1984, Scorpio Theatre- Pumphouse Theatre, Calgary

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The cast of 1984, photo by Ian Pond

In 1945, George Orwell reimagined the events leading to the Russian revolution in his novel “Animal Farm”, capturing the precarious power struggles of the time. The farm yard politics simultaneously mirrored and deconstructed our understanding of ourselves and our relationship with political structure- animals, easily manipulated by a cruel and futile hierarchical society. But it would be his next novel, 1984 , which would solidify the term “Orwellian” as the epitimy of highly political, bleakly dystopian science fiction literature. In uncertain post-war times, the world looked to his nightmarish novels for clues from the future.

Orwell, an Englishman, had seen unprecedented political shifts in post-WWII Europe. The prestigious Imperial Power of Britannia fell from its ancient pedestal as immediate threats to her people and principles enforced fundamental change. Unprecedented power was entrusted to a select few in government, extreme austerity measures altered rights and enforced rationings across the country, and her national identity struggled to rise from the ashes. As the Cold War set in for the long haul, mistrust and suspicion fed the terror of so many unknowns.

Just as the “cult of personality” had allowed Hitler and Stalin to embody their respective regimes, fit for consumption and worship from the masses, so did Churchill bask in the afterglow of delivering his beloved Britain from the murderous hands of Hitler. Orwell’s obsession with Stalin glares up at us from the pages of Animal Farm- one has to wonder which characteristics of his totalitarian leader Big Brother are gleaned from Churchill, and which from Hitler.

It bears mentioning that the  “cult of personality” is having an obvious resurgence. Britain is again uncertain about its place in the world, so naturally the film industry has flooded our Netflix feeds with no fewer than 4 films\series (since the Brexit referendum) featuring Churchill as the ultimate patriotic, patriarchal hero of the nation. And, never to be outdone, no one could ignore America’s identity crisis and how the cult of celebrity influenced the election of their current government head.

Our global society is once again at a turning point, and although Orwell set 1984 in a future which is now past, we turn to it once more for prophecies on our eventual demise. Like a clouded crystal ball, we follow the author to his secluded retreat on Scotland’s west coast, for it was on the remote island of Jura where the ever watchful gaze of Big Brother first began peering through the sea mist, hell-bent on scouring the hearts and minds of citizens for thoughtcrimes and treasons against the state of Oceania.

That is why Scorpio Theatre’s production of this stage adaptation is so important. It is still, and I regret to say will always be, a cautionary tale for the ages and a touchstone in times of great unrest. The Orwellian elements are not compromised in the play version and the concept which reorchestrates the original plot is lean and effective. Michael Gene Sullivan’s brilliant adaptation is ably delivered by director Matt Pickering, presenting Orwell’s complex and deeply problematic political questions in a streamlined and economical, but no less potent, production.

 It is rare to have a director like Pickering, who respects his audiences ability to listen. Most don’t trust us or their playwrights enough. They rely instead on spectacle sledgehammers or spoon fed symbolism. Pickering’s direction, however, allows the material to speak for itself. Yes, the propaganda machine is an undeniable presence as the austere INGSOC union flags hang against the studio’s brick walls and the obligatory screens routinely trumpet “Victory” while flashing war-time images to remind us we are in the loving, omniscient presence of Big Brother. Patrick Murray’s sound design is also vital to the world of the play as the voice of a mysterious governement agent interrogates over a loud speaker for 80% of the show. Otherwise, the production is appropriately sparse and severe, drawing attention to the driving point of the parable. It is our minds that are the most dangerous tool, and through the power of words and thought and human interaction, they can achieve anything. I am thankful to Pickering for respecting his audience’s ability to engage with their minds, even if he means to corrupt them.

Sullivan’s restructuring of the plot begins at the end- in the Ministry of Love, a place where thought criminals are imprisioned and interrogated by government officials bent on brainwashing their treasons out of them. 6079 Smith is one such inmate and we witness his trial as four government workers re-enact moments from his life, mostly lifted from his confiscated diary, in the hopes of showing him the error of his ways and breaking down his concept of reality.

