Every year, theatre goers the world round flock to Calgary for the chance to see the latest from Calgary's burgeoning young writers, clear proof that the Calgary theatre scene has expanded far beyond its modest reputation only a few years ago. playRites, the epicenter of the commotion, is put on by Alberta Theatre Project every year to showcase up-and-coming talent, and has produced some very notable contributors to the Canadian scene.
"It is a launching pad," says Bob White, artistic director of ATP, and nicest guy in the world. "The idea is that the plays get out there, and we've been quite phenomenally successful in the past 20 years. Plays have moved beyond the festival and throughout the country and throughout the world."
The attention playRites gets from the international community each year is welcome, though unexpected due to it's relative infancy compared to many other cities' arts scenes. The problem, says White, is that Calgary doesn't tend to produce writers who hang around after they graduate from theatrical programs, so writing tends to be a very different sort of beast.
"There aren't strong playwriting traditions at either the University of Calgary or Mount Royal, so you tend to wander into playwriting in Calgary in a different way," says White. "What we are seeing though is a different kind of creation where people get together."
This year, local players TheatreBOOM have taken an active role in the festival, even co-presenting the 24-hour play writing competition with ATP. Coming up through ATP's generation project three years ago, TheatreBOOM has become one of the hippest, youngest, most popular theatre companies in the city.
"In the case of TheatreBOOM, you have two or three people getting together to write plays," says White. "It's certainly not the traditional approach, but it's no less valid than the lone playwright sitting in his attic in front of a word processor. It's a different tradition, but it's exciting in its own way."
What White says about his new partners in drama can be said about playRites in general. Instead of offering the same retread plays by the same tired old writers, playRites is a glimpse inside the lives of some of Canada's cutting edge writers and a look at the crazy ideas spinning around in their twisted little heads.
"It really gives you a snapshot of what's on the minds of writers from across the country, White explains. "It's a real great way to take the pulse, if you will, and see what's on the hearts and minds of writers. It's a great way to see what stories we're interested in as Canadians. That, to me, is the most exciting thing about the festival."