As a testament to the community support that helped Theatre Network survive the fire at the Roxy Theatre earlier this year, the company has announced a jam-packed Season 41 to take place at their temporary home, The Roxy on Gateway (8529 Gateway Boulevard, previously known as C103).
Of the opportunity to move Theatre Network into one of the Edmonton Jazz Society’s spaces on Gateway Boulevard, Artistic Director Bradley Moss says, “The ability to produce shows means we’re alive. We can sell tickets, we can sell sponsorships, we can get people’s interest. People can know who we are, where we are. It’s huge. Edmonton Jazz Society basically threw us a life jacket. Because if we’re not in this venue, then we’re renting…. If we’re renting, we’re a completely different company… We’re thankful we get to announce a season and do some plays and bring other people along the journey.”
On Theatre Network’s Season 41 overall, Bradley says, “These were the most exciting plays that I could come up with.”With that, our conversation jumped into what Season 41 is all about.
Season 41 kicks off with a bang – the fantastic Hey Ladies! will run at The Roxy on Gateway October 2, November 20, January 22, and May 20. If you haven’t been to Hey Ladies! before, it’s a hilarious variety show with each performance focused on a different theme with hosts Miss Leona Brausen, Miss Cathleen Rootsaert, Miss Davina Stewart, and Mister Noel Taylor featuring businesses, artists, and maybe a drink or two.
First up for the Mainstage Series is Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, running October 27 – November 15. Directed by Bradley Moss, Theatre Network’s production will feature actors Jeremy Baumung and Patricia Zentilli with musical direction from Erik Mortimer and production design from Cory Sincennes. The musical has run Off-Broadway and was released as a movie earlier this year. The Last Five Years tells the story of a couple’s relationship from each person’s – very different – perspectives. Jamie Wellerstein (played by Jeremy Baumung), a rising novelist, tells the story of their relationship starting at the beginning, while Cathy Hiatt (Patricia Zentilli), a struggling actress, tells the story of their relationship backwards, starting at the end. Bradley says, “The Last Five Years, really that’s a gift from Cory Sinceness. He came up to me a few years ago and said ‘We have to do this play!’ and finally it came up this year… The Last Five Years is a beautiful musical. What’s fascinating is how success can be a great dealbreaker… It’s pretty common – a couple is together when they’re young and they move together to Hollywood and one of them becomes a star and when they become famous is right when they get divorced and get together with someone else. That’s kind of where this play lives in that sense is he becomes a successful novelist and she is still struggling as an actress. [Jamie] has a great song where he says, ‘What? You want me to fail? Is that what you want me to do just because you can’t get a job?’.”
Next on the stage at The Roxy on Gateway is Burning Bluebeard, presented by Edmonton Actors Theatre as part of the Roxy Performance Series, running December 1 – 13. Bradley says, “Burning Bluebeard I couldn’t say ‘no’ to for a couple of reasons. I’m a big fan of Dave Horack’s. I like the people he works with – we hosted Fatboy last year and it’s that sort of family… The play is kind of a punch in the gut because it’s about a theatre that burnt down in Chicago… The performers got out, but the audience died because they didn’t know there was a back entrance. To do a play about a theatre burning down is a little too appropriate – I couldn’t say no…. It’s not super sad, it’s a really funny play. It’s about the struggle to do the show and maybe this time the fire won’t happen.”
February 2 – 21 sees Theatre Network’s world première production of Klondykes by Darrin Hagen and Trevor Schmidt. Bradley describes the new play as a music hall show about women in the gold rush. “It came from when Trevor Schmidt and Darrin Hagen were up in the Yukon, I think doing some research for something else, they found out that during the gold rush women weren’t allowed into the gold rush unless they were married. So, women would disguise themselves as men or get married to other women and go and participate in the gold rush. That’s the premise of this. So, now of course you’re going to get mistaken identities and all kinds of fun things that we’re familiar with in Shakespeare. That’s the fun part of what they’re doing.” Klondykes will feature music written by Darrin Hagen and performed by Nick Samoil and a cast of three ladies that might be new to some Edmonton audiences: Rebecca Ann Merkley, Amanda Neufeld, and Mackenzie Reurink.