Prisoner 6079 Smith, played by a suitably desperate and breathless Darcy Wilson, was once Citizen Winston Smith, an editor for the Ministry of Truth. He knows the disturbing accuracy of the maxim “He who controls the present, controls the past” as he edits old newspaper articles, falsifying (ie correcting) the “facts” which have changed perspective since publication. This is one of Orwell’s most chilling predictions. Winston lives in a permanently changing Wikipedia-style archive, where Fake News supplants previously published material in order to bring history in line with the propaganda peddled by the current regime. Is Oceana at war with East Asia or EurAsia- Well, it doesn’t matter anyway.

“The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives but of the products of human labor…a way of [disposing] of materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent… War, it will be seen, accomplishes the necessary destruction, but accomplishes it in a psychologically acceptable way… War is Peace”. So says The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, a work by Oceania’s political vigilante Emmanuel Goldstein.

While at a rally for Hate Week in his local square, Winston meets and becomes sexually involved with another citizen who shares his secret disdain for Big Brother. Winston and Julia spend months secretly dismanteling the personal boundaries this austere society has brainwashed into them. As they discover more about each other and themselves and how to bring about rebellion, they fall in love- although Winston insists Julia is merely “a rebel from the waist down”. They make a pact with a governement double agent, O’Brian, and wind up with the rebel Goldstein’s manifesto in their possession. But, predictably, Big Brother’s hidden network of telecoms and microphones finds them, and Winston’s tell-all diary.

We see all of these occurrences in hindsight of course, from the depressing interogation room, re-enacted by government agents. “Julia” is not actually Julia. There is another agent impersonating the “character” of “Winston” before his very eyes. And yet, as these events unfold, the agents begin to lose themselves in Winston’s world, and so do we. Such is the realism of an effective brainwashing trial.

At first, the agents are fully committed to putting 6079 Smith in his proper place, as a traitor and a criminal.   However, throughout the trial, the cracks begin to show. Certain excerpts from Winston’s diary seem to ring true for them on a private, human level. Especially as they re-enact Winston receiving Goldstein’s manifesto, reading from the genuine article which they hold in their very hands. They are shocked as they act it out, astonished to be holding this unholy book of treasons which has passed through the hands of so many rebels, dumbfounded to be asked to read the excerpts aloud, and positively stupified when some of them begin to empathize, out of character, with the radical ideas proposed within its tattered pages.

It is in this interplay between the private and the public mind that is the triumph of the play. The ensemble of government agents become more and more human as the story unfolds, betraying the homogenous mass they represent by slowly revealing individualism. Tanis Laatsch is particularly fascinating to watch as she “plays” Julia; fully engrossed in moments of intimacy and passion, cold and calculative when out of “character”, but ultimately conflicted within herself as she begins to listen to Goldstein’s words, as she loses herself in Winston’s story, as she realizes the implications of her work at the Ministry of Love.

This play will terrify and astonish audiences, but in all its dark parallels with our current world, one cannot help but leave the experience full of hope. So long as we have agency in our own thoughts (despite the encroaching surveillance of drones and secret microphones and third parties sharing our private information), so long as we can continue to express our ideas and share our personal views, we are free. When communication fails us, truth fails us. When we lose our mastery of language, our thoughts will become as one-dymentional as any meme.

As this blog deals with words, I will leave you with one more Orwellian moment; this time, from one of Winston’s colleagues at the Ministry of Truth who has the unenviable task of revising the dictionary, currently in it’s eleventh edition:

“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words… what justification is ther for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word. A word contains its opposite in itself. Take “good”- what need is there for a word like “bad”, “ungood” will do just as well…what sense is there in having a whole string of vague, useless words like “excellent” and “splendid” and all the rest of them, “plusgood” covers the meaning, or “doubleplusgood” if you want something stronger still…Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year…the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought. In the end we shall make thoughtcrime litereally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it”.

