Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Mike Payette, artistic director of Tarragon Theatre, has lined up six world premieres for the theatre company's 2023-2024 season.Rudy Perez/Handout

Tarragon Theatre is one of a number of performing arts institutions in Canada that have been restarting operations after the pandemic pause with new leaders in charge.

Mike Payette, who is announcing his second full season as Tarragon’s artistic director on Tuesday, says the double reboot at his Toronto company is going well – but attendance is still rebuilding to previous levels.

While some rare birds in the theatre world have been crowing about increasing audience numbers, Payette says the current season – which wraps up next month – has seen some shows do “extremely well” and others less so, with subscribers back at 60 per cent. “We’re not in prepandemic times,” he says.

In that, Tarragon is on trend with most of the North American theatre world. The venerable company, now in its second half-century of existence, is small enough and supported well enough by donors and funders that it can afford to build back earned revenues over time.

Payette has lined up six world premieres to lure in audiences old and new in 2023-2024, including one from two-time Governor-General Award winner Morris Panych and one or two, depending on how you count, by Siminovitch Prize shortlister Donna-Michelle St. Bernard.

As previously revealed in The Globe and Mail, Tarragon’s season will begin in the Mainspace in September, 2023, with Canadian theatre legend Walter Borden’s The Last Epistle of Tightrope Time.

The 80-year-old actor’s autobiographical solo show was originally supposed to have its premiere, directed by Peter Hinton-Davis, at the National Arts Centre in February, 2022 – but the convoy protests led to that engagement’s cancellation. Instead, it opened at Neptune Theatre in Borden’s home province of Nova Scotia in September and now will play Toronto ahead of a long-awaited Ottawa stop.

Next on the main stage, in November, Tarragon will renew its relationship with Panych, last seen at the theatre with Sextet in 2014. His new play Withrow Park, about an unexpected dinner that begins with a knock at the door, is set to be directed by Jackie Maxwell. The production will reunite her with two actors who were prominent ensemble members during her time as Shaw Festival artistic director: Benedict Campbell and Corrine Koslo.

Guilt (A Love Story) is then first in the Mainspace in 2024; this is the multitalented Diane Flacks’s fifth solo show and her first play at the Tarragon since 2015′s multicharacter Waiting Room. Alisa Palmer will direct, her production then travelling to Montreal’s Centaur Theatre in March and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg in April.

El Terremoto, a play loosely inspired on Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters by Dora-Award winning playwright Christine Quintana, follows in March. The play was first programmed under artistic director Richard Rose and then put aside because of COVID-19.

Then comes Come Home: The Legend of Daddy Hall, Audrey Dwyer’s play about a man revisiting his life with music by Spy Dénommé-Welch and Catherine Magowan. It had an audio premiere during the pandemic pause as part of Tarragon Acoustic program.

Payette says neither of those final two shows have been sitting in drawers since their pandemic postponement and pivots, but rather have been under further development with support from Tarragon.

He’s always eager to talk about additional resources the company is putting into development processes – most evident in the smooth incorporation of movement and choreography into plays such as Cockroach this season. And he likes to show this too: The Greenhouse Festival, which Payette started to let audiences into the incubation of new work, will return next January for a second go-around.

In the Tarragon’s second venue, known as the Extraspace, the company will mount just two shows in 2023-2024.

A Poem for Rabia by Nikki Shaffeeullah is a piece that spans three centuries and focuses on three interconnected women escaping oppression. Clare Preuss, artistic director of Downstage in Calgary, is co-directing this one in the fall with St. Bernard.

Then in the winter, 3 Fingers Back, a co-production with lemonTree creations, sees St. Bernard the playwright get the double-bill treatment that has worked well at Tarragon for the likes of Hannah Moscovitch. Give It Up and The Smell of Horses are a pair of plays about war that switch perspective from interrogators to the interrogated. Cole Alvis and Yvette Nolan direct.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow the author of this article:

Check Following for new articles