10,000 kids experience One Little Goat's "PLAY: A (Mini) history of theatre"

For Immediate Release: Toronto, May 11, 2017

10,000 elementary students in TDSB Model Schools for Inner Cities experience One Little Goat Theatre Company’s PLAY: A (Mini) History of Theatre for Kids thanks to Ontario Trillium Foundation grant

With a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, “Toronto’s enterprising One Little Goat Theatre Company” (New York Times) has performed the company’s first play for young audiences for 10,000 elementary school students. This completes the company’s tour of 39 of the Toronto District School Board’s Model Schools for Inner Cities, begun last fall and performed at no charge to the schools.

Written and directed by One Little Goat’s Artistic Director Adam Seelig, PLAY: A (Mini) History of Theatre for Kids makes the case that dramatic play is rooted in childhood games, empowering children as natural-born play-makers. Actors Richard Harte and “Mavis-the-Sometimes-Cat” (Jessica Salgueiro, alternating with Rochelle Bulmer) are featured in a performance that guides Grades 1-6 audiences through four distinct periods of drama:

  1. Early Beginnings: games around the fire
  2. Ancient Greek Tragedy: Antigone by Sophocles
  3. Japanese Noh Theatre: Zeami and 14th-Century Noh
  4. Modern Theatre: Alfred Jarry, Gertrude Stein and Samuel Beckett


“Sharing with young audiences some of the greatest moments in theatre, from the intensity of Ancient Greek tragedy to the absurdity of 20th-century modernism, is tremendously rewarding,” says Seelig. “All the learning, listening and laughing we do together in these gym performances, made possible by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, will contribute to the kids’ lifelong love of, and participation in, the arts.”

An agency of the Government of Ontario, OTF builds healthy and vibrant communities through investments in charities and community organizations: www.otf.ca.

Now in its 11th year, the TDSB Model School for Inner Cities program identifies 150 schools throughout the GTA with a large concentration of students living with limited resources, and aims to provide them with the opportunities they need to participate fully and equally in their schools and communities. http://www.tdsb.on.ca/Community/ModelSchoolsforInnerCities.aspx.

One Little Goat, North America’s only company devoted to contemporary poetic theatre, “has done audiences a huge service” (Toronto Star) through its highly interpretive, provocative approach to new and international plays. For over a decade, the company's Canadian and world premieres have garnered praise from the New York Times, Globe and Mail, CBC and others. One Little Goat is a non-profit charity based in Toronto: www.OneLittleGoat.org.

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Media contact: One Little Goat, 416.915.0201, onelittleg@gmail.com

Images available for download from www.OneLittleGoat.org/media

S—/W— Review: NOW Magazine

Disturbing Smyth/Williams avoids sensationalism

Staging of transcript of interrogation and confession of rapist/murderer Russell Williams – and the protests around it – focus on violence against women
by Jordan Bimm, March 7, 2017

Deborah Drakeford, Lynette Gillis and Kim Nelson steer clear of sensationalism in disturbing verbatim play. (Yuri Dojc)

Deborah Drakeford, Lynette Gillis and Kim Nelson steer clear of sensationalism in disturbing verbatim play. (Yuri Dojc)

No one clapped after this piece of disturbing, controversial and powerful verbatim theatre. Even though there had been plenty of talent on display, the audience silently reached a collec­tive decision not to applaud the words of one of Canada’s most heinous rapists and murderers.

The show is an all-female staged reading [staging] of the OPP transcript of the interrogation and eventual confession of Russell Williams, the former Canadian Forces colonel who in 2010 pled guilty to raping and murdering two women, sexually assaulting two others and committing dozens of sexually motivated burglaries and thefts. The 128-page transcript of Detective Jim Smyth’s questioning of Williams was released publicly and is easy to find ­online.

Director Adam Seelig has boiled down the hours-long conversation to 90 minutes, and cast three women to present the material. Performers Deborah Drakeford and Kim Nelson alternate reading Williams and Smyth, a choice that tamps down the sensationalism and puts women in control of the story – a very different thing than if two men were realistically acting it out. Behind them, live drummer Lynette Gillis provides hard-hitting solos where sections of the transcript are redacted – an effective counterpoint suggesting the violence missing from the cordial interview.

