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Great Reads Chosen by Members of the Albertan Theatre Community

A Christmas Carol – Keyano Theatre Company
Photo Credits

The winner of the 2nd Annual Purple Play Club event held in September 2016 was Doug Mertz, Director of Education and Outreach at the Citadel. Doug was the lucky recipient of 12 monthly-curated library bags, the contents of which were chosen by prominent members of the Albertan theatre community. Curators were asked to consider: What were they reading or seeing? Which playwrights inspired or intrigued them? What Canadian (or International) work needed to be showcased?

Here is the complete list of their recommendations, including some messages written to Doug by the curators.

Mieko Ouchi

Mieko Ouchi is an Edmonton-based actor, writer and director, working in theatre, film and TV. She is also a co-founder and Artistic Director of Concrete Theatre. Mieko’s work spans everything from Theatre for Young Audiences to large scale adult work, often exploring issues around diversity and the artist’s process and involves a mixing of the techniques, vocabulary and imagery of theatre and film. Her first full-length play, The Red Priest (Eight Ways To Say Goodbye) was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Drama, winning the Carol Bolt Award in 2005.

  • The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble by Beth Graham – This play was developed here in Edmonton as part of the Playwrights Forum at the Citadel and was nominated for a Governor General’s Award in 2014. It is an incredibly moving and emotional family drama, done with a light touch as only Beth can do.
  • Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad – The Tarragon Theatre’s production of this play was presented in Edmonton at the Citadel a few years back, but the writing continues to haunt me. Wajdi was previously the head of the National Arts Centre – French Theatre and continues to be a leading voice in Quebec. This play is translated by Linda Gaboriau, one of Canada’s top translators.
  • The Secret Mask by Rick Chafe – I saw this play at the Globe Theatre and just loved it!

Marty Chan

Marty Chan is best known for his hit comedy Mom, Dad, I’m Living with a White Girl and his thriller The Bone House. He is currently the regional writer in residence for the libraries in St. Albert, Strathcona County and Fort Saskatchewan. The AFA recently named him one of Alberta’s 25 influential artists. He lives in Edmonton with his wife Michelle and their two cats.

Jenna Rodgers

Jenna is a mixed-race Director and Dramaturg based in Calgary. She is the Artistic Director of Chromatic Theatre – a company dedicated to producing and developing work by and for diverse artists. She is a Co-Producer of the Calgary Congress for Equity and Diversity in the Arts (CCEDA), and is the Associate Dramaturg at the Playwright’s Colony at the Banff Centre. Recent Directing credits include: Lunchbox Theatre (Let the Light of Day Through) Chromatic Theatre (10-Minute Play Festival, Cowboy Versus Samurai, Parched); and Common Ground (Beneath the Skin). Assistant Director: Lunchbox Theatre (In on It; Book Club; Epiphany; What Gives?!), Downstage (A Bomb in the Heart);Tarragon Theatre (carried away on the crest of a wave), and fu-GEN Theatre (Ching Chong Chinaman, Yellow Fever). Beyond the Banff Centre, Jenna has had the pleasure of dramaturging work at the Kennedy Center, Lunchbox Theatre, Chromatic Theatre and fu-GEN Theatre. Jenna holds a MA in International Performance Research from the universities of Amsterdam and Tampere.

“I selected these plays because I truly believe for the health of our national theatre ecology we must be vigilant in educating ourselves about work that represents perspectives that deviate from the ‘norm’. We must question what we relate to, and why – and strive to better understand the work that we instinctually resist. These are all Canadian works, and I have found each of them challenging in their own right, and in incredibly different ways. I hope you enjoy reading them, and that they are a source of productive discomfort for you, as they have been for me.” – Jenna Rodgers

Jenna also recommended some BONUS plays and resources –

Liz Nicholls

A rare example of a born Albertan, Liz Nicholls has had the privilege of covering Edmonton theatre — Alberta’s true growth industry — for more than three decades for the Edmonton Journal. In this new year, she’s taking her theatre writing indie and online, at 12thnight.ca, and will continue to share the excitement of the theatre scene here.

