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Project The ... Musician: An Étude
2012 Robert Gill Theatre
2014 Dancemakers. 

Based on a famous novella written by a 19th century Russian/Ukrainian writer, The ... Musician tells a powerful story of struggle, suffering and sacrifice as faced by one who is eternally robbed of an essential element of human experience. Through a complex interplay of lighting, spoken text, physical gestures and live music, the show aims to challenge the audience’s perception by inviting the spectators to dive into a world where the most common signs of communication are perpetually concealed. More about the show.

Deep silence fell as a young man came forward on the platform.

His face was pale, his eyes dark and beautiful.

"No wonder he makes such an impression," some sceptic whispered, in the hall.

"His very looks are so dramatic!"

That was so. The musician's pale face, with its look of meditative attention, his unmoving eyes, his entire aspect aroused the expectation of something unusual,

something altogether out of the ordinary.


from V.G. Korolenko, translated from the Russian by Helen Altschuler 

Team  M

Art Babayants, director, musician-performer

Art is an actor, theatre director and teacher, trained in Russia, Great Britain, and Canada. His recent credits include musicals (Share and Share Alike, 2007; Seussical. The Musical, 2009;  Gypsy, 2012), contemporary Canadian drama (Couldn’t We Be, 2008), mockumentary theatre Miss Toronto Gets a Life in Parkdale, (2010-2011, as member of The DitchWitch Brigade). Art is now pursuing his PhD degree at the University of Toronto and his research focuses on the intersection of Applied Linguistics, Acting and Theatre Education. 

Virginia Cardinal, stage manager

Virginia Cardinal is in her final year of a double major in English and Production and Design at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies (CDTPS) at the University of Toronto. Recent theatre credits include: Lighting and Set Designer: Us and Them (CDTPS), Stage Manager: Odds and Ends Festival of Short Plays (Newborn Theatre), Stage Manager: Cyrano de Bergerac (Seventh Method Productions), Costume Designer: The Rules (CDTPS), Stage Manager: Eva Hesse: Eccentric Abstraction (CDTPS).


Clayton Gray, actor-dramaturge

Clayton is proud to be a part of this hard working and bold production. Clayton has been working the black box circuit in Toronto since early 2012, most recent work includes Playwright Survivor, Chekhov's The Bear (Sterling Studio Theatre), Taming of the Shrew (Rose Theatre), Death and the Devil (Toronto Theatre Academy)  

Kevin Kashani, actor-dramaturge
Kevin Kashani has completed the acting program at the University of Toronto’s Drama Centre and has received additional training at the Margolis Method Center in Barryville NY. Past theatre credits include: Far Away (Bad Dress Productions), Rhyme, Reason or Otherwise (Hart House Players), Us and Them (UC Drama Program), Actor (Odds and Ends Festival 2012), as well as the 2012 production of The…Musician: An Etude.


Nina Kaye, publicist

A recent graduate from the Masters’ program in Drama at the University of Toronto, Nina is a playwright, producer, promoter, director, performer, dramaturge, and the artistic director of Unspoken Theatre Company. Upcoming projects include writing for Playwright’s Survivor at Sterling Studio in December; a public reading of her play-in-development Into the Abyss with Unspoken Theatre and the Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies in February; hosting the Spring Cabaret with Hart House Players; and directing Royal Seasons at Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festivalin March.


Johanna Lawrie, production manager
Johanna Lawrie has recently begun her PhD studies at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies. She also holds an MA from the same program and a BAH in Drama from Queen’s University. Johanna has worked on many productions in a wide variety of roles, most often as Stage Manager, Production Manager, Front of House Manager and Producer. While in Kingston she co-founded a summer musical theatre company, Collective Productions, which successfully staged five shows over a period of three years. Since coming to Toronto she has been involved with a number of productions within the Drama Centre and has worked with the emerging company, Theatre Brouhaha.

Allison Leadley, text dramaturge
Allison Leadley is a second-year PhD student at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies where her research focuses on the representation of disease and disability in contemporary performance. She is a founding member of UBC’s Green College Players and has worked in the capacity of director, assistant director, and dramaturge with the 365 Days/ Plays Festival, Halifax’s Neptune Theatre, and DalTheatre. She is currently working as a dramaturge on the Centre’s upcoming show (tentatively) titled: Death Clowns in Guantanamo Bay.

Shelley Liebembuk, actor-dramaturge
Shelley is a graduate of the Atlantic Theatre Company’s acting conservatory (NYC); and currently a doctoral student at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies. Recent performance credits include The…Musician, as well as Raven for A Lark (Toronto SummerWorks, Ottawa Fringe Festival, Toronto Fringe Festival).

Paul J. Stoesser, scenic and lighting designer
Toronto Laboratory Theatre founding member and originating designer for The ... Musician.  Paul’s long design career includes most theatres in Toronto as well as work throughout the country and internationally.  Some fifteen years after its founding Paul collaborated with other leading Canadian designers of the time in the revivification of the Associated Designers of Canada.  He is also a charter member of the Canadian Institute for Theatre Technology.  As Technical Director at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies Dr. Stoesser is responsible for teaching scenography and theatre production.

