ALL THE CITY’S A STAGE
Theatre season shaping up to be a hit
Wearing black tights is one of my favourite fall activities, right up there with eating apples outside after doing yard work when your hands are cold and red. But the best thing of all, come fall, is poring over the upcoming theatre season and deciding which thrilling shows will illuminate those long, dark nights.
The 2017/18 season promises to be one of Edmonton’s best. It’s the first season programmed by the Citadel’s new artistic director, Daryl Cloran. (I can hardly sleep for thinking about Cloran’s big coup, Hadestown.) We’ll see actors Julian Arnold and Reed McColm in their underwear with Shadow Theatre (surely not to be missed). Director David Horak (who shone at the Sterling Awards this year) is remounting the anti-Christmas hit, Burning Bluebeard, through the Roxy Performance Series.
And that’s just three shows. By my count, more than 50 shows will debut between now and the end of the 2018 season — and that doesn’t include regular weekly performances by the local improv groups Die Nasty and Rapid Fire Theatre (which don’t so much run a season as a laugh factory). Also left out of the mix for this story is the popular Teatro La Quindacina, which runs counter to the traditional theatre season, kicking off as it does in the summer of 2018. (Teatro’s last show for its 2017 season, Shockers Delight! debuts Sept. 28 at the Varscona.)
I contacted all the mainstream professional and amateur theatres, as well as the scrappy independents. (If I missed you, or you didn’t return my call because you are an artist and therefore working three other jobs, do get in touch and we’ll talk.) I didn’t include the festivals that some theatre companies attach to their seasons, such as Canoe (hosted by Workshop West) or NextFest ( by Theatre Network). A festival is not a season is not a company. I did not include children’s theatre in this particular outing.
Theatre companies do what they do for a reason, and it’s not just about selling the most seats possible. Most have crafted a season that reflects the values carved out by their particular collection of thoughtful talents.
I asked the artistic directors of the mainstream theatres to describe how the upcoming 2017/18 theatre season reflects what it is their companies do best. Each of their comments is noted after the descriptions of their seasons.
So now, darken the house lights and prepare to imagine.
One of the biggest regional theatre companies in the country with an operating budget of $13 million, The Citadel produces a large number, and wide variety, of plays for its two big stages, the Maclab and the Shoctor.
Artistic director Daryl Cloran makes his directorial debut with the first show this season, Shakespeare in Love, written by iconic playwright Tom Stoppard. It posits that Shakespeare created Romeo and Juliet after falling madly in love himself. Cloran also plays a prominent role in the season’s second production, Ubuntu (The Cape Town Project), which he wrote as part of a collective and mounted at the Western Canada Theatre in Kamloops, where Cloran was artistic director before arriving at the Citadel a year ago.
The musical Hadestown may be this season’s most exciting and ambitious project at The Citadel. The off-Broadway hit, soon-to-be launched on Broadway, is coming to Edmonton in November, and bringing with it several Broadway stars, including Patrick Page (SpiderMan: Turn Off the Dark) and Amber Gray (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812), and Kingsley Leggs (Sister Act, The Colour Purple).
The 2016 Tony Award winner for best new play, The Humans, trots out early in 2018, along with the blockbuster musical Mamma Mia!, and Children of God (a musical based on Canada’s residential school experience). Come spring, watch for Edmonton playwright Mieko Ouchi to première her first Citadel mainstage outing, Silver Arrow: The Untold Story of Robin Hood, which features a female protagonist and high-wire antics by Firefly Theatre.
Several smaller shows take up residence in 2017/18 in the Citadel’s The Club, a cabaret space in the bowels of the theatre. Those include Undercover (starring Rebecca Northan as a grizzled cop working with the audience to solve a murder) and Empire of the Son, a one-man show by Tetsuro Shigematsu, which chronicles the uneasy relationship between an Asian Canadian man and his father.
