GCTC: The coming season built upon young female playwrights

Five of the six playwrights in the 2017-2018 season at the Great Canadian Theatre Company are female, and many of them are young. A balanced representation of women and men “is just a priority for us,” says artistic director Eric Coates. “Because of historical inequity, it has to be a driving part of our mandate.”

At the same time, Coates says the new season’s lineup is not filling an artificial quota.

“I didn’t realize ’til I was finished (choosing the plays) that five of the six were women.” Nor, he says, does it compromise quality in favour of righting a traditional gender wrong: with an initial list of 70 scripts that was eventually whittled down to 15 or 20, finding quality was not an issue.

Coates’ offering opens with You Are Happy by the Québécois playwright Rébecca Déraspe. It’s translated by Leanna Brodie from Déraspe’s play Deux ans de votre vie and begins Sept. 21. The dark comedy spotlights Millennials and their struggle with issues like consumerism and immediate gratification, says Coates. “As I get older, I realize I have to look at how Millennials respond to the work we program and look at the work they’re doing.”

Next up is Ordinary Days, a contemporary musical with music and lyrics by Adam Gwon. Set in New York City, this is the first musical at GCTC, says Coates (he considers The Man from the Capital, from 2007, a play with music rather than a full-blown musical). Featuring four actors, one piano and a storyline about change and hope, it kicks off Oct. 31. Coates directs.

In keeping with the tradition he established this season when he brought puppeteer Ronnie Burkett’s The Daisy Theatre to GCTC, Coates is skipping a Christmas-themed show during the holiday season in favour of an adults-only piece. Rebecca Northan’s Blind Date, opening in late November, is a high-wire act in that it pulls a willing audience on stage to play opposite Northan, whose character has been stood up by her date. The result is a show that, like Burkett’s (he included a couple of audience members), changes every night.

Blind Date | Tess Degenstein
Photo by Banko Media

January, 2018, takes us into the lives of Ottawa women in the 1920s in What A Young Wife Ought to Know by Ottawa-born, award-winning playwright Hannah Moscovitch (see the Artsfile review of her show Infinity currently at the NAC). Repressed by a lack of sexual education and freedom, the women in this comedy are of a piece with Moscovitch’s approach to feminism according to Coates. “Her feminism doesn’t coddle anyone. She’s equally critical of men and women.”

Trey Anthony’s How Black Mothers Say I Love You opens in March. It explores the huge sacrifices attendant on the immigrant dream of a better life in Canada, blending gospel, reggae and other music in the process. Anthony, whose ‘da Kink in my Hair opened the current theatre season at the NAC with a splash, is “flexing her muscles as an individual artist demanding her space and achieving success,” says Coates.

The season closes with Gracie, the story of a teenage girl in a polygamous community. Religion, family, conformity and growing up in an environment alien to most of us come under the microscope of playwright Joan MacLeod. Directed by Coates, the show opens in late April.

The new season also sees the launch of a mini-program for young audiences. One Thing Leads to Another by Maja Ardal, Audrey Dwyer, Mary Francis Moore, and Julia Tribe, is an award-winning show for babies. In the Studio Theatre March 7-11, 2018, it transforms everyday objects into wondrous things. Still/Falling by Rachel Aberle runs April 3-4, 2018 on the main stage and will be open to school groups only. It explores the difference between mental illness and teen angst and looks at how vulnerable teens can start finding their way from darkness to light.

Coates says the mini-series is a “very concerted effort to bring a more diverse palette and capture a younger audience.”

More information on the new season and subscriptions is available at gctc.ca.

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Patrick Langston covered English professional theatre for the Ottawa Citizen from 2008 to 2016. He also wrote about music, travel, the local housing industry and other subjects for the paper. Patrick continues to contribute to Ottawa Magazine, Diplomat and International Canada Magazine, and other publications.