Theatre companies across the country, having been battered by a season and a half of cancellations, postponements and pivots, are proceeding with understandable caution as the prospect of opening up once again becomes more of a post-vaccine reality.
With the announcement of their new theatre season, Prairie Theatre Exchange is still playing it safe, with a mix of remote digital performances and live productions in its lineup. The company’s first show in October is digital only, the second, in November, is live at the Portage Place venue, with extended digital performances throughout the month of December. It’s not until the end of the season in May of 2022 when we can expect to go to the theatre and see a gang of six performers onstage, shamelessly singing and acting in naked masklessness.
PTE artistic director Thomas Morgan Jones says the company had positive experiences with its digital shows of this past season, including Yvette Nolan’s short tribute to live theatre, Katharsis, and the Hannah Moscovitch drama Post-Democracy, both of which were widely seen in their digital formats beyond Manitoba’s borders. That precedent made Jones open to keeping the digital option throughout the upcoming new season.
In that spirit, a couple of shows in the season — 11:11 and Deer Woman — are digital performances from companies outside the province. But the remaining three shows are all world premières that will be performed live on the PTE stage. It’s a picture of how theatre has evolved post-pandemic.
"The industry is changed so we’re not only able to take our works to other places, we are also able to welcome work from other provinces and share them with the audience," Jones says.
"I’m eager and excited to welcome audiences back," Jones says. "It’s a lot later than any of us expected ... but we’re almost there."
On the slate:
Created & performed by Samson Bonkeabantu Brown, Oct. 13 – 17, 2021 (digital streaming)
This Theatre Passe Muraille production out of Toronto focuses on a young, Black trans man struggling to comprehend the ancestral messages he is receiving in his dreams, after spending most of his life trying to suppress them with drugs and alcohol. Using traditional monologues, dance, masks and songs, trans-identified artist Samson Bonkeabantu Brown traces a journey from Toronto to South Africa.
THE WAR BEING WAGED
By Darla Contois, Nov. 4 – 21 (live performances) and Dec. 2 – 21 (digital)
Winnipeg-based playwright Darla Contois delivers this world première commissioned by Jones shortly after his arrival to PTE in 2018. Produced in partnership with Native Earth Performing Arts, the play is divided into three segments, each depicting a member of three generations of an Indigenous family. "It also takes on three performance genres," Jones says. "The first part is a monologue. The second part is poetry, which is voice-over by Tantoo Cardinal. And then the third part is a solo dance piece, and the thing that unifies all of them is considerably involved stage light and video design by Andy Moro."
By Ins Choi, March 24 – April 10, 2022 (live performances)
One of two holdovers from PTE’s cancelled 2020-21 season, this world première from Kim’s Convenience playwright Choi is a co-production with Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre (vAct) and Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre Company.
A comic portrait of a couple struggling with questions of identity in relation to their new roles as parents, this show was an important play to hold onto for the upcoming season, Jones says.
"It was a collaboration with the Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre company so that’s a partnership we wanted to continue," Jones says. "It was definitely something they felt they wanted to do right away, and we felt the same. And now we’ve entered a further relationship with Soulpepper in Toronto making a three-way partnership, so it will have a rolling première." (It will open first in Winnipeg in March, then in Vancouver at The Cultch in April, and then at Soulpepper in the fall of 2022.
By Tara Beagan, April 20 – 24, 2022 (digital presentation)
A production of Calgary’s ARTICLE 11 company in partnership with Downstage promises an intense show in which Lila (Cherish Violet Blood), an Indigenous woman with a talent for hunting and military skills, vows revenge for her younger sister’s murder.
OUTSIDE JOKE: THE IMPROVISED MUSICAL
May 5 - 22, 2022 (live performances)
The second production retrieved from PTE’s discarded 20-21 season slate, this world premiere sees Winnipeg troupe Outside Joke expand their usual fringe-style show into a full-length, two-act improvised musical. It was a leave-’em-laughing choice for Jones to give this beloved local theatre institution another shot, coupled with COVID consciousness that a six-person show was best left for May of next year, for safety sake.
"Hopefully by the time we get there, Outside Joke can do their production the way that they would’ve always envisioned doing it," Jones says.
The PTE Box Office will be accepting subscription renewals from 2019-2020 subscribers over the phone (204-943-5483) starting on July 2. Subscription packages will also be available to purchase in the fall. Single tickets will be available to purchase four to eight weeks out from each opening.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.