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courtesy Alberta Theatre Projects

Curtain to fall on Enbridge playRites Festival

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After 28 successful years, the upcoming winter season of the Enbridge playRites Festival of New Canadian Plays will be the last. While the Alberta Theatre Company will continue to produce new plays, they will no longer offer four Canadian premieres in the festival format along with four plays in the regular season. They plan to increase the number of plays in the regular season to six, including at least two premieres by Canadian playwrights with one in the fall and one in the spring. In nearly 30 years, the festival has premiered over 115 new plays which have been made into 200 subsequent productions across the world. This year’s festival will feature You Will Remember Me, by François Archambault; Legend Has It, by Rebecca Northan; Games: Who Wants to Play?, by Linda Griffiths, and Same Same But Different, by Anita Majumdar.

The Enbridge playRites Festival of New Canadian Plays runs March 5 to April 6, 2014.

You Will Remember Me

Award-winning Quebec playwright François Archambault’s new play You Will Remember Me centres around one family’s struggle as their patriarch, an intellectual and political force in his community, suffers from Alzheimer’s.

Although Archambault was inspired by his wife’s father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, he did not want to focus the play on his father-in-law.

“When I got the idea of a history teacher starting to lose his memory I knew it was the good angle for me. It helped me to get distance from the disease and create a play which is not about Alzheimer’s but a play about memory. About the traces we want to leave behind,” Archambault says.

Although the subject of Alzheimer’s can be serious, You Will Remember Me is also full of humour.

“It may sound strange, but being with someone who has Alzheimer’s sometimes puts you in awkward situations that might get laughter,” Archambault says. “I guess the play stands somewhere between tragedy and comedy and for me, because the disease of the main character can be depressing, I wanted to put some hope in the play.”

You Will Remember Me focuses on how we remember the people around us and the important moments of our history.

“Edouard is someone who lived when the big changes happened in the ’70s in Quebec. I wanted to question our own personal history, the way we decide to remember certain moments of our lives and sometimes decide to forget some sad episodes,” Archambault says. “I hope the play makes people realize the importance of remembering — to not forget to seize the moment.”

Legend Has It

With improv, you never know what will happen on stage — or who will be on it. In her previous play Blind Date, playwright Rebecca Northan goes on a 90-minute dating adventure, but instead of another actor being her co-star, it’s an audience member. ForLegend Has It, Northan wanted to take an audience-involved improv play even further. The play is a choose-your-own-adventure fantasy in which Northan and her merry band of master improv artists work with an audience-member-turned-hero on a quest to right evil and save the world.

For a performance like Legend Has It, Northan says that audience members with no acting experience make the best co-stars on stage.

“The interest is in a real person having genuine reactions in the moment. The challenge for us is to support them and always be working to make them look good, and to discover what makes them a hero in their own way,” Northan says. “We’re not out to make anyone look foolish — this is about playing and having fun and doing something that maybe you never thought you were capable of. Historically, we get messages from people after our shows saying, ‘That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of!’ ”

Since improv is all about creating action in the moment, there is a certain element of magic that traditional plays lack.

“Everyone in the room knows that we’re flying by the seat of our pants. The audience is in on it,” Northan says. “When improv is good, I think it’s better than anything because you’re witnessing the magic of spontaneous creation. You are the only audience that will ever see that particular unfolding. There’s something wondrous about that.”

Games: Who Wants To Play?

Playwright Linda Griffiths found inspiration for Games: Who Wants To Play? in her basement.

“For a long time I’ve been wanting to write something inspired by my brother from when he was between 13- to 16-years-old. He and his friend disappeared to the basement of our house for what seemed like three years. They were watching TV, reading comics and doing who knows what,” Griffiths says. “So I started with male adolescence and became fascinated by the strange and dangerous passage of boys becoming men.”

Despite numerous studies and reports, Griffiths says it’s difficult to say what the real effects of video games on adolescents are.

“We’re in the middle of a technological revolution, not at the end of it. We don’t know. The analysts are churning out the books. Some say gaming is a good thing — that we need to kill monsters. Some say it’s ruining a generation.

“As I researched video gaming I began to realize how many game worlds are set in an environmental disaster or in a post-nuclear apocalypse — what we’re really afraid of may be these larger concerns that seem too hard to grapple with. The modern family is situated inside an atmosphere of environmental confusion. The end of the world is alive and well on their son’s screen. That’s something to be afraid of.”

While the play centres around video games, Games: Who Wants To Play? is really about the emotional and psychological games that are played within a family.

“It takes an ordinary situation in a middle-class family and watches the characters game each other, emotionally, physically and technologically,” Griffiths says. “It’s about the fear mongering that can fuel these games, our fear of adolescence and our fear of boys.”

Same Same But Different

After finishing her first play Fish Eyes, a coming-of-age story of a classically trained teenage dancer who just wants to be a normal high school girl, playwright and actress Anita Majumdar wanted to further explore post-colonial politics. This lead Majumdar to develop the character of Aisha, a South Asian-Canadian Bollywood starlet — a character who had initially been cut from Fish Eyes. In Same Same But Different, Aisha encounters a backup dancer who also wants to be a Bollywood star and to appropriate a culture that is not his own.

“With this play, I’m interested in exposing a conversation about the complexity of being a visible minority that isn’t often talked about because it’s a difficult conversation to have in regular life. We are so often shamed for wanting to talk about racism or the realities of being a person of colour and the heavy complications and effects colonialism have had on our collective psyche,” Majumdar says.

They will use Bollywood dancing to help tell the story. But the choreography in Same Same But Different will not be filled with dozens of background dancers. Instead it will only be two dancers.

“The thing about these dance numbers is that they’re not the way most mainstream media portrays Bollywood. Bollywood has been marketed as throngs of background dancers dancing to this vapid, empty-headed medium without context and that’s not the Bollywood I grew up on,” Majumdar says. “Bollywood to me is about the soulful connection between two people who fall in love in fantastical ways. Small gestures are magnified under the magic-realism lens of Bollywood.

“We invest in these dances because it tells us more about the characters and the journey they’re taking with each other.”

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