Dramatic dialogue Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s inclusive, diverse playbill aims to inspire and engage

Kelly Thornton wants to have a conversation with Winnipeggers.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/03/2022 (376 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Kelly Thornton wants to have a conversation with Winnipeggers.

And if the new season from the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre artistic director is any indication, that conversation will be wide-ranging, poignant, pointed, funny, boisterous, relevant, hopeful and entertaining, with a playbill that includes modern classics, new Canadian works, Manitoba playwrights, intimate one-person shows and massive musicals.

“When I came to MTC I talked a lot about our responsibility in the 21st century to be instigating vital conversations with our audience and to be Manitoba Theatre Centre representing all of Manitoba and Manitobans,” Thornton says the day before her new season is announced.

“It’s really important for me to create a very inclusive playbill and inspire curiosity in my audience for the prismatic perspective of the people of Manitoba.

”I think that what’s onstage for this season is really exciting: it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet. There are lots of different things for lots of different people but all of it ignites a conversation with the world.”

Thornton first arrived in Winnipeg in June 2019 and shepherded former AD Steven Schipper’s final season until March 2020, when the pandemic shuttered the last two shows.

Two years later, the Toronto transplant has yet to have her personal vision play out on local stages. The truncated current season came to an Omicron-inspired halt after Orlando in December.

“I feel like I haven’t really had the opportunity to show everybody who I am with what a full playbill looks like,” she says. “For the 2021-22 season, we were conscious of budget and social distancing, so we didn’t put large casts together the way we’re known for.

“It’s great to go back into dreamland and flex our artistic muscles a little bit.”

The 2022-23 season features several holdovers from last year’s aborted lineup. On the mainstage, these include Network, based on the film written by Paddy Chayefsky and adapted for the stage by Lee Hall; The Three Musketeers, adapted by Catherine Bush from the swashbuckling novel by Alexandre Dumas; and Burning Mom, written and directed by Mieko Ouchi and based on her mother’s experiences as a new widow.

At the Warehouse the returning orphaned productions are coming-of-age story New, about a group of Indian immigrants in Winnipeg (Nov. 3-19), and Yaga by Kat Sandler (Bang Bang), a murder-mystery comedy inspired by the myth of Baba Yaga (April 6-22).

Thornton uses the words “scope” and “scale” frequently to describe Royal MTC’s return to form. Indeed, this is no meek, careful, quiet season.

While The Sound of Music unfortunately had to be scrapped as the traditional family-friendly Christmas-season show — putting a cast of children together onstage was deemed too risky — there is no shortage of grand productions.

Network was a big hit on Broadway and London’s West End, and The Three Musketeers is full of stage-filling flourishes. In January 2023, Thornton will direct the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods, featuring a huge cast.

Even Burning Mom, which stars a single actor, will feel larger than life.

Burning Mom is a one-person show of epic scale,” Thornton says of the work about a 63-year-old woman who, after unexpectedly finding herself widowed, drives her retirement-plan RV to the famously out-there Burning Man festival.

“We’re putting a full RV on the stage that will unfold like origami and becomes a projection screen that takes us to the Nevada desert. Her story is really about the phoenix rising from the flames.”

“We’re putting a full RV on the stage that will unfold like origami and becomes a projection screen that takes us to the Nevada desert.”–Kelly Thornton

Those big shows are balanced out with more intimate fare by celebrated Canadian playwrights, including Let’s Run Away, a new one-man show by Daniel MacIvor (Marion Bridge, Cul-de-Sac), and the Governor General’s Award-winning Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes by Hannah Moscovitch (East of Berlin, This Is War), both at the Warehouse.

“New contemporary work is so important to me as an artistic director, to have a contemporary dialogue,” Thornton says. “I come from new-play development; I ran Nightwood Theatre in Toronto… I’m really in tune with the repertoire of new Canadian plays.”

Among the world premières in the season are two works set in Winnipeg: Rosanna Deerchild’s The Secret to Good Tea (mainstage) and Manitoba-born playwright Pamela Mala Sinha’s New at the Warehouse.