1984 plays at the Pumphouse Theatre from now until March 10th. Tickets and info at www.scorpio.ca



Constellations, ATP- Martha Cohen Theatre, Calgary


Jamie Konchak and Mike Tan in Constellations. Photo: Benjamin Laird. (Set & Lights: David Fraser, Costumes: Hanne Loosen)

Alberta Theatre Project’s latest production brings English playwright Nick Payne’s curious two-hander Constellations to the Martha Cohen Theatre in Calgary.

Premiering upstairs at the Royal Court in 2012, Payne’s play bears many of the hallmarks of his creative alma mater: it’s lean, witty, and gravitates around a clear theatrical gambit – traversing the ethical quagmire of quantum multiverse theory. While the play never fully realizes the potential of its subject matter, however, ATP’s production remains worth seeing for its delicate direction, and a charming central performance from Jamie Konchak.

Constellations unpacks the implications of our smallest choices in life and love through a series of connected vignettes, revealing the intersections of multiple relationships between its two central characters: Roland (a beekeeper from Wiltshire), and Marianne (an astrophysicist from Cambridge University).

As Marianne helpfully explains, the theoretical premise of quantum multiverse theory is that: “every choice, every decision you’ve ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes”. The action of the play begins as our central pair meet at the barbeque(s) of a mutual friend(s), and follows their journey(s) together through a series of intimacies and betrayals for better/worse; for richer/poorer; in sickness/heath; ‘til palliative care they do part. And it is here that the production is at its most touching.

At different stages during the multiple narratives it is revealed that Marianne (Konchak) is suffering from an aggressive brain cancer, which begins to cause seizures and inhibit her motor functions. In Konchak’s touching and beautifully subtle performance, Marianne’s emotional and physical decline is handled with an expertise that never sacrifices her sardonic wit in the pursuit of pathos. This is epitomised in a deeply moving scene conducted entirely in ASL, where a now speechless Marianne threatens to haunt Roland (Mike Tan) if he ever posts pictures of her decline on internet chat-rooms.

Played out on a near-bare stage, the production is deftly directed by Valerie Planche (Skylight, Bad Jews), who successfully foregrounds the performances of Konchak and Tan with a lightness of touch that never imposes itself upon the multiple narratives. Ably supported by David Fraser’s delicate lighting and set design, Planche’s production serves to highlight its strongest elements (Konchak’s magnetic central performance), allowing Payne’s occasionally frustrating plot to stand on its own.

Running at 75-minutes, Constellations leaves plenty of time to muse over dinner afterwards about the multiple universes in which the Calgary snow has finally melted.

Constellations runs at the Martha Cohen Theatre in Calgary’s Arts Commons from now until March 17th. Tickets and info at www.atplive.com

Consent- A Chat with Mieko Ouchi, Concrete Theatre

A few weeks ago at La Cité Francophone, Concrete Theatre let the public in on their school tour shows Consent and Paper Songs. It was a weekend of theatre and conversation that engaged theatre professionals, public figures and audiences in a vital dialogue about how our younger generations experience sexual education and how our teachers and education system participate in that education. It was a wonderful if fleeting opportunity for the public to share this exciting work, but soon it was time for the two shows to get on the road again and back into more schools.

AB Theatre Guide caught up with playwright Mieko Ouchi who was kind enough to answer a few questions, giving us her perspective on Concrete’s work:


The cast of Consent, photo by Epic Photography

What made you want to create a piece of theatre around the themes of Consent?

I became interested in writing a piece for young people in Junior and Senior High around the topic of sexual consent about four years ago, as larger conversations began to build around the topic around the country and the world. We had already toured another play called Are We There Yet? by Jane Heather for 15 years in Alberta Junior Highs which taught the sex ed curriculum, so we had quite a bit of experience working in this area. Since retiring that show, schools have continued to ask us about creating a new show around sexual education, so the topic seemed like the perfect way into talking about respectful relationships. Since that time, I did a lot of research, and Concrete Theatre built strong relationships with two amazing community partners: The Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton and Compass Centre for Sexual Wellness who worked with us to develop the script, and are working with us to support the show and students and teachers after they see a performance.

