joel Ivany directs, with Music Director David Eliakis at the piano.
The Tranzac Club can only accommodate so many audience members, even over several dates, but opera fans don’t have to make it in person, or even be present in Toronto to catch the October 13 performance. In collaboration with the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and CBC Arts, AtG’s October 13 performance of La Bohème at Toronto’s Tranzac Club will be livestreamed on CBC Gem. It will be the very first professional opera livestream in Canada, giving AtG’s 10th anniversary added significance.
The livestream will be available across Canada at 7:30 p.m. ET (4:30 p.m. PT) on CBC Gem, and worldwide on the CBC Arts YouTube channel. Sally Catto, General Manager, Programming for CBC, commented in a media release.
“This modern take on La Bohème aligns perfectly with CBC Arts’ ongoing objective of elevating innovators who are changing how Canadians engage with the arts through contemporary, accessible storytelling and a fresh and distinct lens.”
All tour information is available at www.atgtheatre.com, with Toronto performances from October 11 to 25 at the Tranzac Club. Note that seating is cabaret style, with no assigned seats.