The plebian among us are fascinated by the artistic mind. We imagine it swirling with grand thoughts, its every decision infused with meaning.
So when interviewing Bradley Moss of Theatre Network about the upcoming 2018-19 season, I am excited to hear how the artistic director, entering his 20th year at the network helm, has managed to pull together an important, yet entertaining lineup sure to sell a whack of tickets. Was he up nights, pondering a theme?
Ah, no. Here’s the truth of it.
“I feel like sometimes I’m like a farmer,” said Moss. “Sometimes certain crops come available, and you can harvest them or not.”
This season, a new play arrived on Moss’s desk, ripe for the picking and penned by Edmonton’s own Darrin Hagen. All the other plays seemed to fit nicely around that one. The Empress and The Prime Minister (directed by Moss) plumbs one of Canada’s most progressive moments — when Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau removed homosexuality from the Criminal Code in 1969.
As the 50th anniversary of that event approaches, Hagen introduces audiences to a real-life character, the late drag queen ted northe (also known as the Empress of Canada), an activist from Vancouver who conferred with Trudeau as the politician insisted the state had no place in the bedrooms of the nation.
Hagen — who has crafted an impressive career as a writer, actor, composer and drag queen — created the work with historic material, interviews with affected parties, and dramatic flair.
“I was five when homosexuality was decriminalized,” he said. “This play is about showing everyone younger than me, and those who just aren’t aware of history, how hard these people worked for change, so we could just live our lives. These people went through hell for us, and they should be remembered.”
The play stars Hagen as northe (who spelled his name in lower case), and Vancouver’s Joey Lesperance as everybody else. The Empress and The Prime Minister has its world debut at the Roxy on Gateway (8529 103 St.) next April.
Though Moss takes a pragmatic approach when designing a season, he looks for plays with teeth.
“I want stuff that’s entertaining and fun to experience, but I want the content to be something you take home and think about,” he says.
In that vein, Moss has chosen to open the main stage season in November with What a Young Wife Ought to Know, by Canadian playwrighting dynamo, Hannah Moscovitch. Directed by Marianne Copithorne, the play is inspired by the true stories of young women during the birth control movement in the early 20th century. It’s a love story, but also has bits that have led to seven recorded incidents of patrons fainting in the theatre.
Moss never has, and never will, shy away from tough scenes.
“That’s our role and we’re happy to be that,” said Moss, who has a history of working with Moscovitch plays including last season’s Infinity, Little One (which won a Sterling award for outstanding production in 2014), and East of Berlin.
The second show of the season, We Are Not Alone, features a script and star performance by the hilarious Damien Atkins. The Edmonton native, now treading the boards at the Shaw Festival, is the youngest playwright ever to have written a new work (Good Mother) staged at the Stratford Festival. We Are Not Alone is about UFOs, aliens and government conspiracies.
“This is one of my little secrets,” said Moss. “I like to watch alien shows.”
Though the show is light-hearted, it asks a serious question. Statistically, women are more likely to report alien sightings — the playwright suggests women may be trying to tell us something we really need to know. We Are Not Alone is directed by Chris Abraham and Christian Barry and debuts next February.
The mainstage season ends with Nextfest next May, a celebration of 500 emerging artists of various disciplines curated by Ellen Chorley. But that doesn’t mean the party is over. The Roxy Performance series peppers the stage throughout the 2018-19 season, with seven groups or performers on offer.
For the first time, Alberta Opera comes to the Roxy Performance Series, presenting Pinocchio (book and direction by Farren Timoteo and music by Jeff Unger) in September.
Then in October, a dog, untrained, is in the spotlight when Jezebel, at the Still Point, debuts. The story sees an astronaut and her French bulldog, Jezebel, exploring the mysteries of time travel. The work is by choreographer and performer, Ainsley Hillyard, of Good Women Dance Collective. Beth Dart directs.
After three seasons of Burning Bluebeard ringing in the holiday season, a new Christmas show premieres in December. Written by the funny and poignant likes of Edmonton’s Conni Massing, Oh! Christmas Tree features Lucy, an overworked party planner, and her fiancé, Algar, who loves Lucy but hates Christmas. I saw a workshop version at Script Salon last winter and it is a heartwarming, tightly constructed work that embraces Christmas in all its messy glory. The show is directed by Brian Deedrick.
The new year hosts a world premiere by Edmonton magician and escape artist, Ron Pearson. Minerva — Queen of the Handcuffs riffs on the true story of the world’s most famous female escape artist. (Harry Houdini considered her a threat, and put acid into her water barrel trick.) Directed by Bradley Moss, the show stars Edmonton street performer Miranda Allen.
An intriguing concept is revealed next March when Small Mouth Sounds, written by Bess Wohl and directed by Jim Guedo, examines communication among six participants at a silent retreat. The Roxy Performance Series also includes numerous appearances by local favourites, Hey Ladies! (the raucous variety show starring Davina Stewart, Cathleen Rootseart, Leona Brausen and Noel Taylor) and PattyZee@TheRoxy, starring actress and singer Patricia Zentilli, who brings songs, stories and party guests to the stage.
For further information on Theatre Network’s 2018-19 season, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 780-453-2440.
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