By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Ya turn 40, ya make changes….
Teatro La Quindicina goes into its new decade with a newly streamlined moniker (with a built-in exclamation point), a new logo, a new and Fringe-less yearly calendar, and an expanding gallery of creators for its ’40s.
What doesn’t change is devotion to comedy (and elasticizing the boundaries of that term), and a buoyant mandate, as its genial co-artistic directors, on phones in different locales in Vancouver, explain: “live theatre that is a riot of fun.”
Born at the very first Fringe in 1982, Teatro La Quindicina got its oddball christening in an impromptu whim, named for the high-class bordello (often mistaken for a theatre) in Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt. “Everyone calls us Teatro anyhow,” says Andrew MacDonald-Smith, who shares the artistic directorship with Belinda Cornish. The pair are in Vancouver, both in the Arts Club cast of the production of Peter Pan Goes Wrong we saw at the Citadel in March.
“It’s been a beloved and whimsical name and we adore it,” says Cornish. “But we still have to spell it, write it out phonetically.” And even then, as decades of Sterling Award galas have proven, people stumble over the name. Certain media outlets have spelled it wrong for years. MacDonald-Smith laughs. “We listen carefully to our audience.”
The 2022-2023 Teatro Live! season opens Nov. 18 to Dec. 4) with a production of Ira Levin’s classic comedy thriller Deathtrap, directed by Nancy McAlear. That’s not a radical departure: the Teatro archive is dotted with mid-century offerings like Sleuth, Rope, The Bad Seed. What follows in February is a double-bill by Stewart Lemoine, Teatro founder and resident playwright/muse. The Exquisite Hour, an affecting 2002 two-hander comedy in which a modest bachelor of regular habits has a rare vision of time and its possibilities when a stranger walks into his yard and asks him “are you satisfied with what you know?”. It’s paired with a new Lemoine, Love Is For Poor People. The playwright directs.
In May, the month when Teatro’s seasons have opened for the past decade, Listen, Listen, a new comedy commissioned for the company from playwright/screenwriter Elyne Quan, premieres, directed by Cornish. And the season finale in July — Teatro Live! is keeping that summer slot — is a revival, much delayed by the pandemic, of an original Teatro 2009 musical comedy that is very much of this place. Everybody Goes To Mitzi’s, created by MacDonald-Smith and Jocelyn Ahlf (book), Ryan Sigurdson (music) and Farren Timoteo (lyrics), is a love story set in Edmonton’s flourishing supper club scene in the 1960s. Kate Ryan directs the five-actor three-musician production.
“Ten years ago, the company shifted to a summer season,” says Cornish of programming that was the obverse of the usual theatre calendar here by running May through October. “And it was really successful for us…. Summer-time, delight, celebratory mood were a good fit.”
But that niche is no longer unoccupied; there’s more theatre happening in the summer here than hitherto, as she points out. And besides, the rationale is further reduced because “we’re stepping away from the Fringe,” as MacDonald-Smith points out. Teatro’s 2022 Fringe show, a revival of Lemoine’s The Margin of the Sky, was the company’s last appearance ever at the summer festival where it was born in 1982. Among other reasons, as he explains, is this: the sheer impossibility of a professional Equity company even remotely breaking even at a festival where the ticket price is about a third of a normal ticket during the season. When the other productions in the season don’t have to subsidize the Fringe show, “we now get to create on a larger scale.”
So, as the Teatro Live! season announced Tuesday reveals, the same number of productions “but they’re threaded through the year” and programming by Teatro Live!’s Varscona Theatre co-habitants, Shadow Theatre and assorted indie companies.
“When you hit a milestone year, you ask what’s next? How do I want to grow?” says MacDonald-Smith. “We’re keeping the essence,” he says of the Lemoine plays that have been “the centrepiece of the company for its entire life.” But he and Cornish are expanding the repertoire by formalizing “a new program of commissions specially written for Teatro.” Quan’s Listen, Listen is the first of the initiative.
True, Teatro La Quindicina seasons have included comedies from other writers from time to time (interestingly, always women, including Cornish, Jocelyn Ahlf, and Jana O’Connor). The idea, explains Cornish, is essentially a commission “to write a Teatro play … what a fun thing for a playwright!”
The Teatro aesthetic “has a specificity,” she says. “We’re a comedy-forward company. But within that, there’s a lot of room (for writers) to play in, a lot of space for creativity while being true to their own voices.” Witness “the breadth of Stewart’s own work, from beautiful delicate plays like The Exquisite Hour to colossal epics like The Book of Tobit,” screwball comedies to pocket musicals to mystery thrillers.
Says MacDonald-Smith “we’re supporting playwrights to have a wonderful time writing a play.”
Teatro Live! subscriptions: teatroq.com.