Celebrating its twentieth year, FOOT showcases the performance and academic work of both students and professors at U of T’s Graduate Centre for Theatre and Performance, as well as new pieces from around the world. Over the past two decades the festival has established itself on a global scale, often welcoming keynote speakers of international significance. This year, along with professors Helen Nicholson from the University of London and Kathleen Gallagher from U of T, Swedish playwright and professor Suzanne Osten will be giving an address. “Osten literally revolutionized children’s theatre in Sweden and she’s very popular in Europe, so we would like to introduce her to Canadian audiences and Canadian academics,” said Art Babayants, one of two artistic director’s for this year’s festival, and graduate student at the Centre.
Of the festival itself, Babayants said, “It’s a place where students have a place to present their own work; their own research and artistic work...It’s an experience-building place.” As both a theatre festival and academic conference, FOOT explores and engages with different formats and conventions of theatrical production. Theatre is more than simply putting on a play; it often includes audience participation. “One of the wonderful things about theatre is that it’s very in your face once you’re there.You may hate it, or you may love it, but it’s hard to escape,” added Babayants.
The theme of this year’s festival is “Theatre and Learning,” with three streams of focus: applied theatre (think, theatre in the classroom), theatre for social change (think, political theatre) and theatre for young audiences (think, Degrassi: On Stage). “I personally think that all theatre is inherently linked to learning,” said Babayants, stressing the importance of fostering a “faith in theatre” at a young age. “Something that Susan Osten did, is she introduced the taboo topics to young audiences, things like divorce and violence,” Babayants continued. “Instead of avoiding dangerous things, you can introduce them and discuss them, and young people can have their voice in those works as well,” he added.
Theatre - particularly independent theatre - should always challenge audiences to open their minds. At FOOT, the audience has the chance to turn that challenge back around through post-show round-tables, which offer the opportunity for comments, questions - even debates. The floor is open for playwrights, performers, and professors to discuss their productions and research with the audience in the theatre lobby; here, challenging the ideas and choices of those behind the theatrical magic is not only tolerated, but warmly encouraged.
So, if you’ve ever been curious about what goes on behind the curtains and closed doors of U of T’s academic and theatrical elite, checking out FOOT is a step in the right direction!