At the Citadel, a new focus for developing new plays

By Liz Nicholls,

Playwright Belinda Cornish is part of the inaugural edition of The Lab. Photo supplied

The fun of a block party is the unpredictable  mix of people who live in proximity, get included, and show up to play.

Block Party is the nickname, and “community” the theme of the inaugural edition of The Lab, the 2017-2018 incarnation of the newly reworked new-play development program at Edmonton’s largest playhouse. In this Citadel Theatre initiative, four Edmonton playwrights, of widely diverse backgrounds and esthetic and formal persuasions, get seed money to create something new: Marty Chan, Belinda Cornish, Minister Faust, and Kenneth T. Williams.

“The idea,” says Rachel Peake, the Citadel’s new associate artistic director who’s in charge of the Lab, “is to foster the development of pieces specially designed for Citadel stages.” She explains that this focus represents a shift in vision from the Playwrights Forum of the last seven seasons led by Brian Dooley and Colleen Murphy.

“Their focus was on playwright development,” she says. And while many of the 19 new plays that hatched at the Forum went on to premieres elsewhere, few arrived on Citadel stages — largely because they were written “with smaller stages in mind,” as Peake puts it.

The Lab and its Accelerator program is a chance for playwrights “to imagine shows for larger stages. To dream bigger!” It’s the country’s smaller stages, after all, where most new Canadian plays premiere, with casts rarely numbering more than three or four. The Lab aims to change that. “We want to  make sure we see new Canadian plays on Canada’s big stages!”

Peake, who’s newly returned to her home town after 15 years in Vancouver, is renewing her acquaintance with Chan (Mom, Dad, I’m Living With A White Girl, The Forbidden Phoenix), who has written in a variety of forms for page, stage, screen and radio (and every age group). He plans to explore our burgeoning relationship with artificial intelligence.

Playwright (not to mention actor/ improviser, Bright Young Things artistic director) Cornish will apply her deft comic touch — evident in such tonally varied plays as Little Elephants and Category E — to adapting for the stage The Garneau Block by the notable Edmonton novelist Todd Babiak (Come Barbarians, Son of France, Choke Hold, Toby: A Man).

The multi-talented Minister Faust (Coyote Kings, The Alchemist of Kush) has proposed spinning “an immersive, augmented reality drama” from the narrative branches of the Leo Desroches murder mysteries by Edmonton writer Wayne Arthurson.

The award-winning Cree playwright Williams (Café Daughter, Thunderstick) will explore the growth and rejuvenation of language post colonization, in a family-friendly adventure story that uses clown and fantasy.

“We’re interested in, curious about, multi-disciplinary work, digital storytelling. And we’re encouraging our playwrights to tease out the possibilities,” says Peake of the mix of the traditional and the experimental. But we’re very flexible about it….” The Lab will operate under the mantra established by the Citadel’s new artistic director Daryl Cloran: “innovation, inclusive, international.”

“It’ll lead to a week-long exploration at the end of the season,” Peake says of an event that is purposely non-rigid and undefined. “No pressure to have a draft ready…. Call it a show and tell.”

“Our dream is to take (new play development) in a slightly new direction…. We’ll build on what we learn this year!”



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