The Secret to Good Tea is a bright star in that playbill because we developed it here through the Pimootayowin Creators Circle, (Deerchild) is Manitoban and she is telling a story that is vital to our conversation about reconciliation,” Thornton says. “But she tells it with hope and she’s very smart and funny with how she delivers the story. It’s really a play about a relationship between mother and daughter.”

Celebrated Black novelist, playwright and actor Alice Childress’s Trouble in Mind is far from new, but the comedy-drama, penned in the ’50s, is only now getting the attention it deserves.

“Childress refused to change some of the more edgy material at the end of the play and so it never made it to Broadway but it’s having a real resurgence, because although written in the ’50s, it reflects a vital conversation that’s happening right now about representation onstage and who gets to tell the stories,” Thornton says.

“Black actors are asking for representation of their own stories and that they are in charge of telling them. It’s an interesting piece because it’s a beautiful period piece but it really reverberates with conversations that we’re having now both in theatre and in society.”

“We’ve been in crisis since COVID hit and it’s taken so much energy, for the leadership especially, to steer this ship and make sure that the doors are open.”–Kelly Thornton

Although previous artistic director Schipper frequently donned his directing hat, Into the Woods is the only production Thornton is helming this season.

“There’s nothing I love more than being in the rehearsal working in process and envisioning the work and navigating the room and the performance with the actors — I love it,” she says.

“But I also feel I want to share space with the other independent directors that don’t have a full-time job. To get them into the halls too is imperative for me…

“And it’s a giant job I have! We’ve been in crisis since COVID hit and it’s taken so much energy, for the leadership especially, to steer this ship and make sure that the doors are open. So much psychic energy. So I don’t want to take any more time out of that.”


Royal MTC 2022-23 season


Directed by Daryl Cloran
Oct. 20–Nov. 12
Adapted from the 1970s film, Network’s exploration of media features big ideas and innovative stagecraft.

Directed by Christopher Brauer
Nov. 24–Dec. 17
Adventure meets romance in this cheeky and classic story of friendship and valour based on the book by Alexandre Dumas.

Directed by Kelly Thornton
Jan. 12–Feb. 4, 2023
One of Stephen Sondheim’s most popular musicals, Into the Woods follows a mash-up of fairy-tale characters in pursuit of happy ever after.

Directed by Audrey Dwyer
In co-Production with the Citadel Theatre
Feb. 16–March 11, 2023
Alice Childress was deprived of being the first Black woman to have a play on Broadway when she refused to tone down her message. Now, 65 years later, the New York Times is calling her 1955 comedy-drama, “the play of the moment.”

Directed by Renae Morriseau
March 23–April 15, 2023
Developed for the 2021 Pimootayowin Creators Circle, Manitoba playwright Rosanna Deerchild’s story is one of healing, forgiveness and hope.

Written and Directed by Mieko Ouchi
April 27–May 20, 2023
Based on the playwright’s mother, Burning Mom follows one woman’s exploits as she sheds the pain of the past to embrace the future.


Directed by Alan Dilworth
Nov. 3–19
Written by Winnipeg-born playwright Pamela Mala Sinha, New tells the inspiring story of a group of immigrants from India in Winnipeg in 1970.

Directed by Daniel Brooks
Dec. 1–17
A one-person performance about love and abandonment from Daniel MacIvor and Daniel Brooks.

Directed by Cherissa Richards
March 2–18, 2023
Playwright Hannah Moscovitch’s provocative response to the #MeToo conversation.

Directed by Ann Hodges
April 6–22, 2023
Kat Sandler’s murder-mystery revenge comedy is inspired by Baba Yaga folklore.



Twitter: @dedaumier

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Jill Wilson

Jill Wilson
Senior copy editor

Jill Wilson writes about culture and the culinary arts for the Arts & Life section.


Updated on Friday, March 11, 2022 6:09 PM CST: Fixes multiple errors in schedule.

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