While the National Arts Centre is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to redo the inside and outside of its building in Ottawa, its English Theatre company is increasingly creating and taking work outside the walls of the physical centre and, indeed, outside Canada's capital city.
For the 2016-17 season announced on Monday, artistic director Jillian Keiley is bringing several shows that the NAC invested in across the country to Ottawa, as well as sending a production created at the NAC out on a tour of Newfoundland.
"It's all part of this philosophy of decentralizing where the work gets made, so we have strengthened regions, and then showcasing the best [at the NAC]," Keiley says.
The NAC English Theatre's mainstage season opens with Da Kink in My Hair – a revival of Trey Anthony's hit 2001 play about the Caribbean-Canadian clients of a Toronto hair salon, in co-production with Theatre Calgary. Next comes a new adaptation of A Christmas Carol, directed by Keiley with Andy Jones playing Scrooge, to fill the coffers at Christmastime.
But then, in 2017, the NAC will show off three of the dozens of projects it helped seed and develop as part of a program called the Collaborations that Keiley launched when she arrived in Ottawa in 2012.
From Newfoundland's Artistic Fraud, the company Keiley used to run, comes The Colony of Unrequited Dreams – Robert Chafe's adaptation of Wayne Johnston's celebrated novel of the same name about Joey Smallwood.
Then comes Vigilante, Catalyst Theatre of Edmonton's rock-opera retelling of the events leading up to the storied and much-dramatized massacre of the Donnellys in 1880 Ontario.
Last, from Vancouver's Cultch, Raven Theatre and Urban Ink Productions, comes Children of God – a musical by Corey Payette about "an Oji-Cree family whose children were taken away to a residential school in Northern Ontario."
Meanwhile, as part of Canada's sesquicentennial celebrations, Keiley's 2013 production of Molière's Tartuffe will head out on a tour of Newfoundland, where Andy Jones's adaptation is set. "This is a kind of pilot," Keiley explains. "[At the NAC], we try our best to serve the artists from across the country – and we are starting to try to service the audiences better across the country."
This is the first time in … well, it's been so long since an NAC English Theatre production went on a proper tour that the staff aren't sure when the last one took place. "I've checked around and English Theatre hasn't toured in at least 30 years, so I can't find any concrete information," communications officer Sean Fitzpatrick wrote in a follow-up e-mail.
Completing the season at the NAC proper in Ottawa will be three shows in the English Theatre's Studio series: comedian and broadcaster Tetsuro Shigematsu's one-man play about his father, Empire of the Son; playwright Hannah Moscovitch's music, physics and sex drama, Infinity; and the black comedy Kill Me Now, marking playwright Brad Fraser's long-awaited return to the NAC.
What's absent from the NAC's English Theatre in 2016-17? The locally based ensemble of actors initially set up under previous artistic director Peter Hinton will take a break, because of the Ottawa building's construction activities – the ongoing $110.5-million redo of the arts centre's public spaces, plus the recently announced additional $114.9-million renovation of its performance spaces.
"We don't have the same access to rehearsal space and holding space for them," Keiley explains. "I miss it already … but I've already got my ensemble for 2017-18."