Common Boots Theatre celebrates 39 years of Serious Comedy. Throughout our nearly four decade history, we have maintained a strong history of producing provocative, incisive, new Canadian theatre and creating a supportive environment for unique voices to thrive. We do this through a boundless sense of play and wonder, a myriad of inspirations and collaborators, and multiple access points for audiences to enjoy. We are a Toronto-based, artist-run company with strong partnerships with artists and organizations across Ontario and Canada.
Common Boots Theatre began as Theatre Columbus in 1983 when Leah Cherniak and Martha Ross returned from training together under renowned French physical theatre master Jacques Lecoq. Together they developed their particular brand of collective creation that placed actors at the centre of the work and the audience in the performance. The works scripted the chaos of managing modern life and featured characters that were both original and familiar. The most high profile creations from this period include: The Betrayal; The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine; The Attic, The Pearls and 3 Fine Girls.
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 and during Jennifer’s tenure, the company created an annual tradition of outdoor winter theatre. Common Boots was the only company embracing the absurdity of winter and using the outdoors as a theatrical venue. Works in this vein include: The Story; Weather the Weather; Tails from the City.
Jennifer continued to guide the development of new works that were collectively created physical comedies, most notably The Public Servant and The Election. These and other pieces sit at the intersection of women, comedy, public space, and physical theatre, acknowledging the complex relationship the Public has with women and giving them stage time to ‘sort it out’.
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 formally changed its name to Common Boots Theatre, to celebrate and encourage inclusion and collaboration.
In 2018 Jenny Salisbury and Alex Bulmer joined Jennifer as a triumvirate of Co-Artistic Directors. Jenny (previously Artistic Producer) continued to champion community and social justice partnerships and engagement, artist mentorship including dramaturgy of works in development and audience access initiatives. Alex propelled the company’s interest in physical audio theatre and ignited the priority for inclusion of artists and audiences with disabilities.
In 2019 this trio inaugurated the new audio/immersive/site specific venture with Scadding at the Toronto Fringe Festival, exploring the link between the body and space as foundations for a new dramaturgy where physical performances privilege listening over watching. In October, they premiered The Election – one of Canada’s first audio description integrated plays.
Jenny and Jennifer stepped down in 2020.
Alex Bulmer continued as Artistic Director and during the COVID-19 pandemic created The Listening Stage, a series of workshops, readings and performances in partnership with BALANCE for Blind Adults; continued the development of new works, experiments and explorations of sound; supported the hybrid digital production May I Take Your Arm?, the short film Postcards From My Balcony and the audio recording of The Story by Martha Ross at the Globe; commissioned and recorded an accessible audio adaptation of the stage play The Unplugging by Yvette Nolan, with full audio design by Amanda Trapp.
Common Boots continues to create compelling Canadian theatre, celebrating unique perspectives with a wide array of collaborators. In 2022, Derek Kwan was named Artistic Director, and charged with a new mission and mandate, carries on the traditions of the company in the spirit of our foremothers.
Common Boots has been honoured with 10 Dora Mavor Moore Awards and 54 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.