Ottawa's NAC gets resident acting company

The National Arts Centre in Ottawa will begin its own acting company in the 2009-10 season, the fulfillment of a goal for artistic director Peter Hinton.

The National Arts Centre in Ottawa will begin its own acting company in the 2009-10 season, the fulfilment of a goal for artistic director Peter Hinton.

Stephen Ouimette is a member of the new NAC resident company and will play Ebenezer Scrooge. ((National Arts Centre))
The company, which will start out with 18 players, will participate in two shows in the coming season, Hinton said Tuesday, in announcing the 2009-10 English theatre schedule.

"The NAC when it was founded [40 years ago], there was a resident acting company. In 1985, that acting company was disbanded in the wave of cuts that were made to the arts centre and it was just never put back into place," Hinton told CBC News in an interview.

"It was always a dream of mine when I applied for the job that I felt it was time to reinstate that company," he said.

It's taken Hinton since 2006 to get a resident company in place, not just because of financial considerations, but also because it will change the way shows are produced.

"It's a kind of different philosophy for the theatre. Rather than co-producing with companies across Canada, it's a way of getting artists to come here and be in residence for four and a half months," he said.

Hinton wants to see the role of the acting company grow, to take on as many as five shows a year.

He has chosen 14 professional actors and four apprentices in the first year, including Richard Donat, Julie Tamiko Manning, Geordie Johnson and Waneta Storms.

"I tried to keep in mind that the company would legitimately be national. I looked at people from different regions of Canada and also we wanted a company that was culturally diverse as well, and bringing in all the groups that make up Canada, including First Nations," he said.

One of the shows to be created by the resident company is family favourite A Christmas Carol, to star Stephen Ouimette, the actor and director who starred in Slings and Arrows and is a veteran of the Stratford stage.

"I knew when we were doing A Christmas Carol that the best Ebenezer Scrooge we could have would be Stephen Ouimette. I called Stephen and he was so excited. He said 'All my life, I've wanted to play Scrooge.'"

Peter Hinton rewrote Brecht's Mother Courage with Tanja Jacobs in mind. ((National Arts Centre))
The other show that will feature the resident company is Mother Courage and her Children, one of the works studied last year at the NAC's Ark theatre studies project, which focused on Bertolt Brecht. 

Hinton said he has written his own version of the play, for 18 players instead of the ensemble of 40 that Brecht had planned, with Tanja Jacobs in mind to play Mother Courage.

"The great challenge of the role is that Brecht wanted the audience to not only empathize with her, but also to look at her critically," Hinton said. "Tanja brings great passion to a new role — she's also an extremely gifted comedienne." 

Hinton's new season runs the range from the classics, including Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, to the previously announced Broadway musical The Drowsy Chaperone.

The NAC program for the coming season includes two world premieres of Canadian dramas — Mrs. Dexter and Her Daily and Night.

Fiona Reid will star in the world premiere of Mrs. Dexter and Her Daily. ((National Arts Centre))
Mrs. Dexter and Her Daily is a new play from Saskatchewan-born playwright Joanna McClelland Glass in which two women, a maid and her Rosedale employer, reflect on their lives.

Hinton has attracted two of Canada's most celebrated actresses for the roles — Fiona Reid and Nicola Cavendish. The play is to be directed by Marti Maraden, a former artistic director at the NAC and at Stratford who has previously had much success with plays by McClelland Glass.

Hinton has also held to his promise to feature contemporary Canadian theatre, with a series of three works from alternative theatre. They are:

  • Night, a play about living with 24-hour darkness in Pond Inlet, Nunavut.
  • Where the Blood Mixes, a play by Kevin Loring about love and redemption set against the B.C. salmon run, which previously played at Luminato and Magnetic North.
  • Elephant Wake, a one-man show from Joey Tremblay about the last member of a small French town in Saskatchewan.

Night is a project nurtured by Human Cargo, a group that starts theatre in communities that do not have a theatre tradition.

The play is written by Christopher Morris of Human Cargo, Abbie Ootova of Pond Inlet and Linnea Swan of Winnipeg and there are plans to tour it to Yellowknife, Inuvik and Whitehorse after its NAC premiere.

Loring is also slated to be a playwright in residence, along with poet and novelist Dionne Brand.

The NAC also plans a special presentation of A Place to Call Home by Yellowknife musician and storyteller Pat Braden.

Its family series includes A Christmas Carol, Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang and Montreal production Holy Cow!