What were the important conversations you had with the company members during rehearsals and how have the performers contributed to the piece?

Of course anytime you work on a play which tackles challenging subject matter, as responsible theatre makers, we make sure we make time in rehearsal to talk about the larger issues that we are exploring, and how they relate to our lives. We also did a full day of training with The Sexual Assault Centre in how to receive disclosures from any young people who may come and share their stories with us, and practiced how to bring the trained sexual educator, who is on tour with us, into the conversation to offer expert help and support. SACE also led us through a self-care exercise where we identified ways we could release stress and take extra good care of ourselves. Finally, throughout the tour, we meet once a week for a group meeting to talk about how the tour is going and offer the team a chance to talk about disclosures. As we know from our previous experience touring issue based theatre for children and teens, this kind of ongoing check in and support is really critical.

How have young audiences been reacting to Consent and how is that feedback impacting your creative team?

The response to the show from our student and public audiences has been fantastic. People of all ages are very moved by the story. Several have commented on how powerful it is to hear the boy’s perspective, as this side of the story has not been explored much to date. Others have mentioned how helpful it is to see a teacher receiving a disclosure, so we are very happy that educators are getting the chance to see someone model ways teachers can talk to young people about this topic. Many teachers have also commented on how engaged the students are during the performance. We have noticed that as well. We feel like they are very much with us during the show. We truly hope the play is a tool for schools and students to open up discussions about this important topic and learn more about respectful relationships.

Tell us a bit about your community partners, Compass and SACE, who are touring with you. The impression I got was that they are there to support the young audience members, teachers, and actors, which I find really exciting. Is their presence an extension of the positive impact you’re hoping to have with the performance itself?

Concrete Theatre really believes in connecting our work and ultimately connecting young people with the amazing community resources we have in our city and our province. This kind of deep collaboration helps us as a theatre company to bring expertise in many diverse topics and best practice to our shows, and helps connect social service organizations with the schools and young people that we serve. We also really believe in the idea of having a long term impact on youth, so we love to have things like the educators on tour with us when we can, professionally built Study Guides full of pre and post show activities and additional resources, and in the case of Consent, follow up workshops available to schools to do more exploration of the topic after the play is done. That helps our positive impact last much longer than the duration of the show!

And you’ve mentioned your sponsors- How have they been involved?

We actually have three fantastic funders on this project: Alberta Status of Women, led by Minister Stephanie McLean, The Edmonton Community Foundation Vital Signs Program and the Wuchien Michael Than Foundation in Ontario. Minister McLean, actually saw our play Are We There Yet? when she was in Grade 9, and has commented on how much it means to her to be able to help fund the next generation’s sexual health education through the power of theatre. Alberta Status of Women gave us $80,000 to help subsidize the cost of the show to schools, and in particular to pay for travel costs for the show to go to many rural, and remote north and south corners of the province as well as the major cities, as well as develop the follow up workshops going into schools. The ECF gave us funding for three of our teen shows including Consent, as part of a grant that supports our Character Building program: three plays for teens that explore healthy relationships. Their ongoing support of our work is so appreciated, in particular their help sustaining our preventative models and our community collaborations. Finally, the Wuchien Michael Than Foundation is an exceptional national organization based in Toronto that funds professional Japanese-Canadian artists to create new plays. They came on board to help fund my commission to write the play and we are so thankful for their support!

This production has company members from varied backgrounds working together, and many of your major creatives are women. Balance in creative teams and in what\who we see on stage is a hot topic across the theatre world. Does Concrete Theatre make a conscious effort to create balanced creative teams\casts?