Isabel Stowell-Kaplan, performance dramaturge
Isabel is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Toronto. Before returning to Canada she worked as a Production Assistant with Insight News and Film and Music Entertainment. She has an MA in Text and Performance Studies (King’s College/RADA) and a BA in English (Oxford). During her time at Oxford she appeared in many productions including the UK premiere of Joseph Heller's Catch-22 (Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2005). Whilst at the Drama Centre she has assisted on a number of shows and acted as Production Coordinator for the 2011 Festival of Original Theatre.

Mark Rochford

Born in Vancouver, Mark is a Toronto-based performer, writer, producer, and arts administrator. He studied drama at Queen's University, and earned an M.A. in drama, theatre, and performance studies at the University of Toronto. While at Queen's he performed in Twelfth Night, Titus Andronicus,Caesar and Cleopatra, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Twelve-Pound Look, and won the Clarkson Essay Prize and the J.C.W. Saxton Prize in Playwriting. Toronto performance credits: David Hersh’s I (Summerworks - TPM) and A Christian Turn’d Turk (U of T Studio Theatre). Production and Stage Management credits: The Seagull (Queen’s), Sicilian Limes (Robert Gill Theatre), Spoon (Studio Theatre), U of T’s 2012 Festival of Original Theatre, and the 2005 Summit Conference in Vancouver. Mark is currently assistant to the Artistic Director of the Luminato Festival.


Yulia Rubina (Theatrus)

Yulia was born in Russia. She holds two MA degrees as a linguist and market analyst. She has a substantial experience in teaching both the Russian language and literature. Her marketing carrier includes more than ten years in creative development of advertising campaigns for the world leading brands. In the last years before coming
to Canada, Yulia was Head of the Branding and Social Media Department of Beeline, a major telecom operator in Russia. At the moment, Yulia is working as a dramaturge, a Russian anguage coach and producer of Theatrus’ projects.


Dmitry Zhukovsky (Theatrus)

Dmitry is an acting coach, theatre director, actor, producer and the artistic director of Theatrus. He received his training at Shchukin Theatre Institute, a preeminent Moscow theatre school. His theatre career comprises more than 25 years of acting and directing for various theatres and TV channels as well as teaching acting at a number of film schools. Having worked in the USSR, Moldova, Russia and Canada, Dmitry participated in creating more than thirty shows, which include plays by Shakespeare, Moliere, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Pirandello, Bulgakov and Beckett. The last few years before moving to Toronto, Dmitry taught actors and TV directors at VGIK (Moscow, Russia). In Canada, Dmitry has created the Theatrus company and taken part in several theatre and education projects. As an acting consultant, he contributed to the development of innovative linguistic course Embodied English offered by the Toronto Laboratory Theatre. He has also worked as a producer and an assistant director on the show The...Musician. An Étude (2014) and as director of I Take Your Hand In Mine (The Chekhov Collective, 2015).



Vladimir Galaktionovich Korolenko (1853-1921)

Research. The Musician: A Phenomenological Study

This research project was done in 2011-2012 under the supervision of Professor Bruce Barton (University of Toronto). The following paragraphs are just a few excepts from the actual research study conducted by Art Babayants. 

On Research Process: 

In November and early December 2011, we were mostly drawing from the actual text of the novel, trying to find various ways of representing the characters on stage through limited lighting. That was when we discovered the necessity to create a more complex sign system in terms of the character representation – the idea of using feet for child characters emerged and the four above-mentioned scene types were established. With these ideas in mind, I retired for the winter holidays to work on the script.

The reading of the first draft took place on January 16, 2012 and the first ‘on feet’ rehearsal based on a written script scene (not the actual novel) occurred on January 31. This was also the first rehearsal that was documented in the actors’ journals and in the promptbook. The exact wording of the assignment the actors received was as follows :

"In your journals, I would request you to describe and, if you feel the need for it, to reflect on, your own bodily experience of learning how to move differently.  I’m specifically interested in seeing how the conscious monitoring of your body movements (perception) might, and hopefully, will become an unconscious/automated process (proprioception).  I will leave it up to you to select the ways to describe your experience: it might get very concrete or very metaphorical, you might choose to talk about physicality or/and mental images, etc."

