Vern Thiessen to leave his post as Workshop West artistic director

Vern Thiessen, Workshop West Playwrights Theatre.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“Time to move on,” says Vern Thiessen of his decision after five years to leave his post as artistic director of Workshop West Playwrights Theatre, effective Aug. 31.

He won’t be leaving Edmonton, though. “I need more room in my life for writing and teaching,” says the  award-winning playwright (Apple, Einstein’s Gift, Vimy, Lenin’s Embalmers, Shakespeare’s Will). “That’s what gives me the greatest joy.”

I was never a lifer,” he laughs, on the subject of artistic directorship. “That would take a certain resilience I don’t have….”

To help support 12thnight.ca YEG theatre coverage, click here

Thiessen arrived in Edmonton in 2015 after seven years in New York, trailing a host of commissions and premieres from both sides of the border. It was a homecoming of sorts. He landed at the very theatre company where he’d gotten his first professional gig after university here (a post-graduate degree in playwriting from the U of A) some 25 years before. As Thiessen put it at the time, his career-launching assignment at Workshop West — as resident script reader and dramaturg — came at a moment when Workshop West was starting to get a national profile for its devotion to Canadian playwrights and their new plays. 

Daniela Vlaskalic and Shaun Johnston in Apple by Vern Thiessen, 2001-2002. Photo supplied.

And Thiessen has made his own internationally notable contributions to that repertoire. Apple alone has had more than a hundred productions world-wide.

The well-connected playwright, with an indefatigable zest for outreach and mentorship, has shepherded a number of new Canadian plays, and remounts, into the big wide world. Kenneth T. Williams’ Cafe Daughter continues to tour across the country and internationally.  With projects like This is YEG: New Plays For A New City — in which Thiessen invited eight Edmonton playwrights to be “embedded” in an city community that fascinated them and create from there — he’s re-fashioned Workshop West to reflect the greater cultural and ethnic diversity he found in Edmonton after his return. The company’s annual Canoe Festival has allied itself with Sound Off, the country’s first professional deaf theatre, and Black Arts Matter, an initiative to explore black culture and showcase its artists.

“What I’m most proud of, the project closest to my heart is #writesofpassage,” which mentors junior high and high school playwrights: “a thousand kids a year from 16 schools, in French, English, and Arabic.”

Meanwhile, Thiessen’s happy to lose the endless grant-writing paperwork that goes with being a theatre artistic director, and return to his life as an artist and teacher. “I’ve got a lot of teaching here lined up for next year,” says the playwright. “And commissions from the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre an Stratford I want to finish.”

The company founded by Gerry Potter, which celebrated its 40th birthday a couple of weeks ago, has had more artistic directors than most of Edmonton’s small- and mid-sized companies. “And I think that (renewal) is a good thing. It’s been a great gig…. I have no idea who they’ll pick (to replace me),” he says, genially. “Someone younger and not as white as me!”

Posted in News/Views | Tagged , , , ,

A weekend at the theatre in E-town: happy birthday Varscona, A Likely Story, Improvaganza…

Mat Hulshof, Rachel Bowron, Vincent Forcier, Jeff Haslam, Jenny McKillop in A Likely Story, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Mat Busby.

By Liz Nicholls 12thnight.ca

It’s the weekend in E-Town. So obviously you need to be in a theatre. Have a peek at some of your options. You could…

To help support 12thnight.ca YEG theatre coverage, click here

Go to a theatre party. Three years ago, something dramatic happened to the topography of this theatre town: a new theatre in Old Strathcona rose from the bricks, the spirit, the memories (and the footprint) of an old one. The Varscona was Edmonton’s first new theatre in a dozen years; it had taken those 12 years for the theatre artists of its resident companies (Teatro La Quindicina, Shadow, Die-Nasty) to realize their dream.

The Varscona (10329 83 Ave.) is throwing a third birthday bash Sunday afternoon, with a celebratory mix of cake, sweet and savoury snacks, wine, and a show: entertainment from Varscona stars, with Steven Greenfield at the piano. Yes, song and dance and comedy will be involved. Teatro’s resident playwright Stewart Lemoine makes a rare appearance onstage himself in the course of the festivities. So do Plain Jane artistic director Kate Ryan and the cast of Fun Home.

The reception is at 2 p.m.; showtime is 3 p.m. And the gala tickets, at varsconatheatre.com, are all-inclusive.

Or a show. Saturday is a two-show day for Teatro’s season-opening premiere, Lemoine’s A Likely Story. Read about it, and the season HERE.

Catch some of the world’s most agile (and fearless) improvisers at work at Improvaganza, the 19th annual edition of Rapid Fire Theatre’s International and Sketch Comedy Festival. What will happen? No one knows. By definition.

Tonight, the great improviser (and archivist of nerd arcana) Mark Meer presides over the ultimate in sophisticated nerdism, with his hit brainchild Improvised Dungeons and Dragons (Zeidler Hall at the Citadel, 8 p.m.). Or catch the Festival Ensemble, an all-star team assembled from Improvaganza’s international array of troupes, who meet for the very first time on the Citadel Club stage for your entertainment (7:30 p.m.).

Or bring some of your evocative clothing items of yore to the Club at 10 p.m. And Sweater Puppies, an all-female troupe from Atlanta will undertake to use them as inspiration for both long- and short-form improvs: recycling at its most inventive. After the show, they donate the clothing to a deserving charity. Yes, your beloved cut-offs that don’t quite cover your butt can break into showbiz. 

Improvaganza tickets (and full schedule through June 22) at rapidfiretheatre.com.

Posted in News/Views, Previews | Tagged , , , , , ,

On, and above, the stages in Edmonton: a week of possibilities

Let There Be Height, Firefly Theatre and Circus. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

The week on, and above, the stages in Edmonton. Consider the possibilities.

•Firefly refuses to stay put, in either time or space.

Edmonton’s pioneer theatre/ circus company and academy, devoted to defying gravity, is having an “aerial cabaret” Thursday and Friday at the Westbury Theatre. It’s their 15th annual Let There Be Height showcase and fund-raiser, devoted this year to time travel.

Finally, in this earthbound age, something to look up to. You’ll see daring people on their flying trapezes, wrapping themselves in aerial silks and plummeting towards the ground. You’ll see people who embrace the idea of hanging upside in a hoop, with one leg draped around an ear.

To help support 12thnight.ca YEG theatre coverage, click here

Let There Be Height runs Thursday and Friday (7:30 p.m., silent action at 6:30) at the Westbury, in the ATB Financial Arts Barns (10330 84 Ave.). Tickets: TIX on the Square (780-420-1757, tixonthesquare.ca). All proceeds go to Firefly’s circus academy.