Concrete Theatre absolutely believes in gender equity and has since we became a not for profit in 1989, started by five women! As we’ve grown, equity (along with diversity, relevance and excellence) has remained one of the cornerstones of our company mandate. To that end, we work hard each year to make sure our staff, board and creative teams are as diverse and as balanced as we can be in terms of gender, cultural background, ability and all the other amazing things that make us all so different and beautiful. We believe this richness in perspectives helps strengthen our company and mirrors the beautiful diversity we see in the schools and community that we live in and tour to. This year, we are going even further by developing a chapter of new program called The 3.7% Initiative, based on a program built by Boca del Lupo Theatre in Vancouver. The program aims to build leadership skills in ethnically diverse women and non-binary people, who currently make up 3.7% of the current artistic leadership in Canadian theatres. We just had a fantastic first meeting of the group in January, and we look forward to building this program and mentoring more women and non-binary artists in the future.

It’s fantastic to have such accomplished theatre makers sharing high quality productions with those young audiences who maybe haven’t seen much theatre. Do you think of yourselves as “ambassadors for the arts” and does that affect how you create these school touring projects?

We are very proud that the people that we work with are such highly accomplished and talented artists. And we believe that children and youth deserve to see theatre made by professionals just for them. We truly believe that young people shouldn’t just be seen as an afterthought or add-on audience to adults, or in “training” to become adult audiences, but truly worthwhile audiences just as they are right now! We absolutely see ourselves as ambassadors and role models, and we know from our many years of touring, that many young emerging artists became interested in pursuing the arts after seeing one of our productions. It’s interesting, Richard Lee Hsi, who is starring in our current two productions, saw our production of Are We There Yet? when he was in Grade 9 at Riverbend Junior High. He has spoken about the effect seeing that show had on him as a young person, especially seeing actors of colour on stage. We always make space for audiences to come and talk to us about what it is we do… sometimes that is about acting, but also about writing, directing, designing and all the technical aspects that we bring into the school. Who knows what seeds we may be planting!

 We’re happy to report that the tour has been extended due to high demand, and I know I’m hoping that will mean another public performance some time soon! I want to express my thanks to Mieko for answering our questions. Also a huge congratulations to Concrete Theatre- thank you for offering such excellent theatre experiences for young people, as well as excellent equal opportunities for artists!


To learn more about Concrete Theatre, including how to book these shows in your school, visit www.concretetheatre.ca


And check out the sponsors and organizations working with Concrete to bring this project to life by clicking the links below:

Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE)

Compass Centre for Sexual Wellness

The Government of Alberta’s Ministry for the Status of Women 

Edmonton Community Foundation Vital Signs Program

The Wuchien Michael Than Foundation

Boca del Lupo’s “The 3.7% Initiative”

Blood of Our Soil, Pyretic Productions- Westbury Theatre, Edmonton


Lianna Makuch pictured, photo by Mat Simpson

The ways in which we understand our family’s histories and the ways in which we transmit them to others is never a simple matter. But in Canada, where so many of us have never set foot in the countries we identify as our ancestral homelands, tracing our cultural identity across great distances and over generations of separation can be particularly complicated.

Inspired by written and oral accounts of life in Ukraine, both during the Second World War and during the present-day conflict, Blood of Our Soil charts the journey of Hania (Lianna Makuch), a Canadian-Ukrainian woman trying to uncover the ‘secret’ that her баба took to her grave (her баба being her grandmother, also played by Lianna Makuch). Beginning with Баба’s journal chronicling the war, terror, and genocide of the 1930s and ‘40s, and ending with unflinching testimonies of life in modern-day Ukraine, Blood of Our Soil is a finely crafted and often gut-wrenching interrogation of history, cultural identity, and collective trauma.

