With a little help from their friends
Theatre Projects Manitoba season includes first collaboration with RMTC
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Teamwork was the word of the evening as Theatre Projects Manitoba unveiled plans for its 2023-2024 season to a giddy crowd at the Times Change(d) High & Lonesome Club Wednesday night.
In her first season in charge of programming, Theatre Projects Manitoba’s artistic director Suzie Martin has mustered up collaborations with one of the province’s oldest theatre companies as well as one of its newest.
“This season is all about relationships,” Martin said.
For the first time in the independent company’s 33 years, it is partnering with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre on a co-production, bringing Governor General’s Award-winning playwright David Yee’s Among Men to the Tom Hendry Warehouse stage. It’s a major collaboration, called “a perfect marriage” by RMTC artistic director Kelly Thornton.
That show, which premièred at Toronto’s Factory Theatre in 2022, will open the Theatre Projects season from Jan. 24 to Feb. 10, 2024. Martin is slated to direct.
Meanwhile, a rising local theatre collective is due for its biggest year yet. Walk&Talk Theatre Company, veterans of the fringe festival stage, will work with Theatre Projects to mount a première of End of the Line.
The show, described by Walk&Talk artistic producer Tanner Manson as filled with “laughs, good music, and a lovable-but-gross pool salesman,” was commissioned by Theatre Projects in 2019. Written by Ben Townsley, with music and lyrics by Duncan Cox, End of the Line will play May 3-12, 2024, at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film.
On the Times Change(d) stage, Martin announced the cast of Among Men, which tells the story of Canadian poets Al Purdy and Milton Acorn, well before the pair became famous. Two local actors have been tapped to star: Eric Blais (RMTC’s A Doll’s House, Clever Little Lies, The Three Musketeers) will play Purdy, while Tom Keenan, set to star in this June’s Shakespeare in the Ruins production of Much Ado About Nothing, will embody Acorn.
Keenan, who also releases music as Tommy Douglas Keenan, took the stage to read some of Acorn’s verses, wearing a brace on his right hand. “People have been asking what I did to my hand,” he said. “It was a terrible poetry-writing accident.”
Cox then grabbed an acoustic guitar to debut a song from another show the company has in store this year. A “vampire musical” co-written by Cox and Sharon Bajer, After Light tells the story of an 85-year-old woman named Wanda whose insomniac husband goes missing.
That musical will also represent a significant first for an established local company: Rainbow Stage will present the show at Centre culturel franco-manitobain in September. Carson Nattrass, Rainbow Stage’s artistic director, said the collaboration is the result of the company’s Manitoba First mandate, which emphasizes the development of new local works of musical theatre.
“It’s really difficult for young companies to reach the same audience that a 70-year-old company like ours can reach,” said Nattrass, who added Walk&Talk will benefit from Rainbow Stage’s social media and marketing capabilities. “It’s so exciting for us to present this new Manitoba work.”
Jillian Willems is attached to direct, with musical direction by Paul De Gurse.
The Last Garden, the third show from Walk&Talk, was described by Manson as a show about a basement-dwelling florist, filled with “optimistic melancholy,” highlighting queer performers, and taking place at the intersection of dance theatre and musical theatre. Dance artist Emily Solstice-Tait, who wowed audiences in the RMTC production of The Secret to Good Tea, is set to choreograph, with Angelica Schwartz directing.
That show will run Nov. 3-5.
To close out the evening, Martin joined the Walk&Talk ensemble once again to sing the Beatles’ standard With a Little Help From My Friends, the season’s official theme song.
Ticket information can be found at theatreprojectsmanitoba.ca or walktalktheatrecompany.com.
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Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.