Preview: 38th Rhubarb Festival (Buddies In Bad Times Theatre)

Well known for its genre-bending, experimental nature and risk-taking ethos, Rhubarb Festival at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre is a wild ride of multiple short performances every night. In previous years I have had stories whispered in my ear, watched snippets of opera, voluntarily locked myself in a closet with clowns, thrilled to splendid choreography, watched rapt at profoundly honest storytelling, been issued an identity card that marks me forever as a Big Spoon, and more (so much more). A mix of emerging performers and established talents (often working in new idioms), it’s a delight for all the senses.

This year, the 38th, is shaping up to be no exception to the artistic tasting menu that Rhubarb is known for. Mooney on Theatre caught up with festival director Mel Hague for a quick Q&A about the 2017 edition of this always-excellent performance event.

Mooney on Theatre:  Rhubarb Festival has long been known for interdisciplinary and intersectional work. What surprising mash-ups or exciting collaborations are you looking forward to showcasing this year?

Festival Director Mel Hague: This year the Rhubarb Festival has teamed up with the National Arts Centre and Obsidian Theatre Company to present the brainchild of American Dramaturge Reg Edmund, Black Lives Black Words, in Canada for the first time. This project asks a group of Black Theatre Artists in a city to answer the question “Do Black Lives Matter Today?” in a short play, poem, or performance piece. This project has over 20 local Black Artists involved and will be an incredible evening where art meets Activism, and will run on Friday February 24 and Saturday Feb 25.

MoT: Is there any work that has been presented at Buddies before? If not, are there pieces you hope to be able to bring back?

MH: Rhubarb is more of a launch pad then a place that a particular piece returns to. We are a first stop for the beginnings of pieces – and many do go on to have long lives after the festival. We are in our 38th year, and thousands of artists have done work at the festival over the years – this year festival mainstays Sonny Mills, Elley Ray Hennessey and David Benjamin Tomlinson are returning with a new work, M/F, which will be playing in the Cabaret during Week 2 of the Festival.

MoT: What is still exciting about producing Rhubarb after all these years?

MH: This is my third year producing the festival and every year has been completely different. Rhubarb is what is it is, but the energy and the spirit of the Artists that are included (There are over 160 artists participating this year from Toronto, across Canada, the States and the UK) is what makes each year exciting and what always keeps me going. I do it for the love of the artists and the Rhubarb audience, which is the most incredible theatre audience I have ever seen – they are completely game for the experience of the night, and this is an incredible gift to us as creators and facilitators of a Festival.

MoT: If a patron could only come one night, which night would give them the broadest taste of everything that Rhubarb is about?

MH: This year, our Wednesday evening opening nights are bringing special collaborations – next week (Wednesday, 22 Feb) we will have a space filled with experimental film works in collaboration with the InsideOut Festival and the Images Festival for Rhubarb Does Movie Night. But any evening would give an audience member a sense of us – it would take at least six days to see everything that’s going on at the Festival – so we don’t think of it as something anyone could see everything at (unless you’re me). Coming to Rhubarb any evening Week 1 or 2 would certainly give you a taste.


Rhubarb Festival runs at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre from Wednesday to Sunday 15-19 February and then again from 22-26 February 2017.

Tickets are $20 for a one-night pass, with some Pay What You Can tickets available at the door for every night. Buddies In Bad Times Theatre also offers half-price tickets for repeat Rhubarb-goers in the same week – you’re invited back for another taste at a discount.

Buy tickets online, by phone at 416.975.8555, or visit the box office at 12 Alexander Street.