Jan. 02, 2013 - Issue #898: Apocalypse Not?
The highs and lows of theatre in 2012It was a sort of doomy year of flux for theatre (and, more widely, the arts) in Canada: the "This couldn't happen to us" bubble of denial burst as well-established institutions fell outside the city—The Canadian Conference of the Arts, the Vancouver Playhouse—but that isn't to say the silver linings aren't there, especially in Edmonton. So to dig into the year that was, a pair of Vue's resident theatre critics pick their highs and lows of the year in theatre.
Compiled by Paul Blinov (PB) and Mel Priestley (MP).
High: A behind-the-scenes shuffle
The year has been a sea change for the theatre community's behind-the-scenes powers that be: one of the last big announcements of 2012 was that Murray Utas, of the very indie Azimuth Theatre, was moving into the position of programming director of Fringe Theatre Adventures—taking over North America's biggest fringe fest—joining fellow 2012 hire executive director Jill Rozell, who took over her position in June. Meanwhile, former FTA programming director Thomas Scott joined up in the Citadel's barracks as part of a newly created Audience Development team. There are more, too, but the overall point is this: the dangers of a well-established community include stagnancy, so a significant behind-the-scenes shake up bodes well for some fresh approaches in the year to come. PB
High: conversations are actually happening
Over the years I've had plenty of artists express a frustration with the theatre scene's unwillingness to open up and have an honest discussion about itself, so to see an actual dialogue starting to open—between long-established institutions and emerging artists alike—bodes pretty well for the future: from the Theatre Edmonton Project, which launched back in September, to the likeminded Collective Artist WorkShare (CAWS) program, the community is giving itself an honest eye and trying to start work as a unit. Right now the main clip seems to be workshops and lots of discussions, but those are the first step of any significant change. PB
Low: an endless spread of festivals
While Edmonton is a self-proclaimed festival city, there are only a handful of widely recognized theatre festivals—namely the Fringe, Free Willl, NextFest and Street Performers (if you consider this to be theatre). Yet there are dozens of smaller theatre festivals, many of which have sprung up only within the last couple years: Bonfire, Found, Thousand Faces, Rubaboo and Snow Globe. Now, obviously there's nothing wrong with having so many festivals, but aside from the convenience of describing a run of plays under a single name versus each individual one, I'm uncertain over the true merit of the festival title—it's too easy for attention to be transferred away from the actual shows, causing people to gloss over (or miss entirely) the individual entrants. MP
Low: still playing it safe
This is a trend that has persisted for a few years now and seems to show no sign of waning: Edmonton's theatre circuit has been fairly conservative, at least as far as the big theatre companies are concerned. Perhaps the year's biggest example of this was the Citadel Theatre's cancellation of their Rice Theatre series, which featured the company's more progressive shows. Other theatre companies have also been relying on pieces with mass appeal in terms of theme, and/or featuring big name playwrights or titles. While it's certainly a way of hedging their bets on drawing an audience, the risk of stagnation is real and imminent—and, in some cases, already at hand. MP
High: Embracing avant-garde
Flying directly in the face of my previous point about conservatism in Edmonton's theatre circuit are the few companies taking chances on staging plays that are edgy, new and/or innovative. Theatre Yes routinely presents challenging and subversive pieces (recently The List and earlier in the year, Race). Studio Theatre opened its season with The Ghost Sonata, an experimental and modernist (and therefore downright bizarre) play by August Strindberg. And in April, Cowardly Kiss Theatre staged a new production of Jean Genet's absurdist and similarly experimental The Maids. So, while there may not be an overly wide variety of shows in Edmonton's theatre community at any one time, more alternative pieces do come through fairly regularly; hopefully this trend will continue into 2013. vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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