Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday Feature: Producer Dahlia Katz on the FireWorks Series

Setting Off FireWorks
by Dahlia Katz, rehearsal photos by Dahlia Katz
@Dahlia Katz

From sparks to a sizzle to explosion – this, as a matter of fact, is the story of the FireWorks series at Alumnae Theatre in Toronto.

Alumnae is home to one of the oldest theatre companies in Canada.  Founded in 1919 by women graduates from the University of Toronto and still operating with all-female membership and administrative team (though men are welcome to act, direct, design and stage-manage), she occupies a beautiful former firehall on Berkeley Street, just paces north of Canadian Stage, and puts on four mainstage productions per year, and a festival entitled New Ideas.  

Annually since 1989, New Ideas has been presenting scores of new short plays and play-exerpts.  This is a brave endeavour, since the plays are dramaturged and directed for a debut staging all within three short months.  A wildly successful event, the in-house New Play Dramaturgy group (NPD) moved to send its sparks off in a purposeful direction, with specific urgency for a 25th anniversary celebration of New Ideas.  It was clear that Alumnae had something powerful in her hands, with a strong and sustainable audience interest in new work, and a community of playwrights heating up before her eyes.  

The sparks were tossed onto an enterprising committee of women from the NPD who wanted to give Alumnae's own a higher degree to rise to.  The idea of the new venture would be to house the further dramaturgical development of a selection of plays into full-length performances.  These would be presented as a repertory series in one space: the studio theatre upstairs.  This would be a challenge, but they were unrelenting in a search for people to fan the flames of the project with their own passion for playwriting.

This is where I came in as producer.  Three plays, three weeks, one space?  Inaugural event?  I was already flush with anticipation.  I wanted to see that this new level of play development was a fuller experience for the audience, with a Roundtable for each play, hosted by a guest professional or academic, and providing a broader intellectual engagement with the subject matter before witnessing the performance.  Also, on the last day, a final talkback with all three playwrights at once, engaging in a dynamic dialogue about process.

Directors, designers and actors gathered.  Playwrights submitted their final drafts and they sat in on rehearsals.  Three very different worlds began to come to light.  FireWorks was officially in the works.

I write this from the sizzle of tech week.  Triple the props, triple the costumes, triple the set changes are all being finessed as you read this.  We're almost ready to burst.

The Alumnae Theatre Company is theatre by women, for everyone, in Toronto.  She wants to highlight women actors, directors and playwrights like never before.  With the 100th anniversary of the company approaching, her new commitment to emerging artists is warming.

It's time to feed her fire.

THEORY by Norman Yeung, directed by Joanne Williams
A young professor of film theory is threatened by an anonymous mystery student.
Mature Themes, 18+

Theory Roundtable with Helen Androlia and Norman Yeung

The internet has provided us with an opportunity to connect with each other and explore new ideas. It has, however, also provided an environment for humanity's baser instincts to flourish unchecked. Social media professional Helen Androlia talks to playwright Norman Yeung about his work 'Theory', and the crossing of lines - the line between beliefs and agendas, online personas and offline lives, and where obsession crosses into the public light.

GLORIA’S GUY by Joan Burrows, directed by Anne Harper
How long can a girl hold a grudge? Or can an old flame burn bright? A comedy/drama about forgiveness, redemption and maybe even love!

Gloria's Guy Roundtable with M. John Kennedy, Joan Burrows and Ginette Mohr
What makes a play a comedy? How do the various artists involved make you laugh? A professional actor, director and playwright discuss the particulars of creating comedy on stage from their unique, and sometimes disparate, perspectives.

MEASURE OF THE WORLD by Shirley Barrie, directed by Molly Thom
Peru 1736: French scientific ambition meets mestiza cunning and a grand quest is swamped by personal obsessions. 

Measure of the World Roundtable with Alanna McKnight, Shirley Barrie and more guest speakers
Measure of the World tells the story of three men and their search for greatness. Join three historians and the playwright as they discuss the influences at work around the men on their quest, including the role of women and politics in 18th century South America.

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