The season announcement is another one of those theatrical rituals that has been disrupted by the pandemic.
It used to be accompanied by an in-person launch (and maybe lunch), media opportunities and shiny pamphlets sent out to subscribers – all in an attempt to generate excitement (and sales) for shows that may not be on an actual stage for a year.
For the past couple of years, however, the season announcement’s status as a piece of theatre itself – a public performance about hope for the future – has become more apparent.
Take Canadian Stage in Toronto, for instance. Brendan Healy was appointed as the artistic director of the major not-for-profit theatre company back in 2018 – and while he has announced two full seasons and a miniseason of indoor programming at this point, he has yet to actually make it through an entire one without interruption due to that party-crasher COVID-19.
Now, 3½ years into his job, Healy is announcing Canadian Stage’s 2022-2023 season – and much of it is, of course, a reannouncement. There are many factors that come into play, the artistic director told me in an interview this week, in deciding what to pull back out of the cancellation pile.
“There’s the relevance of the work: two, three years later, is the work still speaking to the time?” Healy said. “Then the availability of artists: Often you’re not just selecting a play, you’re selecting a play that has this particular group of artists attached to it.”
Here’s what’s scheduled to be back, then, for the first time at Canadian Stage in 2022-2023. From the curtailed 2019-2020 season: Kelly v Kelly, a new musical by Sara Farb and Britta Johnson. From the announced-but-never-happened 2020-2021 season: Public Enemy, the English-language premiere of an Olivier Choinière play, translated and adapted by Bobby Theodore; Fairview, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Jackie Sibblies Drury; Miigis from Red Sky Performance; and Little Dickens, a holiday show from puppeteer Ronnie Burkett.
And here a few of the shows completely new to this Canadian Stage announcement: Choir Boy, a coming-of-age play by Moonlight screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney (in co-production with the Arts Club in Vancovuer); Maanomaa, My Brother, a Blue Bird Theatre Collective and Canadian Stage co-production about childhood friends reuniting in Ghana for the funeral of a loved one; and a new play actually called New from Pamela Sinha and the Necessary Angel theatre company
Also new, but not newly announced: Fall On Your Knees, a long-awaited two-part adaptation of Ann-Marie MacDonald’s novel also slated to play at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Neptune Theatre in Halifax and the Grand Theatre in London, Ont., next season.
International shows are tough to program right now, but there’s one on the bill: Are we not drawn onward to new erA, from the influential Belgian company Ontroerend Goed. “Now, more than ever, having an internationalist outlook is so necessary after two years of isolation in an increasingly isolationist world,” says Healy.
There’s more I can’t squeeze in – it’s a big, whopping season. Healy’s been buoyed by attendance at Canadian Stage shows indoor this spring such as Daniel Brooks’s solo show Other People (“we ended up selling out most of the run”) and the dance show In My Body (”sold incredibly well”).
Here’s hoping fourth time’s the charm.
Opening in Toronto this week: There’s a pileup, with five shows all holding their opening nights on Thursday, May 5. I’m still deciding which one to attend – should I put it to a newsletter-reader vote?
- Scored in Silence (runs May 5 to 7), an international touring show about the experience of deaf people who survived the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945, reopens Theatre Passe Muraille. It’s unusual not only for being performed in signed mime and ASL, but because 50 audience members a performance can be hooked up to “vibrotactile WoojerTM straps” that turn the sound of the production into vibrations.
- Lesson in Forgetting (May 3 to May 22), written by the Acadian playwright Emma Haché and translated by Taliesin McEnaney with John van Burek, concerns a couple whose relationship is altered forever by a traumatic brain injury. Ma-Anne Dionisio and Andrew Moodie co-star in this Pleaides production at the Young Centre.
- The Cold War (on to June 5), a topical chapter from Michael Hollingsworth’s epic The History of the Village of the Small Huts play cycle, will reopen VideoCabaret’s newish theatre space in the city’s east end. This is the first show the veteran indie company has produced since the death of co-founder and producer Deanne Taylor.
- Crypto (May 5 to 7), a new narrative dance work from choreographer Guillaume Côté co-presented by Canadian Stage and TO Live, explores “forced displacement and the human need to control and transform beauty” – not the digital currency, sorry, Pierre Poilievre.
- The Great Divide (to May 15), by Alix Sobler, gets its Canadian premiere in a Harold Green Jewish Theatre production at Meridian Arts Centre.
Opening elsewhere in Canada this week:
- Carrie, a musical based on the Stephen King horror novel of the same name that flopped on Broadway in legendary fashion in 1988, is getting a rare production in Montreal at Mainline Theatre, a scrappy indie theatre on St Laurent Blvd. It’d be a bloody shame to miss an opportunity to see this cult show during this run from May 5 to 14.
- Bad Hats premiered a new musical adaptation of Alice in Wonderland a little over a year ago as a filmed production. Now it finally gets an in-person run at Manitoba Theatre for Young People in Winnipeg from May 6 to 15. Here’s my review of the digitally distributed incarnation – but results will no doubt vary live and on stage!
- Seven years after the old Roxy Theatre in Edmonton burnt down, the New Roxy Theatre has finally opened on 124 Street – featuring two performance spaces, an art gallery and a rehearsal hall. I can’t wait to check out Theatre Network’s beautiful-looking new home on my next trip to Alberta (currently pencilled in for the fall). William Shakespeare’s As You Like It: A Radical Retelling by Cliff Cardinal is first up in the new Roxy, running to May 15. (I named this show the Canadian Arts Surprise of the Year, but don’t read about it if you’re think you’re going to see it.)
What’s coming up: Monday is Tony Awards nomination day down in New York – and I’m most curious about whether Canadian producer Garth Drabinsky will get a best musical nod for Paradise Square, the show that marks his return to Broadway. The production needs a boost; it was the lowest-grossing musical in the New York commercial theatre district last week.
Six, my favourite of the new musicals I’ve seen on Broadway this season, is considered a lock for a best musical nomination, as are A Strange Loop, an audience-dividing show I’m eager to see that is already a Pulitzer Prize-winner, and Girl from the North Country, an unusual Bob Dylan jukebox musical that passed through Toronto back in 2019.
What remains to be seen is if four or five shows will be nominated – the number varies from season to season. Paradise Square’s competition for final slot or slots includes a couple of musicals based on movies (Mr. Saturday Night and Mrs, Doubtfire), the biographical shows MJ: The Musical and Diana: The Musical – and an original musical about Cary Grant on a LSD trip (!) called Flying over Sunset.
The odds are against Drabinsky according to the Gold Derby awards-prediction website, but, if there are five nominees, I won’t be surprised if his historical epic squeaks in.
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