Toronto, I Love You Blog

Bad Dog Theatre, I Love You

by Stephanie Malek

Today is the last blog post, as it is also the last show of Toronto, I Love You. Now, I'm hoping you didn't read this title and immediately write-off this blog post as being self-serving on behalf of Bad Dog. Yes, I am writing this blog on the Bad Dog website. Yes, I do a lot of work for Bad Dog. Do you know why I do so much for Bad Dog? Because it is my absolute favourite place in Toronto, and if you will permit, I would like to tell you why. 

In 2012, I had just started taking improv classes for the first time. I knew next to nothing about it and was just starting my clap-focuses. I had been going to wheel of improv at Comedy Bar after class and a class-mate had noticed there was a new show called Throne of Games by some company called Bad Dog. My Thursday post may have given you some insight,  but I am a huge nerd and I love Game of Thrones so I was very curious. 

The night came and we rounded up some class-mates and took our seats. The lights went down and suddenly, from the back of the theatre, a lone male voice (Kris Siddiqi) started singing the theme "bum-bum-buh-buh-bum-bum-buh-buh-bum-bum" and started walking towards the stage with a GIANT sword, followed by the rest of the cast chanting an improvised, lyriced version of the theme song - "Some shit's about to go down in Westeros ...". My whole body was COVERED in goose bumps and for the next 50 minutes I was completely awe-struck. I had no idea improv could be like this. 

 Oh, little Steph - you had no idea what lay ahead of you when this photo was taken!

Oh, little Steph - you had no idea what lay ahead of you when this photo was taken!

It was one of the first times I got to see my teachers perform too. Paloma Nunez (in the GLORIOUS blonde wig) was my first improv teacher ever, and it was so neat to see some of the things she taught me being applied on stage! It was also when I developed my first improv crush - Sarah Hillier. Watching Sarah play Arya Stark is still one of my favourite improv performances of all times. I don't even remember what she did specifically, I just remember that every single time she stepped on the stage I became excited because I knew I was going to just lose my shit. I also will never forget Alice Moran doing the most amazing medieval style retelling of Baby Got Back. 

 Alice Moran as Sansa, Sarah Hillier as Arya, and Kris Siddiqi as Ned ... poor poor Ned.

Alice Moran as Sansa, Sarah Hillier as Arya, and Kris Siddiqi as Ned ... poor poor Ned.

As this show was wrapping up (which was DEVASTATING), D&D Live started (which was also SO GREAT) and Bad Dog was about to launch their first Epic Narrative Studio Series class - a class designed to help students learn to tell long stories on stage, like Throne and D&D. If I could do even a tiny bit of what was being done on that stage, I wanted in. So began my time with the Bad Dog Academy. 

My first Bad Dog teacher was Rob Norman, teaching us how to do a quest. Then Colin Munch teaching us how to theatricalize (not a word) and enhance our improv. Then Etan Muskat and James Gangl for beatprov. Then Jess Bryson to help us pull it all together. WHAT A FREAKING AMAZING ROSTER OF TEACHERS. To this day, they are all performers I respect so much and love watching on stage as masters of their craft. I was learning from these people then watching them reinforce what they were telling me, night after night.

 Quentin made these amazing cards for our grad show from NSS! 

Quentin made these amazing cards for our grad show from NSS! 

When I started the program, I was in a very bad personal place and was dealing with a lot of emotional baggage but having something to focus on and care about and be passionate about literally changed my life. I basically moved into Comedy Bar around October/November and never looked back. 

Early in 2013 I approached Julie (then Dumais,  now Osborne) trying to see how I could help out. I'd been getting so much joy out of Bad Dog and wanted to be more involved. Julie is an amazing supporter of improv, and of anyone wanting to get more involved, She tries so hard to match people up with things they would be passionate about and also be able to help with. I knew nothing about the company and she suggested, based on my love of nerdery, that I hook up with Etan Muskat and Alice Moran (who had produced Throne of Games!) to assist in producing Bad Dog's new Star Trek show, Final Frontier. Now, despite my love of nerdy stuff and coming from a family of Trekkies, I didn't know much about Star Trek but I wasn't going to let that stop me! I met with Etan and Alice over coffee and the show was being born! As we got closer to the date, Alice got an amazing show and was travelling and so was doing a lot of producing remotely, which meant I had to really step up. I WAS SO SCARED OF SCREWING UP, but no one would let me. Julie and Alice and Etan patiently replied to my frantic emails, and helped guide me towards opening night. Right before our first show, I took an afternoon off work to attend the last rehearsal with Etan, Jess, Liz Johnston, Alastair Forbes, and Craig Anderson (I still pinch myself that I got to be involved with this ridiculously talented cast) and someone suggested we have the voice of the ship as part of the show. In a weirdo moment of bravery, I offered and suddenly I went from being behind the scenes producer to also being on-stage. Now, I was still an absolute improv baby. Bless Etan for believing in me enough to let me on the stage, because for the entire first run of the show I spent so much time just trying not to barf or screw up or die.