From Actors' Journals

  • In this interaction between the Mother and Uncle Max, the director’s suggestion to “not look at our hands” was incredibly useful in freeing up the possibility for gestures. As soon as I stopped looking at my hands, and instead tried to react by focusing my energy through my hands, I felt that my gestures began to feel less robotic, and found a fluidity that was better able to incorporate the entirety of my arm. The energy for the gesture was no longer restricted from my elbow downwards, but rather coming from my core outwards, giving the gesture far more possibilities of movement in space. (S’s Journal)

  • One useful thing that came up in this rehearsal was the effectiveness of not looking at my hands or feet when using them to communicate. It was interesting to note that my extremities seemed to "die" if my focus was locked on them.  I noticed much more energy and reality in my own work and the work of my colleagues when focus was directed at the other person onstage or in whatever direction the character should be facing. (K's Journal)

On the Actors' Perception: 

"...  It could be suggested that my actors, having been exposed to a same pre-show training and training discourse, did not quite take the same path in developing their relationship with the material, the space and the staging.  As we have observed, their previous training and stage experience (or sometimes, the lack of either), shaped their process of going from perception to proprioception in very unique ways. S., who was able to take a less mechanistic approach, was closer to the state in which elements of her perception entered the sphere of proprioception. K. was only able to achieve that state occasionally, while D. was struggling with split focus and intermittent flow of energy even during the performance run."

On the Audience Perception: 

" was surprising to read that the “face-only” narratives seemed to require a lot more concentration than hand and gesture scenes – and here I can only speculate why. One obvious interpretation could be that the ‘face’ narratives contained a lot more information on the story than the hand and foot scenes. The other is the fact that face itself, being in the Western world at least one of our primary means of communication in most and general the focal point of our attention (in the English-speaking world, for example, we tend to look straight into the speaker’s eye). Hence the actor’s face was a more common and obviously a more readable communicative sign that allowed for more meaning making than the hands or the feet.

There is another aspect to that atypical amount of concentration. Focus can be guided from the outside – that is when one allows his/her focus to unintentionally wander and follow whatever or whoever catches its attention. But focus, as Phillip Zarrilli teaches, could also be directed from within – that is when one chooses to direct his in particular way and keep it ‘active’ throughout a prolonged period of time. Focus is one of the primary terms Phillip Zarrilli uses in his teaching and writing (in the Stanislavski tradition, another term is often used – concentration). As one of the respondents put it: “This show is not for the lazy. It requires a lot of mindwork put into it”. Once again, I can only speculate why this constant focus, this ‘effort for mindwork’ was required but the obvious answer seems that my attempt to challenge of the audience’s perception prompted the people’s internal negotiation of how to deal with the show and its stage language."



In the rehearsal room... Sep 2011 - Feb 2012

At the Robert Gill Theatre, March-April 2012

Photography by Sergii Serogin

Photography by Moush Sara John





My Entertainment World
The Toronto Laboratory Theatre and an English-Russian Theatre company named Théatrus have come together to produce a well-conceived play called The Musician. An Étude that is definitely worth checking out.

Vestnik Toronto/Вестник Торонто (in Russian)
Театральный восторг в The Distillery! Отличная новость для любителей театра: в Торонто появилось театральное объединение, чей первый спектакль по-настоящему впечатляет актерской игрой и талантливой режиссурой. В выходные пройдут последние три спектакля, пропустить которые никак нельзя!

Ontario Arts Review
There are some days that you want straight up entertainment, and then there are others that you feel the urge to see something amazing, artistic and thought provoking that leaves you wanting to see more by the end of the play. Beauty in the form of light and shadow, sound and silence, The Musician. An Étude is both a piece of theatre and art that I very highly recommend seeing.

The Be-Mused Blog
For those looking for a theatre show that is creative, challenging and thought-provoking, The Musician. An Étude is one to take in.

Russian Week
Кто слепой, кто зрячий – сложный вопрос. Мы так часто шагаем по жизни с широко распахнутыми, но ничего не видящими, глазами.   “Музыкант. Этюд.” встречается на пути и мы прозреваем на какое-то время – надолго ли? Но и это счастье.




It was interesting and it jolted me just enough out of my comfort zone that I noticed aspects about the performance and myself as an audience member that I don't usually notice, while not making me distractedly uncomfortable.
Marina Engleking

Enjoyed the play very much. I'm a visual junkie, always looking for interesting ideas. i thought the play of light with gestures and facial expressions against the plot about the blind (plato's cave in a way?) was  really quite stunning.
Marina Black

I liked the daring part of your experiment!
Prof. Antje Budde

A feast for the senses!
Prof. Kathleen Gallagher

I really enjoyed the experience and it made me to think a lot. There is something about “distance”, “closeness” and even “(in)humanity” regarding blind people that is  disturbing and worth thinking through.

Paulo, PhD Student, York University

I enjoyed the play immensely. I loved the fact that you created an alternate reality, which is what all incredible art does. I really loved how the audience became 'blind' during the play, thus empathizing with the main character, who also had this unfortunate fate. In the dark, I felt like my sense of hearing became stronger, so that the music that you played was that much more powerful, as was the actor's interpretation of it in thin air (air piano! oh yeah). Finally, I really liked the minimalism of the staging.


I really  enjoyed the show and it was truly a different experience.
It certainly needed a sophisticated directing to accomplish what we  witnessed tonight.  I'll be coming back with my husband and some musician friends to see it  again.
Ida, dancer, choreographer, PhD Candidate, University of Toronto

I loved the play!
Who ever would have thought that so much emotion could be displayed in the feet?!!
Prof. Merrill Swain

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