The Great Canadian Theatre Company’s upcoming season will wave the flag for diversity more proudly than ever, with frequently provocative plays and events that put black, queer and especially Indigenous issues and artists on stage.
Ottawa Citizen – Peter Hum
“What we’ve discovered is that in the determination to diversify our audiences, the only success is if we deliver work from underrepresented communities. We’re really making a commitment to that in our programming this year,” says Eric Coates, the GCTC’s artistic director.
The 2019-20 season consists of five plays — all of which were hits when they were staged elsewhere in recent years, Coates says — plus a key role in a new 11-day festival.
From Sept. 12 to 22, the GCTC will be the home base for the Prismatic Arts Festival, which, in line with Coates’s priorities, focuses on Indigenous and culturally diverse artists. The multi-disciplinary festival, which has run in Halifax since 2008, features not only theatre, but also dance, music, spoken word, visual arts, film and media arts.
Prismatic’s artistic director in Halifax “wants to create a stronger international presence for it. He believes Ottawa is the right place, and we’ve agreed to be the home for this pilot project of bringing it to Ottawa,” Coates says.
When Prismatic takes place in Ottawa, its presentations will happen at a mix of venues. The festival’s events at the GCTC will not be included in the GCTC’s subscription series.
The season’s first play is Bang Bang, which manages to tackle the charged issues of police violence, race, appropriation of voice and mental illness as “a very provocative comedy,” Coates says. The play by Toronto-based playwright Kat Sandler was staged in early 2018 at Toronto’s Factory Theatre. Its GCTC run will be from Oct. 22 to Nov. 10.
Cottagers and Indians, another comedy that premiered in Toronto in early 2018, comes to the GCTC Nov. 26 to Dec. 15.
Indigenous playwright Drew Hayden Taylor’s play is all about the interaction of two characters in central Ontario, an Indigenous farmer and a white female cottager, who are at odds after the farmer plants wild rice on the lake shore. “They have this running dialogue about how unreasonable these people are being,” Coates says. Hayden Taylor “writes with an extreme playfulness about very serious conflicts in society,” Coates adds.
The GCTC’s first presentation of 2020 is a unique play called Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools, which pairs Inuk artist Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory and queer theatre-maker Evalyn Parry. The two women had met on an Arctic expedition from Iqaluit to Greenland and the play that has arisen from their encounter addresses the meeting of Northern and Southern cultures in Canada. The play, which also features the accompaniment of two-spirit Cree cellist Cris Derksen, runs from Jan. 22 to Feb. 9 next year. It will be presented at the GCTC thanks to a partnership with the National Arts Centre’s Indigenous Theatre department.
Next spring will see the Canadian premiere of the play Daisy. It was written by Ottawa-based playwright Sean Devine but it premiered in 2016 in Seattle, where it received a Gregory Award nomination for outstanding new play and a Broadway World Seattle Critic’s Choice Award for best new play.
Devine’s play is based on the story behind the creation of the first modern political attack ad, a short clip known as the “Daisy ad” that was in support of Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 presidential campaign. The ad aired just once and then was banned because of the controversy that erupted. “It really rocked convention,” Coates says. “It set the stage for what we’re seeing as the signature of U.S. politics bleeding over to Canadian politics.”
Devine’s play, Coates says, is “is very much like an episode of Mad Men, taken out of that era and environment.” It will run from Mar. 10 to 29 next year.
Concluding the season will be the play Unholy, by Toronto playwright Diane Flacks. The play, which runs from April 21 to May 10 next year, features a debate of the question “Should women abandon religion?,” pitting a former nun and an atheist on the yea side versus a Muslim lawyer and a Jewish scholar.
The witty, provocative play also features a male moderator — “We wish him all the best,” Coates says. He adds that when he saw Unholy staged in Toronto, discussions would inevitably ensue after the play, and that the play drew a strikingly young audience.
Typically the GCTC’s season features the world premieres of one or two plays. However, for the 2019-20 season, “for a number of reasons we just didn’t have anything that was really ready to go,” Coates says.
He says he’ll be pleased nonetheless to see how the upcoming season’s plays will resonate with Ottawa viewers. “I suddenly found myself looking at my short list of plays, and I realized what a great test this would be to see how Ottawa responds to work, compared to other markets. I believe we really do have regional tastes.”
Coates added that “giving local artists a shot at plays that have a proven track record, that have some star quality to them, escalates everybody’s excitement in a different way.”
For subscription and ticket information, visit gctc.ca or call the GCTC box office at 613-236-5196. After April 15, the early-bird prices for renewing subscribers will lapse.