Theatre Arcturus is an award-winning theatre company that creates visually stunning plays that weave aerial arts into the world of the story. Characters work in harmony with gravity but are not bound by it. They may climb or take flight at any moment. This is aerial theatre, where the boundaries of physicality and truthful storytelling are pushed, and sometimes the world turns upside down.
Arcturus’ flagship show, WEIRD, has toured to theaters and schools across Ontario, winning the Cutting-Edge Award at the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival, and Best of Fest at the 2015 Ottawa Fringe Festival, where it was shortlisted for Critics’ Pick and named #1 show to see by Metro News. Arcturus’ second production, ROUGH MAGIC, toured throughout the summer/fall of 2017, playing at the Ottawa Fringe, Toronto Fringe, and SpringWorks Festival. These shows are now available for booking at theatres and schools. CONTACT US for more information.
In addition to our theatrical work, we provide entertainment for festivals and events throughout Ontario and beyond. Our acts include aerial performances, roaming entertainment (juggling, stilt walking, etc.), and more. BOOK US for your next event!
Our Arcturus story is only a few years old, but so full of lessons and adventure that we would need an evening over coffee or wine to tell it in detail. This is the gist of the tale, which continues to unfold.
In 2010 we finished our formal training in the University of Windsor’s BFA in Acting program and found a small, slightly moldy apartment in Toronto, which we shared with our two cats and several cockroaches. During University, Lindsay was inspired by the physical and expressive possibilities of circus arts when she was introduced to it by a hand-to-hand coach (who dedicated four evenings a week to training). She began training in aerial arts at the Toronto School of Circus Arts in 2011, branching out to other studios in the GTA, with the thought of bringing the heightened physicality of aerial work to the heightened text of classical theatre. Phil began his training in stage combat at Rapier Wit, earning a certification as an Advanced Actor Combatant and falling in love with that rigorous, physical approach to storytelling.
With full time day jobs, we trained and rehearsed most evenings of the week, taking power naps on subway trains and streetcars. We got very good at waking up just in time for our stop. By 2013 we had created our first show together (written by Phil). STALLED was a physical comedy about a young man who gets trapped in a bathroom stall at the Bay Bus Terminal by a variety of situations that make it impossible (or horribly awkward) to leave. It was a hit at the 2013 Toronto Fringe Festival (except among those who don’t enjoy toilet humour — and we were ok with that).
After several years of this, a thought began to percolate: this is not sustainable. We are always busy, always tired, and left with little to show for it. If we’re working this hard, we’re going to build a company.
Wanting to create a style of our own, and build a sustainable business that would allow us to create and perform full time, we founded Theatre Arcturus in 2014. We began telling stories through a mix of dialogue and aerial choreography, creating our own brand of theatre. We used our savings to invest in a free-standing aerial rig, collected a couple of like-minded artists, and got to work on our first show. By carting our 250 lb rig up and down six stories to rehearse in a wasp-filled patch of grass behind our apartment building, and “training” our actors with conditioning exercises in our living room, and putting our wedding off for an extra year, and buying nothing that was not necessary to survival, and making three costumes for next to nothing and learning how to paint them, we created the first version of WEIRD, performed in a small studio in the Distillery District as our early followers may remember (thanks mom and dad!). Our dressing room was a closet and Phil was hitting the cobblestone streets, finding an audience.
We took that show and reworked it over the course of a year before winning Best of Fest at the Ottawa Fringe in 2015 and the Cutting Edge Award in Toronto in 2016.
In September of 2015 we packed up our Toronto apartment and moved to the small town of Bracebridge in Muskoka. We rented part of a gym (Beyond Obstacles) for a fraction of the Toronto cost, and began running aerial classes to pay for the space. The vision was to set up a studio where classes would pay for the space, festival and event entertainment would pay our expenses, and the quiet daytime hours would be ours for creation and rehearsal as we continued to develop our style of aerial theatre.
