It’s not a secret that theatre in Nova Scotia has a publicity problem. It is difficult enough for an independent theatre company here to get a preview piece and a review in The Chronicle Herald and The Coast, but getting an interview spot on a television program, such as Breakfast Television or any of the daily news outlets, either on Global, CTV or CBC is about as likely as winning the 649. It is really no wonder that theatre runs here are extremely short and audiences tend to be made up largely of the same group of wonderful people who see everything. It is really a miracle if potential theatergoers hear about independent theatre in Nova Scotia at all. The reality that we all face each time we want to produce a show is the fact that most people who live here don’t know that any theatre beyond Neptune even exists.
In Toronto it always amazes me that theatre actors can be household names. I’ve overheard people at Canadian Stage rattling off all the shows they saw Fiona Reid do. Off the top of my head I can remember The National Theatre of the World, Michelle Monteith, Maev Beatty and Anusree Roy all being on the cover of NOW Magazine within the last two years. The audiences at Soulpepper seem to regard the company members as their extended family, or at least faithful friends. It’s an experience that I wish I saw more of in Halifax.
So, to help prospective theatregoers in Nova Scotia, I have come up with a list of Nova Scotia-Based Theatre People and Establishments that I think everyone should be aware of. These are companies and individuals who I have seen within the last year show great leadership and distinction in the theatre community. The list isn’t exhaustive, but I hope it’s a good place to begin:
- Jeremy Webb (Off The Leash Productions)- If you are an avid or infrequent theatregoer you have probably seen Jeremy Webb. He is hilarious. He is unique. He writes, acts and directs plays with many different companies and he has delighted audiences around the province, across generations, and won awards. He is always working on something new and it’s always worth seeing.
- Anthony Black & Christian Barry (2b Theatre)– Arguably Halifax’s most well known independent theatre (both locally, nationally and internationally), 2b theatre produces original plays that travel to festivals around the world and win many prestigious awards. Anthony Black is a brilliant playwright, actor and director. Christian Barry is a brilliant director and lighting and sound designer. They also often work with Ann-Marie Kerr, a brilliant director who recently won the Gina Wilkinson Prize in Directing.
- Zuppa Theatre– A theatre collective that work together to devise and create really interesting and innovative plays and musicals that have won many awards and travelled to theatres nationally and internationally. Names To Know: Sue Leblanc, Alex McLean, Ben Stone & Stewart Legere.
- Two Planks and A Passion– Located in Ross Creek, Nova Scotia and directed by Ken Schwartz, this summer theatre creates some of the most exciting environmental theatre in the country. Whether an innovative adaptation of a classic, like last year’s Beowulf, or a new musical like Allen Cole’s Rockbound, the shows at Ross Creek are immediate and compelling. Many Halifax-based actors return summer after summer and I have seen some extraordinary performances in shows at Ross Creek. Names To Know: Alexis Milligan, Jeff Schwager, Rhys Bevan-John and Andrea Norwood.
- Chester Playhouse– When it comes to great musical theatre, Mary Lou Martin’s musicals at Chester Playhouse harken back to the days before the razzle dazzle of mic packs and million dollar budgets, when talent, a good story and music to dance to more than sufficed. Names To Know: Cliff LeJeune, Lisa St.Clair and Troy Adams.
- The Atlantic Fringe Festival– Directed by Thom Fitzgerald, the newly revolutionized Fringe Festival is a free-for-all theatre festival at the beginning of September each year where 40+ plays from artists across the country and around the world are presented in a variety of venues within a party that stays open late and spawns some incredible theatrical experiences.
- LunaSea Theatre– A Theatre company made up of some of Halifax’s most powerful, talented and intelligent women, LunaSea Theatre produces plays by women, about women, to empower and challenge everyone. Their shows are brave and haunting. Names To Know: Martha Irving, Mary Colin Chisholm, Mauralea Austin & Vanessa Walton-Bone .
- Mermaid Theatre– A world-renowned puppet theatre that tours shows for children internationally. Their shows have been seen by over four million people.
THEATRE COMPANIES & INDIVIDUALS TO WATCH
The following theatre companies are relatively new to the Nova Scotian theatre community, but they show great promise and potential, so I encourage all prospective theatergoers to check them out as well, or at least to file their names away for future reference.
- KAZAN Co-Op & Kathryn MacLellan. This company recently produced Daniel MacIvor’s play Communion at Neptune Theatre and now the show is at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. It was a fantastic production. Their next play I, Animal will be at Eastern Front’s SuperNova Festival next month and then in Toronto for SummerWorks. This company is off to a formidable start.
- Vile Passeist Theatre & Dan Bray. I have lost track of how many obscure Jacobean/Elizabethan plays this company has presented in the last year, but they have all had incredible costumes, huge casts and have been over three hours in length. Dan Bray is one of the most ambitious directors in Halifax and he is proving time and time again that nothing is impossible for a small theatre company and that is incredible.
- Forerunner Playwrights Theatre & Natasha MacLellan. A new theatre company dedicated to fostering the Halifax-based playwright, which is probably my favourite mandate of any theatre company in Nova Scotia. So overdue. So wonderful to see. I’m very excited and optimistic about the future of this company.
- Halifax Theatre For Young People & Tessa Mendel. Young People’s Theatre is so wildly important and it is so fantastic to have a theatre company dedicated to bringing theatre to families here in Halifax, especially one that is so dedicated to introducing children to Canadian, and specifically Atlantic Canadian, playwrights.
- Valley Summer Theatre. Located in Wolfville, their 2011 production of Driving Miss Daisy swept the Merritt Awards this year proving that this summer we should all make a concerted effort not to miss their summer season!
- The Doppler Effect & Michael McPhee & Annie Valentina: This writing and acting duo are producing really exciting new work. Their newest play CU2omorrow was dark and terrifically acted and I have a feeling this is just the beginning.
- Trrrash Productions & Ian Mullan: Ian Mullan is an actor, writer and theatre maker who has been bringing really off the beaten path plays to Halifax audiences for the last few years. I saw the last play Trrrash produced, Nerve by Adam Szymkowicz, which Mullan was in with the fantastic Katherine McCormack. The two have terrific chemistry and Mullan staged a perfectly solid production of this strange little play not too many people get the opportunity to see. I expect more great things from him & Trrrash in the future.
- Adam Reid: Producer of the 2011 Queer Acts Festival, Adminstrative Director at Eastern Front Theatre, Adam Reid goes to all the theatre in Halifax and always seems to be involved in something new and exciting. He is extremely knowledgeable and is a really intelligent and thoughtful theatre audience and community member. Whether he’s making theatre happen as producer, actor or in some other facet, Adam Reid is, to borrow from Sondheim, making hats where there never were hats, and he’s one to watch.
- Bill Wood: If you saw Bill Wood’s play at the 2011 24 Hour Theatre Thing at the Bus Stop Theatre you know that Picnicface is only scratching the surface of what Bill’s hilarious mind has to offer to us. He also is a fantastic actor, I saw him in Hannah Moscovitch’s East of Berlin (2b Theatre) a few years ago and it made me wish that he was given the opportunity to do plays more often. Whether in sketch, writing, plays or Improv, Bill Wood is full of surprises and an obscene amount of talent.
- Heather Rankin: She burst on the scene not too long ago in Mulgrave Road’s production of Daniel MacIvor’s play Bingo. She was hilarious and heart rending and received a Merritt Award Nomination for her portrayal of Bitsy. Bingo is being remounted at the Neptune Main Stage next season and I’m sure we’ll see a lot more from Heather in the near, near future too.
Alright. What are you all waiting for? Go out and see a play!!
* N.B. There are more than 8.
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