Hobson's Choice: Calgary playwrights give voice to censored plays

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Theatre Inconnu’s production of Sisters was cancelled by the board of the rented hall. Photo courtesy, Sophia Radford cal

From disbelief and disappointment to determination, excitement and glee, it’s all part of the theatre scene as May comes to a close.

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Playwrights Caroline Russell-King and David Sklar are hosting a special play-reading event at the Central Library on May 27. They call it a revival of three plays that were cancelled or censored in Victoria because of their subject matter.

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“In a world marked by diversity of thought and opinion, it’s important we create spaces where theatrical dialogue can flourish, even amidst disagreement,” says Russell-King.

In January, Victoria’s Belfry Theatre withdrew The Runner, Christopher Morris’s play about violence in the Middle East which won Toronto’s Dora Mavor Moore Award for outstanding production in 2019, and has been produced six times since its premiere. The theatre received emails and phone calls demanding its cancellation, and the building was spraypainted with graffiti.

In March, Theatre Inconnu’s production of Wendy Lil’s play Sisters, about residential school abuse, was cancelled two weeks into the show’s run because the theatre received a complaint that the playwright is white, and therefore “the play was biased.” Kevin McKendrick, a former Calgary theatre artist who directed the play, says the theatre’s board did not come to see the show before making its decision. The board members feared their venue would likewise be vandalized. Lil’s play had been nominated for a Governor General’s Award in 1989 and the film version won a Gemini Award in 1992.

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Zelda Dean, another former Calgary director, had her production of Izzy Salant and Ryan Michael Dunn’s Peace Talks cancelled by the 2022 Victoria Fringe during its run because event organizers received three concerning emails and two phone calls. The play deals with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and the fringe organizers felt they could not ensure the safety of all the fringe venues.

Calgary actors Tyrell Crews, Heather Pattengale and David Sklar will read excerpts from these three plays in the Patricia A. Whelan Performance Hall beginning at 6 p.m. on May 27. The doors open at 5:30. The event is free, but donations will be accepted at the door to help cover the cost of this event.

award
Christopher Ford from Teach Stede, Jamie and Jennifer Andrew from Like and Subscribe, both outstanding performance winners at the 2024 Calgary Region One Act Play Festival. Photo courtesy, Arthur Pearce cal

IT’S DEJA VU FOR A PAIR OF WINNERS 

The final night of the 2024 Calgary Region One Act Play Festival in March was more like a rock concert than a theatre competition.

The capacity audience in the Pumphouse’s Victor Mitchell Theatre laughed, cheered and applauded wildly throughout Greg Miller’s Teach Stede, Jamie, and AJ Pearce’s Like & Subscribe. Though adjudicator Kodie Rollan did not send either play to represent Calgary at the recent provincial festival, he did award acting awards to Christopher Ford, of Teach Stede, Jamie, and Jennifer Andrew from Like & Subscribe.

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Knowing a great evening of raucous theatre when they see it, Morpheus and Workshop theatres are hosting a reunion of the two plays in the Pumphouse’s Joyce Doolittle Theatre from May 29 to June 1 nightly at 7:30 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Tickets are $20.

Teach Stede, Jamie is a fantasy farce about a waitress who drinks a little too much rum and wakes up on board a pirate ship where she meets The Gentleman Pirate Stede Bonnet. He’s only second in command. The real master of the brig is none other than Edward Teach, the infamous Blackbeard. Jamie is not sure how she got on board, nor has she any idea how to disembark from this alcohol-induced nightmare. It’s over-the-top, slapstick fun with Casey Colwill as Jamie, Christopher Ford as Stede and Aaron Ranger as Blackbeard.

The humour in Pearce’s Like & Subscribe may be a little more subtle but no less outrageous as the audience peeks in on the Olsen Family, and its very successful YouTube channel. There’s trouble in paradise, as the eldest daughter announces she no longer wants to create content. Dad is negotiating a lucrative sponsorship that will fall apart if he can’t keep his family together, and on air. Pearce, who wrote and directed Like & Subscribe, stars as the father who might not know best, with Jennifer Andrew, Anna Brash, Abbey Langille and Marcus Della Rosa causing him major headaches.

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Beaches
Jessica Vosk and Kelli Barrett in Beaches the Musical at Theatre Calgary. Photo, Trudie Lee cal

MEET THEATRE CALGARY’S WINNERS AND BEST FRIENDS

When Theatre Calgary announced in 2023 that it would be co-presenting the world premiere of Beaches The Musical, a contest was launched. People were invited to submit a photo of themselves and their best female friend and explain how their life was changed by that person.

Iris Rainer Dart, who wrote the original 1985 novel and now the book and lyrics for the musical which officially opened May 24, recalls that “within days, the producers received more than 6,000 entries, and they kept coming in.” The winners are Laura Letica Quesada and Sarah Evans from Long Beach, Calif., who will attend on opening night. Photos from that contest will appear on a stage screen as audiences arrive in the theatre.

The fun doesn’t end there. Friends attending any performance of Beaches until June 16 can have their picture taken in the Max Bell lobby, and these will appear on the stage screen during intermission the same night.

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