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Soulpepper artistic director Weyni Mengesha's first season was cut short because of the pandemic.SUPPLIED

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

But that’s not exactly the case with Soulpepper artistic director Weyni Mengesha, who on Tuesday is announcing the Toronto not-for-profit theatre company’s 2022 season.

It’s not Mengesha’s very first announcement of on-stage programming, but her first season did get cut short after two and a half months. “It is season 1.5 because it is a mix of the season we already announced and the one we were days away from announcing right before the pandemic hit,” says Mengesha in an e-mail.

The 2022 Soulpepper season will launch in February with The Golden Record, a concert conceived by director of music Mike Ross and inspired by a recording NASA sent out into space to explain earth to extraterrestrial life. It’s set to feature the talents of Divine Brown, Beau Dixon, Raha Javanfar, Travis Knights, Andrew Penner, Mike Ross, Sarah Wilson and Strays star Frank Cox-O’Connell, who also directs.

Right on its heels in February will be a presentation of actor/writer Haley McGee’s solo show The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale, which is one of the shows on the bill that was originally slated for 2020; this clever consideration of the (financial) cost of love, directed by Mitchell Cushman, comes to Soulpepper following great reviews in earlier incarnations and a book deal.

In April, Mengesha will direct the Canadian premiere of trending American playwright Dominique Morisseau’s show Pipeline – about a single mother fighting for her son’s future. (Ain’t Too Proud, the jukebox musical about The Temptations Morisseau wrote the book for, just reopened on Broadway – and her play Skeleton Crew opens there in December starring Phylicia Rashad.)

Next up will be two Governor-General’s Award-winning plays by Indigenous playwrights. Kevin Loring’s Where the Blood Mixes, which won that prize in 2009, is set to be directed by Jani Lauzon (opening May 26), while Kim Senklip Harvey’s Kamloopa, which recently nabbed the 2020 prize, will be directed by the playwright herself (opening June 23). Both are being co-produced with Native Earth Performing Arts.

The following two Soulpepper shows will speak to each other directly: Shakespeare’s King Lear, which will be directed by Siminovitch Prize-winning director Kim Collier; and Queen Goneril, a new prequel of sorts by Canadian classic-smasher Erin Shields set seven years earlier. These will run in repertory from the end of August to the beginning of October.

Last but certainly not least, Kim’s Convenience playwright Ins Choi’s new comedy Bad Parent hits the stage at Soulpepper in the fall as part of a “rolling world premiere” that will also see the show produced at Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre and Prairie Theatre Exchange.

Toronto’s Outside the March has been responsible for some of the most creative theatrical pivots of the pandemic – from the phone-based participatory game The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries to the literal bubbles of its fictional filmed wedding, Something Bubbled, Something Blue (co-produced with Talk is Free Theatre).

Lessons in Temperament, which premiered over the weekend, is a film based on a pre-existing play – so not exactly innovative, but still more satisfying than many entries in that department over the past year and a half.

Musical director and actor James Smith’s solo show is about life with his three neurodiverse brothers. In the film version, shot in theatres all over Toronto as well as Brampton and Stratford, Ont., Smith tunes a series of pianos – his side gig – and talks about each of his siblings as he works on a different section of the strings that lurk behind the surface of these musical instruments.

A piano can never be perfectly tuned, Smith tells us, and things slip out of balance even if you’re not playing it. The metaphor for our brains is a resonant one.

Director Mitchell Cushman’s artful capture of Smith’s show is kind of a mash-up between a DIY YouTube video – and those videos by urban explorers wandering around abandoned buildings you also find on YouTube.

One word of warning: Smith talks very, very slowly, sometimes in clusters of three words at a time. If you can get on his rhythm, however, you’ll find Lessons in Temperament richly rewarding. It’s having a mixture of in-person and virtual screenings until Nov. 27; details are on Outside the March’s website.

Other online options cookin’ this week:

  • Farm to Fable, a comedy about a Zoom cooking lesson that goes awry, is available to stream through the Cultch from Nov. 17 to 21 (with a showtime aimed at Eastern Canadian audiences on Nov. 20). This new play is by Amiel Gladstone, co-creator of the ever-popular Craigslist Cantata.
  • Cast Iron, Lisa Codrington’s early noughties play about a Bajan immigrant that is also steeped in the power of cooking, has been adapted into a binaural audio drama by Factory Theatre and Obsidian Theatre. Accomplished actor Alison Sealy-Smith returns to the role of the acerbic Libya Atwell – and will be performing the show live online from Nov. 19 to 28.

Large-scale, live in-person theatre is really starting to pick up in Canada outside of Quebec – as evidenced by several full productions of musicals hitting the stage this week: Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol at the Arts Club in Vancouver (Nov. 18 to Jan. 2); the Newfoundland jukebox musical No Change in the Weather at the CAA Theatre in Toronto (Nov. 19 to 27); and Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. (to Dec. 23).

As for me, I’m heading down to New York on Tuesday to witness a bit of the rebirth of Broadway. More on that to come.

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