 Our very first show - you can't tell but I'm almost having a panic attack here!

Our very first show - you can't tell but I'm almost having a panic attack here!

Also around the time of Final Frontier kicking off, I met this neat improviser while hanging out at Bad Dog/Comedy Bar named Sean Tabares. He had been in the remount of Throne of Games, was in the Bad Dog Repertory Players, and was in the newest season of D&D Live. One night at Baltic Avenue we got to talking after one of his D&D shows about improv and its relation to different D&D classes (NEEERRRRDDDSSSSSS). We kept talking and developed a friendship and eventually decided to start dating each other (that in itself is a funny story and also partly a car2go campaign). He also appeared in an episode of Final Frontier (my best friend first met him while he was wearing a sparkly shirt and nylons on his legs and head). If it weren't for Bad Dog, we probably never would have started talking and wouldn't be living together about two years later!

 The Video Game Show - with our special finale guest David Hayter!

The Video Game Show - with our special finale guest David Hayter!

 Student welcome night featuring the official snack of Bad Dog - chips!

Student welcome night featuring the official snack of Bad Dog - chips!

This is where things kind of become this amazing blur of improv shows and joining the Bad Dog softball team and falling in love and living at Comedy Bar and making all these incredible friends. Final Frontier was a success and we completed our run and I was off to my next project, and then the next project, and next thing I knew I was producing a bunch of shows as well as the Bad Dog Academy Tuesdays, Bad Dog's student night!  Bad Dog also started their resident house team for their Micetro show - The Rat Pack. I wanted nothing more than to be part of this group. I longed to be able to step up not just on the back end, but on the stage two. Gavin Williams and Julie decided to give this lil' ol' weirdo a chance and put me in! Now I was performing regularly under the Bad Dog flag!

 Look at this handsome group! 

Look at this handsome group! 

 Bad Dog Softball Team, I could write a whole post just about how much I love you.

Bad Dog Softball Team, I could write a whole post just about how much I love you.

I felt like I belonged somewhere and I was doing what a year before I didn't even know I wanted to do. The entire community was so open and welcoming and allowed me the amazing pleasure of being taught by them, performing with them, hanging out with them, and becoming one of them! I met some of my closest friends during this time too, including many people I would partner with in future performances! I continued to perform and produce with the company, Final Frontier came back for another run and then in the summer of 2014 the BEST THING HAPPENED. Bad Dog was getting it's own theatre!!!!!!!! Things got INSANE at the theatre and I don't know if you are aware but Bad Dog runs on a part-time/volunteer basis so you can just imagine how stressful it was leading up to the move, though anyone not in the throws of it would never have known! The theatre opened, Launch Week was a HUGE success, and the Bad Dog Comedy Theatre was officially open to the public. 

Since then, the company has been trying to get the word out about its new home, and it's working. Shows are selling out, an awesome online campaign helped fund a soon-to-arrive new sign to help people find us, and it really feels like a cozy little home.

 Liz Johnston and Julie Osborne

Liz Johnston and Julie Osborne

 Lisa Amerongen and Jess Bryson

Lisa Amerongen and Jess Bryson

Now, look at the two photos above. Everything you see at Bad Dog, everything you read about Bad Dog, every class you have taken and every thing you know about the company as it stands right now is directly because of one, or two, or three, or all of them. I don't say this to downplay the work of previous Artistic Directors and performers and staff, but I say it because I think everyone should know.

I am constantly in awe of the hard work, the passion, the vision, the drive, and the love these incredible women share with the company, the academy, the performers, and the volunteers. I am continually proud to be associated with this company and with these women and the beautiful thing they created and work tirelessly on. They took this little company that didn't have it's own home, this little Academy that started off as 3 foundation classes, this group of incredible performers, and they turned it into a company with it's own theatre, a booming Academy that can boast 5 full adult studio programs, 3 foundational classes, a youth program, a new French program, and ongoing studio presents workshops, a solid group of world-class improvisers, tons of sold out houses, critically acclaimed Fringe shows, and a name that is recognized around the world for it's top-notch unscripted comedy. Julie was even selected as one of the heroes of 2014 for all the incredible work she's done for this community.

The astounding shows put on my this company have raised the bar for me of what improv can and should be. It doesn't need to be all blow lines and audience-winks (though that can be super fun too). It can become this beautiful, intricate, magical art form that can make you laugh and cry and ultimately can have you leaving the theatre feeling changed. That is what Bad Dog does to me (100% honestly - if you were at Toronto, I Love You on Wednesday you could have seen me straight up cry during the show!)