A turning point is reached when Smyth convinces Williams to drop his feigned innocence and confess. That confession includes Williams’s description and characterization of the crimes, and this part will likely be the hardest for people who’ve been affected by sexual assault or violent crimes.  

The work’s troubling power was underlined before the show by a group of protesters outside the theatre led by a close friend of one of the victims. They distributed an open letter to audience members citing a lack of consent from the victims and their families and the potential for the show and resulting media coverage to retraumatize the surviving victims and their loved ones.

“We have had no choice or opportunity to have our thoughts, comments or criticisms integrated into the content you are about to see.” The letter points to an online petition calling for the production to cease, which has 2,200 signatures. In the program, One Little Goat addresses “those who have reached out with concerns,” arguing that “there will never be a ‘good’ time to address horrific, traumatic events, yet we cannot afford to wait if our ­society is to make progress in their wake.”

It’s easy to feel empathy for the protesters, who raise valid concerns about the balance between protecting victims’ rights and pursuing positive change through remembering, confronting and learning from horrible moments in history. Their presence at the theatre added an important dimension to the experience of the show. No matter who is right, this is a deeply thought-provoking, well-crafted work that makes a good-faith attempt to avoid true-crime sensationalism and focus on the problem of violence against women.

S—/W— Review: Life with more cowbell

Getting to the truth, & touching on the why, about violence against women in the thought-provoking, chilling S—/W—

Deborah Drakeford, Lynette Gillis & Kim Nelson in SMYTH / WILLIAMS—photo by Yuri Dojc

Deborah Drakeford, Lynette Gillis & Kim Nelson in SMYTH / WILLIAMS—photo by Yuri Dojc

War and violence against women not only have similar social, cultural, and religious supports, they are mutually reinforcing. These supports allow societies to tolerate conditions in which a third of women and girls can be treated violently, without mass outcry and rebellion. When we challenge the attitudes and norms that enable violence against women, we are also helping to confront the conditions that support war.—Reverend Susan Thistlethwaite (included in the program notes for SMYTH / WILLIAMS)

Trigger warning: This post reviews a verbatim theatre production based on the transcripts of a police interview with a convicted serial killer rapist.

One Little Goat Theatre Company opened its all-female staging of the Ontario Provincial Police (O.P.P.) transcript of Detective Jim Smyth’s interview of stalker and serial killer Russell Williams in the Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) Backspace last night. SMYTH / WILLIAMS was devised and directed by Adam Seelig.

Staged in a dramatically rendered police interview room (set by Jackie Chau and lighting by Laird Macdonald), including two microphone stands, two chairs and two copies of the transcript, the set also includes a drum kit, situated up centre, behind a pile of cedar chips on a floor that depicts a map. The transcript is a notable prop, not only for its occasional and specific use by the two actors (Deborah Drakeford and Kim Nelson), but for the extent to which it’s been redacted—in some parts heavily so—and those portions of the conversation between Smyth and Williams are filled in on stage by drum solos (Lynette Gillis).

The over seven-hour interview, which took place on February 7, 2010, has been pared down to about 90 minutes in this staged verbatim performance, with Drakeford and Nelson switching back and forth between characters, both playing Smyth and Williams at various points in the interview. The trajectory of the conversation begins with Williams being questioned as a person of interest in multiple crimes in the Ottawa and Belleville areas, to his arrest as evidence becomes available and search warrants executed on his homes, to his confession.

The cast is to be commended for their specific, respectful and focused performances of this difficult, disturbing material. Drakeford and Nelson establish a compelling dynamic between Smyth and Williams. Smyth is presented as the classic “good cop,” conducting the interview in a respectful, methodic but gentle way. Williams is the strong, silent type; a military man of few words who serves his country and appears to cooperate in the interest of serving his community in this investigation. The result is a pairing of strong feminine and masculine energies, with the interview shifting from more easy-going conversation to urgent strategizing as new information surfaces during the course of the investigation.

I was a bit baffled at first as to how the drum solos were going to work in the context of filling in redacted sections of the transcript (this info provided by Drakeford and Nelson at the beginning of the play; they also hold up their copies, showing the large blacked-out portions of the text in these instances). Drums are a primal, beat-driving percussion instrument; and Gillis is a skilled musician, drawing out the larger redactions with kick-ass precision. It’s an interesting and innovative piece of staging for what cannot be said—and one can only imagine that the redacted sections contain the more horrific details of Williams’ crimes. As the confession unfolds, there is an increasing Riot Grrrl vibe to Gillis’s performance—the drums beating out in anger and protest.