 

Jeff Haslam, Rachel Bowron, Jenny McKillop in A Likely Story, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Ryan Parker.

•Here’s a likely story. No, really: Teatro La Quindicina launches their 32nd season this week with a new Stewart Lemoine travel comedy, A Likely Story. Five strangers in a train stranger, who set forth on a journey — once they discover who they are and where they’re going. It opens Friday and runs through June 22 on the Varscona stage (tickets: teatroq.com). Have a peek at the 12thnight preview here, an interview with playwright Lemoine. Bonus: he talks about the season, which also includes two Lemoine comedy revivals (A Momentary Lapse and Vidalia) and a vintage psychological thriller (The Bad Seed). Tickets: teatroq.com.

Max Hanic in rehearsal for Boy Trouble, Nextfest. Photo by Mac Brock.

•Nextfest, the multi-disciplinary festival devoted to emerging artists, continues at the Roxy, the Backstage Theatre, and a cluster of gallery venues, through Sunday. I caught Mac Brock’s Boy Trouble at the Roxy last week: it’s impressive for both its sharp, funny writing and for the solo performance by Max Hanic, a young actor to keep your eye on. It’s running Saturday and Sunday on the Roxy stage. Check out the 12thnight.ca preview, an interview with the playwright here.

Jessy Ardern and Jacob Holloway in Weal Thyman The Third, in rehearsal at Nextfest. Photo by Jenn Galm.

And have a look at the 12thnight.ca interview with Philip Geller, a co-creator of Weal Thyman The Third, a bouffon clown comedy of the outrageous persuasion (you can see it here). It returns to the Nextfest stage Wednesday (7 p.m.) with performances Friday and Saturday.

Nextfest tickets and schedule: nextfest.org.

•If you can’t have A Weekend in the Country to call your own, you can hear the song — in the Foote in the Door production of the great Sondheim musical of romantic ambiguity, A Little Night Music. Mary-Ellen Perley’s production continues through Saturday at La Cité francophone, 8627 91 St). Tickets: TIX on the Square (780-420-1757, tixonthesquare.ca) or eventbrite.ca. Foote in the Door is an enterprising collective, formed by alumnae of the Citadel’s Foote Theatre School, that specializes in the musical theatre repertoire. A Little Night Music is the finale of their fifth season.

Bella King, Jocelyn Ahlf, Jillian Aisenstat in Fun Home, Plain Jane Theatre. Photo by Mat Busby

•If you’re in summer reflective mode, have a look at the 32nd annual Sterling Award nominations, and muse on the season just past. The complete list is here.

For the first time, stepping up to the times, the Sterling’s performance categories are gender-neutral, an example set by the Doras in Toronto. Instead, the outstanding leading and supporting performances are divided into comedy and drama, as determined by jurors, a discussable point (as the Sterling committee acknowledges ) in an era when much of the most interesting work onstage evades that division. 

  

Posted in News/Views | Tagged , , , , , ,

The week on, and above, Edmonton stages

Let There Be Height, Firefly Theatre and Circus. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

The week on, and above, the stage in E-town. Consider the possibilities.

•Firefly refuses to stay put, in either time or space.

Edmonton’s pioneer theatre/ circus company and academy, devoted to defying gravity, is having an “aerial cabaret” Thursday and Friday at the Westbury Theatre. It’s their 15th annual Let There Be Height showcase and fund-raiser, devoted this year to time travel.

Finally, in this earthbound age, something to look up to. You’ll see daring people on their flying trapezes, wrapping themselves in aerial silks and plummeting towards the ground. You’ll see people who embrace the idea of hanging upside in a hoop, with one leg draped around an ear.

Let There Be Height runs Thursday and Friday (7:30 p.m., silent action at 6:30) at the Westbury, in the ATB Financial Arts Barns (10330 84 Ave.). Tickets: TIX on the Square (780-420-1757, tixonthesquare.ca). All proceeds go to Firefly’s circus academy.

 

Jeff Haslam, Rachel Bowron, Jenny McKillop in A Likely Story, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Ryan Parker.

•Here’s a likely story. No, really: Teatro La Quindicina launches their 32nd season this week with a new Stewart Lemoine travel comedy, A Likely Story. Five strangers in a train stranger, who set forth on a journey — once they discover who they are and where they’re going. It opens Friday and runs through June 22 on the Varscona stage (tickets: teatroq.com). Have a peek at the 12thnight preview here, an interview with playwright Lemoine. Bonus: he talks about the season, which also includes two Lemoine comedy revivals (A Momentary Lapse and Vidalia) and a vintage psychological thriller (The Bad Seed). Tickets: teatroq.com.

Max Hanic in rehearsal for Boy Trouble, Nextfest. Photo by Mac Brock.

•Nextfest, the multi-disciplinary festival devoted to emerging artists, continues at the Roxy, the Backstage Theatre, and a cluster of gallery venues, through Sunday. I caught Mac Brock’s Boy Trouble at the Roxy last week: it’s impressive for both its sharp, funny writing and for the solo performance by Max Hanic, a young actor to keep your eye on. It’s running Saturday and Sunday on the Roxy stage. Check out the 12thnight.ca preview, an interview with the playwright here.

Jessy Ardern and Jacob Holloway in Weal Thyman The Third, in rehearsal at Nextfest. Photo by Jenn Galm.

And have a look at the 12thnight.ca interview with Philip Geller, a co-creator of Weal Thyman The Third, a bouffon clown comedy of the outrageous persuasion (you can see it here). It returns to the Nextfest stage Wednesday (7 p.m.) with performances Friday and Saturday.

Nextfest tickets and schedule: nextfest.org.

•If you can’t have A Weekend in the Country to call your own, you can hear the song — in the Foote in the Door production of the great Sondheim musical of romantic ambiguity, A Little Night Music. Mary-Ellen Perley’s production continues through Saturday at La Cité francophone, 8627 91 St). Tickets: TIX on the Square (780-420-1757, tixonthesquare.ca) or eventbrite.ca. Foote in the Door is an enterprising collective, formed by alumnae of the Citadel’s Foote Theatre School, that specializes in the musical theatre repertoire. A Little Night Music is the finale of their fifth season.

Bella King, Jocelyn Ahlf, Jillian Aisenstat in Fun Home, Plain Jane Theatre. Photo by Mat Busby

•If you’re in summer reflective mode, have a look at the 32nd annual Sterling Award nominations, and muse on the season just past. The complete list is here.

For the first time, stepping up to the times, the Sterling’s performance categories are gender-neutral, an example set by the Doras in Toronto. Instead, the outstanding leading and supporting performances are divided into comedy and drama, as determined by jurors, a discussable point (as the Sterling committee acknowledges ) in an era when much of the most interesting work onstage evades that division. 