Also in The Club are four performances in a series called Beyond the Stage, shows that are inspired by plays, or that in some way assume the form of a play. Here’s where you can see singer/songwriter Anais Mitchell (who wrote Hadestown) perform an acoustic concert in October, timed to coincide with the musician’s visit to Edmonton for Hadestown rehearsals.
Freedom Singer, Old Stock (A Refugee Love Story), and Betroffenheit make up the rest of the Beyond the Stage series. Note to lovers of internationally acclaimed shows: Betroffenheit, a co-production with the Brian Webb Dance Company, is by West Coast dancer and choreographer, Crystal Pite, and won the Olivier Award (Britain’s version of the Tonys) for best new dance production earlier this year. Don’t miss it.
For further information call the box office at 780-425-1820 or visit citadeltheatre.com, 9828 101A Ave. Artistic director Daryl Cloran:
“This season is a great illustration of our desire for the Citadel to be inclusive, innovative and international. The season celebrates diverse voices, champions new plays and exciting theatrical risks, and features work by incredible theatre artists from around the globe.
In South Africa, ubuntu refers to the interconnectedness of all humans and the belief that ‘I am because you are.’ The spirit of ubuntu is at the heart of all the programming choices I made for this season. The productions all explore our intricate ties to one another, connecting us across the globe and in our own backyards.”
Theatre Network enters its 43rd season this fall, with three mainstage productions at the Roxy on Gateway, which Theatre Network has called home since its 124 Street home burned down in 2015. Opening in November is the crazily experimental Calgary-based Old Trout Puppet Workshop with a new work called Underland, a shirton-backward version of the strange and ancient poem, Jabberwocky.
In February, Sheldon Elter’s hit solo play, Métis Mutt, puts on its big-boy pants with a full-length, fully-realized production directed by Ron Jenkins. Métis Mutt has played virtually every community hall on the Prairies and is a testament to the sheer willpower of its creator, and the careful nurturing of a great idea by talented artists who have believed in the show.
Artistic director Bradley Moss directs Infinity in April, a challenging 2015 play by Canadian star Hannah Moscovitch (East of Berlin, This Is War, Little One). It examines the relationship between a physicist, a musician, and their mathematician daughter, and features live music by an onstage violinist.
Theatre Network hosts something called the Roxy Performance Series, which presents productions from small, independent companies. Opening next week at the Roxy on Gateway is Mind Games, starring the mentalist Jeff Newman. In November, Taylor Chadwick directs a What It Is production of The Aliens, the 2010 play by American writer Annie Baker (Circle Mirror Transformation, The Flick) that follows two underachiever slackers and a nerdy high school kid.
Dave Horak’s award-winning Edmonton Actors Theatre production of the macabre Burning Bluebeard shows up in December with the singed cast of a Christmas panto that returns from the ashes of a burnt-out theatre to finish their show. (It’s all a bit close to home, with pieces of Theatre Network’s blackened former digs making up the backdrop.) Kill Your Television remounts their 2002 hit Shakespeare’ s R& J, a Joe Calarco play that sees four students from a Catholic private boys’ school meeting secretly to read Romeo and Juliet.
Fans of Hey Ladies!, the kooky variety show by Cathleen Rootsaert, Leona Brausen, and Davina Stewart, have five shows to pick from in 2017/18. Cabaret artist Patricia Zentilli makes Saturday nights a whole lot more interesting with her
new series, called PattyZee @theRoxy. Featuring themed guests, the series opens on Saturday, Sept. 30 with a riff on friendship.
Call Theatre Network, 8529 Gateway Blvd., at 780-453-2440 for tickets and information, or check online at theatrenetwork.ca. Artistic director Bradley Moss:
“The mainstage reflects where our sentiments lie. We celebrate our top Alberta talent with the world premiere of Underland by Old Trout, a successful Alberta company that’s internationally known. I’m superhonoured to be part of that.
