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Monic Prendergast

By Monica Prendergast, September 2016

Hard-hitting Pulitzer Prize-winning rock musical about mental health and family opens the season at Langham Court Theatre.

Next to NormalWHEN NEW SEASON announcements came out this spring, I was delighted to see that Langham Court Theatre had programmed the contemporary American musical Next to Normal as its 2016-2017 season opener. A rock musical, with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, it’s a somewhat surprising and risky choice for Langham. 

By Monica Prendergast, July 2016

The past year’s theatrical highlights included ghosts, tears, music and silliness.

Rehearsal of The ValleyTHE SUMMER THEATRE MONTHS are a bit quieter around town in regard to theatre. The Belfry always has a summer show and this year it’s a remount of the ever-popular Mom’s the Word. There are the outdoor options of the Greater Victoria Shakespeare Festival or Theatre SKAM’s SKAMpede. And, of course, the end of August brings us the Fringe Festival’s grab-bag of theatrical delights. Yet compared to many other months of the year, things slow down and Victorians turn their attention to nature-based activities, getaways and holidays. 

By Monica Prendergast, May 2016

Janet Munsil may be departing, but Intrepid is forging ahead.

Janet MunsilEARLY APRIL BROUGHT NEWS that Intrepid Theatre’s Artistic Director Janet Munsil is stepping down from her position after 25 years. Munsil’s long-term contributions to theatre in Victoria are impressive. Under her leadership, and working alongside other movers and shakers in local arts administration (Gail Manktelow, Stephen White, Ian Case, among others), Munsil has produced the Fringe and UNO Festivals, brought in top touring productions, and developed two performance spaces. 

By Monica Prendergast, March 1, 2016

Some upcoming plays are designed to shake us down to our middle class roots.

Escape From HappinessIN PREVIOUS COLUMNS I have tackled topics of gender equity and the portrayal of race on stage. A number of  spring productions address the equally contentious yet vital issue of social class. 

By Monica Prendergast, February 2016

Issues around policing and mental health lie at the heart of award-winning playwright Joan MacLeod’s work.

Joan MacLeodTHE PRODUCTION OF The Valley by Canadian playwright Joan MacLeod at the Belfry Theatre is a cause for cultural celebration. We are very fortunate to have MacLeod call herself a local playwright since moving to Vancouver Island in 2004. 

By Monica Prendergast, December 2015

Jack Hodgins’ novel has been reworked into a new play by Charles Tidler.

Local author Jack Hodgins needs no introduction to Victoria readers. Winner of a Governor General’s Award (Resurrection of Joseph Bourne, 1979), a Commonwealth Writers Prize (The Honorary Patron, 1987), and an Ethel Wilson Prize (Broken Ground, 2000), Hodgins is also the recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence and is invested as a Member of the Order of Canada. 

By Monica Prendergast, November 2015

Ronnie Burkett returns to town this month with his puppets and improvisational-style theatre.

There are a number of countries in the world, following an original initiative by Japan, which designate certain people to be “Living National Treasures.” These treasures are artists or crafts persons who have achieved high levels of excellence and significantly contributed to national and international culture. If we had such a program in Canada one of the first theatre artists I would nominate is Theatre of Marionettes founder Ronnie Burkett.

By John Threlfall, October 2015

Geographic and cultural history combine in a bold new play about one of Victoria’s most infamous locations.

For those who love the past, Victoria can be a living archive. You can still land a boat at Clover Point, just as James Douglas did in 1842, and walk through Beacon Hill’s camas fields. And it doesn’t take much imagination to hear a Songhees drum song at the Inner Harbour and feel it reverberating down through the ages to nearly 10,000 pre-contact peoples.     

By Monica Prendergast, September 2015

A recent report suggests not enough has changed for women in theatre.

Earlier this year, the Playwrights Guild of Canada, in partnership with many other professional theatre organizations, released a report called “Achieving Equity in Canadian Theatre.” This report was preceded by one in 2006  called “Adding it Up: The Status of Women in Canadian Theatre.” Both reports make for some infuriating reading for anyone concerned with gender equity issues in general, and how these inequities are evident in Canadian theatre practices in particular. 

By Monica Prendergast, July/August 2015

Shakespeare, queer, the Goose, the Fringe and more.

The summer months mean the chance to catch a show staged in the great outdoors. There are a number of such local productions you might want to add to your calendar. Or, you might prefer some recommendations for summer theatre in a comfortable indoor seat, thank you very much. Fortunately, summer theatre offerings around town this year provide the choice to view a show either way.

By Monica Prendergast, May 2015

Social commentary abounds in the upcoming UNO Fest.

Intrepid Theatre is launching the 18th year of its spring festival of solo performances, UNO Fest, from May 8 to 24. Conceived in 1997 as an offshoot of Intrepid’s annual Victoria Fringe Festival, UNO has taken on a healthy life of its own. Artistic Director Janet Munsil travels widely each year to theatre and performance festivals to search out solo shows for UNO. Unlike the Fringe that selects shows via a lottery system, UNO is curated by Munsil based on submissions or by invitation. This ensures a high level of quality in the festival, as opposed to the more mixed bag of amateur and professional offerings that make up the Fringe experience. 

By Monica Prendergast, April 2015

An upcoming production of Madama Butterfly encourages discussion of how to represent race properly in theatre.

