Canadian Stage is planning to relaunch its indoor theatre programming in January – by blasting audiences off into outer space.
Solaris, Scottish playwright David Greig’s 2019 sci-fi play based on the much adapted 1961 novel by Polish author Stanislaw Lem, is set to be the Toronto not-for-profit theatre company’s first show on stage in the 867-seat Bluma Appel Theatre at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts since the pandemic began.
Artistic director Brendan Healy will direct Solaris himself, in a production running from Jan. 25 to Feb. 5, which he hopes will remind audiences of theatre’s power to create worlds on stage.
“The story is really about humankind’s relationship to the unknown, and what happens when we encounter experiences that push us to the edge of our rational minds,” Healy says, of the tale of loneliness and extraterrestrial life made famous through Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 and Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 film versions.
On Thursday, Canadian Stage is officially announcing a 2022 season set to run from January to May, but Healy and executive director Monica Esteves gave The Globe and Mail an advance look at the anticipated lineup.
Two other plays will be performed at the recently renamed Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre, the 244-seat main stage in the Berkeley Street Theatre (not to be confused with the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre in the nearby Young Centre for the Performing Arts).
Other People, running March 20 to April 3, is a brand new work written and performed by Daniel Brooks, the acclaimed director who has been living with stage-four lung cancer since 2018.
The show is inspired by the Siminovitch Prize winner’s experiences at a 10-day, silent meditation retreat he went to after receiving his terminal diagnosis. “It’s really self-deprecatingly funny, very witty, very smart,” says Healy, who will direct. ”I find it to be such a deep reflection on just the beauty of being alive and the value of other people.”
Is God Is, a work by American playwright Aleshea Harris described as a mix of “spaghetti western and Afropunk” (currently garnering rave reviews on stage in London at the Royal Court), will have its Canadian premiere from May 3 to 22.
This will be a co-production between Canadian Stage, Necessary Angel and Obsidian Theatre – directed by the latter’s new artistic director, Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu.
Canadian Stage will also have three dance-related shows in its 2022 season.
Miigis, a work from the in-demand Red Sky Performance and its choreographer Sandra Laronde, will run Jan. 29 to Feb. 6 in the Baillie, while Crypto, by National Ballet of Canada principal dancer and choreographic associate Guillaume Côté, will run from May 5 to 7 at the Bluma.
In between, Canadian Stage will present In My Body by choreographer Crazy Smooth from March 17 to 19 in the Bluma – a show that will feature three generations of street-style dancers talking about (and demonstrating) what it mean to age in that art form. “Hip hop is now three generations old, so it’s also a reflection on that culture,” Healy says.
Both Miigis and Crypto were originally scheduled to be part of Canadian Stage’s cancelled 2020-2021 season, but the rest of the 2022 season is new. Healy says it will be a case-by-case decision what else returns from what had been announced for 2021-2022 (and what doesn’t) in future seasons, but that the theatre’s partnership with Musical Stage Company remains strong and an announcement on that front is pending.
Canadian Stage was the first theatre company Toronto to really reopen in earnest this summer, presenting or producing a variety of theatre, music and other live events on its outdoor stage in High Park where it previously presented mainly Shakespeare productions.
While its amphitheatre was operating at a drastically reduced capacity, the pivot was very popular with close to 14,000 audience members visiting to see more than 70 performances.
As for why it’s taking until January for Canadian Stage to get up and running indoors: It has been devilishly difficult to plan live events of any kind in Ontario as the provincial government has, to this point, given little to no advance notice of how restrictions might change over time or what benchmarks might cause them to change.
This was illustrated again just in the past week: When I interviewed Healy and Esteves about their 2022 season last Thursday, Canadian Stage was planning to only fill its theatres to 50-per-cent capacity – based on what Ontario was allowing at that point.
Between then and the publication of this article, however, the province unexpectedly removed capacity limits on theatres – with less than a day’s notice.
In a follow-up message relayed by a publicist, Esteves said she was optimistic Canadian Stage’s 2022 season would sell to 100-per-cent capacity now – but that a final decision on that front would be made in consultation with partners and co-producers before subscriptions go on sale on Nov. 2.
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