It worked for a time. In 2016 we had the opportunity to teach and train out of a beautiful historic space with towering ceilings. We lived on a 100 acre property where our neighbours were farmers and welcomed us with fresh sunflowers and chicken (not a welcome you are likely to find in many places). We settled into a winter rhythm of stoking the fire to heat the house and learning about country life. When our training space became too cold (not all buildings in the north, we learned, are well insulated), an incredibly generous property owner carved out a corner of his warehouse space for our temporary use. It allowed us to run our studio and train for events, which now supported us full-time, and to create our second production. ROUGH MAGIC was heaved into existence in a lonely warehouse; the two of us scheduled regular rehearsals each week for choreography and a first draft of blocking. Every three weeks our director, Kevin Hammond, would make the trek from Toronto to dissect each scene and paste it all together. It was a show created through sheer will.
Then things started to crumble. Small spaces with 20 ft ceilings are hard to come by in Muskoka. Then, one week back in May 2017, we simultaneously lost our training space and our home. Our fears of failure, of running out of options, of having to say goodbye to a place we had come to love, were upon us. We walked those acres of forest and cried in the rain.
It was all very poetic.
On one hand, it felt as though everything was falling apart. On the other, we knew this was simply a redirection. We had gotten what we needed from Muskoka for the time being, and it was time to move on.
It’s important to know what you want in life, and the general direction in which you would like to head, but you must remain flexible. What does not bend will break.
We relocated to Kitchener-Waterloo in the summer of 2017, where we are able to focus Arcturus purely on the creation, production and touring of our unique style of physically rigorous, visually impactful aerial theatre. By teaming up with a local Waterloo studio, we are able to train and rehearse without managing our own space. We now know that we can create from almost anywhere, and right now this is where we need to be: a quick hop from Toronto, with a fraction of the expense.
We’re always working on something, and you can keep up with us through Facebook and our Mailing List. We tour our theatrical work anywhere, teach workshops to pair with our shows, and book our specialty acts and family entertainment at festivals and private events. If you’re interested in supporting, seeing, or booking our work, please get in touch with us.
Throughout the years we have had the great fortune of meeting several people who have been instrumental in the development of our company through mentorship, advice, and financial support:
Family and Friends who have and continue to support us.
Duncan and Karen of Fremlin & Laing
Andrew Sheppard and Mun Chau of Sheppard Financial Services Inc.
Kyla Taylor of Launch & Prosper
Kyra Watters of The Well Known Company
Mike Harrower of Harrower Properties
Original WEIRD collaborators Lindsay Eitzen and Polly Phokeev
Lisa Sciannella, our ever resourceful Stage Manager
Kevin Hammond, director of ROUGH MAGIC and source of inspiration.
All of the Muskoka students who stuck with us through multiple moves and “don’t leave the mats without your shoes on because we don’t know what’s on the floor!”
Our definition of Aerial Theatre: a play that uses aerial arts to enhance the telling of the story.
As theatre artists, our job is to tell stories with truth and authenticity. We formed Theatre Arcturus because we are passionate about telling wild, fantastical tales that are rooted in truth. Stories of witches who can shift the winds of destiny, yet are bound by genuine sibling love (and all the bickering that it brings). Stories of airborne sprites that weave magical spells and bend the elements to their will, yet also search for home, friendship and identity.
We use aerial arts and stage combat techniques to build the world in which the playwright’s story takes place. This heightened physicality intensifies storytelling in the same way verse and poetic language heightens text. The stakes rise, the emotion is visceral, instinctual. It can capture a moment of emotion and expand it to express things that are beyond words, obliterating the literal and putting us in touch with our raw, unedited response.
For this reason, we are captivated by aerial arts and physicality in the theatrical realm, and the depth that it can lend our stories. We are blending the rigorous training of an aerialist with that of the actor to create a seamless combination, as one discipline can’t stand without the other in this work. In our world, characters work in harmony with gravity but are not bound by it. They may climb or take flight at any moment.
This is Aerial Theatre, where the boundaries of physicality and truthful storytelling are pushed, and sometimes the world turns upside down.