Workshop West announces its upcoming 39th season

Playwright Beth Graham. Her Pretty Goblins premieres at Workshop West next season. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls,

At the centre of Workshop West Playwrights Theatre’s upcoming 39th season, announced Thursday, is the world premiere of a new play by Edmonton’s Beth Graham.

In Pretty Goblins, by the multi-talented actor/playwright (The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble), we’ll meet estranged twin  sisters, spun together into a fantastical journey of discovery. The inspiration to write about sisters, says Graham, came from Christina Rossetti’s strange, fantastical sexually eerie 1859 narrative poem Goblin Market. “It’s a powerful, emotional, deeply felt piece.”says Workshop West artistic director Vern Thiessen. “Sisters, grief, addiction, the people in your life who vanish.”

Brian Dooley directs the Workshop West production that runs April 19 to 27, 2018. Casting for the two-hander awaits.

As a counterweight to Pretty Goblins in WW’s culturally exploratory and diverse line-up for 2017-2018, is John Ware Reimagined by Calgary-based Cheryl Foggo. Kevin McKendrick directs the play, an exploration of the legendary black figure who went from American slave to Canadian icon in a lifetime full of heartwarming improbabilities.

The black cowboy who was the “grandfather of ranching in Alberta,” as Thiessen puts it, has a history that resonated with playwright Foggo, whose roots are in black American culture. Ware’s is an Albertan story, better known in Calgary than here. And Thiessen hopes the production will be a springboard for investigating the black experience in Edmonton and north in the Amber Valley. Ancillary events are planned.

“It’s a joyous piece of theatre!” says Thiessen happily of the play designed for three actors and a pair of musicians. He had wanted to do John Ware Reimagined this past season, but couldn’t find the resources till now. It runs Nov. 9 to 19 at the Backstage Theatre.

Black culture and experience take the stage again in the deaf upcoming  Workshop West  season, with the return of BAM! (Black Arts Matter), curated by Nasra Adem, to the annual Canoe Festival (Feb. 8 to 18). The initiative was one of the success stories of the 2017 Canoe 2017. And so was the launch of Canada’s only deaf theatre festival Sound Off; it returns under the Canoe flag, too, curated by Chris Dodd. 

Since play development is central to Workshop West’s identity, Workshop West goes into the new season assisting six top-drawer playwrights at work on scripts: Conni Massing, Mieko Ouchi, Nicole Moeller, Chris Dodd, Joëlle Préfontaine, and Collin Doyle. “I could program the next four seasons easily,” declares Thiessen. “It’s a great place for an artistic director to be.”

And the season’s playwright-in-resident is Josh Languedoc, whose background is Ojibway, from the Saugeen First Nation. His work in progress is Stonechild.

Workshop West heads north next season: a tour of six Northern communities by the company’s hit production of Kenneth T. Williams’s Café Daughter, directed by Lisa C. Ravenbergen and starring Tiffany Ayalik. Before that, though, Café Daughter’s first stop is the National Arts Centre, where it opens mid-June.

As for playwright Thiessen himself, he’s heading east for six weeks. His immediate prospects include three openings in little more than a week this month: his Pugwash premieres at Ship’s Company Theatre in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia; Vimy opens at Soulpepper in Toronto; Of Human Bondage, Thiessen’s Somerset Maugham adaptation, is part of the latter’s month-long residency Off-Broadway in New York.

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