A look at some of the cultural shifts in Edmonton’s theatre, opera and ballet
2017 was a year of milestone firsts for Edmonton’s primary music, dance, and theatre industries, full of passionate movers and shakers that felt it was high time to change certain areas of the industry, and at times, flip it on its head.
Much like the broader entertainment industry, the Edmonton arts and theatre community was privy to significant waves of change this past year. One of the areas that saw significant development were the widespread discussions surrounding consent and healthy work environments for actors and staff in the industry.
Citadel Theatre kicked off a fresh season with artistic director Daryl Cloran’s first season of programming. He promised an evolution of strategy including more multicultural voices and innovative staging.
Shows like Ubuntu marked a new era of international connections for the theatre and also proved the interest of Edmontonians in a few more internationally-rooted productions. Hadestown was the Citadel’s first pre-Broadway show since the ‘80s and brought audiences to the theatre in droves.
“For a not-so-good series of events that have taken place—in Edmonton, in Canada, and internationally—I was really, really buoyed to see the community come together to have those conversations,” Cloran says. “There’s this incredible community of theatre-makers and artists that—more so than any place that I’ve worked before—take care of each other and push for the best in the way they work together and that’s been really exciting to see.”
Executive director Penny Ritco also announced her sad departure from the Citadel, with Chantell Ghosh to fill the role at the 51-year-old company come January. 2018’s continuation of the season will follow the evolution set forth with shows like Children of God’s Indigenous ties and The Silver Arrow’s female protagonist.
The Alberta Ballet’s The Nutcracker broke a new record for sales this year, leaving the company’s ongoing deficit since the oil crash looking slightly more doable going into 2018, though they’re not entirely out of the slump artistic director Jean Grand-Maître says.
“Maybe after so much Trump people need a little magic,” Grand-Maître jokes.
Performances like Alice in Wonderland and Our Canada: Music of Gordon Lightfoot 2017 dazzled attendees with innovative self-created productions that have diversified their audiences more than ever. And 2018 has a lineup of even more versatility including a new family-centred Cinderella and All of Us, a tribute to the late Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip, which promises to be a major crowd-pleaser that The Hip plan to attend themselves.
Edmonton Opera also saw audience numbers grow this year, with Rossini’s Cinderella, Strauss’ Elektra, which boasted inaugural conductor Timothy Prior of Edmonton’s Symphony Orchestra, and Lilies—a transplant from Montreal and Canada’s first gay opera.
Consolidating all their old operations—including box office, admin, construction, costumes, and rehearsal—into one space has proven to be a healthy switch for the company that is now also enjoying the ability to share the space with other groups looking to rehearse.
With only three chances each year to put on a true spectacle, the opera and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra have the jazz-infused HMS Pinafore and Don Giovanni to look forward to in the new year as well.
Shadow Theatre reaped the reward of their efforts 10 years in the making with their first full year in the Varscona Theatre. Starting the year with the end of their 25th season and moving into their 26th, Shadow Theatre held some brilliant shows on the new stage, with more upcoming in the new year. Subscriptions were also up this year by 10 percent, showing an increase in Edmonton’s support for local theatre artists and their production crews.
Northern Light Theatre wrapped up their edgy 41st season with the gun-fired musical Bonnie & Clyde, and jumped headfirst into the 42nd with a controversial The Testament of Mary. Both shows had surprisingly high audience numbers, proving the Edmonton audience exists for plays that push the envelope. Undaunted and with a grain of salt, the season of “The virgin, the whore, and something in between” will continue into 2018 with Do This in Memory of Me, the story of a girl’s desire to do what only boys can and Slut, a comedic look at how women are pigeon-holed into one of two unsavoury categories. With Northern Light Theatre’s continuing push to feature women on stage in prominent roles, their performances prove to be ahead of their time.