The Winnipeg theatre community is throwing itself a party, complete with a red carpet.
The inaugural costume ball, The Masquerade, to be held at the West End Cultural Centre on Nov. 1, allows actors, directors, designers and backstage support staff a chance to fête their accomplishments and raise some money for the Manitoba Association of Playwrights.
Most other major Canadian cities have annual awards banquets -- to hand out Doras in Toronto, Jessies in Vancouver and Sterlings in Edmonton -- at which the community comes together to have a party and salute the best work of the previous year. Winnipeg doesn't bestow stage awards (they would have to be called Golden Boys), but that's no reason not to get together for a splashy soirée.
"Why not instead just have a celebratory gala where we all dress up in our finery and we have a nice time?" says Christopher Brauer, a MAP board member who helped organize The Masquerade. "It became an opportunity to celebrate this thing that we do."
The local theatre scene and its artists united this year for the first time to honour their own successes. They collectively paid tribute to the rare occurrence of seven female playwrights -- Jessy Ardern, Ginny Collins, Trish Cooper, Carolyn Gray, Cairn Moore, Debbie Patterson and Alix Sobler -- premièring new plays in 2013-14. As well, three city directors -- Brauer, Krista Jackson and Heidi Malazdrewich -- are making their directing debuts at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Warehouse this season. Jackson, the 2013 recipient of the Gina Wilkinson Prize for emerging directors, directed Gray's The Miser of Middlegate for Theatre Projects Manitoba earlier this month and made her Manitoba Theatre for Young People debut with Dying to be Thin. She will open The Seagull at the Warehouse in January.
Winnipeg directing mainstay Ann Hodges helmed RMTC's season-opener Harvey, which featured good work by many local actors, while Carson Nattrass was impressing at Prairie Theatre Exchange in The Best Brothers.
"It feels every year there is more growth in terms of how many Winnipeg artists are working and the calibre of their efforts," says Brauer, who made a favourable first impression at the helm of Venus in Fur last week. "That's a big part of what should be celebrated."
The Masquerade was intentionally scheduled for the day after Halloween so people would still be in the mood to dress up in costumes. The idea also came from the 1951 movie musical An American in Paris and the climactic scene set at the art students' masked ball.
"Halloween is such an actor's holiday," Brauer says. "It is one of my favourite holidays. It invites the general population to do what we do for a living. I dress up as a pirate every year and it's great."
The evening entertainment will include folk trio Red Moon Road, as well as improv troupe Outside Joke, which will collaborate with playwrights Sarah Constible, Michael Nathanson, Ellen Peterson and Cooper for some ad-libbed comedy. Dramatist Rick Chafe will deliver a benediction for playwrights.
"I think the intent is to hear some words of celebration and inspiration as we go into the dark of winter, but also the heat of the theatre season," Brauer says.
Theatre-goers are also invited to The Masquerade, admission is $25 or $20 in advance at Ticketmaster, WECC or MAP.
"We are grateful for them and we would love them to join us at this shindig," he says. "It's an opportunity to have a martini with the people they support onstage."
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Rainbow Stage's 60th anniversary season will be expanded to three shows in 2014, including the musical comedy The Producers and the Canadian première of Disney's The Little Mermaid.
The season opens with A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline (June 6-15), a musical homage to one of the all-time legends of country music. It features Cline hits Crazy, Walkin' After Midnight, Sweet Dreams and I Fall to Pieces. Carson Nattrass will direct.
The Producers, the winner of multiple Tony Awards, follows from July 3 to 17. It's an outrageously hilarious stage adaptation of Mel Brooks' 1967 film about a down-on-his-luck Broadway producer plotting to put on the worst play ever, called Springtime for Hitler. Rainbow's artistic director Ray Hogg will helm the show as well as handle choreography.
The diamond anniversary season closes with Disney's The Little Mermaid (Aug. 13-29). The Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale that inspired the 1989 Disney animated film tells the story of the young mermaid Ariel, who longs to leave her ocean home to live in the world above. Ann Hodges will direct.
Season subscriptions go on sale Saturday and can be purchased by calling 204-989-0888.