February 18, 2019

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To Manitoba, with love

Royal MTC's retiring artistic director offers diverse season as his swan song

Steven Schipper, artistic director for the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, is leaving to take the helm of the Rose Theatre in Brampton, Ont. (Mikaela Mackenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Steven Schipper, artistic director for the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, is leaving to take the helm of the Rose Theatre in Brampton, Ont. (Mikaela Mackenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

In any year, the newly announced program for the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s 2019-20 season would be considered a winner.

It features a musical mash-up of the Beatles and Shakespeare that wowed Vancouver audiences, a drag comedy about an Elvis impersonator who commits to a drastic career shift, a première of a new original work by a talented local playwright and not one but two hit contemporary Broadway musicals.

But this season happens to be the last to be programmed by outgoing artistic director Steven Schipper as he embarks on a new chapter of his career at the helm of the Rose Theatre in Brampton, Ont., where Schipper will oversee much of that city’s bid to, in the words of a City of Brampton press release, “shape the city’s cultural and arts identity.”

The season was created keeping in mind the sensibilities of incoming artistic director Kelly Thornton, who takes the reins of Royal MTC in June after serving as the creative head of Toronto’s feminist Nightwood Theatre since 2001.

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In any year, the newly announced program for the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s 2019-20 season would be considered a winner.

It features a musical mash-up of the Beatles and Shakespeare that wowed Vancouver audiences, a drag comedy about an Elvis impersonator who commits to a drastic career shift, a première of a new original work by a talented local playwright and not one but two hit contemporary Broadway musicals.

But this season happens to be the last to be programmed by outgoing artistic director Steven Schipper as he embarks on a new chapter of his career at the helm of the Rose Theatre in Brampton, Ont., where Schipper will oversee much of that city’s bid to, in the words of a City of Brampton press release, "shape the city’s cultural and arts identity."

The season was created keeping in mind the sensibilities of incoming artistic director Kelly Thornton, who takes the reins of Royal MTC in June after serving as the creative head of Toronto’s feminist Nightwood Theatre since 2001.

Schipper said he was determined to give Thornton "a running head start."

"I was planning a playbill to represent Kelly’s first season, purposefully driven by diversity of all kinds," Schipper said in his Royal MTC office prior to making the official announcement to a gathering of subscribers Friday evening.

"And I’m proud the results of our efforts will reach beyond that, to inclusivity."

In his prepared remarks to the company’s subscribers, Schipper announced the theme of the season as "with love" and added the plays were chosen to give subscribers "a reason to feel that I’m wrapping my loving arms around you for the last time."

The shows on the Royal MTC’s John Hirsch Mainstage include:

The Color Purple

(Oct. 24-Nov. 16)

The original musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel premièred on Broadway in 2005, but the Royal MTC production is based on the leaner (and more acclaimed) 2015 revival in telling the story of Celie, a much-abused woman who rises above the forces that attempt to keep her down.

The show is a co-production with Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre.

The Royal MTC's production of The Color Purple will be based on the 2015 revival of the original musical adaptation. (Evan Agostini / Invision files)

The Royal MTC's production of The Color Purple will be based on the 2015 revival of the original musical adaptation. (Evan Agostini / Invision files)

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberly

(Nov. 28-Dec. 21)

An "imagined sequel" to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, this is Royal MTC’s second consecutive swing at Austen following the current season’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, adapted by Winnipeg playwright Ellen Peterson.

It centres on Elizabeth Bennet’s bookish younger sister Mary, who finds herself being courted over the holiday season by Mr. Darcy’s cousin.

As You Like It

(Jan. 9-Feb. 1, 2020)

Another co-production with the Citadel Theatre, this adaptation of the Shakespeare comedy is set in the counterculture of 1960s Vancouver (it premièred in that city’s Bard on the Beach theatre company) and is infused with 25 Beatles songs.

While Schipper did not officially announce it, the programming is an indication that William Shakespeare will be the focus of next year’s 20th Master Playwright Festival.

The New Canadian Curling Club

(Feb. 13-March 7, 2020)

This Canadian comedy by Mark Crawford is set in a small Canadian town where a politically incorrect curler must answer to his ex-wife’s challenge to teach four new immigrants the ins and outs of the great, bizarre Canadian sport.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

(March 19-April 11, 2020)

Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns tells the story of two women who join forces to prevail over the oppressions of Afghan society. (Jeff Chiu / The Associated Press files)

Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns tells the story of two women who join forces to prevail over the oppressions of Afghan society. (Jeff Chiu / The Associated Press files)

Ursula Rani Sarma’s adaptation of the book by Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner) is the story of two women who join forces to prevail over the oppressions of Afghan society.

It’s a co-production with Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre Company.

The Legend of Georgia McBride

(April 23-May 16, 2020)

An Elvis impersonator with a baby on the way is obliged to adapt when he must fill in for a drag queen on a bender, only to find unexpected success, which he tries to keep secret from his family.

Scripted by Matthew Lopez, whose play (The Whipping Man) was a hit at the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre in 2017.

At the Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre:

Bang Bang

(Oct. 3-19)

A contemporary drama spliced with dark comedy sees a white playwright attempting to create a work from a news story in which a black female police officer has shot an unarmed black man.

On the verge of having his play adapted into a movie, he calls on her, with explosive results.

The play by Kat Sandler, which is playing at Toronto’s Factory Theatre, is a co-production with Victoria’s Belfry Theatre.

Fun Home examines a lesbian cartoonist’s complex relationship with her closeted father. (Joan Marcus)

Fun Home examines a lesbian cartoonist’s complex relationship with her closeted father. (Joan Marcus)

Fun Home

(Nov. 14-30)

Adapted from Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, this multi-Tony Award-winning musical examines a lesbian cartoonist’s complex relationship with her closeted father.

Every Brilliant Thing

(Jan. 23-Feb. 8, 2020)

Produced in association with Talk is Free Theatre in Barrie, Ont., this play by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe employs audience participation in the story of a boy who tries to cheer up his depressed mother with a list of the wonderful things in the world, and carries on that practice to cope with his own challenging adulthood.

Women of the Fur Trade

(Feb. 27-March 14)

Award-winning Winnipeg playwright Frances Koncan has written a full-length version of her comparatively stripped-down Toronto fringe show telling the story of three 19th-century women who tell their stories in the idioms of the 21st century.

Katie German (left) and Kerri Potter starred in Women of the Fur Trade at the Dalnavert Museum last year. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Katie German (left) and Kerri Potter starred in Women of the Fur Trade at the Dalnavert Museum last year. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press files)

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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