Theatre company wants to tackle modern topics

Protagonista makes debut with How I Learned to Drive


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This article was published 19/02/2019 (1326 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The moonlighting of a philosopher and firefighter in the world of theatre and film has set the stage for a fully-fledged production company.  

Neil McArthur and Darren Felbel are the creators of Protagonista Theatre Company, a new outfit specializing in high quality, modern drama.

McArthur, an ethicist and director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, and Felbel, a retired firefighter who served nearly three decades with the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, met one another at an open casting call about a decade ago.

Supplied photo Claire Thomas and Darren Felbel star in How I Learned to Drive, a play by Paula Vogel, being produced by Protagonista Theatre Company, a brand-new production house founded by Felbel and ethicist Neil McArthur.

The two connected at the audition over their passion for modern drama and their desire for more contemporary works to be staged in Winnipeg: McArthur had been working part-time as a director and playwright, and Felbel had often counted on acting and film work as a reprieve from his day-to-day.

Following Felbel’s retirement from the WFPS, the two decided to make their dream of an independent production company a reality.

“This is the first time we’ve actually managed to come together and work on something,” McArthur said. “It’s about a year from conception to reality to put together. We had to figure out what we wanted to do for our first production — that’s a big choice — and we ended up talking about a lot of different texts.

“What we wanted to do, were plays that were modern and topical, and provide a venue for discussion,” McArthur said.

“I think Protagonista Theatre Company is one to stimulate people and get people talking about things,” Felbel added. “I always found that the plays that have been chosen by companies were not raw enough. I prefer to be on the edge.”  

Protagonista will stage its debut production on Feb. 20 in the Colin Jackson Studio Theatre (3rd Floor – 393 Portage Ave.).

How I Learned To Drive, a show written by Paula Vogel and originally produced in 1997, runs until Feb. 23.

The play stars St. Norbert’s Claire Thomas in the lead role of Li’l Bit as she looks back on her teenage years and a disturbing sexual relationship with her uncle Beck, played by Felbel. The playwright earned the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the script in 1998.

Felbel said the story can be challenging for audiences, but Protagonista isn’t about an easy to digest theatre experience.

“I’m sure people will be uncomfortable when people see the play,” Felbel said. “If it moves you, if it makes you cry or laugh, or makes you feel like ‘Geez, I really don’t know if I want to sit here,’ then I am doing my job.”

McArthur said How I Learned to Drive is representative of the cutting edge, modern works Protagonista hopes to produce in the future.

“The lead character was played very much as a victim… but in our production you really see her taking control of her life and taking control of her past, and I think that reflects some of the ways we’ve been able to understand these issues much better in the last 20 years,” McArthur said.

“It deals with contemporary issues but in a way that is funny, moving, entertaining and has real drama to it. That’s our mission: to be topical without giving a lecture,” he said.

Tickets for How I Learned to Drive are $20 and are available at or at the PTE Box Office.

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