The play is, as Makuch remarks in the playwright’s notes, “inspired by truth,” and Pyretic Productions’ performance shares these particular truths through an innovative synthesis of traditional and contemporary music, song, dance, and verbal story-telling. Larissa Pohoreski’s masterful musical direction is transportive, employing a variety of traditional instruments including a bandura, dulcimer, violin, and accordion, and ranging from haunting choral melodies to robust folk dances. The geographic and cultural specificity is further brought into focus in this production with the occasional and highly effective intermingling of Ukrainian and Russian with the English dialogue. The multilingualism of the play adds nuance while remaining perfectly accessible to non-Ukrainian and non-Russian speakers.

Interestingly, the first and second acts feel almost like different productions: the highly stylized and largely monologic journey through Баба’s story is abruptly replaced with the multiple, often competing voices of the modern-day Ukrainian and Russian characters. Larissa Pohoreski as the generous sister of a Russian sympathizer, and Oscar Derkx as the young combat veteran Pavlo, both handle their text with seemingly effortless openness and clarity. Derkx’s Pavlo, though deeply troubled by his combat experience, has an unexpected tenderness and honesty, particularly when he is gently reigning in his more rambunctious companion, Misha (Maxwell Lebeuf). Everybody’s favourite drinking buddy, Lebeuf’s Misha has all the warmth, joy, and machismo one might expect from a good-natured soldier, but is perhaps only one drink away from the violence and despair that lurk precariously below the surface. For their endearing camaraderie and well-timed levity, Pavlo and Misha are, for this reviewer, the heartbeat of the second act.

Makuch indicates that many of the characters are drawn from conversations with “the brave and resilient people from present-day Ukraine,” and the production makes great strides to “ensure that their stories are heard half a world away.” But Blood of Our Soil does not shy away from the inherent problems of fully understanding other people’s experiences or telling other people’s stories. Underpinning Hania’s desire to reclaim her family’s lost history and to understand the current conflict in her ancestral homeland, is the growing anxiety that such a task will never be complete. At almost all points of the play, objective truth is mitigated, and the possibility of perfect recollection or communication is thrown into doubt. Character’s stories are told openly and honestly, and hallucinations, dreams, memories, news footage and Facebook posts are given equal status as historical records of individual experience.

Despite the highly specific places and times from which these stories emerge, Blood of Our Soil is a widely relevant and timely exploration of the tensions between the desire to remember one’s family history and the need to forget cultural trauma – and more troubling, the impulse to erase it. The factual history of Ukrainian internment in Canada, the Holodomor, and the very recent events at Meidan are treated with unapologetic directness, and the production as a whole is an uncomfortable reminder of the silences and denials that pervade our current political climate. If the conversations among the audience filing out of the theatre following the play’s premiere is any indication, theatre-goers will undoubtedly leave this production sharing more ideas, stories, and questions than when they entered: this is the work of great theatre.

Blood of Our Soil plays at the Westbury Theatre in Edmonton from now until March 9th. Tickets and info at www.pyreticproductions.ca

What’s the Buzz- March

Our reviewers  have been out enjoying some fantastic theatre already this month, and it’s only the 4th! This month features many exciting theatre experiences, so get out your calendar and make some plans with friends to get you out of winter hibernation!

Skirtsafire Festival, Edmonton


This year, the Skirtsafire team have outdone themselves, scheduling a festival jam-packed with theatrical, musical, poetic and artistic events showcasing and celebrating women in the arts. From now until next Sunday March 11th, Edmonton’s 118th avenue will be buzzing. Some nearby venues have also been added, like the stunning St. Faith’s Church where the brilliant acoustics are going to be brought to life by the Maria Dunn Trio as well as a Women’s Choir Festival!

Throughout the week, the Nina Haggerty Gallery’s Visual Arts Exhibit  features five local artists who have been exploring the theme “The Wombs We Come From”. This is sure to be a colourful and diverse expression of womanhood and human experience from a colourful and diverse group of artists, many from First Nations backgrounds. The recurring Skirt Design Competition is featured in a separate gallery at their Main Stage venue, the Cabaret Theatre, where flagship production The Romeo Initiative runs throughout the festival. You can even meet the playwright Trina Davies before the show on March 10th!

