By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
It being summer (to put it mildly), and Teatro La Quindicina’s particular time of year par excellence, the company is back in rehearsal.
Yes, real actors in an actual theatre, the Varscona in Strathcona. “And it feels fantastic!” declare its joint artistic directors Belinda Cornish and Andrew MacDonald-Smith.
A rarity among Edmonton professional theatres in running summer seasons June through September, Teatro “took a mulligan’ in 2020. The company rebooked its entire lineup — three Stewart Lemoine comedies and a musical created by Teatro stars — ahead a full year.
The world hasn’t entirely co-operated, you may have noticed. And Cornish and MacDonald-Smith have had to adjust. “It was impossible to do the 2020 shows in 2021,” say Cornish. “Either they were just too big (like Evelyn Strange), or they were a musical (Everybody Goes To Mitzi’s)!”
What they’ve planned for Teatro’s return is a four-show 39th season in which the first three of the upcoming productions are streamed (released late summer, with in-person big-screen screenings at the Varscona in early fall). “Capturing something for eternity” has its appeal, as MacDonald-Smith puts it, an act of defiance against the ephemeral nature of live theatre. “And at a time of opening and closing and opening and closing, we thought ‘why don’t we just come to you?’” Says Cornish, “necessity is the mother … etc. It pushes us into something new.”
The grand finale (originally planned for 2020) is live and in-person: a revival of Lemoine’s Fever-Land, which premiered in 1999, and hasn’t been seen since 2004. That, incidentally, is the year before both Cornish and MacDonald-Smith, Teatro stars both, made their company debuts, the former in A Grand Time In The Rapids, the latter in The Salon of the Talking Turk.
The first two streaming offerings, Lost Lemoine: Parts One and Two, made possible by EPCOR’s invaluable Heart & Soul Fund and the Edmonton Community Foundation, gather short (and very short) plays by Teatro’s resident playwright. Their provenance is varied, some recent, some dating back decades in the extensive Lemoine catalogue. Some were written for one-night special occasions of yore, others had fleeting runs at the Fringe or for fund-raisers, galas, or the annual Fringe cabaret. Some were part of collections (The Argentine Picnic, The Portuguese Riding Lesson among them). “Stewart’s pandemic project has been digitizing his work,” says Cornish, “some of it written on a typewriter!”
“We had about 16 to choose from, and (for Lost Lemoine: Part One) we went for six…. They’re five to 10 minutes long, bite-sized and they vary enormously in tone,” says Cornish, who directs a cast of eight who appear, in various COVID-friendly perms and combs (two, three or in one case four actors), in both parts. “We go from “Stewart’s meditation on Ibsen (Ludicrous Pie) to a play set in the ‘70s.” Leona Brausen’s costuming for the latter, says MacDonald-Smith of The Crazy Women, will feature his personal favourite pair of stage shoes ever.
The seventh, Lost Lemoine: Part Two, is slightly longer. A Second Round of Seconds, a 2016 45-minute one-act originally written for The Novus Actors (Teatro’s adjunct company of lawyer thesps). The comedy is based on the concept of speed dating, Lemoine explains. “One on one scenes, a bell rings, they re-group….”
The pieces, say the Teatro co-artistic directors, rise to the extreme challenge of telling a story, dramatically and theatrically, with dimensional characters, in a matter of minutes. The playwright, says Cornish, “encapsulates their world in three lines, who they are, the journey they go on….”
The protagonist of the third streaming production A Fit, Happy Life is a dedicated department store bed salesman, in encounters with a succession of customers. The original concept dates from a three-performance late-night run at the old Phoenix Downtown space in 1985. Mathew Hulshof plays the “earnest mattress expert” with Kristen Padayas as all the customers, in a series of quick-changes made possible by the medium of film. “When I was digitizing, I found three scenes I really like,” says Lemoine. “And I’ve added two new ones.”
The streamed productions will likely intersect with Fringe time in August. But though the Varscona will be a BYOV as usual, the Teatro offerings won’t be part of the festival per se this year (largely due to logistical challenges in scheduling and ticketing).
At the centre of the live in-person season finale (Sept. 23 to Oct 9), Lemoine’s highly unusual Fever-Land, is the intersection of characters in 1960s Winnipeg and other-worldly personages who advise a chorister involved in an illicit affair: The Erl-King (star of a Goethe poem put to music by Schubert) and The Queen of the Willis borrowed from the classic ballet Giselle. Red velvet cake at the Eaton’s cafeteria in Winnipeg figures in the play (the original program, as I recall, contained the recipe). “It hadn’t quite made its comeback then,” says Lemoine.
Cornish directs the revival, starring Jenny McKillop, with MacDonald-Smith and Cathy Derkach.
The three streamed productions will not be movies, Cornish hastens to add. They’re “theatre-film hybrids.” Lemoine echoes the thought. “We’re trying to acknowledge we’re in a theatre.” And there are advantages, after all, to the digital world, to wit “outreach nationally and internationally…. Finally, my aunts in Winnipeg and Toronto can see the shows.”
Teatro La Quindicina 2021 season
Lost Lemoine: Part One (releasing late summer)
Lost Lemoine: Part Two (releasing late summer)
A Fit, Happy Life (releasing late summer)
Fever-Land (live in-person Sept 23 to Oct 9)