The production has not been without controversy. Terra Dafoe, a friend and neighbour of Jessica Lloyd, one of the women Williams abducted, raped and murdered, is at the forefront of a group that’s spearheaded a protest against the presentation of SMYTH / WILLIAMS, which they argue is a non-consensual and re-traumatizing production that sensationalizes violence against women. Dafoe was present at the opening last night, handing out a one-pager that states their case and includes a link to their Lead Now petition. Here’s a sampling of interviews from both the production (via News 1130) and the protest (via CBC).

Full disclosure: I was wary of seeing this production. Although I’m a big fan of TV crime procedurals, SMYTH / WILLIAMS is not a TV crime procedural. It’s real life. This is not fictitious, made-up dialogue—this conversation really happened, between a real detective and a real rapist/murderer. The women Williams stalked, harassed, raped and killed were real people. And, like those protesting the production, I was concerned about the details that would be revealed, as well as the traumatic effect of the subject matter. I decided to see it because I was curious as to whether such a production would have anything of value to say about violence against women. And, naively, I was hoping to find a ‘why.’ Why did he do it?

What I saw was a production that does not serve up salacious details—in fact, the disturbing details are kept to a minimum and what is included is presented in such a way as to show Williams’ apparent detachment from his actions, as well as the atrocity of those actions, when the actors peer out from their male characters and speak as women. Ironically, the turning point for Williams comes as he learns that search warrants are being executed on his homes—and he becomes deeply concerned about the negative impacts on his wife and the Canadian Armed Forces. Whether his concern came from a place of love and honour, or from a place of losing his grip on domination and control, it appears to be what ultimately spurred his confession. And an even bigger question mark is why he did what he did. Even if Williams knew, he wasn’t saying.

While I agree that seven years may be too soon for a theatrical examination of this case, I also have to wonder how one puts an arbitrary time limit on loss, grief and that deeply troubling ‘why.’ Theatre is a medium that helps us to explore all aspects of humanity and human experience—from the gods to the monsters—and I believe SMYTH / WILLIAMS and its opening night audience treated this real life piece of the more horrific side of humanity with respect and dignity.

The quote included at the beginning of this post, taken from the program notes, connects the dots between war and violence against women. While not a fulsome answer to the ‘why,’ it does give us a glimpse into the workings of a social infrastructure that supports ongoing violence against women and girls; and one from which a man like Williams emerged. I believe that widespread outcry and rebellion are growing, and that such push-back is amplified by the grief and rage incited by crimes like these, as well as the election of misogynists to high office.

There was no applause after the cast left the stage. No curtain call. A moment of silence for several moments followed before the audience gradually began hushed conversation and exited the space. This was not a reflection on the performances. Like the production, the audience wanted to treat the memories of the women that Williams harmed and murdered with respect and dignity—and in this way, the production and the petition are in agreement.

Getting to the truth, and touching on the why, about violence against women in the thought-provoking, chilling SMYTH / WILLIAMS.

This is not a production for everyone. If you decide to see SMYTH / WILLIAMS, there are some important questions you need to ask yourself. Why are you going to see it? Do you think the production contributes to the conversation about violence against women in a meaningful way? And if you happen to cross paths with Dafoe or another protestor, treat them with respect, hear what they have to say and read the hand-out. Free speech goes both ways—and both the protest and the production have important things to say.

SMYTH / WILLIAMS continues in the TPM Backspace until Mar 12; book in advance onlineor call 416-504-7529.

