Youth, family fare dominates NAC's new season

The 2010/11 season of the NAC's English theatre focuses on youth and family starting with Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet to a Canadian play exploring the travails of being young, gay and native in a small town.

The National Arts Centre's new English theatre season highlights youth ranging from plays such as Romeo & Juliet to the latest award-winning piece by a young, native playwright, Agokwe: Gay Love on the Rez.

"We are very proud of presenting works that are artful, complex [and] challenging that welcome younger viewers as well as older ones," NAC artistic director Peter Hinton in an interview with CBCnews.ca.

The new season launches with the story of star-crossed teen lovers, Romeo & Juliet, which Hinton says "speaks perfectly to the divide between generations."
Ojibwan playwright Waawaate Fobister plays several characters in his award-winning debut work Agokwe: Gay Love on the Rez. ((Buddies in Bad Times))

With the Shakespearean tragedy, the NAC is also able to showcase the members of its resident acting troupe, a tradition it revived last season on its 40th anniversary. 

"It seems the perfect launch for young actors making their professional debut with some of the very best of our senior actors."

For Hinton, it's also a play that questions what kind of society adults have made for their children.

Also on the docket for the new season, just released on Monday, are three plays that specifically target a family audience:

  • Nativity: a coyote's christmas (Peter Anderson) — a holiday musical with singing and dancing animals exploring the origins of the nativity story in a different way.
  • Tales of the Moon (Philippe Soldevila) — about how a young boy's imagination helps him survive Franco's Fascist regime in Spain.
  • I think i can (Florence Gibson and Shawn Byfield) — a tap-dancing and hip hop musical about a physically-challenged young man who overcomes bullying through a science project.

"We think that it's an important value here at the NAC to introduce young people to the theatre and making it part of their lives," said Hinton, who reveals that this is the first time family plays are so prominent at the NAC's mainstage.

"We've done family series in the past, but it's always been in the studio [theatre] and very limited engagements."

Hinton says he was struck by the turnout by so many families to last season's staging of A Christmas Carol.

"Just because these are plays for younger people, doesn't mean it's a lower a level of sophistication by the way. The Canadian playwright Judith Thompson once said, 'You can tell the same story to a friend that you can tell to a child.'"

NAC first stop for Agokwe

In terms of newer works, Hinton says he's proud the NAC will be the first stop of the Canadian touring production of Agokwe: Gay Love on the Rez, by Ojibwa playwright and performer Waawaate Fobister.

Fobister portrays several characters in the show, which centres on a hockey tournament in Kenora.

One play that seems to stick out is Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, based on the American author's book of the same name in which she reflects on losing both her daughter and her husband in the same year.

Hinton says the play, a highly acclaimed production from Victoria's Belfry Theatre starring Seana McKenna, fits well in this season's lineup because of its meditations on "youth, age and family."

Other plays on the roster are Vern Thiessen's Vimy, Sheldon Currie's Lauchie, Liza & Rory and a new translation of Michel Tremblay's Saint Carmen of the Main (1976.)

Hinton says it was important to take an old play from the "Canadian canon" to bring to to present-day audiences, especially a work which doesn't normally get shown.

"I think when English Canadians think of Michel Tremblay, they mostly think of the two-and-three handers set in domestic interiors," notes Hinton.  "[With Saint Carmen ], we see the epic quality that Tremblay had and the huge influence of Greek tragedy in his work."

Carmen also requires a large cast, which Hinton points out, also suites displaying all the talents of the NAC's resident troupe.