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The Cast of Hippies and Bolsheviks bone up their playRites knowledge in anticipation of the festival's 20th anniversary.
Nicola Waugh/the Gauntlet

Theatre Preview: playRites all grown up

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Most people celebrate their 20th birthdays by downing a bottle of fizz and turning the music up 'til the neighbours complain.

Instead of burying their heads in the sand, the masterminds behind the Alberta Theatre Projects' Enbridge playRites Festival are keeping their wits about them.

The festival of new Canadian plays is celebrating the past 20 years by looking forward to the next, increasing the challenge and keeping on top of their game.

"We don't want to rest on our laurels," explains ATP Artistic Director Bob White. "So to celebrate we're expanding."

The promise of expansion isn't just lip service. This year's edition includes not only new events and a fifth production added to the hectic six-week schedule, but new kinds of theatre.

"Traditionally we get the script, make the sets, sew the costumes, run rehearsals, do the play," White elaborates. "But there's a lot of new stuff out there. And to stay relevant you have to see if you can keep up."

In this spirit playRites will be presenting Diplomatic Immunities. The production studies what is public and private and how easy it is to keep the line drawn. Creators Mammalian Diving Reflex will go out on the street and into homes with a video camera, prying.

"All this leads to the question of 'what can you tell a stranger?'" White describes almost nervously. "It will almost be reality TV meets the theatre... I think. It will be live and different every night, other than that I don't know what to expect."

The other four playRites productions--Hippies and Bolsheviks, The Blue Light, Picking up Chekhov and Le Gros Spectacle are more typical of the festival. All are new Canadian plays approaching a subject simultaneously analogous and incongruous with the other plays. While Hippies and Bolsheviks and Le Gros Spectacle are both coming of age stories, the former deals with youths of a politically affected era, while the latter, a combination of burlesque and traditional theatre, concentrates on two small-town girls of the '50s trying to understand Montreal.

On the other hand, The Blue Light takes the life of Leni Riefenstahl and questions what is known--or assumed--about the propagandist's decisions. Picking Up Chekhov, however, is about family and home, investigating the whys and hows, the fights, the happiness, all the while asking what makes a family. The various plays may seem at odds with each other but they do ask the same kinds of questions, search for the reasons behind actions and what the heart of the matter really is.

"These productions take on a life of their own," White says of the festival as a whole.

Playwrights, actors, directors, everyone who is part of the work breathes a little life into the festival. To those involved, it is the work itself which is the celebration, which says something about the kind of people putting on the festival and what you can expect from them. However, that's not to say there won't be a couple of noise complaints coming from ATP's neighbours in the next couple weeks.

Check out ATPlive.com for more information on this year's Enbridge playRites festival.

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