Sunday, June 14, 2015


We're back and blogging with a special GUEST POST about something I have been involved in for five years. And this night never fails to lift my artistic spirits and give me a boost of much needed positive energy...

Red Sandcastle owner Rosemary Doyle and singers bring the house down at JLR.

Monthly Open Mic Keeps Toronto's Musical Theatre Lovers Singing For 5 Years

Jill’s Living Room doesn’t take place in an actual living room. The monthly musical-theatre open mic happens in a darkened East End theatre space, replete with showbiz lighting, plenty of seats and a piano.

But like a friend’s living room, the event has a laid-back, friendly vibe that has attracted amateur and professional singers alike since 2010. On Monday, June 29, Jill’s Living Room—which founder Jill Léger bills as a “safe place to sing”—will celebrate its fifth anniversary.

“I started Jill’s Living Room kind of selfishly,” says Léger, who is also a songwriter-lyricist. “In 2010, I had just started taking voice lessons and was looking for a place where I could publicly try out some of the techniques I was learning and not feel embarrassed if I couldn’t hit a note or if I forgot to breathe. And as a songwriter, I also wanted a place where I could sometimes test-drive my own material.”

Léger floated the idea of starting her own open mic with her voice teacher, East End instructor Louisa Burgess Corbett. Corbett liked the idea and agreed to help populate the event with her students.

The first “JLR” took place in a rehearsal space at the Second City Training Centre in downtown Toronto. Attendance was sporadic in the early days but picked up as word of mouth spread. Today, Léger said that a typical evening draws about 15 singers, each performing up to two songs in the allotted two hours.

JLR relocated to the Red Sandcastle Theatre on Queen East in 2012. Not only was the new venue closer to Léger’s Little India home, but owner Rosemary Doyle was especially supportive, agreeing to man the box office and help with set up.

“I always say Rosemary is a friend to all artists,” says Léger, who produced a revue of her own music at the Red Sandcastle in 2012. “She really worked with me, helping ensure it could work from a financial standpoint. She’s also spread the word about what we’re doing.”

Léger knew the event would work only if she could hire top-drawer piano accompanists--musicians skilled enough to make even the most fledgling singer feel supported and comfortable. Her current roster of accompanists includes Stratford’s Michael Barber, impresario Chris Tsujiuchi, the Shaw Festival’s Paul Moody, versatile accompanist Julia Sunay and jazz recording artist Jim Clayton.

Léger said the night continues to attract performers of all ages and levels, and the songs they choose are always an agreeably eclectic mix—though most hew to the musical-theatre genre
Jill's Living Room founder Jill Leger takes the spotlight.

“We have kids get up and belt tunes from ‘Annie,’” Léger said. “We have folks in their 60s doing standards. We have first-time performers and people who have sung on Broadway. At a typical JLR, you will probably hear at least one song by Jason Robert Brown, Stephen Schwartz and Stephen Sondheim. But you will also hear material that’s under the radar, maybe a song by Flanders and Swann, Randy Newman or Tom Lehrer. I sometimes think of renaming the event ‘What’s that from?’ because so many times someone performs some obscure, fabulous gem and everyone then wants to know the details so they can look it up.”

Like Léger herself, many also perform original pieces, sometimes tunes slated for SummerWorks or the Fringe. Musicians occasionally accompany themselves on piano, guitar, ukelele or (once) harmonica. The night usually includes at least one singalong, and sometimes there’s even cake.

“It’s always a great time,” said Léger, who added that non-singers are more than welcome. “You don’t have to be one of the singers to enjoy it. For my money, it’s the best show in town for ten bucks.”

But of course, Léger hopes it can be more than that as well.

“JLR is fundamentally about safety,” she said. “It’s about creating a space full of love and support where people can feel safe to sing out—to polish delivery or technique, rekindle a dream or simply share music that’s personally meaningful.”

She added that JLR is also about community.

“For those of us in love with the genre of musical theatre, there is really nothing quite like gathering in a darkened space to celebrate the music and the wordplay with like-minded individuals,” she said. “There’s always lots of laughter and hugs, and sometimes tears, but only the good kind. I always leave JLR feeling like Gene Kelly, dancing up the sidewalk.”

Jill’s Living Room takes place the last Monday of every month at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen St. East, 8pm to 10pm. Everyone who attends is asked to pay $10 at the door to cover the space and the accompanist.

Live the adventure!