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yyc theatre

Winners and Losers play is sparking conversation

By SILVIA PIKAL

In Winners and Losers, on stage at Arts Commons from November 15-25, two friends and performers debate on stage over whether certain topics are winners or losers. The random topics run the gamut from Robin Williams to Meghan Markle, and camping to private schools. Is Meghan Markle a winner or a loser? That depends on which person you ask, because the two friends are each shaped by their different life experiences. 

Courtesy Chromatic Theatre.

“The two women are different races, different ages, different generations, and they bring a variety of different opinions to the table — and they might not always be the ones you expect,” says Jenna Rodgers, the founder and artistic director for Chromatic Theatre, which develops and supports culturally diverse voices in Calgary’s theatre community. Winners and Losers is a Calgary adaptation of an original play co-written and performed by Canadian theatre artists and friends Marcus Youssef and James Long. 

One Yellow Rabbit hosted the show’s run in Calgary in 2017 as part of the High Performance Rodeo, but it’s going to be new to audiences here, even if you’ve seen it before, since Rodgers and the two performers, Makambe K. Simamba and Valerie Planche, have re-written and re-cast the performance with an all-female team. 

“Gender is a construct, but we all know what society tells us about gender is that men and women fight differently — so what is at the core of our fighting?” Rodgers says. “How do you achieve similar effects when you flip the gender? Does gender matter at the core of the play? Can we get people talking the same way they were able to get conversation started with their work?”

The production premiered at Toronto’s SummerWorks Performance Festival in August, and Rodgers says the audience was keen to jump up and ask questions — or protest if they didn’t agree with the way the conversation was going. The play is scripted but the performers do ask for talking points from the audience, so don’t hesitate to bring your own ideas. 

“It’s a play that’s going to encourage you to have a conversation,” Rodgers says. “Bring a friend who you like having long, passionate talks over a drink with, or a friend you wish you could have a long, passionate talk over a drink with, because there will be plenty of fodder for conversation and thinking about your worldview afterwards.”

Why we need arts funding in Calgary

By SILVIA PIKAL

Art isn’t just what we see on the walls in museums and galleries. You see, hear or feel it when walking across the Peace Bridge, or taking a selfie in front of the giant head called Wonderland, or putting your child in piano lessons, or when you spread blankets on the ground at Prince’s Island Park and listen to the artists at Calgary Folk Music Festival. Art is part of our daily life and its benefits to our city are numerous, including contributing to the economy, adding to the vibrancy of the city that draws business, talent and visitors to Calgary, provoking discussion and critical thinking, as well as connecting Calgarians to each other, according to Calgarians who are proposing increased municipal arts funding.

A photo from this season’s production of Extremophiles by Georgina Beaty of Downstage Theatre Company. Courtesy Caitlind r.c. Brown.

STARTING OVER
When actor, writer and drama therapist Raffi Minas came to Calgary in October 2017 from Lebanon, the 28-year-old had more than a decade of experience in writing and acting but found he had to start from scratch in Calgary.

“It’s hard to act here because you need to know the language, accent, networking, and the most important side in my opinion, you need to understand the culture,” Minas says.

When a friend sent Minas a poster advertising the Theatre Community Connections for Newcomers Program, which pairs newcomers with past theatre experience to mentors, he was eager to sign up.

The pilot project is a partnership between Downstage, a theatre company that produces Canadian work with a focus on social issues, and the Centre for Newcomers, which provides settlement and integration services to immigrants and refugees. Four participants were paired with mentors to create a five to 10 minute showcase performance.

Minas has written a script with his mentor for a 10-minute performance called Suitcase, the story of a man displaced by war, inspired by his own experiences of fleeing Syria for Lebanon before coming to Canada. The show features a refugee who comes to Canada with nothing but a suitcase. He is stopped for a bag check by a customs officer at the airport, and as he pulls items out of his luggage, he recounts the stories behind them— some funny, some tragic. Minas hopes the audience will have a new perspective about the civil war in Syria.

