Amanda Hu/the Gauntlet

playRites exposes emerging artists

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Bob White, artistic director of Alberta Theatre Projects, has seen the playRites festival start from its infancy. He helped it through its toddler years, its terrible teens and now to its current incarnation as the hip young adult of the Canadian theatre scene. Sadly, this is his last playRites, as he leaves ATP at the end of the year.

"It's mixed emotions for sure," laments White. "I came here for the second festival and this is my 23rd festival so you can do the math. That's 22 festivals that I've been to."

Not one to go out with a whimper, White leaves the festival directing internationally-renowned playwright Stephen Massicotte's The Clockmaker. Directing it has kept him busy, so he hasn't spent his time ruminating on leaving ATP and playRites quite yet.

"I guess I'm in a bit denial," he says with a bit of a laugh. "Because I'm directing The Clockmaker, I don't try and think about it too much. Once all the shows have opened and we get to the end of the festival, my feelings might come to the surface."

While this is White's last year at the festival, it's also a triumphant homecoming for many former playRites artists. Massicotte and Michael Lewis MacLennan-- whose latest production, The Good Egg, is being performed at the festival-- had help starting their careers with stagings of their scripts at playRites. This is part and parcel of what the festival sets out to do: help find the emerging artists in Canada and help them get their work out there.

"The great thing about this festival is always been that it gives you postcards of what's on the mind of Canadian writers across the country," says White. "Since the festival has diversified a bit in terms of the Second Stage offering over the years, we're folding more emerging artists as well as established artists. It gives Calgarians a really good idea of what the incredible ideas and emotions that playwrights are dealing with across the country."

Make no mistake. This is not just a localized festival meant to bring a little culture to our city. Like many Calgary festivals, playRites has achieved national prominence. With its history of establishing new playwrights and artists in the Canadian theatre world, playRites is helping to show that Calgary is just not some square town with a fetish for the white stetson.

"What's exciting-- and one of the things that Calgarians can be very proud about-- is that this is a national festival," says ATP's dramaturg, Vicki Stroich. "It really does bring artists across from across the country together with local artists to create something absolutely new and fresh. It really glories in the collaborative experience. It's a testing ground and an opportunity to see what's new, to put a bunch of people together and see what happens."

Not only does the national exposure give the city a good name, but it also helps our local actors, playwrights and directors do some much needed networking.

"These relationships that happen at playRites often continue," says Stroich. "Whether they're working together on the same play or whether they work on something else together, these relationships generally tend to create more art elsewhere and here at home."

White remains ever the proud pop to the playRites festival. Over the past 21 years, it's grown so much and become a national festival under his tender, loving care. When asked what his feelings are about everything that he's done for playRites, White had a note of wistfulness in his voice.

"It's a pretty good feeling of accomplishment, with a little bit of regret that I won't be on this side of the footlights for years to come," he says.