2013 Next Stage Theatre Festival Review: Awake (Expect Theatre/Spark Collective)

Awake takes the true stories of Toronto area youth growing up in the grimy inner city and explore the trials and tribulations they face day in and day out. Told through the true testimonials and interviews from their mothers, this production casts an introspective light.

Awake is dedicated to the memory of Justin Shephard and Amon Beckles, two individuals whose tragic lives ebb and flow together forming the foundation for the story. The script is taken directly from the words spoken from their mothers.  Adding to the evolving tale are the additional statements lifted from the interviews of gang members, youth workers, youth in exit programs and the police.

The story evolves in a delightfully non-linear way that evokes a truly organic feeling. The stories weave into a tangible tapestry of raw and gritty emotion locking the audience in to feel and breathe with each moment as the tragedy blooms. The simple fact that every word is true – told by a mother who lost her son to gun violence; a woman who resorted to drug dealing to make ends meet; the minister at the boy’s funeral; and the police officers who had to sort through the mess – drives the story home.

As someone who spent her life growing up in the quaint and quiet suburbs, the harsh reality of the inner city existed in a world that was foreign to me – something that crime dramas sourced ideas from and that existed in the news. I knew it was real and I knew it existed but it was out of my reach.

Awake lifts away that veil to reveal a rather disturbing wake up call. People that grew up as a result of their existing environment, living a life not of their choice but one that choose them. As Beryl Bain who portrays Nadia, mom of Amon Beckles states, saying someone is a product of a broken home implies they knew another version of home.

Awake is the sum of all its dynamic parts including incredible a capella choral music, use of set pieces and staging, a dance break, projected imagery, sound, and the incredible actors that enliven the story. Beryl Bain and Quancetia Hamilton (who portrays Audette, mom of Justin Shephard) deserve much praise for the passion and vivacity they bring to their performances. My companion for the evening, Josh, also gave high praises for Richard Stewart who portrayed the Pastor, in how his delivery and tonality reminded him of a young Sidney Poitier.

When exploring the many gems that make up this year’s Next Stage Theatre Festival, be sure to include Awake in your list.


  • All Next Stage Theatre Festival performances are being held at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.)
  • Tickets for all shows are $15 for Evening Performances (7:00PM and after start time), $12 for Afternoon Performances (6:59 or before start time) and $10 for Ante-chamber performances
  • Showtimes and ticket information for Awake are available at fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival/

Photo of Peyson Rock by Steve Carty.