The Carrot Café  and Otto Food & Drink will both be packed with musical and poetic events including The Key of She. Morgan Nadeau gives a deeply moving clown performance in her one-woman show Silenced. They even have a documentary film screening with the first in a local six-part series, Sustainable Me, and a workshop on Creating a Culture of Consent: Community Bystander Interventions.

The best part about this cornucopia of creativity? Nearly ALL of the events are by donation! So check out their calendar here to plan your visit to the festival! Skirt optional!


I’d like to take a quick minute, spinning off the Skirtsafire celebration of women in the arts, to draw attention to a really important project. #YEGtheatreStats has been compiling statistics from Edmonton theatre productions to bring awareness to the ratios of Women to Men in our industry. Making these stats available is not only fascinating, but vital in the theatre industry’s journey towards story telling that is more equal in every way.

Each month, #YEGtheatreStats publishes a comprehensive review of which playwrights are getting stage time, who’s directing the productions, how the casts and crews break down as well as how the content of those plays score on the Bechtel test- posing questions like, do two women speak to each other about something other than a man?

I’m super excited about this project getting more attention because the equality conversation needs constant fuel rejuvenation. It’s not enough to keep talking about the same tired hashtags and scandals- in my experience, this makes the conversation just as tired (she writes as Jimmy Kimmel does his Weinstein “bit” on the Oscars in the background).

Let’s keep the conversation fresh, relevant, and rolling! Visit www.jefferysl.wixsite.com/yegtheatrestats


Stafford Arima Announces his First Full Season as Theatre Calgary’s Artistic Director


Although Stafford Arima has been getting to know Calgary for some time now, 2018/19 will be his first full season as Theatre Calgary’s new Artistic Director. Following TC’s 50th anniversary year, Arima is focussing on new beginnings with three world premieres, two big box office musicals and some classic literature brought to life on stage.

The Secret Garden was not “technically” part of the season announcement since it’s been in the works for ages, but I did want to include it here as it mark’s Arima’s first big TC project as director of this beloved classic story in all its musical glory. The Secret Garden runs April 17th- May 19th.

Two Gentlemen of Verona is considered by many to be Shakespeare’s first play, and could feasibly stand as the first recorded “bit with a dog” joke. Theatre Calgary’s annual showcase of emerging artists, Shakespeare by the Bow, will bring this delightful comedy to Prince’s Island Park this summer from June 29th- August 19th.

Honour Beat is the first premiere of three in this season, featuring a fabulous team of female creatives. Written by Tara Beagan and directed by Michelle thrush, Honour Beat tells the story of two sisters searching for renewed identity following the death of their mother. Plays from September 2nd-29th.

Mary and Max: The Musical will see Arima back at the directing helm for a new musical that brings the popular Australian claymation characters to the stage. While exploring the meaning of friendship, this heart-warming new musical also brings attention to social disorders as Max, a 44 year old man with asperges syndrome, connects with unlikely pen pal, 10 year old Mary. Plays from October 14th-November 10th.

A Christmas Carol returns for Stephen Hair’s 25th year as Scrooge. This beloved Christmas classic plays from November 29th – December 23rd.

Boom X is a sequel of sorts, what Arima call’s “Act 2” of Rick Miller’s hugely popular show BOOM, both shows x-ploring Generation-Xers living through the legacy of the baby boomers. Plays from January 13th-February 9th.

The Scarlet Letter tells the story of Hester Prynne, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous heroine of classic literature, and her emblazoned scarlet “A”, for adulteress. For those who have not read the novel, Hester’s puritan world of the 17th century bears a striking resemblance to The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s popular dystopic novel, as she  fights back against a deeply misogynistic society.  Look for performances with Talk Back sessions after the show- they’re bound to be scintillating! The Scarlet Letter runs February 24th- March 23rd.

