By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
A couple of decades ago, an Edmonton kid found herself onstage, at a theatre festival where the plays were new, and specially designed for teen actors and their teen audiences.
It was at the Citadel Teen Fest, in plays written and directed by the pros — Conni Massing’s Terminus and Brad Fraser’s Prom Night of the Living Dead among them — that Trina Davies first heard the fateful question “so what are you writing?”
Davies remembers being bemused; after all, she didn’t consider herself “a writer.” She’d written poetry, and even gotten it published. But playwright? “In the ‘90s I didn’t feel I had something to write about,” laughs Davies. She remembers that it was director (then-Theatre Network artistic director) Ben Henderson, recently re-elected as an Edmonton city councillor, who pulled her into Nextfest as a director, dramaturg, and, yes, as a playwright.
Clearly they all sensed something about Davies, that she had yet to fully discover about herself. Her award-winning multi-media game play Multi-User Dungeon, which won the Alberta Playwrights Network’s “discovery” award” in 1998 should have been a tip-off.
Since that time, plays by Vancouver-based Davies have premiered across the country and gone international. And they’ve won major awards everywhere they’ve been, most recently both the National Uprising Award and the 2017 Woodward International Playwriting Award in the U.S. for The Bone Bridge.
This weekend Davies is back in the city she considers “my theatrical home” for a production of a Davies play that is one of three opening on Edmonton stages this season.
Waxworks, opening Friday at Concordia University of Edmonton in an eight-actor student workshop production directed by Glenda Stirling, explores the life and extraordinary career of an artist who started as a tabloid journalist and developed “the first worldwide brand in entertainment history,” as Davies says.
In the play, which won the Alberta Playwrights Network new play award in 2007 you’ll meet Madame Tussaud, the showbiz reinvention of Marie Grosholz), who, as Davies puts it, “learned how to tell her own story” in the course of creating wax figures on the eve of the French Revolution. It’s a moment in history when, as Davies puts it, “the political dynamic shifted every day.” And the artist is under the gun to identify her subjects as “patriots” or “enemies,” a situation that resonates in a vivid way in the Now.
Waxworks, which has had an earlier workshop production at Williams College, the prestigious Massachusetts liberal arts establishment. The Concordia University production, which reunites Davies with Stirling, a theatre colleague since their Nextfest days, will be much different, the playwright predicts. “That’s the magic of theatre…. It’s fantastic for young artists to work on new work. Edmonton has always been great for that!”
Edmonton theatre weaves its way through Davies’ busy itinerary this season. In December she’s back for Walterdale’s production of Shatter (directed by Josh Languedoc, Dec. 6 to 16). The play, which had a New York production in 2014 but hasn’t been seen here since The Maggie Tree’s 2011 production, probes the climate of fear and accusation unleashed by the catastrophic Halifax explosion of 1917.
March 1 to 11, thanks to the SkirtsAfire Festival, it’s finally Edmonton’s turn to see Davies’ Governor General’s Award-nominated The Romeo Initiative, which premiered at Calgary’s Alberta Theatre Projects in 2011. “I still lived in Edmonton when I got the idea,” she says of a Cold War romantic comedy cum thriller cum drama inspired by “a spy week on the History Channel.”
Davies got her title from an real East German espionage program designed to exploit the romantic insecurities of underachieving women.
“I research and read forever,” she says cheerfully of her playwright’s modus operandi. “Then I write the first draft in anywhere from 24 hours to seven days.” Shatter, for example, was born at ATP’s 24-hour playwriting competition.
In January Davies’ Silence, about the relationship between Alexander Graham Bell and his wife, premieres at the Grand Theatre in London, Ont. in a Peter Hinton production in which half the cast identified as hard of hearing or deaf.
“I definitely feel my place in theatre is in the writing….” she says. “I get my charge from the collaborative nature of it; the dark part of the whole process is being by myself writing. The magic of it is seeing what happens in the rehearsal hall. I crave that!”
Theatre: Concordia University of EdmontonS
Written by: Trina Davies
Directed by: Glenda Stirling
Where: Al and Trish Huehn Theatre, 73 St. and 111 Ave.
Running: Friday through Sunday, and Nov. 10 through 12
Tickets: TIX on the Square (780-420-1757, or at the door).