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Christine Quintana and Molly McKinnon in Never The Last_Image courtesy Delinquent Theatre

Christine Quintana and Molly MacKinnon in Never The LastCourtesy of Delinquent Theatre

The Siminovitch Prize in Theatre is an award backed by folks who really get it - and you certainly can’t say that about all art prizes in this country.

From its inception in 2001, those who run the $100,000 accolade have understood that its value goes beyond being the richest prize in Canadian theatre to the attention that money brings with it - and the even greater value to the theatrical ecosystem that comes, in turn, from sharing that attention.

Winners have always spread their spotlight (and $25,000) to a protégé.

Starting this year, however, each Siminovitch finalist - a playwright, director or designer - will also get to select an emerging artist to receive a $5,000 grant, according to a recent World Theatre Day announcement. That means four more young artists getting much-needed money - and a confidence boost.

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Christine Quintana. Credit: Sewari Campillo

Christine Quintana says the prize "made me take myself seriously."Sewari Campillo

“It made me take myself seriously,” says Vancouver-based playwright Christine Quintana, who was named Marcus Youssef’s protégé back in 2017. “More than external validation, it was a wake up call to myself to imagine having a national artistic career.”

How great that the Siminovitch will be using an extra $28,000 in annual funds secured from the Youssef-Warren Foundation (there’s also $8,000 a year to facilitate mutual mentorship between the finalists and the emerging artists) to deliver more such “wake up calls” and a good chunk of change to artists at a time when the profession can seem more daunting than ever to enter.

I was talking to Quintana this week ahead of the Toronto premiere of Never the Last, a Jessie Award-winning show she created with violinist Molly MacKinnon about the passionate relationship between the 20th century composer Sophie Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté and expressionist painter Walter Gramatté.

The Delinquent Theatre production is being presented by Theatre Passe Muraille from April 8 to 16 - and it couldn’t be coming to town at a better time. The show’s themes connect with the current online discourse about men who do - or don’t - support their artist partners, sparked by a recent essay by the poet Maggie Smith about the events that lead to her divorce.

In the case of Eckhardt-Gramatté, the Russian-born composer - whose work was almost lost until she immigrated to Canada later in life - was supported by her German husband in her artistic ambitions in the 1920s when women in classical music, Quintana says, were allowed to be interpreters and maybe soloists but were shut out of higher echelons of the art form.

But then just as Eckhardt-Gramatté got a big break in the form of a major commission in Paris, she also got the news that her husband was dying.

Never the Last, which stars Quintana and Amitai Marmorstein, explores the tough decisions that female artists in particular have to make between so-called work and so-called life. It incorporates MacKinnon’s performance of a set of solo violin pieces composed by Eckhardt-Gramatté; “The way she plays them will take the air out of your lungs,” says Quintana.

Attendance Must Be Paid Department: The Land Acknowledgement, or As You Like It, Cliff Cardinal’s critically acclaimed solo show about reconciling with reconciliation that closed over the weekend, was in some ways a surprise inclusion in the off-Mirvish season at the CAA Theatre - but it found an audience and, indeed, an avid one via Toronto’s primary commercial theatre producers.

In fact, on Tuesday came the news that Mirvish Productions will be bringing the Crow’s Theatre production back for another five performances in its 700-seat CAA Theatre from May 5 to 7 (after a touring show called The Simon and Garfunkel Story comes and goes).

Over 10,000 people have seen Cardinal’s show in this incarnation so far - and the way that capacity grew to sell-out shows the course of the run suggests strong word of mouth.

It’s encouraging to see Torontonians back out supporting new plays in big numbers. Another fresh example: The Darkest Dark, Jim Millan and Ian MacIntyre’s adaptation of astronaut Chris Hadfield’s children’s book, reached 18,471 kids and adults before it closed on April 2 at Young People’s Theatre.

If three sold-out performances of the show hadn’t had to be cancelled, the show would have broken 20,000 in attendance - on par with a holiday musical at YPT pre-pandemic.

The Darkest Dark, which got a budget boost from the National Arts Centre’s National Creation Fund, is the most successful production of the season for that Toronto theatre for young audiences - which reports that, otherwise, public and school attendance has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Three to see across the country this week

Rome, a mammoth mash-up for four of Shakespeare’s plays plus his poem The Rape of Lucrece, is another production backed by the National Creation Fund. Brigitte Haentjens, a former artistic director of the French Theatre at the NAC, directs this show - in French, at Usine C in Montreal, from April 5 to 23.

Yaga, a fractured folk tale from playwright Kat Sandler, is at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in a production directed by Ann Hodges from April 5 to 22. Here’s what the Globe and Mail had to say about the play in its world premiere in Toronto.

Rubaboo - the title comes from the Michif word for “leftovers stew” or “big pot” is a theatrical cabaret from the Métis performer Andrea Menard. It’s just transfered to the Arts Club in Vancouver (where it runs to April 30) following its well-received world premiere at the Grande Theatre in London, Ont.

What the Globe and Mail is reviewing this week

The Hooves Belonged to the Deer is a new play by Makram Ayache about a young queer Muslim boy named Izzy - and sexuality and faith colliding in a small rural town. Peter Hinton-Davis, the former artistic director of the National Arts Centre’s English Theatre, directs at the Tarragon Theatre, which is presenting this show to April 23 in association with at Buddies in Bad Times.

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