  

Posted in News/Views | Tagged , , , , ,

A year on Edmonton stages: the Sterling Award nominations

Bella King, Jocelyn Ahlf, Jillian Aisenstat in Fun Home, Plain Jane Theatre. Photo by Mat Busby

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

A highly unusual coming-of-age coming-out musical in which a cartoonist unravels in flashback frames her mysterious family history proved the top choice of jurors, as the re-vamped 32nd annual Sterling Award nominations were announced Monday at Fringe Theatre headquarters.

That would be Fun Home, a musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s best-selling graphic memoir of growing up with a father who is, as she comes to realize, gay. And the haunting, funny, heart-wrenching Plain Jane Theatre production directed by Dave Horak, scooped up eight nominations in 24 Sterling categories, including top musical, independent production, and director.

To help support 12thnight.ca YEG theatre coverage, click here

There were nods as well for Jocelyn Ahlf’s leading performance as the 43-year-old Alison, supporting role performances from Bella King as the college-age Alison and Kate Ryan as Alison’s mother, plus Janice Flower’s musical direction.

The Sterlings, named after a visionary theatre pioneer in these parts (Elizabeth Sterling Haynes), celebrate excellence on Edmonton stages during the past season. In this edition,  for the first time, the performance categories are gender-neutral, an example set recently by Toronto’s Dora Awards. Instead of gender designations, the Sterlings have opted to divide performances, leading and supporting, another way — into comedy and drama, as determined by jurors. 

In the new gender-neutral Sterling nomination landscape, 14 of the 20 nominations for outstanding performances, leading and supporting role, in drama and comedy have gone to women. Vanessa Sabourin accounts for two, leading performances in both drama and comedy, in  Northern Light’s provocative 19 Weeks and Bright Young Things’ Fallen Angels. All five nominees for “outstanding performance in a supporting role – drama” are women; two, Nicole St. Martin and Lora Brovold, were cast-mates in Valerie Planche’s Citadel/ Arts Club production of the blue-collar Lynn Nottage tragedy Sweat. 

Actor Kendra Connor presided over Monday’s announcement, the official prelude to the upcoming June 24 Sterling gala. And the nominations were read by actors Melissa Thingelstad and Bella King.

Umed Amin, Mikaela Davies, Emma Houghton in Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography.

Fun Home is the work of a small indie company (part of the Varscona Theatre Ensemble). The three other big nomination draws are productions from Edmonton’s largest playhouse, the Citadel. Nancy McAlear’s production of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, a romantic comedy that revisits the world of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to follow the fortunes of the neglected middle sister (name her if you can), has seven nominations — including outstanding director, as well as Mikaela Davis’s star performance as the bristly misfit Miss Bennet, Mathew Hulshof’s dry and witty supporting performance as Mr. Darcy, Dana Osborne’s set and lavish period costumes, and Jonathan Lewis’s score.

Rachel Bowron, Jesse Lipscombe in The Party. Photo by Ryan Parker

Kat Sandler’s political comedy double-bill, The Party and The Candidate, and Daryl Cloran’s production of Matilda, the hit Broadway musical adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel (co-produced by the Citadel, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, and the Vancouver Arts Club), each received six nominations.

The former was the season’s most adventurous (and aerobic) theatrical experiment, in which Sandler’s two intertwined comedies, one an immersive “party” and one a full-out farce, happened simultaneously every evening (with the same cast dashing dashing back and forth between two Citadel theatres).

This double-barrelled extravaganza has nominations in the outstanding new play category, as well as  for co-directors Sandler and Cloran and for Megan Koshka’s extravagant and giddy costumes. Three actors from those joint productions, Thom Allison, Colleen Wheeler, and Amber Lewis, dominate the “supporting role – comedy” category, along with Mathew Hulshof (Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley) and Jesse Gervais for his very funny performance as the humourless anti-theatrical theatre recruit in The Comedy Company

Matilda the Musical. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography.

Matilda’s six nominations include outstanding musical, Kimberly Rampersad’s playful precision choreography for kids, Cory Sincennes’ set and costumes, Gerald King’s lighting, and musical direction by veteran Don Horsburgh.

Damien Atkins, We Are Not Alone. Photo supplied.

After that, with four nominations each, are productions on every scale, small to large. Two are solo shows. Damien Atkins’ We Are Not Alone, a collaboration between  Toronto’s Crow’s Theatre, Montreal’s Segal Centre and Halifax’s 2b theatre, played in  the Theatre Network season. The charismatic playwright, an erstwhile Edmontonian, is nominated in the leading performance (drama) category.  Lake of the Strangers, a haunting new memory play by the brother-sister team of Hunter Cardinal and Jacquelyn Cardinal, has four Sterling nods. Three are for the atmospheric production which actually happened in a shallow pool of water in a Tessa Stamp design, lit by Narda McCarroll, and enhanced by Brianna Kolybaba’s projection design.

Kevin Sutley, Bobbi Goddard, Hunter Cardinal in Hamlet, Freewill Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Ryan Parker.

At this year’s Sterling Awards, Hunter Cardinal, a co-host of last year’s gala, enters a realm of exclusivity all his own: playwrights also nominated for their star performances in Hamlet (Freewill Shakespeare Festival) are in short supply in the world.  

Vanessa Sabourin and Belinda Cornish in Fallen Angels, Bright Young Things. Photo by Mat Busby.

The Rocking Mayfield production of the Broadway musical Sister Act and Bright Young Things’ sparkling account  of the fizzy Noel Coward comedy Fallen Angels have four nominations each. That tally for the former includes outstanding musical, Christine Bandelow’s witty choreography, Van Wilmott’s musical direction and Leona Brausen’s amusing costumes. The latter includes two of the five leading performance (comedy) nominees, in co-stars Belinda Cornish and Vanessa Sabourin. 

The new play category is particularly lively and competitive this season. Lake of the Strangers is a contender along with Kat Sandler’s Citadel double-header. So is The Finest of Strangers, a strange and moving new Stewart Lemoine comedy about the mysterious gravitational pull of the past. They’re up against two new plays inspired by remarkable true Canadian stories.

The Comedy Company, Shadow Theatre. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux.

Darrin Hagen’s The Empress & The Prime Minister, which premiered at Theatre Network, chronicles the unexpected rapport between gay-rights pioneer ted northe and a justice minister on the rise (one Pierre Elliot Trudeau). Neil Grahn’s The Comedy Company, which debuted at Shadow Theatre, explores the link between comedy and tragedy in the story of soldiers of Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry ordered during the nightmare horrors of World War I to form a musical comedy troupe to boost troop morale.