Purple Play Picks

  • Little One and Other Plays and East of Berlin by Hannah Moscovitch – One of the most interesting voices in Canadian theatre who, like Daniel MacIvor has used the “monologue” to original and intriguing purposes, since the actor onstage has such a nuanced, equivocal and disconcerting relationship with the audience. I love the way vivid characters and disturbing socio-cultural questions emerge, surprisingly, from a theatrical fabric you think you understand! I’d bet Doug, as an actor, loves that too.
  • Age of Minority by Jordan Tannahill – A collection of three plays by a very distinctive (and young!) playwright.
  • The Margin of the Sky by Stewart Lemoine – Strange and original kind of storytelling, in which music itself (and daunting music at that) turns out to be a life-changer. Lemoine isn’t much produced anywhere but here, which is strange. The volume also includes Pith! And Shockers Delight!
  • Moving Along by Chris Craddock – Very interesting and touching – both theatrically and psychologically – as a way of bringing personal memoir to the stage. Actually, Doug Mertz would be great in Moving Along.

Beth Graham

Beth Graham is a playwright and actor from Edmonton, Alberta. Her most recent play, The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble, premiered at Factory Theatre (co-produced with Obsidian Theatre) was a finalist for the 2015 Governor General’s Literary Award and received the Gwen Pharis Ringwood Award. Beth is also one of the cocreators of The Drowning Girls, which was nominated for the Carol Bolt Award and received the Gwen Pharis Ringwood Award. She is currently developing a new play, Pretty Goblins, with Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre in Edmonton and co-writing the book for a new Catalyst Theatre musical production, Fortune Falls, which premiered at Alberta Theatre Projects and will be seen again at the Citadel in 2017. Beth has been a member of the Citadel Theatre Playwrights’ Forum and has attended the Banff Playwrights’ Colony. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s BFA acting program.

  • Blood: A Scientific Romance by Calgary playwright Meg Braem – A play about sisters, loss, and the ties that bind.
  • A History of Breathing by Saskatchewan playwright Daniel Macdonald – Two boats float adrift on an ocean. A play about endings and beginnings.
  • Of Human Bondage by Edmonton playwright Vern Thiessen – An adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s classic novel.
  • The December Man by Colleen Murphy – A timely, unsettling play about a family dealing with the aftermath of a public massacre.
  • The Gwendolyn Poems by Ontario playwright Claudia Dey – A mesmerizing and theatrical exploration of Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwan’s life.

Trevor Rueger

Trevor has been an actor, director, writer and dramaturg for over 25 years. In 2011 he received the Betty Mitchell Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance as Billy Bibbit in Theatre Calgary’s production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. As an actor he’s been seen at Theatre Calgary, Lunchbox Theatre, Sage Theatre, Vertigo Theatre, Stage West and the Garry Theatre. Directing credits include, Medea and 33 Swoons for Rocky Mountain College, Courage for Lost Boy Productions, SHE and Matadora for Trepan Theatre, Heroes for Sage Theatre, When Girls Collide, Columbo: Prescription Murder and Columbo Takes The Rap for Vertigo Theatre and Life After Hockey and The Complete Works of W. Shakespeare (Abridged) for Lunchbox Theatre. He’s also an ensemble member of Dirty Laundry and for 10 years was the writer/producer of the annual Betty Mitchell Awards for professional theatre in Calgary. He’s also been known to play the drums.

Michelle Thorne

Michelle Thorne is a multi- award winning Director, Producer, and Actor currently based in her home community of Wood Buffalo, AB. Recent directing credits include The Fantastic Mr Fox (Theatre; Just Because), The Awesome 80s Prom (Theatre; Just Because in partnership with WayPoints), The Other Side of the Pole (Keyano Theatre Company), Steel Magnolias (Keyano Theatre Company Stage 2 Series), Fanny & Manny Tie The Knot (Theatre; Just Because in partnership with WayPoints), The Most Massive Woman Wins, and Louis and Dave (Theatre; Just Because). Michelle holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Dramatic Arts from the University of Lethbridge. She is the co-founder and Artistic Director for Wood Buffalo’s alternative theatre company, Theatre; Just Because. Michelle has also participated in the Regional and Provincial arts community as the Program Manager for Arts Council Wood Buffalo, Regional Representative for the Alberta Dramatic Festival Association, Front of House Manager for Keyano Theatre, as well as an Artist Educator for Learning through the Arts and the Keyano DramaForce program. Michelle currently sits as a board member for Theatre Alberta, a non-profit society and registered Canadian charity dedicated to the growth and development of the Alberta theatre community. Michelle is excited to begin studies this fall at The University of British Columbia as a student in their prestigious MFA Directing program.