FLARE Magazine Interview: Kim Nelson & Adam Seelig on S—/W—

S—/W—: CanCon True-Crime With an All-Female Cast

“Staging it with women gives women a chance to take back the story that’s about them,” according to Smyth/Williams star Kim Nelson

ACTOR DEBORAH DRAKEFORD, DRUMMER LYNETTE GILLIS AND ACTOR KIM NELSON MAKE UP THE ALL-FEMALE CAST OF THIS NEW TRUE-CRIME PLAY, SMYTH/WILLIAMS (PHOTO: YURI DOJC)

ACTOR DEBORAH DRAKEFORD, DRUMMER LYNETTE GILLIS AND ACTOR KIM NELSON MAKE UP THE ALL-FEMALE CAST OF THIS NEW TRUE-CRIME PLAY, SMYTH/WILLIAMS (PHOTO: YURI DOJC)

By Erika Graham, March 3, 2017 — A new Canadian true-crime play called Smyth/Williams is staging the real-life police interview that led to the confession of serial killer Russell Williams—with two women, one of whom is a person of colour. In the 2010 interview, former Canadian Forces Colonel Russell Williams admitted to the sexual assault and killings of two women and describes, in haunting detail, how he did it. Canadian actors Kim Nelson and Deborah Drakeford (one of NOW Magazine’s Top 10 Theatre Artists of 2016) alternate reading the eerie transcripts from the perspectives of both OPP Detective Jim Smyth and Williams. According to Nelson, the concept behind the constant switching of characters was originally because it was so difficult for one actor to read all of Williams’ words out loud.

Friends and family members of Williams’ victims have already come forward to try and put an end to the show, saying it is insensitive to sensationalize an event that was so traumatic for them. But, according to the show’s director, Adam Seelig, the purpose of the show is to empathize with the victims and their families and to incite change. FLARE sat down with Nelson and Seelig to discuss what’s it’s been like working on a play that’s rooted in tragedy and controversy, and how an all-female cast has allowed these women “to take back the story that’s about them.”

What was your response when you first heard about the concept for Smyth/Williams?
Kim: There was a little hesitation. It’s a hard subject because of wanting to be cognizant of the families and their pain. But at the same time, it’s important for me to take more active steps in terms of not just sitting back and seeing these injustices being committed and then just forgotten. There’s a really great quote that I had read: “art that ignores violence, abandons the victims.” There are a lot of things this case stirred up that need to be talked about and addressed. For that reason, I thought it was important to be a part of the project and to be able to help.

All the transcripts and video footage from the Russell Williams interview are available online to the public. What is the significance of telling the story through theatre?
Kim: The thing is, YouTube you watch alone in your room, right? Theatre allows us to experience this in a communal way, collectively, to share whatever feelings arise. Hopefully the show will surround us with empathy and a feeling of safety—that we have people who we can experience this with and share this with. Hopefully that safety allows us not only to admit to whatever vulnerabilities it brings up, but also work together towards ways of preventing these things from happening again.

Were there any discoveries you made while working on the project that surprised you?
Kim: I was surprised by how much anxiety it actually brought up in me and how much fear [I had] of my lack of security in the world. I literally found myself sometimes at home terrified that someone would break in. Unfortunately, I have had an experience in my 20s where someone broke into my apartment and went through my underwear drawer [an act Williams confesses to in the transcripts]. So, things like that came up. My feeling of security as a woman walking in the world—the idea that those forces that are supposed to protect me [high-ranking officers like Williams] aren’t always there to protect me. They might be the ones to hurt me. Let’s not hide it. I’m also a black woman, so that makes me more visible. It brought up a lot of anxiety that was really hard to work through but at the same time it made me realize how important it is to speak about it. And to put it out in the open, because dealing with that alone can be mind-numbing sometimes.

Can you pinpoint specific elements of the transcript that brought out those insecurities?
Kim: First of all, the people that you would normally call to protect you—the people who are out there to defend you—are the ones you’re afraid of. Already, that is just like, what? That’s terrifying. Just thinking about that violation of your intimacy, coming into your space and putting on your clothes [Williams confessed to stealing women’s clothes from their homes and performing sexual acts while wearing them]… It’s entering your skin! It’s that taking-on of your experience and your self. That’s a terrifying thing to think about.

What do you think is the significance of an all-female cast?
Kim: Staging it with women gives women a chance to take back the story that’s about them, right? To discuss it and also create a safe space for the audience to be able to maybe view this story in a less directly violent way and give them the space to reflect—just to feel, to feel what this does for us as a society.

