In a city and province largely defined by its political apathy, Downstage is an outcast, a weirdo, an irregularity. Thank God. Engaging audiences with political and social theatre, Downstage is back and this time with a festival.
Opening the season with a familiar name, Enoch Arden (Sept. 17 to 26) by Judith Thompson will mark the third year in a row Downstage has produced work by this celebrated playwright.
“We did Habitat two years ago, which was kind of a not-in-my-backyard philosophy, and then last year Palace of the End, which is the Iraq war in three monologues, and now this is a piece for two actors, but one of the actors also has to play Strauss’s music on the piano and also sing a lot of operatic dialogue,” says artistic director Simon Mallett.
The intent of the play is to challenge our preconceptions about the homeless and is “a beautiful and hopeful piece about the redemptive power of art.”
The female lead, played by Angela Cavar, has to communicate with the audience without any spoken text. “It’s something, theatrically, that is really quite unlike anything most people will ever have experienced before,” says Mallett.
Unique is also an appropriate way to describe the inaugural Uprising: A Festival of New Political Work (Nov. 19 to 28). Though the lineup isn’t finalized, it will feature three main shows and a slew of side events, a playwriting competition as well as a fundraiser and fifth birthday party for the company.
“For us it’s a way to really foster the next generation of stuff, whether it’s for us, or whether it’s a festival that will give a launching point for some of these shows that people are creating,” says Mallett.
“There’s a lot of theatre festivals in town, but there are very few that are mandate-driven in terms of the kind of work you’re trying to create.”
After the charged environment of a political theatre festival, Downstage will walk us through the troubled woods of Nova Scotia in Bone Cage (Feb. 4 to 13), winner of the Governor General’s Award in 2008.
While Palace of the End was an engrossing script, performed by the company last year, this is the play that beat it for the award. “We all read it and absolutely fell in love with this script and the characters and the fact that it’s about environmental destruction, which is an area that we really haven’t really explored as a company,” says Mallett.
“Although it’s set in Nova Scotia, it’s got a lot of resonance to rural Alberta, both in terms of the people and the kind of things that are happening.”
The season will end with a new work by the Downstage creation ensemble (April 9 to 17). Teaming up with Betty Mitchell Award-winner Ethan Cole, the ensemble behind last year’s Bus(t), which took place on, well, a bus, is sure to concoct something unique.
A sneak-peak workshop of the new work takes place in mid-December and allows audience members an opportunity to provide feedback and become a part of the process.