Nicole St. Martin and Ashley Wright, Sweat. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography.

In all, the Citadel comes away with some 28 Sterling nominations, the most of any theatre company by far. That tally includes four for the company’s very rare incursion into the top new play category with The Party/ The Candidate, and three for outstanding production contenders Made In Italy, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, and Sweat. After that, the nomination spread is wide, touching down on everything from the English indie company Malachite Theatre (Macbeth) to Theatre Yes for their topical installation Viscosity, as well as Edmonton Opera (La Traviata, Count Ory)  and L’UniThéâtre (La Fille du facteur).

Theatre for young audience nominations all go this year to the work of theatre artists in pieces that originated with the company: Concrete Theatre’s CRTL-ALT-DEL and Songs My Mother Never Sung Me, and Alberta Musical Theatre Company’s Pinocchio.

On Sterling gala night (June 24 at the Mayfield Dinner Theatre, hosted by Mathew Hulshof and Gina Puntil), the invaluable Adam Mitchell, the Fringe’s executive director, will be going home with the Margaret Mooney Award for Outstanding Achievement in Administration. Alastair Elliot will receive the Ross Hill Award for Career Achievement in Production. To Tami and Greg Dowler-Coltman, the inspirational couple (retiring this year from Vic, the performing arts high school) whose dedication as arts educators for more than 40 decades has had such a profound impact on the artistic life of the city, goes the Sterling for outstanding contribution to theatre in Edmonton. Tickets: 780-483-4051, mayfieldtheatre.ca.

The 2018-2019 Sterling Award Nominees

Outstanding Production of a Play:Made in Italy (Citadel Theatre); Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Citadel Theatre); We Are Not Alone (Theatre Network); Sweat (Citadel Theatre/Arts Club Theatre); 19 Weeks (Northern Light Theatre/ Azimuth Theatre)

Timothy Ryan Award for Outstanding Production of a Musical: Matilda (Citadel Theatre/Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre/Arts Club Theatre); Fun Home (Plain Jane Theatre Company); Once (Citadel Theatre); Sister Act (Mayfield Dinner Theatre); La Traviata (Edmonton Opera)

Outstanding New Play (Award to Playwright): The Empress & The Prime Minister by Darrin Hagen (Theatre Network); Lake of the Strangers by Jacquelyn Cardinal & Hunter Cardinal (Naheyawin/Fringe Theatre Adventures); The Comedy Company by Neil Grahn (Shadow Theatre); The Finest of Strangers by Stewart Lemoine (Teatro la Quindicina); The Party/The Candidate by Kat Sandler (Citadel Theatre)

Outstanding Director: Dave Horak, Fun Home (Plain Jane Theatre Company); Marianne Copithorne, Fallen Angels (Bright Young Things); Nancy McAlear, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Citadel Theatre); Jim Guedo, Small Mouth Sounds (Wild Side Productions); Daryl Cloran & Kat Sandler, The Party/The Candidate (Citadel Theatre)

Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role – Drama: Vanessa Sabourin, 19 Weeks (Northern Light Theatre/Azimuth Theatre); Hunter Cardinal, Hamlet (Freewill Shakespeare Festival); Damien Atkins, We Are Not Alone (Theatre Network); Jocelyn Ahlf, Fun Home (Plain Jane Theatre Company); Gianna Vacirca, Blood: A Scientific Romance (The Maggie Tree)

Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role – Comedy: Mikaela Davis, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Citadel Theatre); Vanessa Sabourin, Fallen Angels (Bright Young Things); Farren Timoteo, Made in Italy (Citadel Theatre); Coralie Cairns, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Shadow Theatre); Belinda Cornish, Fallen Angels (Bright Young Things)

Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role – Drama: Bobbi Goddard, What a Young Wife Ought to Know (Theatre Network); Bella King, Fun Home (Plain Jane Theatre Company); Nicole St. Martin, Sweat (Citadel Theatre/Arts Club Theatre); Kate Ryan, Fun Home (Plain Jane Theatre Company); Lora Brovold, Sweat (Citadel Theatre/Arts Club Theatre)

Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role – Comedy: Mathew Hulshof, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Citadel Theatre); Jesse Gervais, The Comedy Company (Shadow Theatre); Thom Allison, The Party/The Candidate (Citadel Theatre); Colleen Wheeler, The Party/The Candidate (Citadel Theatre); Amber Lewis, The Party/The Candidate (Citadel Theatre)

Outstanding Independent Production: Fun Home (Plain Jane Theatre Company); Viscosity (Theatre Yes); Fallen Angels (Bright Young Things); Blood: A Scientific Romance (The Maggie Tree); Small Mouth Sounds (Wild Side Productions)

Outstanding Set Design: Daniel van Heyst, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Shadow Theatre); Cory Sincennes, Matilda (Citadel/ Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre/ Arts Club Theatre; Tessa Stamp, Lake of the Strangers (Naheyawin/ Fringe Theatre Adventures); Dana Osborne, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Citadel); Drew Facey, The Tempest (Citadel).

Outstanding Costume Design: Cory Vincennes, Matilda (Citadel/ Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre/ Arts Club Theatre); Dana Osborne, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Citadel); Megan Koshka, The Party/ The Candidate (Citadel); Deanna Finnman, Count Ory (Edmonton Opera); Leona Brausen, Sister Act (Mayfield Dinner Theatre).

Outstanding Lighting Design: Kimberly Purtell, We Are Not Alone (Crow’s Theatre/ Segal Centre for Performing Arts/ 2b Theatre Company, at Theatre Network); Narda McCarroll, Lake of the Strangers (Naheyawin/ Fringe Theatre Adventures); Bonnie Beecher, The Tempest (Citadel); Gerald King, Matilda (Citadel/ Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre/ Arts Club Theatre); Daniela Masellis, Fun Home (Plain Jane Theatre Company)

Outstanding Multi-Media Design: Matt Schuurman, The Comedy Company (Shadow Theatre); Katrina Beatty, The Cardiac Shadow (Northern Light Theatre/ Good Women Dance Collective); T. Erin Gruber, Canada 151 (Mayfield Dinner Theatre); Brianna Kolybaba, Lake of the Strangers (Naheyawin/ Fringe Theatre Adventures); Raphael Freynet, La Fille du facteur (L’UniThéâtre); Barry Steele, Hansel and Gretel (Edmonton Opera).

