Merry wanderer prefers small-town stages
After years in rural theatres, Mark Crawford is stopping for a Midsummer break in Toronto
If you catch Mark Crawford in Toronto, consider yourself lucky. Though the lanky thespian has been treading the boards steadily since graduating from the University of Toronto eight years ago, his resumé reads like an inventory of small-town Canada.
“Great theatre doesn’t only happen in big cities,” he says. “Actors are always thankful when someone offers us a job, though some people are particularly attached to their urban life. But for me, working out in the country just feels like coming home.”
Crawford has a natural affinity for all things rural. Raised on a beef farm outside Glencoe, Ontario, he whet his theatrical appetite with musicals at Grand Bend’s Huron County Playhouse.
“I don’t remember how I found out that plays existed, but I was asking for tickets to shows for my birthdays and Christmas every year as long as I can remember,” he says. “Looking back at my family and the place I grew up, there’s no reason why I would want to be an actor. People talk about the acting bug, so maybe I got bitten by something.”
Though he appreciates a job he can bike to (like his upcoming role in Studio 180’s remount of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart at Buddies this fall), the passion of country theatregoers is a thrill.
“We have a tendency to think of small-town audiences as less sophisticated, but that’s not my experience,” he says. “Some of the regional theatres across the country have been around as long as Toronto’s major players. Canada has a huge theatre culture that people miss out on if they assume everything that’s good happens south of Eglinton.”
This summer will see Crawford spend an unusually long span in Toronto, while performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in High Park. CanStage’s annual offering, now in its 30th year, sees actors playing Shakespeare under the open sky.
“Performing Shakespeare outdoors feels like you’re really getting back to its roots in terms of accessibility and the spirit of fun,” Crawford says. “People often bring a picnic with them, and there are kids running around the whole time. We had a dog run up onstage last night unexpectedly, and racoons have been known to appear. Not every actor is built for working outdoors, but for me it feels like the most natural thing in the world.”
Director Richard Rose reimagines the script in contemporary Toronto. Crawford’s character, Francis Flute (one of the Mechanicals, a troupe of actors performing the play within the play), is redubbed Francis Filchenkov, a Russian immigrant bristling with machismo who clashes with his company when he’s assigned the female role.
“I’ve played a lot of characters that are really different from me, and over the course of the show I always develop a certain affection for them,” Crawford says. “It’s an interesting parallel with this role, because it’s also about an actor who’s uncomfortable with his character initially but gradually embraces it. The process helps him shed these layers of his personality, transforming him into the person he actually is.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
High Park Amphitheatre
1873 Bloor St W
1873 Bloor St W
Tues–Sun at 8pm; gate opens at 6pm
Runs until Sept 2
Runs until Sept 2
Admission PWYC (suggested donation $20)canadianstage.com