Stageworthy’s Phil Rickaby on Why Toronto Theatre Is the Best
Toronto-based actor Phil Rickaby was listening to theatre podcasts wondering, “Why isn’t there one for Toronto theatre?” Instead of wishing someone would start one, Rickaby, who is a founding member of Keystone Theatre, took the reigns and started on himself. He launched “Stageworthy” three years ago and hasn’t looked back since, interviewing the best of the Toronto theatre scene.
TodayTix caught up with Rickaby to talk about why he started “Stageworthy” and what everyone should know about the Toronto theatre scene.
Since you ask your guests what drew them to the theatre, what drew you to the theatre?
I think my “gateway drug” to the theatre was musical cast recordings. We had a few in the house, and once I discovered them, they were all I wanted to listen to. I think the realization that the whole album told a story was what did it for me. This made them different from all the other records. These ones told a story. After that, I was always trying to wrangle my friends and my siblings to “put on a play,” which I’d make them perform in front of our parents (and once, a whole production in front of the neighbourhood).
So it was musicals that drew me in, but it was Shakespeare that kept me. I remember watching a Stratford Festival production of “As You Like It” on CBC, and seeing the live audience, and hearing them react. Seeing the actors performing. I think that’s when I was hooked on the idea of being an actor myself.
What inspired you to start a podcast about the Toronto theatre scene?
Years ago, then-director of the American Theatre Wing in New York Howard Sherman had a podcast called Downstage Centre, on which he interviewed people in the New York theatre scene. On one episode, Canadian actor Stephen Ouimette was the guest, and I thought “That’s cool, we don’t usually hear from Canadian theatre voices, someone should do something about that.” And then I got impatient waiting, so I decided to do it myself.
Who have been some of your most interesting interviews, and who are the local Toronto theatre celebrities that everyone should know?
Some of my favourite interviews are Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, (from “Kim’s Convenience”), Evan Buliung (currently absolutely killing it in the Toronto production of “Dear Evan Hansen”), and director and actor Nigel Shawn Williams.
There are so many people that I think everyone should know, but I’ll just name a few. Aside from the folks above, I recommend both Kat Sandler and Michael Ross Albert; you won’t be sorry. Both playwrights write smart, dynamic plays. Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster is an amazing actor and director. Her work on Crows Theatre’s production of “The Wolves” was deservedly acclaimed. Finally, I will always sing the praises of Eric Wolfe, who with his company Eldritch Theatre, creates literal magic on stage, through inventive and creative theatre storytelling.
What do you find unique about theatre in Toronto?
I’m often just amazed not just by the amount of theatre in Toronto, but the quality of the theatre in Toronto. There’s so much more than just the big musicals. There’s exciting work being done at the mid-sized theatres, but what really excites me is the work happening in the indie scene. There are so many companies doing really exciting things, from amazing site specific work, to doing really interesting things with storefront theatres. There are companies working in genres like science fiction, horror, multi-media, and even silent film.
What are some of your favorite shows you’ve seen in Toronto this past year, and what upcoming shows are you looking forward to?
This year has been a great year for theatre in Toronto, so there’s no way to name all of the great theatre I’ve seen this year, but a few standouts are: “The Men in White” at Factory Theatre, which was beautiful and heartwarming, right up to the moment when it broke my heart. “Space Opera Zero” from Eldritch Theatre, which beautifully and cleverly presented a science fiction story, that didn’t need a massive budget to do so. Sex T-Rex’s “Crime After Crime (After Crime),” which was hilarious, inventive and spectacular all at once. And Pearle Harbour’s “Chautauqua” at Theatre Passe Muraille was funny, and surprisingly moving.
Based on the conversations you’ve had with professionals in the theatre community, what advice would you give to aspiring theatre artists?
There are a few things I would recommend to aspiring theatre artists: Create your own work. This is now a necessary part of any theatre career, and any artist starting out should be prepared to make theatre on their own, whether completely on their own or at a Fringe festival. Connect with other artists. Theatre doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so you’ll need to be able to meet other theatre artists. Attend some of the cold reading series in the city, like Toronto Cold Reads, or Sing For Your Supper. Or get to the musical theatre open mic, SINGular Sensation. And most importantly: See as much theatre as you can. In order to make interesting theatre, you need to see theatre. Most theatres offer Artsworker tickets, or have pay what you can (PWYC) performances. Take advantage of these. But even without these, there’s lots of affordable theatre in the city (outside of the big budget musicals, most theatre is affordable).