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Monster trucking

Vancouver company has offered up a scary number of shows over the years

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Vancouver's Monster Theatre has become a fringe fixture, having presented 17 productions since 2000.

This year's festival features three titles, two new works (Hockey Night at the Puck & Pickle Pub and Assassinating Thomson) and a remount of Til Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Artistic director Ryan Gladstone wrote two of them, directed two of them and acts in Hockey Night.

"I love making new shows," says Gladstone, during a recent interview. "That's the beauty of the fringe. It's the cheapest, easiest way to produce original work in Canada."

The Monster formula is to develop shows on the fringe circuit to a professional grade every summer and then tour them around British Columbia and elsewhere. The Shakespeare Show, written by Gladstone in 2008, was translated into Hebrew and toured Israel this year. The Canada Show: The Complete History of Canada in One Hour has been on the road since 2001 (it stopped at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People in 2006) and this year was presented in Saskatoon. Til Death will head on a provincial trek next season.

"For us, the fringe is a launch pad for what we do," says the University of Calgary graduate. "It's an investment. If we can continue to tour the shows afterwards, then it becomes more profitable."

The history buff has turned out plays such as Freud vs. His Ego, Houdini's Last Escape, Every Story Ever Told and The Seven Lives of Louis Riel, which he counts as his most popular production in Winnipeg.

For the last five years, the 36-year-old Gladstone has repeated what he calls his semi-retirement circuit, which begins by developing a new script at home and opening it in Winnipeg before heading to the family cabin in eastern B.C. He takes the show to the Edmonton Fringe Festival next, heads back to the cottage for a week or two, then finishes things up at the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

These days, Gladstone only goes to fringe cities where he has family and good friends. In his early Monster Theatre days, he met Winnipeg actress Michelle Field and their fringe romance culminated in marriage and the birth of their first child, a son, in January.

Hockey Night was born at last year's Winnipeg fringe fest when the playwright and his pal, ex-Winnipegger Jon Paterson, were wondering how they could incorporate their love for pucks and bodychecks into a show they could do together. Gladstone, a Flames fan, wasn't thrilled about writing a history of hockey or anything that featured actors wheeling around the stage in in-line skates.

"One of the things that I love most about hockey is getting together with my buddies to watch the game, have a few beers and talk hockey," he says. "So I got the concept of two guys in a bar watching a game, but having us play two different people all over the bar.

The two actors hop from table to table where there are hockey nerds and ex-hockey players. We even play (real-life hockey broadcasters) Jim Hughson and Kelly Hrudey, who describe the action. You get the different views about why we love hockey."

The hour-long comedy's characters are not watching any old hockey game -- it's next year's Olympic gold-medal game from Sochi, Russia. Gladstone thought a game involving Canada would unite all hockey fans in the audience.

"I can't tell you the score," he says. "It's the only secret we have."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 20, 2013 A25

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