  • Lion in the Streets by Judith Thompson – Reading this play in my undergrad at the U of L was a life changing, “A-Ha” moment for me as a young budding theatre artist. It was my first exposure to Judith Thompson, and it totally blew my mind open of what I thought theatre could be and was. Being raised in a blue collar, industrial community, Thompsons salt-of-the-earth characters resonated vividly with me. Thompson has a gift for writing unique and complete character voices, and Lion in the Streets is a perfect example of her ability to intertwine such a vast variety of reflections on human nature. Raw, uncomfortable, and beautiful, I believe this script will have a stronghold in the Canadian cannon of theatre for generations to come.
  • Maggie & Pierre by Linda Griffiths – I have always been fascinated by Margaret Trudeau, and had a little bit of a fan-girl phase in my early twenties. Linda Griffiths’ tribute to the young Maggie – and her commentary on the relationship between her and one of Canada’s most infamous Prime Ministers is even more intriguing when read again in 2017 with their Prodigal Son in Parliament. I was first attracted to this script as a young actress because it allows for a tour-de-force performance with Griffiths’ original casting of one actress playing all three roles. Now, more developed in my career, I truly appreciate Linda Griffiths’ incredible ability to tell a notorious Canadian piece of history with grace and respect.
  • Finding Regina by Shoshana Sperling –Are you noticing a theme here? There is no doubt I have a strong love for Canadian female playwrights, and why not when we have so many incredible ones! Finding Regina is one of those classic examples of a true piece of Canadian Theatre. Simplistic, naturalistic, and although set specifically in Regina, I believe the theme of leaving your isolated home town vs. staying, and how that decision affects your relationships with your childhood friends, is incredibly relatable across the Country. This is an easy read, easy produced script which can have huge meaningful impacts.
  • The Shape of a Girl by Joan MacLeod – As an artist who has spent a huge amount of time working with students of all ages, it pains me how relevant this play is in our society. The atrocious acts inflicted upon Reena Virk in 1997 seem like that of a nightmare, but the scariest part is how real her experiences are for many youths across our country. Like Linda Griffiths, Joan McLeod has a knack for treating tragic real Canadian experiences and delivering them with a poetic message. Another one-woman show, this script is a helluva meal for both actor and director, and asks for an unsettling amount of vulnerability. However, theatre is meant to reflect issues being faced by a society, to bring attention and to elicit conversation. I believe this is a script that should be added into jr. high and high school level English/drama curriculum with the hopes of bringing awareness to this National issue.
  • The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance – The Elephant Man is such a fascinating and beautifully tragic (my favorite oxy-moron) story of human behavior. I have always had a strange interest in vintage travelling sideshows, and more specifically on the people who made a career out of being a part of this “Freak Show”, who give up their basic humanity to survive in a world ignorant to their deformities. From a theatrical view, although the characters of John Merrick and Frederick Treves are the central characters, the play’s ensemble characters are rich and well fleshed out. One can imagine this script making an impact with minimal, or fully-realized production elements. Heart and gut wrenching, this production is much more a look at human dignity than it is human deformity.

Tara Beagan

Tara Beagan self-describes as a proud Ntlaka’pamux and Irish “Canadian” halfbreed, based in Innisfail, Alberta. She is co-founder/director of ARTICLE 11 with her most cherished collaborator, Andy Moro. She served as the artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts from February 2011 to December 2013. A Dora-winning playwright, she has been in residence at Cahoots Theatre, NEPA, the National Arts Centre, and Berton House. Five of her over twenty plays have been published. Her first film script, 133 Skyway, co-written with Randy Redroad, won the imagineNATIVE award for best Canadian drama.

Kate Newby

Kate Newby is a Calgary based award-winning director, actor, and festival curator whose work in new play development and the staging of contemporary plays has appeared on numerous stages across western Canada. Kate has received five theatre awards and eighteen nominations for directing, acting and production. She holds a BFA Acting degree from The University of Alberta and an MFA Directing degree from The University of Calgary. Kate is currently the Artistic Producer at Handsome Alice Theatre in Calgary.

