January is usually my favourite month for theatre in Canada.
This is the time of year when the stages of the Stratford Festival and the Shaw Festival are fully shut down, and their great companies of actors disperse from coast to coast to star in passion projects big and small. (For example, Stratford legend Martha Henry might act in a sci-fi play in an 80-seat theatre in Toronto.)
There’s something about the end of the holidays and the long, looming winter that leads audiences as well as artists to seek adventurous outside-the-box fare. Normally, regional companies program their most ambitious work around now and a circuit of Canadian festivals devoted to the international and the avant-garde kicks off – from the long-established High Performance Rodeo in Calgary to the relatively new Progress Festival in Toronto.
While both of those festivals have been postponed or gone dormant for 2021, some others are still going ahead in new formats.
Yesterday, Vancouver’s innovative PuSh Festival announced a line-up of partner presentations that begins on Jan. 28 – much of it, surprisingly, set to be experienced in person.
Sanctuary is a “360° experience” in a geodesic dome that will allow distanced viewers to immerse themselves in an ancient forest, while Violette is a virtual-reality show that is also site-specific and meant for one audience member at a time. (There’s also a series of online talks and conversations sparked by the recent leadership upheaval at the festival called the PuSh Rally.)
On Jan. 12, the Centaur Theatre’s annual Wildside Festival of “cutting-edge theatre” starts a two-week edition. Rose Plotek, who was appointed as associate artist at the Montreal theatre company this fall, is the curator of this year’s line-up – which will be online only, and therefore accessible across the country for the first time.
The Whiteface Cabaret (running Jan. 12 – 23) sounds like the most topical show – a “narrative about appropriation” performed by Lady Vanessa Cardona and Todd Houseman that is a spin-off of a show that got a rave in the Winnipeg Free Press back in 2018. (“A biting commentary about appropriation of Indigenous culture, colonization and the search for identity amid a backdrop of trauma, and if that’s not enough to sell you on it, it is also hilarious,” wrote reviewer Frances Koncan.)
The Next Stage Theatre Festival in Toronto, a Fringe spin-off that usually begins the year, is going ahead in a new digital format later this month as well – but exactly what will be on offer is still a secret. The lineup is being announced on Thursday.
Also on Thursday, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa will unveil online five more of the Grand Acts of Theatre it commissioned from troupes across the country last year.
To refresh your memory, these are large-scale, high-impact in-person events that were also designed to be captured in short attention-grabbing videos. (One has already gone viral in a major way – and ended up on my top ten list for 2020.)
Of the five videos being uploaded this week, I’m most looking forward to watching Kaha:wi Dance Theatre’s Continuance: Yonkwa’nikonhrakontáhkwen, based on a piece of choreography from Santee Smith that involved dancers, 3-D projections and the Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ont. I’ve heard it was quite breathtaking in person.
Also being uploaded this week are new works from Catalyst Theatre (Edmonton), the Canadian Academy of Mask and Puppetry (Calgary) the Electric Company Theatre (Vancouver) and Neighbourhood Dance Works (St. John’s).
Last but not least, fans of the late rock star David Bowie and the rock-star director Ivo van Hove will be excited to hear that their collaboration Lazarus is being resurrected on the Internet this weekend. A film of the London production that starred Michael C. Hall (Dexter) is being streamed three times only from Jan. 8 to Jan. 10 to mark the fifth anniversary of Bowie’s death.
Lazarus’s broadcast times are staggered internationally, so you can watch at a reasonable hour in Canada: 6 p.m. PST/9 p.m. EST on Friday and Saturday, and 1 p.m. PST/4 p.m. EST on Sunday. Tickets are US$21.50 and available at link.dice.fm/lazarus.
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