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Shows In Small Spaces Part 5: Tarragon Theatre’s Extra Space

CityNews.ca writer Shawne McKeown highlights some of Toronto’s tiniest theatres – 100 seats, or less – in the six-part series “Shows in Small Spaces”.

Part 1: The Cameron House; Part 2: The Alumnae Theatre Studio; Part 3: Bad Dog Theatre; Part 4: Bread & Circus; Part 6: Theatre Passe Muraille’s Back Space

Part 5 – Tarragon Theatre’s Extra Space, 30 Bridgman Ave. (100 Seats)

It’s a relatively small space that has fostered some of the biggest names in Canadian theatre.

The Tarragon Theatre’s crisp black box studio is a flexible 100-seat performance space tucked in the back of the building at 30 Bridgman Ave. The company was founded in 1971 by Bill Glassco, who turned a former cribbage board factory into a cultural hub for about $9,000. Twelve years later the Extra Space opened.

A long list of influential Canadian playwrights have produced their work in the tiny theatre, including Judith Thompson, Daniel MacIvor, Brad Fraser, Diane Flacks, Michel Tremblay and Jason Sherman, and the Extra Space continues to host new plays by upcoming and established artists.

And some of Tarragon’s most successful shows have come out of the Extra Space. The award-winning “East of Berlin” returns in January for its third run after touring the country.

“It’s the third year we’ve been touring it and the third year we’ve had it perform here in Toronto and it sells out every time in this space,” Andrew Lamb, Tarragon’s director of education and outreach, told CityNews.ca.  He’s also the director of the Fringe/Mirvish production of “My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding”.

There’s quite a bit of freedom for set designers working in the Extra Space. The seating risers can be moved around, as can the booth, allowing for various configurations. Of the honours “East of Berlin” has picked up over the past few years, a Dora Mavor Moore Award for set design was among them.

While the Extra Space plays an important part in Tarragon’s season, the space is also available to outside companies.

“Part of our mandate is making the theatre space available for rental at a reasonable cost to outside companies who are developing new Canadian plays,” Lamb explained.

The longest running rental at Tarragon is with Puppetmongers Theatre. 2009 marks the 20th year the sister and brother team has been performing at the space.

The pair is currently staging “Cinderella in Muddy York”, which is a retelling of the classic fairy tale set in Toronto, circa 1834. That show runs until New Year’s Day. Click here for details.

The studio is also a venue for the Toronto Fringe Festival.

“What’s neat is that it gives a real intimate setting,” Lamb said. “It allows the actors in that space … the opportunity to act in a more naturalistic way, which is something we’re known for here at Tarragon.”