Theatre Incognitus (Manitoba Theatre for Young People)
This is the time of year when Manitoba's major theatres all roll out their new season lineups, in hopes of convincing you to make the investment in season tickets (assuming you aren't planning to spend all your entertainment money on Jets/Thrashers season tickets). So the question for theatre fans is this: which theatre is right for you? Sadly, there's no "Vote Compass" for theatre - but until somebody develops that, here are a few guidelines to finding the local theatre that fits you:
"I like a sure thing." The bad news for you is this: there is no such thing as a "sure thing" in live theatre. A good script can still go wrong in the production, and even professional theatres sometimes pick a lousy script. But the Manitoba Theatre Centre's Mainstage (a.k.a. the John Hirsch Theatre) season is probably the closest thing out there to a safe bet - MTC is one of the country's most commercially-successful theatres, and it manages that feat largely by delivering familiar titles, and more often than not solid productions. MTC's 2011-2012 Mainstage season blends familiar names (see Grumpy Old Men: The Musical, or the return of Canadian stage star Nicola Cavendish in Shirley Valentine), classics (Romeo and Juliet), and shows that have proven to be hits elsewhere (like the multiple-Tony winning God of Carnage).
"I like to live on the edge." Grumpy Old Men, even if it is a "new" musical, probably isn't going to cut it for people who like a bit of bite in their theatre. But plays about vibrators, prostitution, and the threat of audience participation might work for you. Those are all upcoming in the next season at the MTC Warehouse (a.k.a. the Tom Hendry Theatre), with In the Next Room: or The Vibrator Play by witty American playwright Sarah Ruhl, a production of Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession, and Calgary comedian Rebecca Northan's improvised comedy, Blind Date.
"I like a good post-theatre discussion." Winnipeg Jewish Theatre has earned a reputation recently for delivering shows that are great for stirring discussion (like Via Dolorosa, or Michael Nathanson's Talk), and their new season promises a couple of shows that are likely to spark good after-theatre conversation. Their opener, Way To Heaven, is based on the true story of the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where Nazis constructed a fake village in an attempt to conceal what was really happening there from international inspectors. But the biggest news in their season is a production of the first part of Tony Kushner's epic Angels In America. They'll present Millennium Approaches next season, and follow up with the second part, Perestroika, in 2012-2013.
"I like to feel good leaving the theatre." Every company has a blend of "feel-good" and "heavy" material, but Prairie Theatre Exchange tends to lean more towards "heartwarming," with shows like a bittersweet new comedy from PTE fave Daniel MacIvor (Bingo), a new father-son dramedy from local Rick Chafe (The Secret Mask), and Altar Boyz - which leavens its satire with high-energy music.
"I want to see something new." There are new plays at every theatre this year, but Theatre Projects Manitoba is the only one that offers an all-new season - and it's also all-Manitoban, which means you get local content courtesy of Bruce McManus' adaptation of Three Sisters, Steven Ratzlaff's Dionysus in Stony Mountain, and the return of In the Chamber, TPM's evening of short new works.
"I like to go to the theatre with the whole family." There's only one theatre company in town that specializes in children's theatre, but luckily, Manitoba Theatre for Young People is probably the most consistently-entertaining company in town. Their 2011-2012 season features, as usual, picks for little theatre-goers (like The House at Pooh Corner), but also some shows that may appeal to grown-ups as much as younger audiences (like Rick Miller's MacHomer).
So which theatre are you going with next season... and why? Leave your comments and suggestions below.
Joff Schmidt, CBC Theatre reviewer