Dreams can come true

CARP member Irving Hoffman’s dream came true when ACT II Studio (part of Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto) produced his first play in 1995. He was 78 years old then. Now, at the age of 81, he’s about to realize another dream, one that all playwrights aspire to — a revival.

Appropriately titled The Dreamers, Hoffman’s play is a retrospective of the “dirty thirties” in Toronto’s Harbord and Grace Streets neighbourhood. Although it’s largely autobiographical, Hoffman admits he takes dramatic licence with the characters in order to get to the heart of the period.

Set during the Depression, it’s the story of a Jewish working class family, struggling with the harsh realities of life — and their escape into dreams. What shines through is the care, hope and love that binds family and friends together.

Hoffman’s father was a violist with the Toronto Symphony under Ernest MacMillan (later Sir) three months a year, supplementing the work with music lessons and tuning pianos. He eventually lost his job, something from which he never recovered.

Hoffman’s interest in theatre began as a lad. His father, however, had a different slant on his future, saying that acng was okay as a hobby, but “making a living” was another matter. To this end, the young Hoffman left school at 15 and began working in a sweatshop for $2 a week. During this time, he decided to sign up for a night school course in bookkeeping at Central High School of Commerce. While waiting to register, he noticed a group of students lining up for drama courses with Herman Voaden, a well-known Toronto playwright and drama teacher of the time. He found himself “sliding over into that line”. This was just the beginning. Seeing a production of Irwin Shaw’s anti-war play, Bury the Dead by the Theatre of Action, entrenched his passion for theatre and he was truly hooked.

However, until he retired in 1991, theatre was a part-time pursuit while he spent 31 years working as a hairdresser and selling beauty supplies. In 1985 he took what was for him a major step, becoming President of Medina Theatre Ensemble. After performing in a variety of productions and public readings, a new direction opened up for him at Seneca College when he participated in a creative writing course. One of his assignments evolved into a full-length play. He boldly invited Vrenia Ivonoffski, ACT II Studio Director, to an early draft reading. Together they shaped the final script and collaborated on mounting a production. It played to rave public acclaim — and, in June of this year, it’s back by popular demand.

You can see The Dreamers at the Robert Gill Theatre, 214 College St., Toronto, from June 4 – 14. For tickets or further information, call the Box Office at (416) 978-7986; for group sales, call (416) 979-5000, ext. 6297.

The world’s a stage
ACT II Studio has nurtured the theatrical creativity of many “mature” artists. A wide range of courses and workshops are offered by an impressive faculty made up of established coaches from Shaw and Stratford Festivals, as well as teachers from Ryerson and George Brown Theatre Schools. Members aged 50 to 90 come from all walks of life to put a little drama in their lives, developing skills in everything from acting, speech, voice and movement to dance, mime, mask and clown, and even production, writing and directing. For further information, call (416) 979-5000, ext. 6297.