“We discovered it’s very difficult for newcomers to Canada who have professional experience in theatre to start working in their field,” says Ellen Close, the artistic director of Downstage. Close says there are many theatre jobs that are never listed, since companies often reach into their pool of established actors, designers or playwrights, or find talent through training programs that provide professional connections.

“We’re poorer as a theatre community by not having pathways for newcomers to start working,” Close says. “Our work should reflect the greater diversity of Calgary. The people we’ve connected with will be a tremendous asset to the theatre community and their work will be wonderful for Calgarian audiences to experience.”

While more than 20 newcomers wanted to sign up for the pilot project, they could only accommodate four people. Close is applying for project-based funding to continue the work, which means she doesn’t know what it will look like in the future. “If we had increased operating funding that would go a long way to make those commitments, and allow us to be more responsive to opportunities with partners as they arise,” Close says.

STRENGTHENING THE ARTS SECTOR 

Quick facts:

156 organizations Calgary Arts Development invests in produce $134 million in value-added GDP to Canada, with the large majority in Alberta

More than 50,000 Calgarians
are employed by the creative industries sector

In 2017, there were 3,385,616 attendees to arts activities in Calgary

About 65 per cent of 500 Ontario workers who were surveyed said a vibrant arts community is a driving factor when moving for work

Sources: Calgary Arts Development, Data from organizations funded in part through Calgary Arts Development, Calgary Economic Development, Survey – Nanos for Business for the Arts

Patti Pon, president and CEO of Calgary Arts Development, says the Theatre Community Connections for Newcomers Program is a prime example of art providing meaning on an artistic level, public impact level and business level.

Calgary Arts Development is Calgary’s designated arts development authority that invests and allocates municipal funding. They are requesting an increase in municipal arts grant funding from $6.4 million to $19.5 million over the next four years.

They propose to increase operating investment in not-for-profit arts organizations, increase support to individual artists, and increase the diversity of the arts sector to better reflect Calgary’s demographics.

“We are on the verge of systemic change when it comes to diversification of not only our economy but our identity,” Pon says. “That’s a huge opportunity for those of us who are civic partners to work together and move the city’s identity and brand in a consistent direction where we all see ourselves in that identity — as an arts community I’m not so sure we have.”

They’re also proposing to build on arts development programs through research, engagement, events and more, which includes promoting talent we already have in Calgary to draw visitors. “Calgary is promoted as a gateway to the mountains, which is fantastic, but it shouldn’t be the first thing,” Pon says. “What about Prince’s Island Park and the Calgary Folk Musical Festival, or East Village and the container park, or Studio Bell?”

BANDING TOGETHER TO ADVOCATE FOR ARTS FUNDING
Philanthropists Christine Armstrong and Irfhan Rawji started Creative Calgary, a non-partisan group of citizens, in 2017 to advocate for an increase in municipal arts investment, noting that Calgary lags behind other major cities across Canada when it comes to art funding.

Rawji says due to the downturn in the economy, the corporate sector can no longer support the arts community like it once did.

“We started Creative Calgary because we realized if we didn’t get the sector together to describe that challenge collectively and highlight this gap, it probably wouldn’t get fixed, and put a lot of different companies at risk,” Rawji says.

He says from a business perspective, a vibrant arts and culture scene is key to recruiting knowledge workers.

“The cultural scene is part of what makes a city a great city,” Rawji says. “I’m interested in the arts as an individual and a human — and as a business person, it’s critical if we’re actually going to grow and diversify this economy.”

Rawji adds that in today’s tense political climate, and amidst the growing fear of the “other,” art is critical to bringing people together. “Visual arts or dance is a universal language and has a way of allowing us to share a common experience and bring us together,” Rawji says. “It’s a tool for inclusion and building bridges.”

Both Calgary Arts Development and Creative Calgary urge Calgarians who believe civic investment in the arts is important to reach out to their city councillors, who provide guidance for city administration in the next budget cycle (they are reviewing the 2019-2022 plans and budgets in November 2018).

