BWW Preview: A Celebration of TheatreBooks

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Songwriter Joni Mitchell said it best: "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."

Many people in Toronto's arts communities, especially theatre, are still grieving the loss of TheatreBooks after the venerable bookstore closed its doors forever this July after 39 years. Now, many are lost when needing scripts or monologues for auditions. And others feel the same who just love to read about the performing arts.

Tomorrow night, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., instead of mourning the loss of a friend, many of them will gather at the St. Lawrence Centre's Jane Mallet Theatre to celebrate the store's great legacy as an integral part of Toronto's cultural scene and the unique and wonderful contribution of its proprietors John Harvey and Leonard McHardy.

Organized by TAPA (the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts), the celebration was set to take place at the Tarragon Theatre's rehearsal room. But there were so many RSVPs, TAPA decided to move it to the approximately 500-seat Jane Mallett Theatre.

As someone who loves theatre, since TheatreBooks opened in 1975 on Yonge Street near Charles over a dry cleaners operation, it has always been a part of my professional, educational and social life. In the mid-1970s, I was a social sciences student in London, ON at Western University. (Co-incidentally, it was also the home town of John Harvey.)

Every time my wife and I visited Toronto in the mid-1970s, my first stop was a little, modest bookshop that just opened in 1975 on Yonge Street near Charles, over a dry cleaners.

This is where I really learned about not only international theatre, but Canadian plays as well. I remember Leonard saying, "Here's a new, one-act play in which you might be interested, Dennis. "It's by David Mamet, an emerging Chicago playwright, and it's called `The Duck Variations.'"

The odd title intrigued me so I bought it. I soon learned it had only a bit to do about ducks. It was published with another play with another title that caught my eye: "Sexual Perversity in Chicago." Soon, I saw a brilliant production of "American Buffalo" at Centre Stage in London, ON starring Wayne Burnett as Teach, directed by Ken Livingstone, a good friend of a young professor and writer Michael Ondaatje, who I also had never heard of before as he had only then published some poetry such as "The Dainty Monsters" and "The Man with Seven Toes" locally.

A few months later, I interviewed David Mamet in New York's Greenwich Village at the Circle Rep Theatre where he confided he just had written his first screenplay - "The Postman Always Rings Twice" for Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. We got into an affable chat about the novels of James Cain.

Other American playwrights John and Leonard eventually turned me on to were Lanford Wilson, Michael Weller and August Wilson among many others. Soon after, my friend, actor David Ferry, starred at the very same theatre where I had interviewed Mamet, in the second play in Lanford Wilson's trilogy, then titled "A Tale Told," now titled "Talley & Son."

John and Leonard also traveled to London often and brought back scripts by such writers I had never heard of before such as David Hare, Edward Bond, Howard Brenton and Stephen Poliakoff. A few years later, I interviewed, in New York, London, ON native Kate Nelligan who broke through in the West End in David Hare's play "Plenty.'

Canadian playwrights they carried included James Reaney, who I had met and with whom I became friends at Western University, Gratien Gelinas, David Freeman and David French, and a young Michel Tremblay. In 1976, I interviewed Michel Tremblay in his home in Outremont, Montréal.

The point is I never could have conducted these interviews, or at least been as researched as I could be, without John, Leonard and TheatreBooks. Living in London, ON, how could I have learned about all of these wonderful playwrights had it not been for TheatreBooks.

I also fondly recall the many autographing and readings they had in their beautiful store on St. Nicholas Street, just south of the Windsor Hotel. A special one was Janet Leigh's when she promoted her book about the movie "Psycho." At my suggestion, she agreed to write a special salutation: "Knock loudly. I'm in the shower."

Signings by Neil Simon and annual ones by Chicago film critic Roger Ebert are among my favorite memories.

And there is so much more to remember.

Who knows if we'll ever see the likes of them again in Toronto?

À la recherche du temps perd. Indeed.

Salutations, mes amis! À la prochaine, j'espère.


Monday, Dec. 1st from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre of the Arts

27 Front Street East, Toronto

To RSVP or for more information, call TAPA at (416) 536-6468.

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From This Author Dennis Kucherawy

A veteran entertainment executive, Dennis Kucherawy has worked in film exhibition and live theatre on Broadway, in London's West End and in Canada. An award-winning (read more...)