University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

Drama Queens

Krista Sutton, Jean Yoon, Kim Gaynor, Elvira Kurt and Kate Taylor

Krista Sutton

Krista Sutton’s 15 minutes of fame are nowhere near running out. While a storm of opinion raged over one of her most recent movies, American Psycho, Sutton, who portrayed a prostitute killed by the title character, has seen her star rise. “It certainly ups your exposure,” she says of her experience with the film. “You start being seen for a lot of interesting projects.” One that caught her interest was Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues, which brought Sutton to the stage of Toronto’s New Yorker Theatre for nine weeks this year. “I look for challenging roles,” says Sutton. “I enjoy surprising people with what I do.”

After graduating with a BA from the University College Drama Program in 1991, Sutton co-founded the Drama Workshop in Toronto, a theatre school that boasts guest actors and directors – as well as Sutton herself – among its teachers. In 1994, she and her mother founded The Georgian Theatre Festival in Meaford, Ontario, which has become a showcase for contemporary and classic Canadian plays. With her various projects, Sutton finds her path crossing with U of T’s drama program. “You learn that it’s a very small world in theatre,” she says, pointing out that she first met Kate Lynch, the associate director of The Vagina Monologues, through the drama program. She stays in touch with Pia Kleber, the program’s director, and sometimes offers advice to grads. “There’s not enough mentoring in this field,” she says. “I think we should support each other – this business does not have to be so cutthroat.” – Hilary Davidson

Jean Yoon
It takes only a moment to toss off racial slurs. Jean Yoon (BA 1989 Innis) took some 16 years to respond, but what a comeback: the playwright’s reaction earned her a Dora nomination for Outstanding New Play.

The Yoko Ono Project, which premiered at Toronto’s Theatre Passe-Muraille last year, is a performance art/multimedia comedy that explores the experience of Asian-Canadian women alongside Yoko Ono’s art. The idea came to Yoon while at the University of Toronto in 1984, after continually having Ono’s name tossed at her with “this horrible racist sneer.”

“I started researching and realized the way the world saw Ono was coloured by racism, sexism and an anti-art perspective,” says Yoon, who is also an actor and has been a Canada Council committee member on racial equality in the arts. “She’s an avant-garde artist who would normally be perceived by a small audience, and she was being viewed by a huge pop audience who just didn’t get it. And she was an uppity Asian woman, not what one expected a Beatles woman to be.” No wonder Ono was demonized, she says.

Yoon, 38, started writing in ’94, but it took another five years to penetrate the Ono security fortress for permission to use Ono’s art and music for the show. Now, a production is planned for Vancouver and there is U.S. interest. But the artistic struggle continues for Asian artists. “We are the largest visible minority in Toronto, but it’s still very difficult to produce an Asian play,” says Yoon. “Our talent pool is bigger and deeper, but we are coming into our prime during an arts funding crisis. We’re so proud of Ondaatje and Atwood as cultural ambassadors for this nation, but they have said that arts funding in their formative years was crucial, so I worry.” – Margaret Webb

Kim Gaynor
When Canada’s newest opera company opened its doors in Montreal in 1980, Kim Gaynor (BA 1983 UC) was studying the formation of things Canadian – political and cultural institutions, literature, history – as part of U of T’s then-new Canadian Studies program. Now she is a major Canadian cultural player herself, as the new general director of the Opéra de Montréal. Gaynor, who also has an MBA in arts and media administration from York University, earned her stripes working for the Royal Opera House in London, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in Montreal.

In her new post, the bilingual Gaynor will oversee an $8-million budget and a company that stages seven operas a year (a total of 36 performances). Finding and giving opportunities to young Canadian talent as well as attracting a new generation to opera are among her primary goals.
Gaynor, 39, believes it’s important to “invite” new audiences to experience the opera. Although she acknowledges that opera is often accused of elitism, she says: “Opera can be enjoyed by everyone. It unites the best of the performing arts – voice, music, stagecraft, movement.” – Margaret Webb

Elvira Kurt
Back when Ellen (“Yep, I’m gay”) DeGeneres was better known as Ellen Who?, Elvira Kurt (BSc 1984 St. Michael’s) was already cracking audiences up with her Sapphic satires. Indeed, the Toronto comic came out at U of T’s Convocation Hall in 1991, when she was opening for main acts.

Ten years and a thousand stand-up-and-out shows later, Kurt is getting big laughs with a second comedy special that aired on Comedy Central last summer, two CDs (Kitten With a Wit and Live from Las Vegas) and appearances on Showtime, A&E, PBS, Lifetime and BBC. Her previous comedy special, Big Girl Now, scooped gold at the Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival, and she rocked audiences with her triple-orgasm simulation in The Vagina Monologues this winter in Toronto. Kurt, 39, now splits her time between Los Angeles and Berkeley, California, pursuing TV and film opportunities.

Still, it was one particular phone call that told Kurt that she had really arrived. Yep, Ellen, the world’s most famous lesbian, called Kurt for help writing material for her most recent stand-up show and TV special, which aired on HBO. “She was returning to the comedy circuit and was a little anxious,” says Kurt. “She’d never really done gay stand-up [before her hit sitcom Ellen]. It was terribly validating for me. Then it was interesting to see that, even after all the material success she’s had, her insecurity is still there.” 
– Margaret Webb

Kate Taylor
Globe and Mail theatre critic Kate Taylor (BA 1983 UC) recently enjoyed one of her best reviews yet, but it was not one she wrote. A Toronto Life magazine profile hailed Taylor as “the best critic of theatre in Toronto, She Who Must Be Read.”

Depending on which side of the curtain they’re on, readers love or fear Taylor’s concise analysis of a play and her equally sharp dispatch of the superficial. “I’m not here to promote or nurture, but to speak to a larger audience [as in ticket buyers],” says Taylor, 38, “and thus I am willing to risk offending the theatre community.”

Over the years, Taylor, who sees some 160 plays a year, has taken on Stratford Festival for watering down its classical repertoire with commercial theatre, Shaw Festival for anemic programming, Canadian Stage for “prostituting” itself to American and British cash cows, and governments for slashing arts funding. “Canadian politicians are slow to understand that people know a country for its culture, not its politics,” she says.

All gloom? Not at all. Now that the megamusical craze is waning, Taylor believes Toronto theatre is exhibiting a “quiet dynamism,” with mid-size theatres reasserting themselves as “real artistic centres” and playwrights “more willing to paint on large canvases.”

As is Taylor. She recently finished her first novel, Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen, set in France and Canada, to be published by Doubleday in fall 2002. “Those from our generation are internationalists,” says Taylor. “We’re not content to be the best in Canada. We want to be seen internationally.” – Margaret Webb

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