March 1 – 13 sees Pyretic Productions‘ The Other by Matthew MacKenzie (you may have seen Bears also by Matthew MacKenzie and presented by Pyretic Productions earlier this year). Bradley says, “I’m really excited to see The Other because it’s about a girl who, even in high school, was always seen as ‘the other girl’ and she put herself in that position and gets older in life and realizes, ‘Okay, this is not working for me. I don’t want to be the other woman for some guy who’s got a family.’ It’s based on [Matthew MacKenzie’s] aunt, who he saw have a wake-up call later in life. So he’s writing about that.”
Later in March – March 22 – April 3 – is Wildside Productions’ presentation of The Realistic Joneses by Will Eno, which is about two neighbour couples meeting each other and discussing their lives. Bradley says the play, “Is a comment on society, on keeping up with each other. What does that all mean?”. Plus, the cast alone is reason enough to be excited about this show – the cast features Robert Benz, Amber Borotsik, Belinda Cornish, and Jesse Gervais.
Morris Panych’s Gordon runs April 26 – May 15 and is Theatre Network’s last show before NextFest takes over. Bradley will be directing Gordon, and so far the cast is Brian Dooley with three to-be-announced young actors. Bradley says Theatre Network has been thinking about doing Gordon since 2010 and Season 41 seemed to be the right time to do it. “It’s a really exciting play. It’s really different Morris Panych – it’s probably more like a George F. Walker, really. It takes place in Hamilton. It’s about a dad whose son I think has done some time – either he’s been broken out or let out and he’s got his friend and his new girlfriend with him and he’s definitely a danger to society and the dad realizes he’s got to deal with this. It goes down from there in a black comedy, bloody, shooting kind of way… Why I say it’s like a George F. Walker is that he has a consistent theme – the disintegration of a family and the disintegration of our society. And he does it in a funny way, but he’s basically saying, ‘Are you happy with that?’. Morris seems to have dipped his toe in that. But Morris is not George, so there’s more poetry in it. There’s the dark humour, but it’s Morris’ dark humour. I’m not saying Morris is light necessarily, but he has a different way of writing than George does.”
And, of course, the Theatre Network season would not be complete without NextFest, which Bradley Moss started in 1996. The reason Bradley says NextFest is so important and why every city should have a festival just like it is that it helps give young, emerging artists the experience and connections they need to start their careers. “You can’t get a job because you don’t have the experience. Well, how do you get experience if you don’t get jobs? Someone has to step up and give young people an opportunity. And that’s what NextFest is. What’s amazing is you see people really grow in that span between 20 – 25. They might come in as actors, but they leave as writers or directors and I find that really awesome to watch… It’s [also] an exercise in building community. I know what it’s like to get out of school and see other young folks from other institutions and you don’t really know each other, but it’s like a big message to them to say, ‘Get past what was, because you’re about to be what is and it doesn’t matter anymore where you were trained. It matters that you bring your skillset to it, that you work hard, and you’re good to work with.’ So, it’s a chance to learn some early lessons, to be seen, and to create something new.”
For all that’s exciting about Theatre Network’s upcoming Season 41, one of the most exciting things for Bradley is working in the new space the Edmonton Jazz Society has given them the opportunity to produce in. “There’s a lot to learn about the theatre and the stage and the relationship between the stage and the audience. I’ve seen shows in here, but it’s different to see one and do one. That’s really the excitement – to learn. To see how the space works acoustically and how does it work with 50 or 150 people. We owe a lot to Catalyst – they did 20 years of work in here, [starting from] getting this space when it was a shell… it wasn’t this. They’ve done a lot of love in here… I want this space to be viable for others when we go back to 124 street. I’m excited, but I also know I’m a guest in someone else’s space, so I want to take care of it.”
And for those waiting for news about The Roxy re-build, Bradley says stay tuned. “We’re working hard on it, we can’t announce it, but we do own the property. The other good thing is we just settled with our insurance company… the big part, the replacement of the building has been settled. That allows us to have some money towards the rebuild… We still have a lot of fundraising to do… but when it all happened I don’t think we realized how much love there was for us and the building and how much support we had. I don’t think we realized that, so we’re encouraged.”
For now, tickets and season passes can be purchased by phone (780.453.2440) – online sales will be returning soon. If you’re interested in donating to Theatre Network, you can do so by phone (780.453.2440), their website, or Canada Helps.