Liz Johnston, Jess Bryson, Lisa Amerongen, and Julie Osborne - thank you for making Bad Dog Theatre Company and Bad Dog Comedy Theatre into this incredible place that is honestly my absolute favourite thing in Toronto. 

Thank you so much everyone for reading this blog. I had so much fun writing it and sharing my love of the city with you! Feel free to reach out to me on twitter and lets keep talking about all the awesome things Toronto has to offer! I hope to see you all at the theatre soon! <3

 I just really wanted to use this photo because I love it so much! Hi Jorge Mijangos!

I just really wanted to use this photo because I love it so much! Hi Jorge Mijangos!

Toronto's Nerd Communities, I Love You

by Stephanie Malek

This is going to come as a huge surprise based on how cool I probably come across (hahahahaha) but I am, and always have been, a huge nerd. I also am, and always will be, not shy about showing my excitement and obsession for things. I have been blessed to be surrounded by the type of people who have always supported me and my passions, something I know can often be missing for a lot of people who grew up nerdy. I went to computer camp, I appeared on Video and Arcade Top 10, I cosplayed, I had internet friends from a Sailor Moon chat room and yet I don't remember ever being made to feel bad about it. I've always been lucky to have had mostly positive associations with being a nerd! 

My first exposure to a Toronto nerd community was probably CN Anime 2000. I had mentioned in a previous post that I used to be really into anime and Japanede culture. My friend Carly and I decided we wanted to try cosplaying as one of our favourite anime characters, Lime from Saber Marionette J (both of us wanted to be Lime so both of us were Lime). Carly has always been awesome at making costumes and has only gotten better over the years. We donned our costumes and within just a few minutes of being at the con we started talking to like-minded people who loved the same things we did. Everyone was in their element, taking tons of photos and eager to talk and share the things they were passionate about. 

 Lime and Otaru and those freaking stupid moose!

Lime and Otaru and those freaking stupid moose!

 Oh god I hate Evangelion - look at this little baby!

Oh god I hate Evangelion - look at this little baby!

Wouldn't you know it, we became HOOKED. We started planning our costumes for Anime North, 2001. We convinced our chat room friends to come and the anime convention community welcomed them too! We started to make friends with other cosplay groups and even worked on group costumes together. Carly and I continued to do our own cosplays as well and also recruited our chat room friends into the fold! We spoke on panels and won several awards. At this point I finally started contributing with skits for our masquerade performances, such as this award winning one! We had a good three year run with some amazing photos and memories but, like all good things, this time came to an end.

 Merry and Pippin take on an orc!

Merry and Pippin take on an orc!

 Who doesn't do a big group line dance in the lobby of the MTCC?

Who doesn't do a big group line dance in the lobby of the MTCC?

 Final Fantasy 9!

Final Fantasy 9!

 Tenshi ni Narumon!

Tenshi ni Narumon!

After our cosplay run ended, I spent a few years out of the community and focusing on other things. I didn't really have a community of any kind and just floated around doing my own things.

Fast forward to probably the late 2000's when I started getting back in touch with my nerdier side. I started watching more shows about video games, and nerd culture was coming into its own. Comic conventions were cool all of a sudden, and celebrities I loved started going to them, but I still wasn't engaged in the community of it - I was just a background observer. 

Fast forward again to the last couple of years. I ended a long term relationship and was trying to find where I fit. I started taking improv classes and started going out a lot more. One of the events I ended up going to was a Geek Trivia night at the Tranzac. Carly and I went with my friends Nug and Richard and it was so much fun to finally put years of random facts into play at something. Later I started producing shows with Bad Dog that were focused on things like Star Trek and Video Games so I tried to find out where I could engage with fans of those things. Bad Dog was sharing a booth with Illusionoid at Fan Expo, so I volunteered to work the booth and started to get that old convention excitement! I discovered things like Nerd Mafia Pub Night and started meeting a bunch of people who were all into the same things as I was and they were as eager to share their passion and love as I was to hear about it!

 Fan Expo!

Fan Expo!

 Fan Fiction where I got to meet the REAL TUXEDO MASK OMIGOD.

Fan Fiction where I got to meet the REAL TUXEDO MASK OMIGOD.

 The Green Onions totally won all the cool swag!

The Green Onions totally won all the cool swag!

 It's SOLID SNAKE/Tamahome/David Hayter

It's SOLID SNAKE/Tamahome/David Hayter

Starting to perform comedy has also been an amazing opportunity to tap into the nerd culture in the city. Shows like Fan Fiction and Bad Dog's Final Frontier/The Video Game/D&D Live shows were designed to create a space for us to laugh with nerd culture as opposed to laughing AT it, and made another place where fans could get together and celebrate the things they love! 

