Saturday, January 5, 2013

Theatre For Thought, January 5, 2013

The Season of Hibernation
joel fishbane

The convivial atmosphere of the holidays has given way to the spirit of hibernation and for most, that means curling up at home with whatever new gadgets appeared during Christmas. But for theatre artists, the season of hibernation is the perfect time for development and incubation. No wonder, then, that January is the time when several theatres sponsor festivals that showcase work in various stages of development. In February, the Great Canadian Theatre Company will launch the latest edition of its popular undercurrents festival, but two other important festivals are already underway: the Next Stage Theatre Festival in Toronto and the Wildside Festival in Montreal.

Each performance will be followed by a talkback that will allow Haber to start a dialogue with the audience about the impact of the play. 

This year, in addition to remounts of hits from last summer’s Montreal Fringe, patrons of the Wildside will have the unique opportunity to check out a workshop production of Life Here After, the latest work by playwright / actress Alex Haber. 

“Very often you need to get a show in front of an audience before you can actually see what’s working,” said Haber, as she explained that this presentation is a work-in-progress designed to allow her to focus on developing the script. Each performance will be followed by a talkback that will allow Haber to start a dialogue with the audience about the impact of the play. 

It’s bound to be a lively discussion: the play’s story follows a young girl who stalks her sister’s killer. Haber was inspired by the fate of Karla Homolka, the notorious aide-de-camp of serial killer Paul Bernardo. After making a deal with the courts, Homolka was eventually freed and now reportedly lives in the Caribbean with her husband and children. While not a re-telling of Homolka’s story, Haber was eager to explore the effect a criminal’s freedom might have on the survivors of his / her victims.

“This is a new experience for me,” Haber said, speaking of the workshop process. “What it has done is teach me to be patient with my work.” Haber, along with director Micheline Chevrier and her producers at Imago Theatre, are hoping that this presentation will help induce both the public and producers to support the play’s future development. “There’s definitely an afterlife for Life Here After,” Haber said. 

For Haber, an appearance at the Wildside Festival is merely one step in a longer process. But over in Toronto, at the Next Stage Festival, director Andrew Lamb is putting the finishing touches on what he says is the definitive production of Julia Lederer’s With Love and a Major Organ. A hit of the 2011 Toronto Fringe, the play has returned with a sharper script and a more finely tuned production. 

“The whole point for Julia was to have a show ready, a package that she could sell,” Lamb explained while on break from rehearsals. “It’s a tourable show, so we have invited artistic directors from around town.” A comedy about the effect of the technological age on our romantic lives, With Love… tells an all-too-relevant story of three Torontonians whose lives intersect as they search for true love. 

Lamb was unequivocal about the secret behind the show’s success last summer. “It’s Julia’s writing and her unique voice,” he said. “People have a fun time cheering for the heroes…everyone can see a little of themselves in the story.” Working with the same cast from the summer (playwright / actress Lederer is joined by Robin Archer and Martha Ross), Lamb found that they were able to use the lessons of the Fringe production to create a show that is more nuanced then ever before. 

And so, on either end of the 401, we see two extreme examples of the what the season of hibernation can bring: one show that is at the start of its artistic development and another about to emerge in full bloom. It’s these extremes that make festivals like Next Stage and the Wildside so exciting for theatre-goers. Theatre is a collaboration and audiences are the final collaborators. These festivals provide the meeting ground for both artist and audience to come in from the cold and share in the theatrical process.

Life Here After runs at the Wildside Festival in Montreal from January 11 – 13. Check out the full schedule for the Wildside at

With Love and a Major Organ runs at the Next Stage Festival in Toronto from January 2 – 13. Check out the full schedule for the Next Stage Festival at

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