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Brynn Godenir in Space Girl, by Frances Koncan.Joey Senft

Space Girl, a new comedy by the rocketing stage scribe Frances Koncan, has its out-of-this-world premiere at Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange in Portage Place mall this week. The play concerns a social-media star who has lived on the moon her entire life – but starts to feels the pull of the Earth.

Koncan, an Anishinaabe and Slovene writer originally from Couchiching First Nation, is set to see her profile as a playwright soar to new heights in July when her 2020 satire Women of the Fur Trade get staged at the Stratford Festival.

Before she blows up in Ontario, I sent the ‘Peg-based playwright, whose wry Twitter account is one of that social-media site’s few redeeming features, a few questions by e-mail about her latest.

I saw you tweet last week: “so annoyed that EVERYONE has a play about SPACE opening this season INCLUDING ME thus proving I am totally UNORIGINAL ugh UGH.” What do you think is attracting artists to space these days?

I like to be hyperbolic on Twitter but there was a play about Chris Hadfield (The Darkest Dark) for sure. I see lots of space-related imagery float across my predominantly theatre-related social media feeds as well. But that could just be confirmation bias, since I’ve been immersed in that setting for a while. I think space offers scope, a sense of epicness; where hundreds of years ago people explored the Earth, today people explore the Beyond Earth. Space is positioned at the edge of the unknown, so it makes sense to me that artists would be drawn to that edge in their own explorations.

What attracted you specifically to write about a social media star living on the moon?

The recent developments of certain billionaires really intrigues and concerns me. It feels like such a morally wrong thing to be doing when there are so many things on Earth that could be improved, and yet I’m incredibly curious about where this particular alliance of greed and science will lead – and how it will be packaged for audiences via media, in particular social media, which is genuinely where I get 99 per cent of my news from at this point.

I’m attracted to space these days because I have a three-year-old – and we’re looking forward to hearing the imminent news about which Canadian astronaut will be part of the first crewed mission to the moon since 1972. Is the moon a sexy subject again?

In my non-scientific research, the moon seems to be once again an area of interest for scientists. So if that’s how you define sexy, Kelly, then yes, the moon is extremely sexy. The moon and Pedro Pascal are having a moment.

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Space Girl has its out-of-this-world premiere at Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange in Portage Place mall this week.Joey Senft

Speaking of space … Last week came news that Portage Place might be redeveloped, which I guess means PTE might have to leave its home in the much-maligned Manitoba mall at some point. What’s your favourite thing about Portage Place other than PTE? Or least favourite?

Portage Place is an important hub that serves the downtown Winnipeg community. So much of what is reported in the news comes from the perspective of people who live in the suburbs, and I genuinely worry that future development will be more focused on them than on the actual community. My favourite thing about Portage Place is the fountains. It’s hard to find a good fountain these days. My least favourite thing is that the level of security kind of gives it a prison-type feeling.

This interview has been condensed and edited. Space Girl is on stage at PTE in Winnipeg from March 15 to April 2.

Pandemic recovery update: In addition to opening Why Not’s triumphant production of Mahabharata last week, the Shaw Festival also held its 2022 AGM where it reported an impressive audience bounceback.

Back in 2021, the destination theatre company reported attendance of just 48,750. In 2022, the number of bums in seats tripled to 170,803.

That’s still roughly ⅔ of what the Niagara-on-the-Lake rep company would draw in a prepandemic year, but, for comparison’s sake, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, an American repertory theatre company, reported that audiences were only back at 46 to 50 per cent in 2022.

Financially, the Shaw Festival eked out a small surplus of $7,000 in 2022 – though it is also reporting “an accounting deficiency” of $1.1-million, described as related to increasing amortization expenses, that reduced the festival’s accumulated surplus to $258,000.

It’s worth noting that $8.1-million of the Shaw Festival’s $35.7-million in operating revenue in 2022 came in the form of COVID-19 support (most of that coming from the Federal Development Agency for southern Ontario). Large performing arts institutions such as the Shaw Festival won’t be out of the woods financially until audiences are fully back (or they somehow start to be funded at the level of European repertory theatres).

What’s opening across Canada this week

First Métis Man of Odesa, written and performed by the wife-and-husband duo Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova, is a play based on the true story of the Canadian playwright and Ukrainian actor’s relationship born during a global pandemic and then thrust into war.

Based on the audio play of the same name commissioned by Factory Theatre, director Lianna Makuch’s production for Punctuate! Theatre has its world premiere at the Western Canada Theatre in Kamloops, B.C., from March 16 to 25. The show then goes on tour to the Theatre Centre in Toronto (March 30 to April 8), the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton (April 22 to May 13) and the Cultch in Vancouver (May 25 to June 4).

Abraham Lincoln va au théâtre, a theatrical puzzle filled with nesting-doll characters by Quebec playwright Larry Tremblay, is getting a major mainstage revival in Montreal at the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde from March 14 to April 8. As I wrote about its original 2008 production, the metatheatrical play is fascinating in its “exploration of how obsessions – artistic, romantic – warp our understanding of reality.” It now seems prescient about post-truth America, too.

All the Little Animals I Have Eaten, a play by Siminovitch Prize-nominated playwright Karen Hines, follows a server at a modern bisto located in an all-women’s condo building on the “most harrowing shift of her life.” The comedy is getting its Edmonton premiere courtesy of Shadow Theatre at the Varscona Theatre form March 15 to April 2

You and I, Maja Ardal’s show for “walking babies,” is back in Toronto at Young People’s Theatre from March 15 to 26. One of these days, I hope to have a child in the right age bracket – 18 months to three years old – to check this production out.

What the Globe and Mail is reviewing this week

The Land Acknowledgment, or As You Like It returns to Toronto as part of the Off-Mirvish season at the CAA Theatre (until April 2). I recently interviewed Cliff Cardinal about this solo show, a Crow’s Theatre production; look for our review of it later this week.

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