There are also a lot of neat people who really stand out in this community for me that I want to shout out to. One of them is actor/improviser/all around cool dude Nug Nahrgang. Nug has had this amazing life so far that is driven by his passion for nerdy things! He's one of the creators of the Sci-Fi podcast Illusionoid, he was in Evil Dead the Musical (and is currently in rehearsals for Cannibal the Musical!), and I am lucky to count him as a friend! Any time I find out about anything cool and nerdy, Nug knows about it already! Nug doesn't just consume content, he creates it which is so damn cool!

 Nug!

Nug!

 Sam Maggs!

Sam Maggs!

Another person that I want to specifically point out is Sam Maggs. Sam is this incredible lady who has her hands in so many different parts of the community. She's a writer who recently published her own book, The Fan Girl's Guide to the Galaxy, she appears in the Cineplex pre-show, is on 102.1 the Edge talking about nerd culture and basically is every single place I look. Now it could be easy to be hella jealous of this lady because she is basically living my dream life, but she's so likeable that it's impossible! We've never met but based on the many twitter exchanges about Dragon Age, I'm pretty sure we'd get along famously! 

One of the amazing things about living in Toronto right now is that if there is something you are passionate about, there is probably a group in the city who is also into it and will welcome you! Toronto has a reputation of being cold, but I've felt nothing but warmth from these communities and there is a fun, nerdy activity happening almost every night of the week! Places are opening up constantly, like the new archery tag place, numerous escape rooms, board game cafes, and the like. Sites like BlogTO and Geekpr0n are a good resource to find out about them, and if you do a search for your nerdy thing + Toronto, you are bound to find something! 

What are you nerdy about? Know any great groups that deserve a shout out? 

Rebel Mayor, I Love You

by Stephanie Malek

I originally was going to write this post about parody twitter accounts of Toronto politicians. I started reading through the accounts and quickly realized that I really didn't want to relive the embarrassment of our previous mayor, who single-handedly made me embarrassed to be Torontonian more times than I can count. 

 What a happy looking gentleman.&nbsp;

What a happy looking gentleman. 

Instead of dwelling on the (painful) recent past, I will instead dwell on the distant past - back to the first mayor of Toronto, William Lyon MacKenzie.

To give you a brief background on this handsome gentleman, William Lyon MacKenzie was a journalist, then a Member of the Legislative Assembly, our first mayor, and a leader of the Rebellions of 1837. Born in Scotland, he came to Canada in 1820 and moved to York (Toronto) in 1824. In his political career he was, um ... how to put it ... really good at pissing people off - so much so that he was often threatened, assaulted and attacked (they destroyed his printing press and threw parts of it into Lake Ontario!) They kept booting him out of the Assembly, and his constituents kept bringing him back! In 1834 he became mayor, but his term was short as he was elected to the provincial Parliament again. He was defeated in the polls in 1836 and got so upset that he decided on an armed revolt (it didn't go particularly well due to lack of planning and leadership and probably lots of alcohol so he fled to the US where he kept trying to rebel from Navy Island. They beat him there too so he moved to New York). If you want the full story, you can find more here

There is no denying he was a scrappy fellow. In this day and age, modern-day scrappers like to spend their time giving hell to each other on the internet, so it makes perfect sense that William Lyon MacKenzie is back - in twitter form.

I knew as soon as I decided to start this blogging project that the rebel mayor would be included on my list of things I love about Toronto. From his ongoing feud with former Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, to his ongoing threats to the public peace, to his hatred of Toronto, its history, and it's Tory politics, here are a few of my favourite tweets from our first mayor:

 Trying to help local MPPs

Trying to help local MPPs

 A sassy repartee with the&nbsp;former Deputy Mayor.

A sassy repartee with the former Deputy Mayor.

 Reaching out to the media to keep them in the loop.

Reaching out to the media to keep them in the loop.

 &nbsp; &nbsp;Showing his city pride.

   Showing his city pride.

I reached out to our former mayor, once I'd decided to include him, to let him know he would be included in my list of things I loved about this city. I figured he may want to weigh in on the inclusion. I assure you, he did not disappoint. I also asked him what he loved about the city, which he also shared with me. I am sad to say that I have since challenged him to a duel to honour the good name of our fair city. I will let you know how it goes lest I perish by musket-fire!

Unlike the former mayor, we love Toronto and want to share it with you! Toronto, I Love You opens tonight at Bad Dog Comedy Theatre and runs at 8pm Wed-Sat until January 31st!