Performance-acting student Dylan Brenton sat in a guest lecture at Ryerson Theatre School, listening to Canadian actor Philip Akin talk about starting a production company to create change in Toronto’s theatre community.
That same day in October 2013, Brenton created a Facebook page for his own production team, the Wolf Manor Theatre Collective. Today, the page has almost 600 likes.
The collective aims to produce shows that are transportable, accessible to everyone and made for people who aren’t necessarily into theatre.
“We create small ensemble theatre to tell a full story,” says Brenton, who also serves as the collective’s artistic director. “We use a very simple, minimalistic design so we can make theatre that can pick up and go.”
The Wolf Manor productions don’t maintain time or place in any of their settings. They’re intended to be fluid, so that they can be taken out to high schools or other, smaller venues when needed. Most members have multiple roles in each show.
Brenton founded the collective with his roommates and fellow theatre students, Hugh Ritchie and Thomas Sinclair. Their apartment was jokingly nicknamed Wolf Manor — “a classy yet aggressive name,” Brenton says.
Through Wolf Manor, the theatre students want to stimulate young people’s interest in theatre, which is why they also work on outreach and community engagement.
Brenton, originally from Newfoundland, says he remembers travelling to a workshop in high school to learn more about theatre – something he was vaguely interested in but knew nothing about. He says he was then inspired to pursue a professional career in the arts through the collective’s workshops on Shakespeare and physical conditioning. He hopes to do the same for others.
In June 2014, after casting, recruiting and fundraising, Wolf Manor presented its first show, a 90-minute, five-person adaption of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Currently, the team is preparing for its second production, Macbeth, showing in May at the Alumnae Theatre.
Claren Grosz, a fourth-year acting student at Ryerson, says Brenton approached her to direct Macbeth because he knew she was interested in getting that experience.
“The collective gives opportunities to people who deserve them or wouldn’t have them otherwise,” Grosz says. “Like opportunities for women, who are really under-represented.”
The collective also prides itself in the use of gender-blind or queer-positive choices in its casting.
Grosz adds that this is what makes them different from other production companies and says the best part of Wolf Manor is its nature of really being a collective.
“There’s no strict hierarchy, like there is in other companies,” she says. “Everything we do includes everyone. Everyone is friends, and everyone has to have a good time.”
There are currently about 20 students involved in the Wolf Manor Theatre Collective. While not every member is a Ryerson student (the team holds open auditions), the university has played a large role in shaping the collective.
The theatre school’s faculty and staff support Wolf Manor by providing the team with rehearsal space, which can be quite expensive otherwise. Wolf Manor also receives funding and support from the Ryerson Communication and Design Society (RCDS).
Brenton, who is an RCDS program director, says the collective involves students from other areas, such as image arts, graphic communications management and even the G. Raymond Chang School for Continuing Education.
“We are the next generation of this industry, and so we need to all work together,” he says.
Though the founding members are graduating this year and hope to pursue professional careers, the collective will continue to grow beyond Ryerson.
“It’s been amazing how interested parts of the Toronto communities have been in us,” Brenton says. “People are really anticipating our next show.”