Jason Collett's Basement Revue

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For the past seven years, singer-songwriter Jason Collett has hosted the variety show he calls his “Basement Revue” at the Dakota Tavern in Toronto. Now, he is about to bring it to Avening.

On Friday, October 4 and Saturday, October 5, you can join him for two nights of music, literature and performance at Avening Hall – you just won’t know what kind of show it will be until you get there.

Collett curates his show with a roster of “mystery guests” that he keeps secret until the very last minute. Not only does it keep the audience on its toes, he says that it keeps the performers fresh, too.

“The whole point of this kind of show is that we all go somewhere together,” Collett said on the telephone from Toronto. “There’s a vulnerability when an artist who’s known for doing one thing,
does another, or when groups of musicians who haven’t played together before get in front of a crowd.”

Collett revels in this element of risk that he says makes the shows so special. “Artists are privy to what happens in the rehearsal space. But when it is shared with everyone in the room, everyone’s aware it could become a train wreck. Or, the audience can witness the joy that happens when something clicks.”

The revues grew out of dinner parties Collett hosted at home with friends. “It’s a variety show with a kitchen table atmosphere, complete with passing the guitar around. There is a particular intimacy when songs or stories are shared.”

A vaudevillian twist
The Toronto Basement Revue has become a December tradition because that is when most of Collett’s musician friends find themselves debarking from a tour bus after a fall spent travelling from show to show.

Collett is no stranger to the inside of a tour bus himself. As a member of acclaimed musical collective Broken Social Scene and a solo performer, he has given his fair share of performances over the years.
The shows are contemporary art with a vaudevillian twist. They have featured bands, poetry readings, burlesque and even cooking demonstrations. Through such variety, Collett hopes to bring different forms of art and performance, such as poetry, to “people who might not go to poetry readings themselves.”

“Rock and roll knows how to put on a show,” explained Collett, who lived for two years in Flesherton, Thornbury and Markdale. “Poetry does not!”

To manage the literary end of things, he gets help from editors at Toronto publishing houses Coach House Books and House of Anansi.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, the element of surprise around the revues, Collett is careful about how he plans them. Usually, he invites about 12 guests and pays particular attention to the flow of the night. If all goes well, “There is an element of real listening and ass shaking!” he promised.

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