Jaybird Productions, a new Leslieville-based theatre company presents its first production, Oleanna, at Queen Street East’s Red Sandcastle Theatre starting this weekend.
Founded by 10-year Greenwood/Dundas-area resident Jacqui Burke, Jaybird Productions aims to present edgier productions that may not otherwise be staged by aspiring semi-professional actors in a community theatre environment.
“We want to produce powerful and riveting productions,” said Burke, the company’s artistic director whose career in theatre arts has spanned more than four decades.
“I think there is a market out there. I want to make the east end a destination for quality theatre.”
Burke, a Hamilton, Ont. native who started off as an actor in her late 20s before becoming a stage manager and a director, said creating Jaybird Productions has been a longtime dream that became a reality about two years ago.
The company’s name takes its cue from one of her old university nicknames, Jaybird.
Before officially launching her company’s inaugural production, Burke said she wanted to have a solid plan in place, a clear mission and the right venue – Leslieville’s Red Sandcastle Theatre.
Burke said she decided to start off with David Mamet’s Oleanna, a two-character play about a student seeking help from her professor who then charges him with sexual harassment and ruins not only his chances at tenure but his whole life.
In an effort to be as professional as possible, she held an audition process, which included a selection panel of some of her most esteemed theatre colleagues. Aspiring Toronto actors Jacqui Skeete and James R. Woods were chosen among a field of more than 25 people vying for the play’s leading roles.
Burke also assembled a team of some of her most valued theatre associates to serve as the crew including stage manager Awoba Bob-Manuel, fight director Christopher Mott and lighting designers Paul and Colin Harris. Burke is the show’s producer and director.
“It’s been a wonderful process. (Oleanna) is a tough show but I think it’s worthwhile doing,” she said.
Since 2009, Jaybird Productions has offered Shakespeare is Boffo and Kidsplay workshops to local tweens and teens.
For now, Burke said she’d continue working as a part-time director, audition coach, workshop/camp facilitator and graphic designer but said the sky’s the limit for the future shows she plans on producing under her own name.
“My next plan is to stage Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew with an all-female cast,” she said.
Jaybird Productions’ inaugural show, Oleanna, debuted Thursday, Nov. 15 at Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen St. E. The play will also be staged Friday and Saturday as well as Thursday, Nov. 22 to Saturday, Nov. 24 at 8 p.m. nightly. A 2 p.m. show is also set for Sunday, Nov. 18.
Tickets, which can be purchased by calling 416-845-9411 or by visiting www.jaybirdproductions.ca, cost $18 for adults or $16 for seniors/students. A $30 package, which includes dinner at the neighbouring restaurant The Commissary, 889 Queen St. E., can also be purchased for $30.