Purple Play Picks

Abby Webb

Originally from Winnipeg, MB, Abby moved to Grande Prairie, AB in 2010. She quickly became involved in local theatre by working backstage. She took on many volunteer roles over the next few years, learning all aspects of producing a show including Stage Manager, Assistant Director, Director, and eventually on stage as a performer. She is currently the President of the Grande Prairie Live Theatre.  When she is not volunteering at the theatre, she makes her living as a Speech-Language Pathologist working to rehabilitate people following a stroke.

Purple Play Club

Jim Guedo

Jim has been a professional director in the Canadian theatre for close to forty years. Recent directing credits: Terminus, 10 Out of 12, The Realistic Joneses, and Passion Play for Wild Side Productions; Love’s Labour’s Lost, Coriolanus and King Lear for the FreeWill Shakespeare Festival; Back to the Eighties and Folkswaggin’ at the Mayfield Dinner Theatre; Awards: Six Sterlings for Direction (Pentecost, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, Mad Forest, Lion in the Streets, Road and The Wolf Within), as well as for Set Design (M.Butterfly). Jim is Program Coordinator of MacEwan University’s Theatre Arts Program, where he has recently directed Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

Friday Reads

Mark Hopkins

Mark Hopkins is a Calgary-based theatre artist and community-builder. He is the Co-Artistic Director of Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre, Calgary‘s leading purveyor of fearless site-specific theatre. He’s also thrilled to be associated with the Calgary Foundation, the Centre for Newcomers and Human Venture Leadership, and is the founder of We Should Know Each Other (www.wskeo.com). Some of Mark’s honours and awards include the Creative Placemaking Award (2016 Mayor’s Lunch for Arts Champions), the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, Avenue Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40 and the Calgary Herald’s 20 Compelling Calgarians.

  • Straight White Men by Young Jean Lee – To be honest, I’ve never seen or read this play… but Young Jean Lee is badass, and her Untitled Feminist Show is one of the most powerful performances I’ve ever seen. In an interview with American Theatre, she said “What I am going for with every show is to get in the way of the audience’s self-complacency, or to put a little piece of gravel into their brains that irritates them.” Hell yes!
  • The Viewpoints Book: A Practical Guide to Viewpoints and Composition by Anne Bogart & Tina Landau – I’ve never studied directly with SITI Company, but their Viewpoints method – to which I was exposed via Rita Bozi – has become instrumental to Swallow-a-Bicycle’s creation processes, and this book is a mainstay in our rehearsal halls. It’s an incredibly productive method of physical improvisation and ensemble-building to generate bold, theatrical work.
  • BIOBOXES by Theatre Replacement (in Modern Canadian Plays Volume II – Fifth Edition) – This multilingual series of one-on-one performances came to the Calgary Folk Music Festival in 2011, prompting me to forego the music stages for an afternoon spent enthralled by the profound stories of immigrants to Canada, told in miniature with the performer’s face centimetres from mine.
  • Social Acupuncture: A guide to suicide, performance and utopia by Darren O’Donnell – Mammalian Diving Reflex describes itself as “ideal entertainment for the end of the world”, and this 2006 book captured a snapshot of its founder’s philosophies and work as Mammalian developed into the international force for provocation, generosity and performativity that it is today. Darren has a new book out this year – Haircuts by Children and Other Evidence for a New Social Contract – and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.
  • The Pochsy Plays by Karen Hines – Karen is one of my most cherished mentors, whose neo-Bouffon approach encourages a comedically-oriented dissection of societal maladies and afflictions. This collection includes Pochsy’s Lips, Oh Baby and Citizen Pochsy, three dips into the world of Pochsy, employee at a mercury packing plant who desperately grabs at meaning through garbled ad slogans and self-help mantras.
  • Canadian Theatre Review, Vol. 165, Winter 2016: Equity in Theatre – As a bonus, I’ve tossed in Canadian Theatre Review, Vol. 165, Winter 2016: Equity in Theatre. The whole issue is absolutely terrific and full of insights, but in particular I find myself returning to “Indigenizing the Role of Ally” by Cole Alvis and “The Danger of a Single Story” by Valerie Sing Turner.
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Photo of seven children's titles from library

Children’s Literature on Stage

Adaptations of: Stuart Little; Wind in the Willows; Getting Near to Baby; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; Charlotte’s Web; Hanna’s Suitcase; Treasure Island; The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe; The Neverending Story; The Velveteen Rabbit; The Bridge to Terabithia; Little Women; Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing; The Cay; and the Adventures of Robin Hood are all available at the Theatre Alberta Library.

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