Common Boots Theatre began as Theatre Columbus — a company created when two young actors returned from France armed with a unique way of making theatre. Martha Ross and Leah Cherniak trained together under renowned physical theatre master Jacques Lecoq, whose techniques break the barriers between performer and audience by placing the actor at the centre of the work and placing the audience in the performance. The works scripted the chaos of managing modern life and featured characters that were both original and familiar. Over time the style evolved, a porous fourth wall was erected, and a writer joined the actors to shape the work into a script.
The Poor Alex Theatre in the heart of Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood served as home base. Together with Crow’s Theatre and Theatre Smith-Gilmour, Theatre Columbus managed the Poor Alex and established it as a vibrant centre for premiering new work. It was during this time that Jennifer Brewin joined Theatre Columbus as its first General Manager.
While resident at The Poor Alex, the company developed its particular brand of collective creation. Common Boots is building on the history of Theatre Columbus, which contributed more than 30 original works to the Canadian canon. The Anger In Ernest And Ernestine has had 18 major productions around the world and has been translated into Spanish and French. The Attic, The Pearls And 3 Fine Girls has been produced across Canada and internationally, and continues to connect the company to countless schools, theatre programs and amateur companies.
Jennifer Brewin became the artistic director in 2009. Jennifer specializes in the creation and production of new work, with an emphasis on large-scale, outdoor performance. She has created new plays for British Columbia’s Caravan Farm Theatre, the National Arts Centre, Toronto’s Evergreen Brick Works, and at the Canadian National Memorial in Vimy, France. In the 90s she produced two fringe festivals, SummerWorks and The Gathering, A Festival of Women’s Theatre. She was co-artistic director of the Caravan Farm Theatre and associate artist at the National Arts Centre English Theatre.
Jennifer was tasked with reinterpreting Theatre Columbus’ founding practices for a new generation of artists and audiences. Site-specific performances were added in 2011, with the establishment of annual outdoor winter production at Toronto’s historic Evergreen Brick Works.
The name “Theatre Columbus” had been chosen to convey a spirit of exploration and discovery. However, it carries a history of genocide and colonization. In 2015, the company changed its name to Common Boots Theatre, to celebrate and encourage inclusion and collaboration.
In 2013 Common Boots created a new play called The Public Servant.This work was collectively created physical comedy, the same clown-without-the-nose that had been carefully crafted by Leah and Martha. Jennifer brought a more overtly political lens to that work; where Theatre Columbus had lived in the personal, Common Boots lives in the public, while still focusing on the unlikely hero. The spirit of our founding mothers lives on in our process, form and comedy.
Common Boots (and Theatre Columbus) have been honoured with 10 Dora Mavor Moore Awards and 53 nominations; and the Chalmers Best Canadian Play Award, for The Betrayal, as well as nominations for Dr. Dapertutto and The Attic, The Pearls And 3 Fine Girls.