Toronto-based company bringing theatre to podcasts

TORONTO -- Theatre lovers, get ready to experience contemporary Canadian plays from the comfort of your home or while on the go.

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On Thursday, Toronto-based Expect Theatre launches PlayME, which will feature plays and short stories in podcast form.

Think of it as radio drama for the modern age, with plays unfolding in a serialized format with weekly chapters plus ancillary interviews.

The first season will feature six shows. Kicking things off is the drama "Agamemnon" by Governor General's Award winner Nicolas Billon, which is also running as a live production at Toronto's Factory Theatre through Jan. 17. "Agamemnon," with a cast of nine, will have a new episode every Thursday.

PlayME co-creators Chris Tolley and Laura Mullin, the artistic directors of Expect Theatre, say they embarked on the project because it's often difficult to produce live stage shows.

"It's very expensive, it's always hard to get an audience," says Tolley, adding that podcasting has a wide reach and allows them to "be so agile and produce with very little money compared to putting on a full show."

It's also a way to reflect the times.

The duo plans to curate their PlayME seasons in a flexible manner to allow for productions that will resonate with current events and what listeners want to hear.

They're accepting potential plays for the project directly from writers and also plan to run contests to find scripts.

They want high-quality, unproduced or "under-produced" plays, meaning they haven't been staged at a high level yet. They don't have to be Canadian stories but they must be written by a Canadian. And they're open to musicals.

"We're also trying to put an emphasis on diversity and particularly also female writers," says Tolley, "and trying to create a season that's a mixture of well-established playwrights and playwrights who are incredibly talented but maybe haven't had their first big break and hopefully this will be it."

Adds Mullin: "We're also looking for contemporary, edgy, provocative pieces when we can, because we are looking to get to that younger market."

The podcasts will be available at playmepodcast.com and on various apps, including iTunes and Instacast.

Tolley and Mullin have budgeted their podcasts at about $5,000 -- a paltry sum compared to the estimated $30,000 to $50,000 it would cost to stage a production.

They're able to fund their first year through grants. For their second year, they're looking at various sources of revenue, from advertising to sponsorship and subscriptions.

They don't know of anything else like this out there, so they're figuring it out as they go. They had to work out a special agreement with the Canadian performers' union for the new model.

Not that the two want to take people away from going to the theatre.

"We kind of hope it will be a bit of a gateway drug for people," says Tolley.

"That they'll hear a podcast, get to know the playwright, get to know some of the performers that are out there, and then buy a ticket and go and see a show."



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