“And Métis Mutt is Sheldon’s redo, but what I’m particularly proud of is that here is this young person who creates this right out of Grant MacEwan, and then he gets some support from the community, and for that then to come home, and to be on our mainstage — this is a proud moment for us. It represents the possibilities of a young artist, and what you can achieve. Infinity, by one of our great Canadian writers, Hannah Moscovitch, represents our support of women writers and stories that are difficult. So it’s that edgy part of us.”
One of three theatre companies that mounts productions from The Varscona Theatre, Shadow Theatre opens at the end of October with Constellations, described as a “spellbinding, romantic journey.”
Artistic director John Hudson helms Edmonton playwright Collin Doyle’s Slumberland Motel, enjoying its world premiere in January. The award-winning play sees two down-on-their-luck vacuum cleaner salesman share a room, only to receive an unexpected visitor. The theatre’s third production, opening in February, is Outside Mullingar, by John Patrick Shanley. A very Irish tale of passion, desperation and yearning, the play ponders if it’s ever too late to find love. God, I hope not. Another Irish charmer rounds off Shadow’s season in April, when Fly Me To The Moon ( by Marie Jones) sees two cash-strapped care workers with a dead body wondering ‘what would Jesus do?’
For information, call 780-4345564 ■ or visit shadowtheatre.org. Shadow Theatre is at 10329 83 Ave.
Artistic director John Hudson: “We choose plays that hit our audi- ence’s heart, while at the same time opening their mind. So every time we’re looking at plays, comedies or dramas, we want something a little more substantial, and to add something to your understanding of the human condition. This season, what we love, is that there is a delightful unexpected surprise in each play, an Easter egg, a little nugget, and I think people will really be delighted by that.”
MAYFIELD DINNER THEATRE
Musicals and music-based plays are the Mayfield’s prime rib. Indeed, a nostalgic review about Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner called Soul Sistahs has already opened the dinner theatre’s 2017/18 season, to be followed by a review of 1980s music called Back to the ’80s, Part 2, The Adventure Continues, opening in November. The Ladies Foursome, a play by Norm Foster, takes centre stage in February. In the spring, All ShookUp, an homage to Elvis Presley, warms the audience up for a perennial favourite, the four-hander musical Forever Plaid, which rounds off the season in June.
For details, call 780-483-4051 or go online at mayfieldtheatre. ca. Mayfield Dinner Theatre is at 16615 109 Ave.
Artistic director Van Wilmott: “Being a commercial dinner theatre, what we do here is primarily musicals, with an ‘icon’ show in the fall. We can only pick shows that can hold up for eight weeks, the length of most of our runs, and musicals appeal to a broad audience. This past season, we hit our highest number of season tickets holders, probably close to 8,000, in the history of this building, which has been around since the mid-’70s.”
Artistic director Vern Thiessen has programmed two thought-provoking shows for the coming year. The first, running in November at the Backstage Theatre (10330 84 Ave.) and directed by Kevin McKendrick, is John Ware Reimagined, by Calgary playwright, Cheryl Foggo. Come April, patrons can expect to see the world premiere of Pretty Goblins, by Edmonton’s own, Governor General’s Award finalist, Beth Graham. Directed by Brian Dooley, the production pairs twin sisters in a tale of loss, addiction and love.
Tickets are available by calling ■ 780-477-5955, or visit workshopwest.org. Artistic director Vern Thiessen: “We build community. That’s what we’re good at and so we choose plays that bring people together who might not have a chance to come together normally. Our first show is about the famous cowboy that many people in Alberta don’t know anything about, John Ware, who was a slave who came to Canada back in the mid-1800s and became one of the most famous cowboys in America. ”
Edmonton has upward of a halfdozen independent theatre companies. Without a building or budget to call their own, some of them only put on a show or two a year, or may devote themselves exclusively to productions for the Fringe.
This year, some of those independents have ambitious plans for must-see shows. Plain Jane Theatre Company, which prides itself on musicals with a message, mounts a multiple-cast-member production, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Watch for it at the end of February 2018, at the Varscona Theatre. Firefly, Edmonton’s circus and aerial arts theatre, is creating a co-production with Kita No Taiko called Kolabo. It runs Feb. 23 and 24, 2018, at La Cité Francophone (8627 91 St.)
