Next Stage spot­lights Di­rec­tor Steven Gal­lagher and play­wright Alix Sobler heat up the win­ter fest;

Multi-tal­ented artist Steven Gal­lagher di­rects con­trast­ing shows at win­ter theatre fest

NOW Magazine - - CONTENTS - By TREVOR CAMP­BELL stage@now­toronto.com

BIRTH­DAY BAL­LOON by Steve Cochrane (Mauzy May Pro­duc­tions/Next Stage). At Fac­tory Stu­dio (125 Bathurst). Jan­uary 5 at 5:15 pm, Jan­uary 6 at 3:30 pm, Jan­uary 7 at 5:30 pm, Jan­uary 8 at 7:15 pm, Jan­uary 10 at 8:45 pm, Jan­uary 12 at 7:15 pm, Jan­uary 13 at 2:15 pm, Jan­uary 14 at 4:15 pm. fringe­toronto.com.

RUMSPRINGA BREAK! by Matt Mur­ray, Akiva Romer-Se­gal and Colleen Dauncey (Marigon Pro­duc­tions/Next Stage). At Fac­tory Mainspace (125 Bathurst). Jan­uary 4 at 9:15 pm, Jan­uary 5 at 5 pm, Jan­uary 6 at 6:30 pm, Jan­uary 7 at 1:45 pm, Jan­uary 9 at 8:15 pm, Jan­uary 11 at 9:30 pm, Jan­uary 12 at 7 pm, Jan­uary 13 at 8:15 pm, Jan­uary 14 at 2:15 pm. fringe­toronto.com.

Like many of the artists in­volved in the Next Stage Theatre Fes­ti­val, Steven Gal­lagher didn’t get much of a hol­i­day.

It’s Gal­lagher’s third time at Next Stage, fol­low­ing a turn as play­wright of 2013’s Me­mo­rial and again in 2015 as di­rec­tor of Matt Mur­ray’s Myth Of The Os­trich.

This time around, he’s di­rect­ing two pro­duc­tions: the Toronto de­but of Stephen Cochrane’s caus­tic yet comic two-han­dler Birth­day Bal­loon, and Rumspringa Break!, a new mu­si­cal com­edy with a book by Os­trich’s Mur­ray, and mu­sic and lyrics by song­writ­ing duo Colleen Dauncey and Akiva Romer-Se­gal.

Fes­ti­vals like Next Stage tend to make Toronto’s tight-knit theatre com­mu­nity feel even closer. As with the Fringe or Sum­merWorks, artists and au­di­ences de­scend upon a bustling venue and line up shoul­der-to-shoul­der in the heated fes­ti­val tent.

Gal­lagher, whose 25-year ca­reer has in­cluded many of these fes­ti­vals, knows how im­por­tant it is to sup­port the work of his peers.

“When­ever I’m in the fes­ti­val,” says Gal­lagher, “I try to see ev­ery show.”

But the sense of in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity be­gins long be­fore the cur­tain goes up. Take how he ended up in his cur­rent dou­ble gig.

Gal­lagher had worked with Rumspringa’s Mur­ray in 2015, but he’s also col­lab­o­rated with Romer-Se­gal and Dauncey: in 2013, he joined the song­writ­ing duo to cre­ate a 10-minute mu­si­cal called Valen­tine for the Mu­si­cal Theatre Com­pany’s Note­Wor­thy pro­gram. When Mur­ray, Romer-Se­gal and Dauncey (who had co-cre­ated song cy­cle The Sub­way Songs) were look­ing for a di­rec­tor to helm their new mu­si­cal about Amish twins in the big city, they knew that Gal­lagher was the per­son for the job.

The six de­grees of sep­a­ra­tion con­tinue with New­found­land ac­tor Renée Hack­ett, pro­ducer and per­former of Birth­day Bal­loon along­side co-star and fel­low New­found­lan­der Craig Pike (as­sis­tant di­rec­tor Dana Pud­di­combe also hails from the Rock). Hack­ett also ap­peared in – wait for it – Mur­ray’s Myth Of The Os­trich, where she met Gal­lagher.

Hav­ing es­tab­lished re­la­tion­ships with the cast and cre­ative teams of both shows has helped Gal­lagher to feel more like a col­lab­o­ra­tor than just a di­rec­tor.

In fact, along with “grat­i­tude,” “col­lab­o­ra­tive” is one of the words he uses most of­ten when talk­ing about Next Stage.

He’s re­hears­ing both shows si­mul­ta­ne­ously, and jump­ing back and forth be­tween two con­trast­ing pro­duc­tions calls for some tricky men­tal ma­noeu­vring. A typ­i­cal day could find him work­ing through a bit­ter mar­i­tal ar­gu­ment in Birth­day Bal­loon be­fore dash­ing across town to block a pro­duc­tion num­ber full of belt­ing girls in bon­nets.

But the op­ti­mistic Gal­lagher says his work feels con­nected. For ex­am­ple, both pro­duc­tions are about nav­i­ga­tion. With Birth­day Bal­loon, it’s a metaphor­i­cal move­ment through the play to help the ac­tors es­tab­lish its mean­ing. In Rumspringa, he means it lit­er­ally: a large part of di­rect­ing the mu­si­cal in­volves help­ing the 10-per­son cast get to the end with­out any on­stage col­li­sions.

Af­ter a suc­cess­ful ca­reer as a per­former (Urine­town, Shake­speare In High Park, La Cage Aux Folles), Gal­lagher feels “very, very lucky” to have the chance to sit in the di­rec­tor’s chair.

“I’m not a kid any­more, so I don’t have the op­por­tu­ni­ties that 30-yearolds have. Di­rect­ing and col­lab­o­rat­ing on new work is ex­cit­ing.”

Af­ter the fes­ti­val, he’ll con­tinue to lend his tal­ents to projects like his mu­si­cal adap­ta­tion of Pollyanna, which pre­miered this past sum­mer at the Char­lot­te­town Fes­ti­val, and a new mu­si­cal work with com­poser Kevin Wong called Drama 101.

An­tic­i­pat­ing the open­ing per­for­mances of his Next Stage shows, he be­comes al­most rev­er­ent.

“I love that first blush of when an au­di­ence gets to see a new piece.”

Rumspringa Break!, a mu­si­cal about Amish sib­lings in the big city, is a fest best bet.

Steven Gal­lagher says di­rect­ing is re­ally about col­lab­o­rat­ing.

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