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Magnetic North Festival: From brilliant street theatre to great stage shows

By Alejandro Bustos on May 25, 2015

For more than 10 years, the Ottawa-based Magnetic North Theatre Festival has brought great performances to audiences in the National Capital Region, as well as communities across the country.

What makes Magnetic North unique from other theatre festivals in Canada, however, is its special mandate to travel across our vast land.  While the festival takes place in Ottawa every second year (including 2015), in other years it occurs in other communities.

Since first launching in 2003, the festival has gone to Edmonton(2004), St. Johns (2006), Vancouver(2008), Kitchener-Waterloo(2010), Calgary(2012) and Halifax (2014).

Like previous festivals, this year’s collection of ten shows includes a wide range of plays, from guerrilla street performances on the shores of the Rideau Canal, to full stage productions at the National Arts Centre and Great Canadian Theatre Company, to intimate shows at Arts Court that will take your breath away.

While the festival officially begins in June, local audiences can get a head start this week with a couple of performances.  Up to Low, which is based on the 1982 classic book of the same name by Ottawa author Brian Doyle, is a superb work by Easy Street Productions and The Ottawa Children’s Theatre that is currently running at Arts Court until June 6.  Set in 1950, this beautifully told story  describes how Young Tommy, who lives in Ottawa, takes a life-changing trip with his father and his dad’s friend Frank to Low, Quebec.

Ropert Lepage’s critically acclaimed Needles and Opium, meanwhile, opens at the National Arts Centre on May 29, although eager fans who can’t wait to see this highly anticipated play can catch special sneak previews on May 27 and 28.

Joe Osawabine and Jeannette Corbiere Lavell in The Global Savages.  Photo by Peter van Beek.

Joe Osawabine and Jeannette Corbiere Lavell in The Global Savages. Photo by Peter van Beek.

Once the festival officially starts, theatre lovers can enjoy several excellent productions, including two intriguing street performances.  The Global Savages by Debajehmujig Storytellers from Manitoulin Island in Northern Ontario will take place by the Rideau Canal Locks below the Bytown Museum.  This pay what you can outdoor performance runs from June 8-13, and tells the 18,000 year-old story of an Anishnaabeg family.  (Click here to register for this special event).

Mercury Opera from Edmonton, meanwhile, perform their one-night only show Fiamma! An Operascape on June 7 underneath Plaza Bridge (West Arch).  For 30 minutes, this pay what you can spectacle will turn the Rideau Canal into an opera house  (Click here to register).

There are also shows inside more traditional venues. The Public Servant, a look at the craziness of the federal civil service, runs at the GCTC from June 2-21, while Bruce McCulloch, of the Canadian comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall, performs his new solo show at the NAC from June 10-12.

Other performances include: 

Andrew Wheeler in Re:Union. Photo by Andrew Alexander.

Andrew Wheeler in Re:Union. Photo by Andrew Alexander.

What Happened to the Seeker by the STO Union from Ottawa and Wakefieild.  (Arts Court, June 9-13);

Re: Union by Horseshoes & Hand Grenades Theatre from Ottawa and Vancouver (Academic Hall, University of Ottawa, June 5-9)

Through the Gaze of a Navel by Vancouver’s The Chop Theatre (Arts Court, June 8-13); and

Small Stage Canada by Vancouver’s MovEnt (June 9-10, NAC Fourth Stage — this show is also part of the Canada Dance Festival).

The Magnetic North Theatre Festival runs from June 4-13, 2015. Tickets can be purchased online.