How has it been embodying a male character?
Kim: Personally, I haven’t really thought about it as embodying a male character. It’s just been more about the psyche of the person saying what they’re saying. We all have male and female energies, right? So it’s trying to see where these two individuals were as they were saying these words, in a more psychological fashion. One of the things about this is that it’s not really a play, per se. Ninety-nine per cent of what we’re doing is reading from the transcript. We didn’t want to dramatize what happened. We’re not looking to sensationalize it in any way. The real idea is sharing in the experience of what happened so that we can start a conversation. We have to say the words, which is hard enough. Oddly enough, when we first did it, the idea was so that no one should have to read all of Williams’ words, just because there’s just so many emotions that it brings up to have to speak those words. But at the same time, reading Smyth’s words is very hard as well. Thinking of someone that has a clear moral compass ,having to listen to these words and still have to remain very open in order to continue his work, is hard. Just the words: there’s no way to escape the emotions.

Does Smyth know about the play?
Adam: Yes, he does.

Some of the friends and family members involved in actual the case has reached out and said they don’t want the play to be mounted. What’s kept you going?
Adam: This may have been seven years ago and it may be, technically, part of Canadian history but it is something that is still an open wound for so many people. It’s one that is very much a national trauma that we haven’t really had an opportunity to discuss in an empathic forum. This is a major responsibility that we feel to have that compassionate conversation surrounding this material, this subject and specifically this transcript.

Kim: It’s not in spite of the family’s reactions that we’re doing this. On the contrary, we’ve tried to be very empathetic. What they’ve gone through is horrendous. We also have to bear in mind that trauma that happens to one person doesn’t just happen to one person. We saw that it happened to a community, we saw that it happened to a country. It happens within the human fabric. We all feel the repercussions of trauma. We don’t feel it as intensely as the victims or their families, but there is something. When an injustice is done to one person, everyone feels it. We need to start being able to step back and look at our personal responsibility and what we can do to try to heal that trauma, or at least prevent that trauma from happening to someone else. If we can start talking about it, then hopefully we can start working towards that.

What are you hoping audiences take away from Smyth/Williams?
Adam: Bearing witness to a trauma that has taken place. From the Holocaust and Hiroshima, to 9/11 and École Polytechnique, forgetting is very dangerous for our society.

S—/W— Review: Mooney on Theatre

S/W— brings cold, hard facts to Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille

In 2010, Russell Williams was arrested for two rape-murders, and other counts of sexual assault, confinement, and breaking and entering. One Little Goat Theatre Company’s Smyth/Williams playing at the Theatre Pass Muraille Backspace is a dramatization of the transcript of Williams’s interrogation by — and subsequent confession to — OPP Detective Jim Smyth.

It is infuriating, nausea-inducing, and exhausting, sitting on the uncomfortable line between a necessary performance and giving an unnecessary platform to a man who doesn’t deserve our attention.

Kim Nelson and Deborah Drakeford read the transcript, switching back and forth between Smyth/Williams as the facts of the case slowly and painfully unfold. They are joined on stage by Lynette Gillis, a drummer, whose thundering percussion illustrates entire censured sections of the text.

This is not a performance you can take lightly. Nelson and Drakeford present their roles with a cool confidence that, combined with the simple set-design of an off-kilter interrogation room by Jackie Chau and an eerie lighting design by Laird Macdonald, fills you with dread.

Everything in this show is inevitable. We already know that Williams was convicted. We can look up the interrogation online. And that’s what makes that dread so much worse. I was sitting in that theatre thinking, it’s hopeless. There’s nothing you can do as you listen to the interrogation unfold. What good is it, now? I wondered, near tears and feeling sick as Drakeford — playing Smyth — presents Nelson with the incontrovertible evidence of Williams’s role in the murders.

My guest loved the fact that women were front and centre, taking the words of a predator and murderer and turning it into a call to action. In fact, that appears to be director Adam Seelig’s goal, to subvert the sexual violence Williams embodies. In the program the company argues the show “raises awareness of, and challenges the toxic culture underpinning sexual violence against women and girls.”

Does it, though? While I think there’s a ton of merit in what I saw, I don’t know if you can subvert the words of predators like this because, sadly, it feels like it gives them what they want: they get the stage and the victims get side-lined.

Smyth/Williams works to disparage the violence. Drakeford and Nelson all but drip contempt as they detail aspects of the case, but who is hearing it?

Is this staging for the women in the audience who already experience the violence? Is it for the men who want to speak out? Is it for the audience that will never see a show like this because it challenges them?