“If we don’t decide as a city and community of citizens that we think this is important, it will probably disintegrate because it can’t survive under its current funding structure,” Rawji says. “If we decide as a community to support it, we can make it even better.”

15 things to do in Calgary in October

By KYLEE PEDERSEN AND SHAUNA MCGINN

Autumn in Calgary means the arrival of some cornerstone festivals and events, bringing together the best of the city’s art, culture, food and drink. Read on to find out how to make the most of October!

Photo courtesy Caitie Lawrence.

UNTOLD HISTORIES
There are few platforms in Calgary, let alone in Canada, that allow Indigenous people to tell their own stories. Since 2012, the Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society has been making this possible through theatre. KAAHSINNONIKS (our ancestors), running on October 3 and 4, tell the story of what happened during the signing of Treaty 7 in 1877, through the collection and artistic interpretation of oral histories. The group’s second major production, KIITISTSINNONIKS (our mothers) will run from October 24-26.

JOAN DIDION’S THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING PLAY
A decade ago, Didion’s best selling memoir was adapted into a stage play that’s since been revered by audiences worldwide. Don’t miss your chance to see it this week at the Sage Theatre until October 6.

ANTIBALAS
There is nothing quite like the infectious energy of this collective of musicians hailing from Brooklyn. Self-described as music for “intrepid listeners,” the West African-inspired Afrobeat orchestra is here on October 5 to bring you sounds of stylistic funk dappled with political nuance that you may not have experienced before.

DISNEY IN CONCERT: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
A tale as old as time gets a special accompaniment: the CPO will bring the feature film to life on October 5 and 6 with performances of all your favourite songs!

SALOON: A MUSICAL ACROBATIC ADVENTURE
Circus, theatre and live music collide in this western-inspired thrill ride on October 6.

WORDFEST
A celebration of all things literature for writers, readers, and wordsmiths, this festival that runs from October 8-15, boasts multiple events each day, ranging from author Q&As, workshops, book signings and more.

ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD
Calgary’s Shakespeare Company are shaking up a classic by casting two women in the title roles. The show runs from October 929.

RODNEY’S CRAB CRACK WITH STEAM WHISTLE BREWING
Rodney’s Oyster House is hosting an evening of messy fun on October 11, with three types of crab served family-style along with a pint of Steam Whistle.

BURTON CUMMINGS
Legendary The Guess Who frontman will rock the stage at Grey Eagle Resort and Casino on October 12.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN WINE AND FOOD FESTIVAL
If the title of this festival isn’t enough to convince you to attend, its menu will. On the docket for 2018? Over 40 different food selections from the city’s best restaurants and vendors, to be paired with an extensive list of global wines, beers and spirits. You’ll also be able to share your favourite sips and bites and vote for the Great Big Taste Awards in two food categories and 14 beverage categories. October 12 and 13.

THE WEATHER STATION
Tamara Lindeman’s cool, feathered voice will coo out the narrative sounds of her fourth EP at Festival Hall on October 14. With her new collection of songs, the Toronto musician will sweep listeners away with unstructured, bold musical storytelling.

CPO: PETER AND THE WOLF
Introducing the perfect performance for young orchestra audiences, this rendition of Prokofiev’s masterpiece accompanied by the ever-charming Saint-Saens’ The Carnival of the Animals is sure to capture the imagination of children and adults alike, as Peter and his animal friends attempt to capture a wolf that is lurking about their village. See it on October 21.

CRAIG FERGUSON
Don’t miss this famed actor, writer and comedian’s newest tour, Hobo Fabulous, on October 21.

ALBERTA BALLET IN THE SLEEPING BEAUTY
A timeless epic at its pinnacle, the whole family will enjoy the story of Princess Aurora set to Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score from October 24-27.

CALGARY SCREAMFEST
The 13thand final ScreamFest is on in the Grandstand building at Stampede Park. Come out to get spooked with haunted houses, rides, escape rooms, and more until October 31.