Theatre scholar Harvey Young, in his 2013 book Theatre & Race, warns his reader upfront: “To talk about race feels dangerous. There is the possibility of slippage, a verbal gaffe or, perhaps worse, a sincere and honest opinion that does not jibe with contemporary groupthink.” It is most difficult to talk about the representation of race on the stage when one is a member of the dominant culture, as I am. Yet that is what I wish to reflect on this month, in particular because April sees a remount by Pacific Opera Victoria of the perennial favourite Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. 

By Monica Prendergast, February 2015

This month the Belfry helps us explore the bonds and tensions between mothers and sons (with both laughs and tears).

Raising my two sons has been a fascinating experience for me as I had no brothers growing up. I had to learn as my husband and I went along how these small creatures were both the same as, and much different from, the girls and sisters with whom I was much more familiar. I have loved watching both of them morph from babyhood to manhood, and have tried to support them as best I can.

Yet it is true that no one can enrage you quite like your nearest and dearest. Likewise, no one can challenge you to overcome failures and to do better, try again, as does a mother with her children. These strong emotions often play out well in dramatic forms. 

By Monica Prendergast, January 2015

The “Spotlight Critics Choice Awards.”

In December, local theatre critics shared their picks for best designs, direction, performances and productions from the previous season. The Spotlight Critics Choice Awards have no ceremony or trophies to hand out (we really should try to make a party of it sometime!), but it does give the theatre community a sense of how their work was valued by the reviewers who cover this particular cultural beat. 

Below is the list of nominees and awards as determined mostly by Adrian Chamberlain (Times-Colonist), David Lennam (CBC Radio) and myself (CBC Radio), with some picks also provided by review blog The Marble. I offer brief comments on each category that are, obviously, my opinion alone. Winners are in bold.

 

Set Design 

A Tender Thing, Christina Poddubiuk, Belfry

By Monica Prendergast, November 2014

Three productions in November illustrate how theatre helps us grow.

Paul Woodruff, professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, published a book called The Necessity of Theater: The Art of Watching and Being Watched in 2008. There are very few philosophy books about theatre, so this was a must-read for me.

Theatre has felt necessary to me for most of my life, and I consider theatregoing to be one of the most valuable activities I do. My graduate studies thesis and dissertation were both on aspects of theatre audience education and spectatorship. So I get that there is something of worth in watching, and from the actor’s perspective, in being watched. 

Woodruff agrees, saying: “There is an art to watching and being watched, and that is one of the few arts on which all human beings depend.” 

By Monica Prendergast, October 2014

Adaptations—from Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis and Mitch Albom—are on stage in October.

By Monica Prendergast, September 2014

The Belfry’s production of “The Rez Sisters.”

I moved to Saskatchewan from England in 1969 at the age of eight. My knowledge of Canada’s First Nations was close to nil, at best the stereotype of an “Eskimo” in an igloo. Growing up in Regina did not correct this ignorance. My home and school were in the middle to upper-middle class southern end of the city. Everyone in this neighbourhood knew that the northern end was where most Indigenous people lived, not that we ever went there. Nor were Aboriginal culture and history featured in my classroom instruction. In fact, my first significant lesson about Canadian Aboriginal people came from the theatre. 

By Monica Prendergast, July/August 2014

Theatre-going this summer provides it all: fresh air, exercise, laughs, and tears.

Live theatre is shared air. It’s all the more meaningful when the air is fresh. And warm. A midsummer night’s production is a dream just for being outside. When I lived in Toronto, I experienced the enchantment of Canadian Stage’s annual Dream in High Park. The sunsets and the setting make magic. Among enormous trees strung with thousands of fairy lights, the fairies alight; the performance a reunification with nature and all spirits in it.

Not that the absence of four walls is always a wilderness adventure. I saw a wonderful production of Twelfth Night on an outdoor stage in San Diego a few years back. It was delightful for its Watteau-like 18th century-style garden design, lovely pathways and bridges draped with flowers. 

By Monica Prendergast, June 2014

A sampling of new Canadian plays.

For almost 30 years, the Alberta Theatre Projects’ PlayRites Festival in Calgary has premiered new Canadian plays— well over 100 works, a number of which have gone on to be produced across the country. Sadly, this year marks the final mounting of the festival so I was especially committed to attending at least the final weekend of the month-long event. The “Blitz Weekend” is when artistic directors and theatre administrators join the audience, not only for the main performances but also for stagings-in-progress and play-readings.

By Monica Prendergast, April 2014

Atwood’s The Penelopiad is just one of the myths to think about in April’s theatre offerings.

Want to write a play? Or an opera? Touch base with a myth for inspiration. As did the ancient Greeks. And the Romans. Many times I have seen myths transformed into staged versions: Lysistrata by Aristophanes, Medea by Euripides, Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss, Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman, Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl, Phèdre by Jean Racine. The original pagan stories, at once both naturalistic and metaphysical, portray the interacting lives of gods and humans. These tales make comic and tragic approaches equally great.

By Monica Prendergast, March 2014

Touring productions enrich and enliven the local theatre scene this month.

Our local theatre artists give us substantial seasons to enjoy all year round. I am grateful for this, but I must admit that I also look forward to what the touring circuit brings to Victoria. Travelling productions are generally supported by the Canada Council and other arts granting agencies because the shows are already acknowledged in their hometowns as worthy of national attention. March brings no fewer than five productions to Victoria, all of which promise to enrich our theatre-going experience.