Outstanding Score of a Play or Musical: Dave Clarke, Songs My Mother Never Sung Me (Concrete Theatre); Jonathan Lewis, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Citadel); Danielle La Rose, Macbeth (Malachite Theatre); Matthew Skopyk, Hamlet (Freewill Shakespeare Festival); Thomas Ryder Payne, We Are Not Alone (Crow’s Theatre/ Segal Centre/ 2b Theatre, at Theatre Network)

Outstanding Musical Director: Janice Flower, Fun Home (Plan Jane Theatre); Don Horsburgh, Matilda (Citadel/ Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre/ Arts Club Theatre); Steven Greenfield, Once (Citadel); Van Wilmott, Sister Act (Mayfield Dinner Theatre); Erik Mortimer, Shakespeare’s Will (Thou Art Here)

Outstanding Choreography or Fight Direction: Kimberly Rampersad, Matilda (Citadel/ Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre/ Arts Club Theatre); Janine Waddell, Macbeth (Malachite Theatre); Good Women Dance Collective, The Cardiac Shadow (Northern Light Theatre; Amber Borotsik, Hamlet (Freewill Shakespeare Festival); Christine Bandelow, Sister Act (Mayfield Dinner Theatre)

Outstanding Individual Achievement in Production: Nicole Deibert, head scenic painter; Brad Fischer, technical director/ operator; Tessa Stamp, production manager; Ivan Siemens, production manager; Ariel Spanier, technical director. 

Outstanding Production for Young Audiences: Songs My Mother Never Sung Me (Concrete Theatre); CRTL-ALT-DEL (Concrete); Pinocchio (Alberta Musical Theatre Company)

Outstanding Artistic Achievement, Theatre for Young Audiences: Jana O’Connor, playwright, CTRL-ALT-DEL (Concrete); Mieko Ouchi, director, CTRL-ALT-DEL (Concrete); Farren Timoteo, playwright/director, Pinocchio (Alberta Musical Theatre); Luc Tellier, actor, Songs My Mother Never Sung Me (Concrete); Chariz Faulmino, actor, Pinocchio (Alberta Musical Theatre)

Outstanding Fringe Production: The Zoo Story (Bedlam Theatre Concern), Concord Floral (10 Out Of 12 Productions), Scorch (Bustle & Beast), Harun (In Arms Theatre Collective), Punch-Up (BrainPile).

Outstanding Fringe New Work (award to playwright): Fetch by Cat Walsh; Don’t Frown at the Gown by Darrin Hagen and Trevor Schmidt; Harun by Makram Apache; A Lesson in Brio by Stewart Lemoine; Whiteface by Todd Houseman and Lady Vanessa Cardona

Outstanding Fringe Director: Mieko Ouchi, Concord Floral; Mark Bellamy, The Real Inspector Hound; Bradley Moss, The Zoo Story; Suzie Martin, Fetch; Brenley Charkow, Scorch.

Outstanding Fringe Performance – Drama: Collin Doyle, The Zoo Story; Julie Ferguson, Scorch; Lora Brovold, Fetch; Andrea House, A Soldier’s Tale; Todd Houseman, Whiteface.

Outstanding Fringe Performance – Comedy: Cody Porter, Tragedy: A Tragedy; Jason Hardwick, Don’t Frown At The Gown; Evan Hall, Punch-Up; Kendra Connor, Everything’s Coming Up Chickens; Louise Lambert, Sirens.

Margaret Mooney Award for Outstanding Achievement in Administration: Adam Mitchell

Ross Hill Award for Career Achievement in Production: Alastair Elliot

Outstanding Contribution to Theatre in Edmonton: Tami and Greg Dowler-Coltman

 

 

Posted in News/Views | Tagged , , ,

Weal Thyman The Third: a bouffon clown show to provoke you at Nextfest

Jessy Ardern and Jacob Holloway in Weal Thyman The Third, in rehearsal at Nextfest. Photo by Jenn Galm.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

When you’re creating a bouffon clown show about a grotesque filthy-rich capitalist with businesses, land, money, possessions, sycophants,  and an insatiable appetite for more more more, it’s not as if you have to rack your brains for material. The world, and a maniacally inflated orange-haired upstager, have seen to that.

To help support 12thnight.ca YEG theatre coverage, click here

That’s what Philip Geller and his collaborators Jessy Ardern and Emily Howard found when they began to play around with the ideas that would become Weal Thyman The Third, premiering Wednesday on the Nextfest mainstage.

Geller, who directs the new play, says that “Trump is such an all-consuming easy target for liberals, it’s an interesting challenge not to just repeat what we already know…..” And it’s a particular challenge, given the way America sucks up the news of the day, “to make it really Canadian, contemporary and here!”  he says. “And there’s so much that’s happening here…. The hope is that we’d interrogate ourselves about our own actions.”

They trio call themselves Pretty Affliction. Weal Thyman The Third is, says Geller, “an experiment for us as a company to see how we can tell a contemporary story that holds a mirror up for people to see themselves.” The show description might trigger a reflexive response to the gross excesses down south. But it touches down on a wide range of topics. He throws out, off the top of his head “Jeff Bezos to Conrad Black, the oil sands, white supremacy….” And what about “capitalism, patriarchy, colonialism”?

Jessy Ardern and Jacob Holloway in rehearsal for Weal Thyman The Third at Nextfest. Photo by Jenn Galm.

Why clowning as the storytelling mode of choice? Geller happens to be one of the world’s natural clowns, as he discovered in high school and “a tiny unit” devoted to those techniques. He and Howard, like-minded classmates in their U of A theatre school graduating class, were drawn to it immediately; one of their favourite inspirational professors is Michael Kennard of Mump and Smoot fame. They even went to a “neo-bouffon” workshop led by Karen Hines (aka Pochsy) at the clown farm run by John Turner (aka Smoot) on Manitoulin Island in Ontario. 

The way clowns interact with their audiences, instinctively breaking down the theatrical fourth wall (“or loosening it up whenever I can,” Geller laughs) gives bouffon storytelling a particularly vivid and lively immediacy.

Improv in the rehearsal room, and the collaboration amongst the six actors, had a lot to do with the production we’ll see at the Roxy. “If Jessy or Emily or whoever came up with a great idea, I’d steal it!” laughs Geller in directorial mode.

He has a long Nextfest history — “ever since Grade 10” with the innovative festival underway at Theatre Network. At first it was acting in NextNextfest (high school) productions, then clown shows at the festival’s signature performance nite clubs. He and Howard have a clown duo that has performed at the Play the Fool Festival and cabarets.

Geller’s next step as an artist, for which Nextfest has been a significant inspiration, is a master’s degree in directing at York University next fall. “I’ve been veering toward directing; it’s seducing me!” he says. “I’m drawn towards more collaborative processes” in theatre creation, he says. “I’m super-interested in breaking down hierarchies.”

