Theatre Preview: ATP’s ritual playRites committed

By Stephanie Shewchuk

Though only a few days after the whirlwind of experimental hijinx of One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo, the city get its second wind and heads rights into Alberta Theatre Projects’ celebration of the art of playwriting with its month long playRites Festival.

After making its debut 19 years ago, the playRites Festival of New Canadian Plays has made quite the change from the much smaller production it was many years ago. Initially starting out of the Canmore Opera House in Heritage Park, the ATP playRites festival now showcases world premieres of prestigious plays at the Epcor Centre for Performing Arts.

“The vision of the festival is to choose the four best new Canadian plays that are presented to us throughout the year,” explains Vanessa Porteous, Festival Dramaturg at ATP. “Out of 200 plays, we try to choose unique material that’s not necessarily contentious but that offers people something they haven’t seen before.”

This year’s offerings include the Quebecois play The Leisure Society by François Archambault, Mick Unplugged by Greg Nelson, The Myth of Summer by Conni Massing, and Porteous’ personal favourite, Get Away by Greg MacArthur.

Porteous asserts there is no common theme to the works selected this year, but instead were chosen for their unique voices and textures. “The strength of the festival is that there really is something for everybody.”

In addition to the main stage productions, the festival’s Stage 2 presents some works in progress, including new collaborations and readings that have yet to be finished. “It’s a glimpse into the whole process of writing a play,” Porteous says. “You get to meet with some of the writers and directors to really see what goes on behind the scenes with what goes into creating a play.”

Also included in the festival is the 24 Hour Playwriting Competition, in which the 24 lottery-selected participants are given only 24 hours to produce a new play in a tense competition Jack Bauer would even sweat.

The playRites Festival sets itself apart from other events because of the concentration of Canadian material and its efforts to get the audience more involved in the playwriting process.

Porteous believes the most important part of the process is essentially trying new things and casting yourself into action. “We certainly hope that the festival will encourage people to become involved in the process and that maybe it will encourage those who have been thinking about writing a play into actually making it happen.”

This year’s festival, in particular, is also different from others past. “We’re gearing up for the festival’s twentieth anniversary next year,” declares Porteous. “So we’re trying to make it more accessible and more approachable for the audience.”

The playRites Festival continues until early March, with events alternating between the main stage plays and the more unconventional offerings on Stage 2. Porteous includes the Pizza Night with Director Bob White and the Blitz Breakfast among the must-sees.

“You should totally try to see everything,” exclaims Porteous. “The best way to see it all is to get yourself a brochure and then you can plan everything out.”

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