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Seriously at play

Seriously at play

They’re irreverent, boisterous, and sometimes bawdy, but to the alumni who are involved with Queen’s Players Toronto it’s all for a good cause.

In Elizabethan times, rowdy theatre audiences sometimes chucked rotten tomatoes or eggs at the performers to show their disapproval.

At Queen’s Players Toronto (QPT) productions, the more ­delighted the audience is with the show, the more likely it is that complimentary beers will be passed stageward. “It’s the ultimate compliment to be passed a beer,” says QPT co-founder ­Peter Higgins, Artsci’03.

Cast of QPT's 2013 productionHamming it up on stage — the cast of QPT's 2013 production

The QPT troupe, an offshoot of the mischievous Queen’s Players (QP), has been described as “part keg-party, part rock-concert, part sketch-comedy.” Throw in a healthy dose of audience participation, add a cast that’s been known to imbibe an occasional libation while on stage, and things can get pretty lively. Higgins and his crew want the audience to enjoy and participate in the evening, while also being mindful of the months of effort the players put into the show. “There’s some great comedy in these shows and we want to make sure everyone can enjoy it.”

Hopefully the positive balance between being rowdy and attentive will continue when QPT celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2014. The company was born back in 2004 when Higgins, a former QP producer and lighting operator, and co-founders Tim Evans, Com’99, and Mike Payne, Artsci’99, Ed’00, started talking to former Queen’s Players living in Toronto. “We all agreed we hadn’t grown up enough yet. We felt that part of us was ‘missing,’ and so decided to form Queen’s Players Toronto.”

The troupe’s first production hit the stage in the fall of 2004 to sold-out audiences. It’s been the same every year since. Shows are staged at the Tranzac on Brunswick Avenue. Each QPT production, usually staged in late spring, combines ­elements from two of three pop culture themes, that are based on television shows or movies. For example, the 2012 show was called True Rock – a combination of True Blood and 30 Rock. This year’s Thrones and Recreation combined elements from the popular series Game of Thrones and Parks and Recreation.

About 35-40 volunteers get involved in each show. The on-stage talent ranges from professional actors to lawyers, engineers, and teachers who have a hankering to be on stage. (By day, Peter Higgins works as a manager in his family’s architecture firm.) There’s also a full band and production team made up of both Queen’s and non-Queen’s people.

Auditions involve reading lines and singing a song a cappella. “That’s when the weirdness really starts to come out,” says Higgins. Some people covet a role in a QPT production so much that they’ll do “just about anything” to be chosen. “We get offered ‘bribes’ – usually ­banana bread, candies, and beer,” says Higgins with a laugh. “We even got some uncooked bacon this year.”

Several features make the Players’ productions special. ­Audiences are invited – and even encouraged – to participate in the show by, for instance, urging cast members to stop and sing a song if they mention a song title or sending a favourite performer a beer. “The actors rehearse enough that their lines are so embedded in their heads that they can have a drink or two and still carry on.”

All proceeds from the sale of QPT tickets go to charity. In past years, 90 per cent of the money was donated to the Stephen Lewis Foundation (fighting AIDS); however, this year the troupe is also supporting the Princess ­Margaret Foundation (fighting cancer) and Community Living Toronto. The Players’ original goal was to raise $100,000 for charitable causes. They’ve now topped $120,000.

Peter HigginsPeter Higgins

“We’ve successfully transitioned from doing shows that are a much-loved tradition at Queen’s to staging shows in Toronto that make money for charitable causes and also serve as a sort of Queen’s mini-­reunion each spring,” says Higgins

To keep a good thing going, he says “three things are central to QPT: putting on a top-quality show, having a lot of fun when we do it, and raising as much money as possible for charity. As long as those things are balanced in terms of their ­importance and our outlook, the shows will be successful and good fun for everyone involved.”

For more information about QPT, please vist the Queen's Players website.

[Queen's Alumni Review 2013-3 cover]