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Did you know that winter is international performance festival season in Canada? There’s a loose circuit of avant-garde theatre fests this time of year, and this week, the PuSh Festival in Vancouver kicks off just as the High Performance Rodeo (HPR) in Calgary winds down. (Progress Festival, a relative newcomer to the circuit in Toronto, follows on Jan. 30.)

PuSh – which, like its older sibling, HPR, brings in intriguing work from the world and showcases Canadian work from our most innovative theatre artists – has a new artistic director in Franco Boni. The Globe’s Marsha Lederman spoke to him a couple weeks ago about his vision for the festival going forward. (The climate emergency and the failure of democracies are two of his preoccupations.)

I’ll be keeping an eye from afar at the reactions to new work by companies and artists I admire such as Electric Company Theatre, Theatre Replacement and Tania El Khoury, but there are a couple shows being presented at PuSh that I can already heartily recommend to warm up a winter night.

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Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story will make a short appearance at Vancouver's PuSh festival.

Stoo Metz Photography/Handout

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story is a funny and moving klezmer-folk musical from Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch, singer-songwriter Ben Caplan and Halifax’s 2b Theatre Company. Our critic Martin Morrow gave this show, based on Moscovitch’s real family history, the full four stars when it was at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto , where it quickly sold out a month-long run. (It’s only got a short run in Vancouver at PuSh, so you’ll want to grab your tickets quickly.)

A fun PuSh show in a more unusual form is Monday Nights, which is a basketball clinic/meditation on masculinity by a group of Toronto-based actors who have played pickup ball together for years. One tip: Bring good running shoes if you want to participate, so you don’t slip and fall like one audience member when I saw this show at the Luminato Festival in June!

In Calgary, two solo shows are in the spotlight in the final week of the HPR: How to Fail as a Pop Star by Vivek Shraya – which is still in development, so The Globe will be reviewing it when it comes to Canadian Stage in Toronto later this winter – and Let’s Run Away, the latest monologue by Siminovitch Prize-winning superstar Daniel MacIvor, which we reviewed in Toronto this fall.

Evalyn Parry, left, and Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory created and perform in Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools.

Jeremy Mimnagh

Back east in Ottawa, a show I love that’s been to PuSh in the past – Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools, a North-South collaboration between storyteller and Greenlandic mask dancer Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory and singer-songwriter Evalyn Parry – is now at the Great Canadian Theatre Centre starting Jan. 22; it’s co-presented by the National Arts Centre’s new Indigenous Theatre department. Here’s my review from Kiinalik’s world premiere in 2017 at Buddies in Bad Times in Toronto, before it went off to conquer the world from Scotland to Mexico.

Here in Toronto, after a frenzy of openings last week, it’s a little quieter for me. I’ll be headed to Theatre Passe Muraille to see Adrenaline and Suitcase, a double bill by playwright and Syrian refugee Ahmad Meree. Globe contributor Maan Alhmidi interviewed Meree about these shows and his journey to Canada earlier this month; look for my review later this week.

Some of the Toronto shows still running that we recently reviewed (click on the titles to read our reviews) are a pair of retooled classics, Casimir and Caroline and Julius Caesar (both at Crow’s Theatre), a recent American prize-winning play, Sweat (at Canadian Stage), and what has turned out to be another hit for Moscovitch, Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes (at Tarragon Theatre).

Indeed, Sexual Misconduct just extended its run a week due to demand, and understandably so. Matthew Edison and Alice Snaden’s performances are wonderful in this #MeToo-inspired piece, as is the subtle (in)direct-address script by Moscovitch, and Sarah Garton Stanley’s excellent direction will surely be a contender at the Dora Mavor Moore Awards and the Toronto Theatre Critics Awards in the spring.

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Stay tuned for a new theatre newsletter launching soon from The Globe and Mail’s critic J. Kelly Nestruck.

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