Weal Thyman The Third runs at Nextfest, the Roxy on Gateway (8529 Gateway Blvd) Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Tickets and schedule: nextfest.org

Posted in Previews | Tagged , , , , , , ,

A new comedy to launch a new season at Teatro La Quindicina

Jeff Haslam, Rachel Bowron, Jenny McKillop in A Likely Story, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Ryan Parker.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

A Likely Story, says playwright Stewart Lemoine, “is one of those titles you have to Google because you can’t believe it hasn’t already been used.” 

That puckish name, with its tantalizing whiff of skepticism, now belongs to the new Lemoine comedy that launches Teatro La Quindicina’s 37th season next week — a lineup that includes two Lemoine comedy revivals and a vintage psychological thriller.

In A Likely Story we meet five characters, strangers in a train station, finding their way into a play they’re creating by the choices they make and the information they get, moment by moment. Are they travellers? If so, where are they going? And why?

“In a way they have a parallel experience to what an author goes through, writing a play,” says the playwright of his latest in a career of reinventing comedy in new shapes and colour palettes. “It’s comparable to decisions I’d make writing a story.”

The new travel comedy begins with a prologue (Jeff Haslam) and a question from a quizzical character (Mathew Hulshof): “Can you tell me where I am?” Clues accumulate, along with characters (Vincent Forcier, Jenny McKillop, Rachel Bowron), as Lemoine explains after rehearsal last week. And so information gathers bit by bit, “defining who they all are and where the train goes….”

His “theatrical and narrative experiment,” as Lemoine puts it, began with his writer’s question to himself: “What would it be like if characters had to improvise, characters trying to make their world more finished, more real, more interesting?” As the prologue has it, “this is not about what happened, because no one can tell you what happened. And it’s not about what will happen, because nobody knows. It’s what could happen.”

A Likely Story runs Thursday through June 22 on the Varscona stage. 

Mat Busby, Lilla Solymos, Kristi Hansen in The Bad Seed. Photo by Ryan Parker.

“The party slot” in the Teatro summer season (July 11 to 27) — occupied in summers past by plays as widely diverse as The Ambassador’s Wife, Cocktails at Pam’s and The Importance of Being Earnest — returns to a psychological thriller Teatro did some 30 years ago at the Fringe. In Maxwell Anderson’s 1954 The Bad Seed, a Broadway hit and two years later a “camp classic” movie, the placid American ‘50s middle-class facade — devoted spouses, adorable offspring, lovable upstairs neighbours — is disturbed by a mysterious drowning on a school picnic. Ah, and uneasy thoughts of inherited evil.

“We were so young and the characters were much older,” grins Lemoine. “There’s a fine line between period melodrama and ‘this could be funny if you don’t do it right’.” There’s a reason that drag queens have long been attracted to the play and the movie, and the extravagance of the ‘50s acting style.

“We thought of it at the time as a camp comedy,” he says. “And there’s certainly comedy in it. But I understand it better now. And it struck me as an interesting exploration,” to revisit the piece. Not least because Lemoine is more convinced that the mother Christine (Nicola Elbro) is the central character, “unravelling the more she learns about her daughter,” as he says. “Every scene brings bad news, and she’s trying so hard to be a poised ‘50s wife and mother.”

“Christine has a big problem. And the men in the play are interchangeably ineffectual at helping.” It makes sense, thinks Lemoine, to reimagine this classic with a more contemporary performance style, and the men played by actors who double in the roles. In the eight-actor production (the largest cast of the season), Mat Busby, Jeff Haslam, and Mark Bellamy play multiple characters. The all-star cast includes Andrea House and Kristi Hansen. And making her Teatro debut as the little girl is Lilla Solymos, startlingly impressive as the gravely determined heroine in the Citadel production of Matilda this past winter.

Mathew Hulshof and Luc Tellier in A Momentary Lapse. Photo by Ryan Parker

With A Momentary Lapse, which plays the Fringe and beyond (always part of Teatro’s summer season) the company returns to a 2005 comedy jointly created by Lemoine and actor/playwright Jocelyn Ahlf, “at my kitchen table,” as the former says. Two characters, unlikely collaborators, find themselves together in enforced community service to atone publicly for their infractions of the Criminal Code.

Ahlf herself, the star of the Plain Janes’ recent production of Fun Home, is now the right age for the role originally played by Sheri Somerville. Louise Trent is a 40-ish over-achieving multi-tasker with two kids, who’s a Hansard typist at the Legislature, a Lancôme salesperson at the Bay, and she plays in the Metropolitan Community Orchestra. Arthur Pomeroy (Luc Tellier in the role originated by Farren Timoteo) is an exasperated high school student. In fact he’s “the most exasperated person ever; he wakes up exasperated, and stays that way,” as Lemoine says. The Law (originally Haslam), in all its various glorious authority incarnations, is played by Mathew Hulshof. A Momentary Lapse runs August 16 to 31

Belinda Cornish and Andrew Macdonald-Smith in Vidalia. Photo by Ryan Parker.

The season finale is a return to Lemoine’s 2002 screwball comedy Vidalia, named after the sweet Georgia onion and containing, fatefully, three identical briefcases.

Vidalia has the requisite screwball ingredients, thinks the playwright: “the escalating calamity, people back and forth between locations, an instigator who never stops having a good time, even when the stakes get higher and people get angrier….” Someone gets hired to take a briefcase to a certain location, and leave it there. And, oops, the wrong briefcase gets left. A crescendo of chaos ensues.

Why “Vidalia”? “I was attracted to the word,” says Lemoine. “And the Food Network was new at the time…. In the play it’s a code word, mistaken for someone’s name.”

The rules of comedy change dramatically in the cellphone era, as Lemoine points out.  And a three-briefcase screwball is a challenge to begin with. “It was so nerve-wracking to write, to follow (exactly) who knew what, when,” Lemoine laughs. Suddenly in rehearsal, I’d say ‘Stop!’ Everybody! I think I’m wrong.” A review of which briefcase was in whose hands would follow. 

Andrew MacDonald-Smith and Belinda Cornish star in the production, which runs Sept. 26 to Oct. 12. Season subscriptions: teatroq.com

PREVIEW

A Likely Story

Theatre: Teatro La Quindicina

Written and directed by: Stewart Lemoine

Starring: Jeff Haslam, Mathew Hulshof, Vincent Forcier, Jenny McKillop, Rachel Bowron

Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.

Running: Friday through June 22

Tickets: teatroq.com

 

Posted in News/Views | Tagged , , , , , ,

Where The Wild Things Fringe: the monster is coming!

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“And now, let the wild rumpus start!”

As announced Thursday, the upcoming 38th annual edition of the Fringe Edmonton’s roaring summer theatre monster — the oldest and still the biggest on the continent — has its signature theme. Come August 15 to 25, you’ll be doing your theatre binging Where The Wild Things Fringe.

