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Artists in the GTA: Colin B. Anthes finds himself as an accidental raconteur

Twenty-six-year old Colin B. Anthes speaks with the clipped elocution of a classical stage actor. Although a long-time stage performer, his trajectory to become founder of a theatre company was unconventional.

A writer who grew up loving Monty Python and Mel Brooks, he fell into drama because he had to choose either drama or art for his high school elective and he "couldn't draw." His upbringing in Niagara Falls also didn't naturally lend itself to theatrical aspirations. It wasn’t exactly a cultural incubator, especially as the Falls became increasingly obscured by garish wax museums and casinos. 
"I actually intended to go to America on a golf scholarship," he says. As a junior, Anthes was a winner on the Canadian Junior Golf Association and got a bit of attention for shooting a course and tournament record 9-under 63 in the Ontario Junior Masters. Going to theatre school instead was a change of plans he made in his final year of high school.

"I attribute this change to the joy of working for an audience. Golf is a terrific game, but it’s a bit of a selfish business, really." Thrilling audiences with golf is a difficult task -- theatre was far more immediate.
He attended Humber College for Theatre where he honed his dialogue-heavy approach to include more explorations of physicality in his performance. He graduated with the Humber Theatre Award for Outstanding Achievement.
He teamed up with composer Tom Di Martino to form the Twitches and Itches Theatre Company. "It actually kind of describes the company, its physically off-beat, and kind of a Halloween. I think Halloween is a big influence on nearly everything I do." The two are the hub of the operation, the only permanent members, both riffing off each other to develop ideas. "He might have certain ideas for music that affect they way I think about composing the score," says Di Martino. "But then I might go off and write something that he never imagined for the project, which could inspire him to go back to the script and edit the production to fit the music. There is a lot of give and take here."
Twitches and Itches debuted in 2009 with Ely and the Dragon, a physical theatre piece based on Joseph Campbell’s concept of the hero's journey. In February 2010, they made their Toronto debut with Emperor, an original play adapted from two Majorcan folktales. According to NOW magazine, Emperor’s one-week run in the Backspace Theatre had enough energy "to lift the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace off the ground by a couple of inches."
The plays they choose are highly energetic and physical in nature, and draw from a wide-ranging and ever-increasing list of influences. "Some of the influences most immediate to our work include Jerzy Grotowski, Jacques Lecoq, Eugenio Barba, and the themes and images of folklore and mythology," explains Anthes.
Anthes received an Ontario Arts Council creators’ reserve grant in the winter of 2010 to develop his original one-man physical theatre piece, The Prince is Sleeping, as part of a workshop. 
He loathes theatre that is pretentious and exclusive, where regular people are unable to afford tickets. He yearns for accessible theatre, "where no member of the community is excluded." His M.O. is to offer theatre in unconventional locations that the rank and file can access and not feel out of place. He says theatre is the most public of artistic mediums, so the public should be able to access it.  
"The mandate of my company is theatre works that explore storytelling. I’ve always thought of storytelling in its relation to community. In storytelling, it’s communication of complex, abstract thought that we do. It’s perhaps our most inherently human trait. It’s always been used to connect people and to bring them together. Before even getting to the subject matter of a piece itself, I think there’s something eternally valuable in getting a group together to take in a story. There’s always a campfire waiting for us to gather around it."
He felt the urge to relocate after school, somewhere between Toronto and Niagara Falls. He wanted to find a supportive community to grow his craft. He chose St. Catharines. He moved in 2012 and had to perform The Prince is Sleeping as a one-man play out of necessity -- he simply didn’t know anyone in town. He played all 18 separate characters, an exhausting process. "The upside of that is it’s easy to find rehearsal space,” he quipped. But it was a lonely process that pushed him to the brink, and slammed the brakes on his entire acting career when his shoulder "fell apart."
The intensely physical nature of the show exacerbated a debilitating shoulder injury. After surgery, he realized he would have to leave the stage indefinitely. He misses performing immensely, but has been forced to channel his energies into writing and producing, his first love. 
Lately, he’s put increasing emphasis on collaboration and interdisciplinarity. He is focused on bringing together emerging St. Catharines-area artists to provide accessible theatre that tells the stories he’s always wanted to tell. He’s been floored by the support in the small community, which is refreshingly devoid of the cutthroat competitiveness. "Everybody just supports everyone. Automatically, it’s just instinctive here."
Anthes has a number of projects lined up. One is working on an interdisciplinary collaboration with renowned choreographer Sharon Moore. "I recognized in him a love of storytelling, a provocative mental clarity, an ability to locate and interweave imagery with historic inspiration or parts of our common experiences and a thirst for rich emotional content," says Moore. "I thought he was a force to be reckoned with."
Anthes has also assembled an ensemble cast of emerging actors to perform a collection of Canadian short stories that he is re-working for the stage. "I really feel it’s important to be telling stories that reflect young people today. There’s never been a period like this, where it’s changing so quickly and it’s so hard to get footing," he says.
While telling the stories of others, it may be nearing the time to tell his own. He was previously enamored with the mode of storytelling itself, and with telling the stories of others. 
"I wasn’t so interested in having any voice of my own," he says quietly. "Increasingly I’m finding maybe I may need to develop more of my own voice. Because the world needs to be articulated as it is now, and I’m feeling a need to be a part of that."
Tiffy Thompson is a writer and illustrator who lives in Toronto. She is drawn to the quirky and eclectic stories of those that live and work here. 
Photos courtesy of Jan DiMartino & Colin Bruce Anthes.
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