By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“Reimagine” is the rallying cry at Edmonton’s largest playhouse as it turns 53 next season.
Artistic director Daryl Cloran unveiled the upcoming Citadel season, the second he’s fashioned for the company, in the Club cabaret Monday night. It includes two of the theatre world’s hot contemporary musicals and a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama — in addition to innovative partnerships that pair international collaborators with local artists and Canadian indie theatres, a diversity of cultural voices and lenses, and an experiment in live/digital theatrical storytelling.
Reimagine, that much-frayed term, might fairly be applied to a season with two world premieres that are Canadian, interconnected, and happen simultaneously on two adjacent Citadel stages — with the same cast: CanCon at its most frenetic. And this: of six mainstage productions five are directed by women.
Hot young Toronto playwright/director Kat Sandler whose resumé includes half a dozen hits (her most recent play Bang Bang premiered last week at Factory Theatre), is the author of The Candidate and The Party, premiering simultaneously on the Maclab stage and in the Club next season, the one a “subscription” show and the other an “add-on.”
“One of the things the Citadel has is spaces,” says Cloran, who will co-direct both shows with the playwright. The idea was his, an inspiration he credits to Alan Ayckbourn’s 1999 House and Garden in which two linked plays happen at the same time in two different theatres, with the cast running back and forth.
The link between the two new Canadian plays has contemporary political traction, says Cloran, who describes Sandler as a “smart, sassy, irreverent intelligent voice.” The Candidate is set on the eve of an election, a scandal erupts, the candidate is forced into damage control mode. The Party happens nine months earlier, at a fund-raising bash: “three nominees are going for the ticket, and the scandal is set in motion,” as Cloran explains.
“The Maclab play is a bigger, door-slamming farce situation,” says Cloran. In the Club, “it’s an immersive experience; the audience are guests at the party.”
“They’re stand-alone,” says Cloran of the sibling pieces. “But the big win is when you see both; the fun of it lives in that high-energy situation. It embraces the live quality of live theatre; the ‘we’re all in this together’…. I want to show us taking a leadership role in risk-taking.” Not least in death-defying backstage traffic: Cloran says the term “zany” does not go amiss, as demonstrated at Monday’s season launch by the extremely fit actor Farren Timoteo.
The season’s “big musical” is not without extreme complications, too. And it has a title character who’s a veritable poster-child for re-imagining. “Nobody but me is gonna change my story,” sings Matilda in the multi-award-winning musical of that name spun from the deliciously subversive Roald Dahl novel. Matilda stars a prodigious, much put-upon eight-year-old heroine who rises to resistance against terrible odds. “I cannot get through that show without crying,” beams Cloran. “It’s so funny and just so hopeful; she’s such a hero, just so willing to fight against everything to change her story….”
Cloran’s production is a collaboration between the Citadel, Vancouver’s Arts Club, and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. The cast of 20 includes 11 adults and nine kids; of the latter all except the Matilda will be re-cast locally in all three cities. Choreography is by actor/director Kimberley Rampersad, whose most recent credits are at the Shaw Festival.
Redpatch, created by Raes Calvert and Sean Harris Oliver of Vancouver’s Hardline Theatre, changes the optic on a story we know. “We look at World War I through the eyes of an Indigenous storyteller,” says Cloran. In this hit production, a collaboration between Hardline, the Citadel and the Arts Club timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Great War (the last show is on Remembrance Day), “a cast of six Indigenous actors tell the story in “a really beautiful, heartfelt fusion of text and movement.” Cloran compares it to this season’s Ubuntu in its storytelling mode.
The season launches with a production of Once, the soulful little 2011 musical about the redemptive powers of music that playwright Enda Walsh and its two original stars Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova adapted from the award-winning 2007 indie film. “Great music and a great contemporary love story,” says Cloran of a musical which (like Hadestown) started small at New York Theatre Workshop. The actors, 12 in number, play their own instruments onstage, a knotty challenge in casting. Winnipeg-based Ann Hodges directs.
Sweat, the 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by the star American playwright Lynn Nottage (Intimate Apparel), is set in a bar in dying Rust Belt factory town in Pennsylvania — with all the attendant economic, social, racial stress fractures. “But it’s easy to see the parallels here,” says Cloran of its “smart, strong, contemporary storytelling.”
