Looking back on a year in theatre always seems a bit of an awkward exercise: the Gregorian calendar year always straddles the latter half of one season and the first half of another, so it feels somewhat baseless to try and frame it in terms of “bests of the year” when we’re really dealing with two halves of two different wholes.
That said, there are some trends you can map out between the two—so, in lieu of any sort of “best in show” list, here are a few of the most intriguing directions Edmonton artists set out on in 2013.
And then I see a darkness
You could be forgiven for thinking a large number of Edmonton’s theatre-types had all started a Baudelaire book club, or something: it’s been a year dotted with bleak, morbid or otherwise difficult productions, right from the Citadel’s biggest stages (Long Day’s Journey Into Night) down to the indie (Surreal SoReal’s existentialist Sartre’s Shorts).
Dark were the (theatre) nights, but rarely did even bleakest premise rely solely on its moroseness: for starters, Theatre Network’s Let The Light of Day Through channeled every parent’s worst nightmare in a script (by our own Collin Doyle) that started off with bona-fide hilarity and ended with a beautiful, heart-wrenching reveal. Back in February, Theatre Network also delivered Where The Blood Mixes, a co-production that toured Canada, dealing with a group of aboriginal adults struggling to live some semblance of a life while embattled by the demons of a residential school past.
Elsewhere, Workshop West premièred Brad Fraser’s Kill Me Now, which used humour to probe deep, uncomfortable questions about love and care; NLT’s Dust sifted through the concept of love in a place devoid of it (that place being Guantanamo Bay).
Even the brightest, tone-wise, of the bleak bunch, Citadel’s Ride The Cyclone (on tour from Victoria’s Atomic Vaudeville) gave us a multi-faceted musical—but presented by a teenage choir from Saskatchewan, giving their final performance from beyond the grave.
These shows asked a lot of their audiences, but the above definitely gave far more back in terms of work that was vivid and layered as much as it was challenging.
Indie keeps eclectic
The youngest up-and-comers tackling stages in town weren’t conforming to any particular moulds—same goes for the established indies.
Broken Toys Theatre, a company in the midst of its debut season, offered up a pair of opposing productions. In September, it premièred a Scottish love story, Midsummer [A Play With Songs] staged as a duo over one fleeting weekend; just a few months later, they came back with a surprisingly lively take on Chekhov’s The Three Sisters. It had a 14-strong cast, including some of Edmonton’s finest, all clearly revelling the chance to tear into the meat of a classic.
Elsewhere, the Maggie Tree tackled The Age of Arousal, about the shifting sexual politics of 1885 London. And, looming in the season’s background, was a workshop presentation of The Genius Code, an immersive, individualized theatrical experience to be that’s the shared brainchild of Surreal SoReal and Catalyst Theatre. Watch for it in 2014.
Taking to the streets (and elevators, and cafes, and vans … )
Some of the year’s most curious theatrical experiences revamped the idea of where, exactly, an audience goes to see art. Theatre Yes’s National Elevator Project turned eight downtown elevators into stages, each containing five-to-10-minute works happening within arm’s length from you, amplifying the emotions of each through sheer proximity to action (a second cycle of elevator plays will be part of the Canoe Theatre festival in a few weeks). A new young collective, Thou Art Here, has been periodically staging Shakespeare scenes in bars and cafés around town; and in its second year, Common Ground Arts Society’s Found Festival set up shop in alleyways, parks, a van and a mini mountain of snow—in the middle of June, no less. If that’s not theatrical magic, I don’t know what is.