I think One Little Goat handled the material wonderfully but there’s no easy answer to these questions, no guarantees subversion will actually subvert and not reinforce the status-quo. The risk inherent in this particular text makes for an incredible show.

There was a silence in the theatre as the actors left the stage. Maybe everyone was waiting for them to reappear for their bows, but it didn’t feel that way. There were no wayward, awkward claps, no gentle murmuring between couples; just dead silence.

Details

 

  • Smyth/Williams plays until March 12, 2017 at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Ave.)
  • Shows run Wednesday to Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm
  • Tickets are $25 general admission, $20 for seniors, students, and arts workers; matinees are $15
  • Tickets can be purchased by phone at 416-504-7529, at the Theatre Passe Muraille Box Office 4 hours before the performance, or online here
  • Contains mature subject matter including graphic discussions of sexual assault and murder.

Photo of Deborah Drakeford, Lynette Gillis, and Kim Nelson by Yuri Dojc

Canadian Press Article & Video on 'S—/W—'

Creative team seeks to 'reflect on endemic misogyny'

Left to right: Kim Nelson, Lynette Gillis, Deborah Drakeford in One Little Goat's S—/W—

Left to right: Kim Nelson, Lynette Gillis, Deborah Drakeford in One Little Goat's S—/W—

By Lauren La Rose, The Canadian Press - TORONTO, March 1, 2017 – The creative team behind a controversial new play based on the police interrogation of convicted sex killer Russell Williams says they’re coming from a place of empathy.

“Smyth/Williams,” which debuts Friday in Toronto, is a reinterpretation of the lengthy, intense 2010 interview between Williams and Ontario Provincial Police Det. Sgt. Jim Smyth, in which the disgraced former military commander confessed to his crimes, including the murders of 37-year-old Cpl. Marie-France Comeau and 27-year-old Jessica Lloyd.

The 90-minute play features an all-female cast, with Kim Nelson and Deborah Drakeford alternating roles during the show.

The actors stand behind microphones at opposite ends of a sparsely decorated set while they read from the interview transcript. A folded military jacket and combat boots sit centre stage as a dividing line.

“We feel so much for these (victims’) families and what they’ve gone through, but we aren’t trying to sensationalize,” says Nelson. “That’s kind of the reason of sticking to the transcript and not bringing a lot of drama and (our) own interpretation to it.

“What we were hoping to do is create an empathic space where this material could be dealt with, and to help us all reflect on the endemic misogyny right now that exists in our culture — the sexualized culture we live in.”

Joining the duo onstage is Lynette Gillis, whose role as a live drummer is to play through the swaths of text redacted from the police transcript, says director Adam Seelig.

“From the very beginning of conceptualizing this production, it was very important that women’s voices be at the centre of it; that women’s voices subvert the male voices that are being represented here and start to control them,” he says.

“Just maybe having women speak it, it’s a more safe space for the audience to hear the words and to be able to more openly reflect on the piece,” adds Nelson, “and on the underlying causes of this misogyny and this violence against women.”

Once a rising star in the Canadian Forces, Williams was sentenced to life in prison in October 2010 after pleading guilty to the murders and 82 fetish break-and-enters and thefts, as well as two sexual assaults.

The production has faced sharp criticism and calls for its cancellation. Kirsten Walkom, a close friend of Lloyd and her family, told The Canadian Press in a January interview: “We need to stop sensationalizing violence against women and we’re not doing ourselves any favours in pretending this is entertainment.” An online petition argues the production forces families and friends to relive the horror of their loss publicly and calls for One Little Goat Theatre Company to reconsider staging the play.

The show’s venue, Theatre Passe Muraille, said in a statement that its role is to “provide a space where artists can freely express their opinions and explore the subject matter that compels them.”

Seelig says the creative team feels “a tremendous amount of responsibility” in telling the story onstage. “We’re doing our very best with it, and really, we do understand that it is difficult material,” he says.

“We’re hoping through the theatre that we can find a way rather than to not talk about it, to talk about it empathically. Rather than, let’s say, the way that the media will present facts dispassionately, to try to present these facts as compassionately as possible.”

For the the video version of this article, click here.
Smyth/Williams runs March 3-12, 2017 at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. For more click here.