Review: InspiraTO Theatre Festival (Dominik Loncar)

When a Tree Falls by Garret Johnston  L to R- Karen Scobie & Jane Smythe

Ten minutes plays reign supreme at Toronto’s InspiraTO Festival

In its 8th season, the InspiraTO Festival continues to prove its mettle as a stomping ground for fresh theatrical voices and new ideas and is a nice advocate for the short form. The wide variety of ten minute plays are the result of two different submission processes: an international competition that gave two options of writing prompts, and the Playwrights’ Mentoring Project, a program meant to foster fresh talent with an array of support from dramaturgical help to a full workshop.

Playing at the Alumnae Theatre, the shows are divided into five sections – the Red Show, Blue Show, Orange Show, Yellow Show and White Show – so if you’re short on time, you can see one section and then show up on another night to see one or two more. At the opening on Thursday, I got to see the Red and Blue shows, each consisted of six plays that were chosen from submissions to the international competition.

The prompt for the Red Show was that each play had to begin with the line: “I see a rabbit.” It was fun to see how that one line of dialogue could be interpreted by each playwright. Some chose to use it simply as that, a first line, and then launched into something entirely unrelated, while others riffed off the notion of the rabbit both literally and metaphorically. The piece that struck me as the best example of what a ten minute play should be was Lindsay Price’s Crazy. Her characters were interesting, her dialogue compelling and the actors chosen really delved into the piece and made it flow thanks to InspiraTO veteran director Dale Sheldrake.

The common thread from the Blue Show was that at least one character, by the end of the play, had to leave home. I was mostly struck by the ideas that were brought to the table in this section. Some pieces were especially long winded, with lengthy monologues that seemed inconsistent or incredibly obtuse language that weighed down the pace.

There were a few great ones in this section including Peggy Dougherty’s Strange Bedfellows, which had a marvelous twist, and Spenser Davis’ Dead Zone, which definitely spoke to our obsession with being hyper-connected in the digital age. My two absolute favourites were Garret Johnston’s When a Tree Falls, a play about a squirrel and a tree (don’t be fooled, it’s a lot more than that with stellar acting from Karen Scobie and Jane Smythe), and Angie Farrow’s Blue Balloon, a perfectly absurd piece that was full of whimsy and interesting images. It also is the InspiraTO Playwriting Contest winner.

Between both sections, I was really impressed with Lumir Hladik’s set design. As the co-artistic director, he’s done an incredible job at unifying the shows with simple set pieces that still lend to each play’s individual style. In light of this though, I do wonder if the transitions between pieces couldn’t be done a little bit faster.

New to the festival this year is the fifth section – the White Show – a site specific offering of four plays that each take place in a different space nearby.

The InspiraTO Festival is one of those things that should be on every playgoers radar, if only because it’s a fantastic place to get a little taste of something new without having to commit to 2-3 hours of potential weirdness. I would highly recommend checking it out, even if it’s just one section.

I’d also highly recommend being on time, as my companion and I were unfortunately late and missed the first piece of the Red Show. Luckily, artistic director of the festival, Dominik Loncar, is a really nice guy and he snuck us in before the next play. My guess it was a one-time thing, so get there with time to spare.


  • InspiraTO Festival is playing at the Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley Street) until June 8, 2013
  • Shows run Wednesday and Thursday starting from 7pm, Friday starting at 8pm, and Saturday starting at 4pm
  • Ticket are $15/$12 for students, festival passes are $50/$40 for students
  • Tickets are available online, or through the box office one hour before the show