By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Workshop West Playwrights Theatre bookends its upcoming 44th “Persistence of Vision” season, announced Thursday, in a way that has always characterized a theatre company devoted to the development and showcasing of new Canadian plays and their writers.
The season, the first in their new home The Gateway in Strathcona (formerly Theatre Network’s Roxy on Gateway), opens Oct. 27 to Nov. 6 with a second outing of Dora Maar: the wicked one, by Beth Graham and Daniela Vlaskalic. “A play about love, obsession and surrealism” as billed, it chronicles the tumultuous relationship between two artists. One is the brilliant photographer of the title through whose lens the story is told. The other is the older groundbreaking artist who captured her on canvas in many of his paintings, Pablo Picasso.
Directed by Blake Brooker of Calgary’s One Yellow Rabbit, the production, a collaboration between GAL (Vlaskalic and Graham’s own company) and Calgary’s Hit & Myth, premiered this past spring at the delayed edition of the High Performance Rodeo. As Inglis points out, “a second production is a very important thing in working to create a Canadian theatre canon.”
The solo piece, by the playwriting pair who created the hit The Drowning Girls and Mules, stars Vlaskalic as Picasso’s muse, whose own artistic fortunes were muted in the relationship with the older more famous artist. It reunites, on home soil so to speak, the co-playwrights now separated by Canadian geography (Graham in Edmonton, Vlaskalic in Toronto) who went to theatre school as actors at the U of A.
Not only is the play, set in Paris in 1935, at the intersection of two art forms, it resonates in a new way now, when “women’s autonomy to choose their own path through life” has been threatened, witness the overthrow of Roe v. Wade in the U.S. As directed by Brooker, “it’s a lovely, elegant, well-produced” show, Inglis says.
The finale of the season is the world premiere of a new play by Edmonton up-and-comer Liam Salmon whose queer rom-com Fags in Space delighted audiences this past summer. Subscribe or Like (May 24 to June 11), which breathed its first public air at Workshop West’s Springboards in March, is at its title suggests an exploration of what the playwright has called “the digital frontier,” where selves are re-invented in the seductive kind of “performance” invited by social media.
We meet a couple of disaffected millennial underachievers whose stab at fortune and fame, as they see it, is to launch their own online video channel. Heather Inglis directs the Workshop West production, which stars Gabby Bernard and Geoffrey Simon Brown. “The third character is the internet,” says Inglis of the play, inspired by a real-life 2018 example south of the border, of a prank video channel, “a sort of freak show of grotesque challenges.”
“There’s a large multi-media component to the production,” says Inglis of the contribution of star videographer and digital designer Ian Jackson to “our largest enterprise of the season.”
Unsung: Tales From The Front Line, Jan. 25 to Feb. 12, is a premiere too. Created by Inglis and co-curated with Darrin Hagen in a collaboration with Ground Zero Productions, it is drawn from interviews with real-live Edmonton health care workers, the beleaguered (and much-abused) brigade who have saved our bacon over and over in the last two and a half years.
Inglis calls it “an immersive performance installation,” a creative documentation of real real-life stories, to be experienced by audiences on the move as “living portraits.” And in this Unsung resembles Viscosity, a 2015 Theatre Yes initiative by Inglis (then the artistic director of that indie collective) which captured real-life stories of oil patch workers.
Says Inglis of Unsung, “they’re local hero stories (designed to) honour some of the amazing things real health care workers accomplished” on our behalf under circumstances that were, to understate the case, a challenge — medically, psychologically, politically.
The audience, she explains, will “experience an experimental use of space that’s been at the centre of my artistic practice at Theatre Yes.” The production features seven actors, telling stories that represent “a variety of voices and demographics.” It’s for Hagen (Metronome), this season’s dramaturge-in-residence and a seasoned researcher himself in addition to his playwriting archive, to edit the interviews into monologue form.
The season includes a second Edmonton iteration of The Shoe Project, a national initiative to give voices to Canadian immigrant and refugee women. Playwright Conni Massing mentors 12 women as they write the stories of their arrival in Canada and their adaptation to a new way of life — all focussed through the shoes they wore. This year’s edition, a partnership with the SkirtsAfire Festival, is presented live to audiences March 11 and 12.
Workshop West’s signature Springboards New Play Festival, which returned to action last season in March after a decade to inaugurate the company’s new home, happens March 21 to 26. And, as central to WWPT’s identity and mandate (“it connects audiences directly to that,” says Inglis), it features readings of new plays at every stage of development, along with workshops, talk-backs, cabarets.
The season title is multi-dimensional, as Inglis explains. “Persistence” has been essential to the survival of live theatre in the pandemic world. And as for vision, the lineup is a nod, says Inglis, to “what it means to refract ourselves — in painting, videography, social media, photography…” and beyond.