To help support 12thnight.ca YEG theatre coverage, click here

For 11 days and nights in Old Strathcona and beyond, you’ll be rumpus-ing with the imaginative creations dreamed up by artists,  in a world of mysterious transformations, risks, and bright ideas. The theme was chosen from hundreds of suggestions — witty and whimsical, through truly off-the-wall . “What’s wonderful,” says Fringe director Murray Utas, “is that it’s a suggestions from my KidsFringe team submitted to me on their last strike day last summer,” as they packed away the fun.  As you will have gleaned, Where The Wild Things Fringe takes its cues from the memorable 1963 children’s picture book by Maurice Sendak.

Its story of an unruly kid who finds himself sailing to an island of wildly fanciful beasts — and becoming king) — told in a mere couple of hundred words — has inspired movies, plays, operas, animations, a notably oddball 2009 Spike Jonze adult feature film…. Now it’s inspired the most monstrous-ever edition of an un-juried, uncensored festival that, as Fringe director Murray reveals, has a record number of shows, 264,  ensconced in 48 venues. A dozen of them are “official” and programmed by lottery, and the rest are BYOVs (bring-your-own-venues) found and equipped by artists themselves.  

In the Sendak book the rampaging monsters have a certain double-sided attraction to consumption: “We’ll eat you up – we love you so!” It speaks to the crazy, animating, viral effect that the Fringe has on its ever-increasing audiences. Besides, the 2019 nickname, with its siren call to the imagination, resonates with AND adults (Obama called it one of his favourite books ever). Ah, not to mention energetically kid-like adults such as Utas. He calls the festival in his charge, happily, “out of control monstrous.”

Tickets to Where The Wild Things Fringe go on sale Aug. 7. By the 15th, bedtime is officially cancelled. Check fringetheatre.ca for further details. In the meantime, consider this: “There should be a place where only the the things you want to happen, happen….” 

There is. And it’s happening soon.

Posted in News/Views | Tagged , , , ,

“The show I needed to see”: Boy Trouble premieres at Nextfest

Boy Trouble by Mac Brock. Graphic supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“What’s the show I really needed to see at that age?”

That’s the question Mac Brock asked himself at 22, looking back on his 17-year-old self. So he wrote that show. Boy Trouble premieres at Nextfest and opens the festival’s 2019 mainstage lineup tonight.

To help support 12thnight.ca YEG theatre coverage, click here

“It comes from frustration,” says the exuberant theatre artist, who arrived in Edmonton a year and a half ago from his home town of Regina to study arts management at MacEwan, bringing with him a background in devised theatre and improv. “In terms of queer content (onstage), we’ve made a lot of progress, but we’re only getting really ‘clean’ representation…. We can’t show queer characters messing up because we’re still just warming up to them.”

“A queer character who makes the wrong choice, or does something we don’t like? It’s as if queer rights are at stake!  O my gawd, that’s it for us. We’ve set back progress!”

Theatre artist Mac Brock. Photo supplied

The “perfect rom-com version” of what it’s like to be living a queer coming-out coming-of-age story didn’t cut it for Brock. “You meet someone who brings you out of your shell, and you live happily ever after and everyone’s really excited for you? It wasn’t my experience,” he says. “And it wasn’t the experience of a lot of people I know.”

“It feels really isolating. And It’s really messy and you feel like no one else had it messy too.” The urge to telling that story is what propelled Boy Trouble into existence. “It is, I think, really important, and something we’ve been missing. And it’s exciting to dive into that!”

Brock is a poster child for the Nextfest springboard effect. At last year’s edition his immersive play Tracks, “an experiment in eavesdropping,” was one of the festival’s “progress showing,” a developmental step somewhere between a reading and a full production. The eight-actor ensemble took audiences through all the nooks and crannies of the Backstage Theatre — dressing rooms, bathrooms, the box office, Brock’s car parked outside — as he explains. “You could be free-roaming, just wander around, overhearing intimate moments: what’s the minute thing you don’t let anybody know about?”

Tracks has won the Westbury Family Fringe Award, and its next incarnation (“our hiring priority is early-career emerging queer artists”) will be part of Fringe Theatre’s upcoming season.

Boy Trouble, by contrast, is “traditional in structure.” After all, “it is a script and it is directed — thank god not by me! Having Julie (Julie Ferguson) is beyond a lifesaver…. My brain lives so much in text and words. Julie lives so much in body and space. And that combination is such good harmony!”

Kay, the protagonist of Boy Trouble, is 17, and “is sprung into the world of online dating and shadowy anonymous sex. And he finds some power in it, and that leads down a slippery path where he’s left to figure out things for himself when he could use a hand.”

Brock, an articulate and funny sort, says his play explores “toxic masculinity and how it rears its head with gay men in a sense of entitlement and power. Having been isolated, marginalized, by family, by friends, by workplaces, it’s ‘this is our club’. Often there’s an Us vs. Them Me vs. You to it,” he thinks. “Is that an environment where they’re free to explore (for themselves)?”

Max Hanic in rehearsal for Boy Trouble, Nextfest. Photo by Mac Brock.

Brock, whose day job is in communication and media at the Citadel, traces the birth of his new play back to last fall’s Workshop West’s playwriting bootcamp. “It started as a four or five-actor piece. But the more I worked on it, it became clear that that it was really about one character. And, hey, that was a challenge! I’ve never written a solo piece before.”

He applauds the Alberta Playwrights Network’s RBC mentorship program for providing a mentor in playwright David Van Belle. “So generous and caring!”

“We see other people coming in and out of his world. But everything is through Kay’s eyes,” says Brock who laughs in horror at the thought he might have written it for himself to be onstage, alone. “Omygod I never could!” The actor who’s occupying the juicy solo role is Max Hanic, a U of A theatre student with improv cred going into his third year. “I’m so proud to have Max telling the story! I knew from the start he was the one….”

And that story is of the moment. “While gay men do have power that wasn’t there 50 years ago, we’re ready to explore what’s next….”

Boy Trouble runs at Nextfest headquarters, the Roxy on Gateway, tonight (6 p.m.) and Sunday (2 p.m.), plus June 8 and 9. Full schedule and tickets at nextfest.org

Posted in Previews | Tagged , , , , ,

What are they up to? Celebrate the next generation of artists at Nextfest

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

So, what’s happening? What’s new? What’s next?

There’s a festival in Edmonton that’s all about the answers. Yes, Nextfest is back in Old Strathcona Thursday for 11 days (and nights) of showcasing and celebrating the next generation of emerging artists.

