Recalling the year in theatre is always split-minded exercise: given the way it runs, you’re reflecting on the end of last season and the start of this one (plus there’s the Fringe, smack-dab in the middle). So, rather than any sort of best-of list, we scoured our notes for trends of the season to examine the patterns that emerged in Edmonton theatre in 2015.
With contributions from Paul Blinov (PB) and Bruce Cinnamon (BC).
The rally behind the Roxy
The year started with the loss of the Roxy, one of Edmonton’s longest-standing, most well-loved theatres. But from the ashes of a building came a wellspring of community rallying: Teatro La Quindicina delayed its long-awaited Varscona renovations so the Roxy’s resident company, Theatre Network, could finish its season at Teatro’s temporary home, the Backstage Theatre. Then Catalyst Theatre’s former home of C103 was converted into The Roxy on Gateway as a temporary residence. Hopefully that same level of compassion will remain as Theatre Network amps up to rebuild on the former Roxy site. PB
Sometimes you have to strip away all the glam and spectacle of live theatre to really get at the emotional core of a story. Some of Edmonton’s best plays of 2015 did just that, scaling down until they became a conversation between only two people. Theatre Network’s Armstrong’s War, Shadow Theatre’s First Time Last Time, pretty much every Fringe show I saw—all of them devoted themselves to exploring a single relationship in great depth. They tested the skill of their actors, often pairing veterans like Garrett Ross and Andrew MacDonald-Smith (The Best Brothers) with great chemistry. The double act is not a new form, but this year Edmonton’s theatre companies used it to great effect. BC
For anyone who’s worried that a rise of double-act shows means a glut of rom-coms and relationship dramas, fear not! Whether they had each other’s backs or were burying knives in them, sisters and brothers stole the show this year. From revolutionary Russia (Teatro la Quindicina’s The Hothouse Prince) to 1960s Dublin (Walterdale Theatre’s A Man of No Importance), the peaks and valleys of sibling relationships were on full display in a noticeable number of shows. A standout example was Studio Theatre’s Tribes, which explored the relationship between a deaf man and his inclusive-in-name-only family. BC
It seems like 2015 was heavy with out-there ideas for theatre: from Punctuate Theatre’s ambitious Suburban Motel Series—six linked one-act plays set in the same hotel room, watchable as either a few episodes per night or weekend marathons of the whole thing—to Thou Art Here’s continued push to bring the Bard into unusual locales; from Northern Light’s meta-theatrical look at gender in Christina /Philippe to Blarney Productions’ reimagining of Psycho, Mote, where the audience was seated above the action; from the immensely physical, choral storytelling of Pyretic Productions’ Bears to Kristine Nutting’s Devour Content Here, which happened in a dusty-as-all-hell warehouse. Even Winners and Losers, which toured through the Citadel on the strength of its raw, argument-based structure, was sort of experience that didn’t feel like traditional theatre. Not everything worked, but it was a rare year that felt packed with risk after risk, offering audiences up indelible takes on the artform the whole way. PB
A monochromatic scene
Before Miss Saigon opened in June, director Martin Galba explicitly stated that he wanted to create more space for racial minorities in Edmonton theatre. But apart from Miss Saigon and a boot-tapping cameo performance by Mark Cassius in the Citadel’s Evangeline, the past year was still dominated by white actors. Of course, it’s impossible to determine every factor that creates this situation, but without more people of colour in starring roles, there’s no doubt that fewer young actors of colour will see people like themselves on stage and bring their talent to our city’s stages. Here’s hoping for a less painfully monochromatic theatre scene in 2016. BC