Alumnae Theatre Company’s 29th annual New Ideas Festival, a three-week, juried celebration of original writing, works-in- progress, and experimental theatre, took place this month.
This year’s festival of 15 new plays was an interesting and eclectic mix, with both established and emerging theatre. The festival is a theatrical lab for writers, directors, and actors to practice and refine their art with the help of a live audience, who are invited to be part of the process by giving both spoken and written feedback following the shows.
I had the opportunity to attend Week 2 of the festival. The first part of my day at the festival was a reading of Rita Shelton Deverell‘s Who You Callin Black Eh? — a coming of age play about a young woman not knowing how to define herself, ethnically speaking. Her mother is Caucasian and her father is Black. She grew up in the Maritimes, but decides to move to Toronto where she believes she will ‘fit in more’.
The reading included all characters and a narrator on stage. Given it was still under development, I felt parts of it could have been taken out, flushed out more, or perhaps rewritten. Nonetheless, it depicted some very realistic aspects of this young woman’s trouble in defining herself. She always felt she was neither Caucasian nor Black.
The dialogue in the play included some cringing moments that made the piece more believable. During the talkback, members of the audience answered some questions Deverell had already prepared. Someone who grew up in the Maritimes and related to the events and feelings depicted in the piece. Others talked about their level of comfort or discomfort with the piece… including members of the cast. It was an eye-opening talk back. I was quite glad I made it in time to have been part of it.
The rest of the day, I spent immersed in the short plays that made up Week 2. In The Red Lacquered Box, veteran journalist and photographer Burke Campbell takes us to nineteenth century Paris where a tragic incident shocks polite society.
This 15-minute piece was well written and makes for an interesting story. Aleksandra Maslennikova was great as the only actor in the play. On the technical side, the use of lighting towards the end worked quite well. A good start to the set of short plays.
The past and future collide in Montreal poet Michelle Glennie’s Parallax when a colonizing mission to Mars enters a time warp. In this 30-minute play, we see a couple set to go to Mars. During the time warp, the encounter two young women on their way to a new life in New France.
The culture clash between two groups is quite interesting. At the end, two women are forced to make a choice about how they want their future life to continue. The play includes some good comedic aspects. It is well cast; all four actors work well together. The use of the stage and lighting also enhanced the piece quite a bit.
Rosemary Doyle looks at why we say things and why we don’t in Y, her second play in this year’s festival. A play about why some things are private, and shy some things are secret.
A story about two families that share a secret… not a new story. However in this 15-minute play, it is well written and with a good cast, one can see the potential for a longer piece. A last addition to Week 2, as I found out during the Q&A afterwards, Doyle delivered a good piece just in the knick of time.
Bobby Del Rio pokes fun at token diversity in Professionally Ethnic, in which an “ethnic” actor faces a dilemma when a white artistic director offers him a chance at stardom if he is willing to play an ethnic stereotype.
In about 25-minutes, Del Rio and cast deliver a great satirical piece about diversity in Canadian Theatre. Told in a cheeky and honest tone, it was the piece the resonated with me the most. As an audience member who is not Caucasian, I often wonder why audiences in local Toronto theatre are not always as diverse in composition. By diversity I not only mean ethnic diversity… I also mean diversity in age, gender, language, abilities, and to a degree socioeconomic status. As much I enjoy local theatre, some more work needs to be done so what audiences can see themselves reflected back on stage – not simply seeing stereotypes that we are supposed to ‘okay’ with.
Week 2 of the New Ideas Festival was time well spent. The various stories shared on stage were all well crafted and thought provoking. I say kudos to Alumnae Theatre for showcasing some challenging stories, alongside typical theatre pieces.