To help support 12thnight.ca YEG theatre coverage, click here

They’re a battalion, 500-plus strong, of experimenters, risk-takers, and potential game-changers. And, as you’ll see in the 24th annual edition, with its 90-some-odd events, these up-and-comers create across a spectrum of disciplines that spans theatre, music, dance, the visual arts, film, spoken word poetry, comedy — and performance art that resists every known label, including performance art.

There’s even a Collaboration Project, back for a second year, that brokers a four-artist team from different disciples (mentored by former Nextfest director Steve Pirot), to create something new together in the course of the free-wheeling cross-pollinating festivities. Will it be a performance? A play? An installation? An exhibition that’s both? They showcase the new creation on the last day of the Nextfest; no one knows in advance what will happen. Pure Nextfest that.

When festival director Ellen Chorley, the theatre artist who landed the gig in 2017, declares “I’ve got my dream job!” (as she is wont to do) she’s not just waxing rhetorical. She made her start as an artist at the innovative multi-disciplinary festival. And, hey, look how that turned out for the award-winning playwright/ actor/ director/ artistic director/ dramaturg/ teacher/ producer/ curator. 

Nextfest director Ellen Chorley. Photo supplied.

“Nextfest is where I had all my firsts,” says the multi-faceted Chorley, who’s founded both a kids theatre (Promise Productions) and a burlesque troupe (Send In The Girls). Her latest play Everybody Loves Robbie premieres next season at Northern Light Theatre. “There was so much learning for me, so many connections,” she says of the Nextfest experience.

A pro-active dynamo who seeks out young talent all year round, Chorley inherited a festival that, however free-wheeling, is not without its venerable traditions. The annual Nextfest Nite Clubs, for example, are late-night one-off themed performance parties that are all about jostling artists and audiences into new and startling encounters with each other.

The first of four, Secrets of the Universe, happens Friday (9:30 p.m. at the Roxy). “The Secrets of the Universe will be illuminated,” as promised. “Space attire encouraged.” Aggregation (June 6), Smut Nite: Garden of Earthly Delights (June 7), and Club Kids, Redux Nite Club (June 8) follow.

Lobby installations are another tradition: original paintings, live theatre … the possibilities are huge. Ongoing in the Roxy lobby, the fashion/ visual artist Dom Fool is creating fashion on the spot, in Shipwreck. “You can see it get built, and there are moments when it’s modelled and performed in,” says Chorley. The grand finale is a fashion show at the Club Kids, Redux Nite Club.

In the Backstage lobby, Eight Bridget Studies, created by by Jen Mesch and performed by dancer Bridget Jessome, is a performance installation, happening at specific times as part of Nextfest’s dance programming. 

And, yes, Strathcona is getting a new wall mural, courtesy of Nextfest artists Colleen Ulliac and Deanne Lee of Trashhecticcollective. Look for it in the alley behind 8215 102 St.

One of Chorley’s innovations last year, inspired by her own life experience, was a free workshop series, how-to’s for young artists on the brink of careers negotiating the daunting gap between the post-secondary art school life and a bona fide arts career. Practical stuff, led by pros: how to create site-specific performances in found spaces (Catch the Keys’ Megan and Beth Dart are experts), or how to get grants or representation from a gallery, or how to make rehearsals more affirming….

Nextfest has a protective nurturing instinct when it comes to creators. Theatre happens at three different levels of development. The least elaborate are play readings. There are four, including Josh Languedoc’s Civil Blood: A Treaty Story, whose “found space” is the great outdoors. Directed by Neil Kuefler of the site-specific company Thou Art Here!, it takes you into the river valley, with a Romeo and Juliet tale of “a Blackfoot huntress and “a scholarly French boy,” set at the end of the fur trade. It is the only Nextfest offering that comes with advice to “wear sensible shoes, clothing, bug spray, and sun screen.”

The four “progressive showings” have some movement, staging and design ideas attached to them. Not to mention intriguing premises: the protagonist of Justin Shaw’s solo show The Wrestling Play is an English teacher torn between his wanderlust and his “deep-seated love for professional wrestling.”

Boy Trouble by Mac Brock. Graphic supplied.

Some artists in the six-show mainstage lineup of full productions are new to Nextfest. More often, though,  artists “work their way through the layers,” as Chorley puts it. Mac Brock is one. His play Tracks was a ‘progress showing’ last year; this year his Boy Trouble opens the festival Thursday night.  

The mainstage shows, divided between the Roxy stage and the Backstage Theatre just across Gateway Blvd., are wildly diverse in creation, aesthetic, and performance style, from the queer coming-of-age tale of Boy Trouble to the spiritual self-discoveries of Teneil Whiskeyjack’s Ayita, which explores the matrilineal continuity of three generations of Cree women. The playwright joins her 15-year-old dancer daughter Miika onstage, in Nextfest’s first-ever mother-daughter pairing.

Weal Thyman the Third by Philip Geller, Jessy Ardern, Emily Howard. Graphic supplied.

Once We Were Queens, by and directed by Sarah Emslie, gives us “a relationship trapped in a weird world,” as Chorley puts it, “with two questioners and two movers.” There’s new musical, Marnie Day, a challenging exploration of grief and closure by Sue Groberdhan and Matt Graham, who’ve written musicals together before (Almost Heroes played the Fringe).There’s a bouffon clown satire: Weal Thyman The Third (named for its filthy rich title capitalist) by the team of Philip Geller, Jessy Ardern and Emily Howard, revels in the grotesque. Chorley, delighted at the prospect, describes it as “outrageous!”

The most category-resistant mainstage offering of all might well be NIUBOI X Earth, billed as “part pop concert part late-night talk show.” Chorley describes it as a “variety show/ performance/ late-night” fusion. Guests, back-up dancers, musicians … Every performance will be different. “I’d recommend seeing it twice,” says Chorley. 

There are no far-flung performance venues for this Nextfest edition, a plus for festival focus, Chorley thinks. The Roxy,  done up cabaret-style for the occasion (tables, sofas, armchairs), and the Backstage Theatre are close neighbours. Get yourself a $20 day pass, hang out, and sample widely from the bright ideas of the next wave of creators.

“Artists will get to see each other’s work,” Chorley says.  The multi-disciplinary impulse is contagious: that kind of networking gets to the heart of Nextfest.

PREVIEW

Nextfest 2019

The Nextfest Arts Co.

Where: The Roxy on Gateway (8529 Gateway Blvd) and Backstage Theatre, ATB Financial Arts Barns, 10330 84 Ave.

Running: Thursday through June 9, full schedule and show descriptions at nextfest.org

Tickets: in person at the Roxy (8529 Gateway Blvd), by phone at 780-453-2440, or online at nextfest.org.

  

  

Posted in Previews | Tagged , , , , , , ,