The Frost Fair 

Principle Contributors – phase one:  Jennifer Brewin, Marjorie Chan, Nina Gilmour, Courtenay Stevens, Jeff Yung and Kate Walker

The Frost Fair is an outdoor winter production that will be developed over the next four years. Its narrative structure features a multi-track storyline performed by multi-disciplinary actors. It is an immersive site specific performance that blends the idea of the North American early 20th century traveling Vaudeville show with the Elizabethan winter fairs that spontaneously rose up on London’s frozen River Thames. The objective is for The Frost Fair to become a feature of Canada’s Winter Festivals for years to come.

The Frost Fair is an investment in a new mode that can be performed for years to come. It establishes a format that can endure and adapt, allowing for the play to be remounted and toured. It is a format that accommodates evolution of both content and featured performers.

The tone and texture of the play borrows from a compendium of sources including the films; Marcel Carne’s Les Enfants du Paradis and Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus, and from the books, The Night Circus by Erin Morgentstern and Dr. Seuss’ IF I Ran the Circus.

Conceptually The Frost Fair blends two specific performance modes. It mimics the social phenomenon that occurred when the River Thames froze over in Elizabethan London. This rare feat of nature brought Londoners onto the river in droves, where overnight an entire fair of performances, food, games, and shops materialized. These frost fairs were spontaneous acts of social communion – anarchic, celebratory, and chaotic – a miracle of joy against nature’s brutal whimsies. We intend to blend these forms to create a large-scale production set outdoors during winter festivals.







We blend the Elizabethan fair with the North American traveling entertainments of the early part of the last century. During the boom and bust of the 20’s and 30’s North Americans were entertained by touring shows featuring a variety of performances and genres, from the popular to the classical: clown, opera, magic, ballet, clog dancing.

To anchor both story and context we delve into the social history of Toronto’s Spadina Museum.  The specifics of class struggles, social entertainments and immigration will provide the context within which our play lives.

Toller Cranston’s eccentric and breathtaking painting will inspire the design. Set, costumes, and lighting will mimic his art, bursting with colour, rich tones, and saturated landscapes. We aim to recreate the feeling his works evoke, that of a frozen winter night alive with emotion, intrigue and personality.

Works by Toller Cranston

The Creative Process

The entire process follows Common Boots’ standard working practice. Our plays are written through a collaborative process involving actors, a writer and a director. They are developed over a long period of time. Most of the work is done in studio and involves a company of actors, writer, director, composers and other key collaborators. Improvisation is key, as “improvs” are crafted into scenes and shaped into a narrative by a key writer in collaboration with the director.