Other shows of note include Our Man in Havana, by the Bright Young Things theatre company helmed by Belinda Cornish, also at the Varscona. Starring the hilarious Mark Meer and Mathew Hulshof, the show runs Nov. 23 to Dec. 2.
Edmonton Actors Theatre, lead by local director and actor Dave Horak, tackles a new Collin Doyle script May 7 to 21, 2018, at the Studio Theatre in the ATB Financial Bus Barns (10330 84th Ave.) Too Late to Stop Now is a family drama starring John Wright, Maralyn Ryan and Cole Humeny.
Azimuth Theatre and Downstage co-present Cardiac Theatre’s The Listening Room, by Michaela Jeffery. It explores a remote desert society, where a group of teenage dissidents search for fragments of earlier civilizations. Watch for it Jan. 18 to 28, 2018, at the Studio Theatre (10330 84th Ave.)
AMATEUR THEATRE AND POST-SECONDARY INSTITUTIONS
Edmonton theatre lovers are lucky to have amateur theatre talent aplenty. Tickets to shows at the Walterdale, the department of theatre at MacEwan University and the Studio Theatre (the University of Alberta’s company catering to its dramatic arts programs) offer solid entertainment at a low price.
MacEwan’s musical theatre season starts Nov. 22 with Sister Act, directed by Guedo, followed by Love and Information (directed by Dave Horak with set design by Megan Koshka). The latter kicks off Jan. 31, 2018. The season closer, which launches a 10-day run March 21, is City of Angels. Set in 1940s Hollywood, this musical comedy combines a jazzy score by Cy Coleman with sharp comedy a la Larry Gelbart (of M*A*S*H fame). Shows are in the Triffo Theatre in Allard Hall (11110 104 Ave.) Tickets are available through Tix on the Square.
The U of A’s Studio Theatre in the Timms Centre (at the northeast corner of 112 St. and 87 Ave.) starts its season Oct. 12 with A Bright Room Called Day, by Tony Kushner. Set in parallel worlds of 1930s Germany and present day, it follows a group of artists who must decide to flee or fight for their true beliefs.
Ibsen’s A Doll House, adapted by Beau Coleman, arrives Nov. 30 in a new format, reframed in 1950s America. Max Gorky’s The Lower Depths debuts Feb. 8, 2018. It’s a story of a group of people displaced by economic and political upheaval. Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal, an 18th century comedy of manners, arrives March 29. The season winds up with the French avant-garde classic, Exit the King, by Eugene Ionesco, opening May 17.
For tickets for Studio Theatre productions call the box office at 780-492-2495. timmscentre.ca
The Walterdale has a jampacked season that leads off Oct. 11 with the classic take A Doll’s House, followed by Trina Davies’ 1917 Halifax explosion tale, Shatter, debuting Dec. 6 and directed by Josh Languedoc. The comedy/drama The Women hits the stage Feb. 17 with the story of what happens when the happy world of a socialite is threatened. Blue Stockings by Jessica Swale explores women’s suffrage from April 4 to 18. Local playwrights will be on exhibit for From Cradle to Stage: An Evening of New Works, running May 14 to 18. New, unproduced work can be submitted to Walterdale for consideration. The last show of the season is the musical Next to Normal, directed by Walterdale’s artistic director Bethany Hughes and running July 4 to 14.
For more information, call 780439-3058 or check out the theatre’s website at walterdaletheatre.com. 10322 83 Ave.
Amber Gray portrays Persephone in the upcoming debut of Hadestown at the Citadel in November. Gray performed the role off Broadway.
ABOVE: Richelle Thorson stars in Burning Bluebeard, an anti-Christmas show, and part of the Roxy Performance series. BELOW: Sheldon Elter stars in Métis Mutt at Theatre Network.