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So Much Theatre: The GCTC’s 2012/2013 line up

By Andrew Snowdon on April 14, 2012

On Wednesday afternoon, the Great Canadian Theatre Company announced the six productions that will make up its 2012–13 season—a season without a name, but that will be characterized by “heart and humour,” according to outgoing Artistic Director Lise Ann Johnson.

The season will kick off this September with The Secret Mask, a semiautobiographical tragicomedy by Winnipeg playwright Rick Chafe about a son reunited with his estranged father who has suffered a stroke. The next production, at the end of October, will be the Canadian premiere of Irish dark comedy (is there any other kind?) Fly Me To the Moon, by Marie (MAH-ree) Jones, in which a pair of home care workers face a moral dilemma when one of their clients dies suddenly. Fly Me To the Moon will fittingly be directed by John P. Kelly, who at the helm of SevenThirty Productions has made a name for himself locally specializing in presenting Irish comedies.

As the holiday season approaches, Vancouver’s Axis Theatre will return to the GCTC with the 20th anniversary production of The Number 14, a transdisciplinary physical comedy that graced the GCTC stage 12 years ago, which takes place on a bus route in the East Hastings area of Vancouver. In January, Carmen Aguirre and director Brian Quirt return with the full production of 2012 undercurrents sellout Blue Box, a tightly-braided story of fighting for freedom and chasing after love. The National Arts Centre English Theatre / GCTC co-production of The Edward Curtis Project, an exploration of aboriginal identity and the myth of “the vanishing Indian,” will take the stage in April; the accompanying photographic exhibit will be in the Lorraine “Fritzi” Yale Gallery upstairs at the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre for the duration of the run.

The season will wrap up in June with a dark comedy from last year’s GCTC resident playwright Rosa LaBorde, Like Wolves, featuring a couple celebrating their 54th anniversary in their honeymoon suite, which has changed as much as they have. Of course, the wildly successful undercurrents festival will return for its third year in February under Patrick Gauthier’s keen curatorship.
With the possible exception of The Edward Curtis Project, all these are comedies, albeit of varying levels of darkness. Three of them have another theme in common sure to resonate with an older audience. The Secret Mask deals with caring for an elderly parent, Fly Me To the Moon is in an elder care setting, and Like Wolves features a couple facing the prospect of committing themselves to care in their declining years. Although this apparent theme won’t necessarily alienate a younger audience, neither will it entice them through the door. This, however, seems sensible. In sticking with generally safe, palatable comedies, the GCTC has programmed a season that will be comfortable to existing and potential subscribers (those who buy a discounted package of tickets to an entire season well in advance). It’s a simple fact of economics and lifestyle that subscribers tend to be in an older age bracket (let’s say over 40). It’s not that this demographic doesn’t appreciate novelty and experimentation—take a look at the Fringe Festival audience, for example—but when they’re paying for the bus-pass convenience of a subscription, they’d rather their ride be a smooth one. Since subscriptions are the heart of the GCTC’s business model, it is in their best interests to tailor their season to appeal to that segment of the audience, first and foremost.

Although the other three productions are a little more adventurous (and likely to appeal to a younger prospective audience), they too are “safe.” The Number 14 has been around for twenty years; although it’s being revamped for this tour, it is a proven, known piece. People who did not get to see it the last time it rolled through town twelve years ago are eager to see it; those who did are urging others to with some confidence. Blue Box is also a known quantity. Not only the box, but much of the language is blue. Thanks to the alarming battle on CBC’s Canada Reads 2012, which her book Something Fierce won, Ms. Aguirre can style herself “accused terrorist” if she so desires. The content certainly pushes the boundary of “safe,” and we haven’t seen a finished, mainstage-ready version (the undercurrents production has been retroactively, and accurately, described as a “workshop production”) with whatever Brian Quirt’s directorial vision turns out to be. But Aguirre is a solid, engaging performer with a solid text, and sold out her undercurrents festival theater run before it opened. That’s pretty safe. The Edward Curtis Project would be a wildcard, but it will at the very least bring the NAC English Theatre subscribers into the GCTC building, and if you already have one theatre season subscription, chances are you’re the kind of person who buys theatre season subscriptions.
In the wake of the decimation of the CBC, it’s nice to be able to report some happy financial arts news. As you may be aware, the skyrocketing price of steel during construction of the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre saddled the GCTC with an extra $1.6 million burden of debt, the carrying cost of which threatened their ability to continue operating. Last year, the Taking Care of Unfinished Business campaign was launched specifically to raise funds to pay down this debt. To date, they have raised over $770,000 in private and corporate donations; it’s possible—even likely—that they will be free of this debt within a couple of seasons and well on their way to their next goal of establishing an endowment fund.

It’s nearly impossible to predict what a theatre season’s going to look like before any of the shows have been cast (besides Blue Box, that is) or many of the directors announced. I would hazard a guess that this relatively mellow approach will prove more sensible than more flamboyant programming would, and I’m rather looking forward to seeing everything. None of the productions announced made me cringe, which is a good sign.

Or at least, I think it is. Ask me in June of 2013.

As an aside, four out of the six productions were created by female playwrights (and I’m not sure about the creative process behind The Number 14, so possibly four-and-a-half). This was not mentioned during the launch, nor do I believe it was specifically planned (although the genesis of Fly Me To the Moon was definitely consciously feminist… we’ll get to that when I write my review); it just happened to turn out that way—organically—and nobody thought it remarkable.

And that’s the way it ought to be.