“In a story about people who depend on an an industry; what do you do when it goes down?” Loyalty and friendship are tested; racial struggles ensue. Says Cloran, the success this season of Stephen Karam’s tense and escalating family drama The Humans, which “sold better than we’d hoped for,” indicates “an appetite for great drama here.”
Directed by Calgary-based Valerie Planche, Sweat is a collaboration with the Vancouver Arts Club, whose new artistic director Ashlie Corcoran is currently at the Citadel rehearsing her production of Mamma Mia!.
Shakespeare, who started this current season with writer’s block (Shakespeare in Love) gets to be part of the 2018-2019 season at the Citadel — in reimagined form. The play is his late romance The Tempest, a strange tale full of magical interventions. And for the Citadel/ Banff Professional Program production, Cloran has enlisted the English director Josette Bushell-Mingo, who runs Tyst Teater, Sweden’s National Deaf Theatre.
Deaf and hearing actors, participants in the Citadel/Banff Professional Program, will mingle in a show that mixes spoken language and ASL sign language. (Prospero’s daughter Miranda will be deaf). Digital media is included, too, courtesy of Mammoth VR, a Calgary company devoted to virtual and augmented reality experiments. “There’s lots of room for us to play,” says Cloran. “If we’re going to do a classic, I want to turn the classic on its head.”
The new director of the Citadel/Banff Program is Ravi Jain, whose Toronto company Why Not Theatre is exceptionally well connected internationally. And the project is partnering, as well, with Edmonton-based Sound Off, the country’s first national deaf festival founded by Chris Dodd (currently in preparation for this year’s upcoming Chinook Series).
The season contains not one but two seasonal offerings. One is the 19th annual reappearance of Tom Wood’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol, a veritable civic institution by now. Overlapping, as a subscription offering, is Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, a contemporary sequel of sorts to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice by the West Coast American team of Lauren Gunderson (“the most produced playwright in America,” says Cloran) and Margot Melcon.
The Miss Bennet in question is the one you never think of. Bookish, forgotten Mary finally gets an awkward love story of her own, in a play that, says Cloran, references the period in costumes and setting, but with “a great, fun contemporary sensibility.” Edmonton’s Nancy McAlear directs a cast of eight. “That’s part of our job here, making opportunities for great Edmonton artists,” says Cloran.
Full programming for the Beyond The Stage presentation series awaits. But Monday’s launch revealed two productions. Nassim, by the Iranian playwright Nassim, of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit fame, will be here in person for a show of uniquely impromptu stripe, “a duet about language and culture,” as Cloran puts it.
The actors, a different one every night, look up at a screen, and performs a script they’ve never seen. The pages are turned by a pair of hands; they belong to the playwright himself, backstage and then on-.
A year from now, Slight of Hand, an original ambulatory theatre piece by the site-specific Edmonton company Theatre Yes (Anxiety, The Elevator Project) takes audiences through the Citadel, “everywhere except the theatres,” says Cloran. “We wanted to get behind an excellent Edmonton company and let them animate our spaces.”
THE SEASON AT A GLANCE
Once the musical, directed by Ann Hodges (Sept. 22 to Oct. 14)
Redpatch (with Vancouver Arts Club and Hardline Theatre), directed by Sean Harris Oliver (Nov. 1 to 11))
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, directed by Nancy McAlear (Nov. 18 to Dec. 9)
A Christmas Carol, directed by Wayne Paquette (Nov. 30 to Dec. 23)
Sweat (with Vancouver Arts Club Theatre), directed by Valerie Planche (Jan. 12 to Feb. 2, 2019)
Matilda (with Vancouver Arts Club Theatre and Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre), directed by Daryl Cloran (Feb. 16 to March 17, 2019)
The Candidate, directed by Daryl Cloran and Kat Sandler (March 30 to April 21, 2019)
The Party, directed by Daryl Cloran and Kat Sandler (March 30 to April 21, 2019)
The Tempest, directed by Josette Bushell-Mingo (April 20 to May 12, 2019)