Billy Elliot: The Musical closes out TC’s season in celebration of one of Calgary’s foremost choreographers, Yukichi Hattori, long-time principle dancer from Alberta Ballet. One of the longest running shows on London’s West End, Elton John’s music brings to life the story of a working-class boy pursuing his dreams. Featuring a huge cast of local dance talent, Billy Elliot is sure to strike a chord with Calgarian audiences. Plays from April 7th – May 11th.

For more information on the full season and to buy tickets, visit www.theatrecalgary.com

Top Picks from Around Alberta

Our reviewers have been super busy attending openings around the province, so this list will update as those reviews come out! We’ll keep you posted as they’re published!

Blood of Our Soil, Pyretic Theatre, Edmonton

Blood of Our Soil ARTWORK by Larissa Pohoreski.jpg

artwork for Blood of our Soil by Larissa Pohoreski

When playwright Lianna Makuch opened her grandmother’s diary, she stumbled on material that would give a voice to the great Ukranian/Canadian legacy. The Canadian Prairies became a refuge for many Ukranian families fleeing the atrocities of Hitler and Stalin, and Blood of Our Soil features beautiful story-telling with a mix of mediums, from live Ukranian music and dancing to chilling projections.

We absolutely LOVED this production! Read the AB Theatre Guide Review and get your tickets quick before this gem closes!

Blood of our Soil runs at the Westbury Playhouse in Edmonton from now until March 9th. Tickets and info at www.pyreticproductions.ca


Outside Mullingar, Shadow Theatre, Edmonton


This famous Irish love story is a perfect snapshot of rural life that’s sure to find many parallels with us on the prairies. Ireland’s wet and dreary countryside will certainly provide some respite from our cold and snowy one as John Patrick Shanley’s hilarious yet poetic story follows two middle-aged introverts search for happiness.

Outside Mullingar runs at the Varscona Theatre in Edmonton from March 7th-25th. Tickets and info at www.shadowtheatre.org


Children of God, The Citadel, Edmonton


This indigenous musical from Oji-Cree Canadian Corey Payette proves just how vital theatre is as a tool for healing, empathy and understanding. Children of God brings the impact of residential schools to the stage in a haunting new musical that promises to be one of the most deeply moving theatre experiences of the season.

Children of God plays at The Citadel’s Shoctor Theatre in Edmonton until March 24th. Tickets and info at www.citadeltheatre.com

Constellations, Alberta Theatre Projects, Calgary


Constellations traces the relationship between a bee keeper from Wiltshire and an astrophysicist through multiple dimensions. Nick Payne’s multi-linear two-hander was a hit on London’s West End and Broadway, and now Valerie Planche (one of my favourite directors in Calgary) brings it to ATP!

Constellations plays at the Martha Cohen Theatre in Calgary’s Arts Commons until March 17th. Tickets and info at www.atplive.com

1984, Scorpio Theatre, Calgary


If you’ve ever read George Orwell’s prophetic book, or seen the classic film, or if your only exposure to Big Brother was the celebrity reality show, this production is relevant to us all. Michael Gene Sullivan’s adaptation of this bleak, (not-so) futuristic world captures the terrifying essence of 1984, putting us all on the radar of the “Thought Police”.

1984 plays at the Pumphouse Theatre in Calgary from now until March 10th. Tickets and info at www.scorpio.ca

The Humans, Theatre Calgary, Calgary

1920wThe cast of TC’s production of The Humans, photo by David Cooper

For those who missed The Citadel’s production of this Tony Award winning play, we get another shot as Theatre Calgary brings its own production to town! One family’s Thanksgiving dinner in a tiny apartment in NYC’s Chinatown uncovers astonishing love, devotion, and an unsavoury secret or two.

The Humans play at the Max Bell Theatre in Calgary from March 6th-31st. Tickets and info at www.theatrecalgary.com



So get out there and see some theatre, and don’t forget to check in with us as we’ll be posting reviews for loads of these shows!