Magnetic North Returns to Ottawa for 2011

Ottawa’s prodigal itinerant theatre festival is heading home for a week this summer, and it’s packed some of Canada’s most exciting contemporary theatre.

The Magnetic North Theatre Festival finds its way home.

From June 3–11, 2011, the Magnetic North Theatre Festival will present a vast array of theatrical performances, lectures, workshops, and other activities to venues across Ottawa (yet mostly within walking distance of each other), including the National Arts Centre Studio and Fourth Stage, the Great Canadian Theatre Company, Arts Court and Club SAW, the University of Ottawa’s Academic Hall, the Ottawa School of Speech and Drama, the National Gallery of Canada, and even downtown Ottawa’s premiere shopping destination, the Rideau Centre.

Magnetic North alternates between its home city of Ottawa and other cities across Canada on an annual basis.  It’s very busy for a festival that lasts just over a week, with events that cater not only to general audience members, but the more engaged theatregoers, theatre students, and working theatre professionals.

Although the lineup has been public for some time, this week’s launch gave a taste of what the city can expect from the six main festival productions, as well as the other vital parts of the Magnetic North experience.  From June 3–6, Academic Hall will be transformed into a synagogue for the orthodox wedding of Rachel and Chaim in Julie Tepperman’s YICHUD (Seclusion) (Theatre Passe Muraille partnered with Convergence Theatre).  Also at Arts Court from June 3–6, Halifax’s Zuppa Theatre Company presents 5 Easy Steps (to the end of the world), which promises to be a little bit of apocalyptic reflection and a lot of dance party, with choreography by Mwendo Dance Company and music by members of the Heavy Blinkers.  This is What Happens Next (Necessary Angel) brings Daniel MacIvor to the Great Canadian Theatre Company stage from June 7–11 in this one-man multiple-character adult fairytale co-created with Daniel Brooks.  From Calgary comes Blake Brooker’s Kawasaki Exit (One White Rabbit), inspired by the “dark side of Japanese social networking sites”, which will be performed in Japanese and English from June 7–10 on the NAC Studio stage.  The Silicone Diaries (Buddies in Bad Times), Nina Arsenault’s journey “from an awkward male to a staggering hour-glass bombshell” will be at Academic Hall from June 8–11.  Finally, at the Arts Court Studio from June 9–111, The Chop brings us KISMET one to one hundred, a celebrated verbatim theatre production from Vancouver.

Alongside these six productions are two special one-time events.  For one night only (June 4th, 8:00 pm), the incomparably hilarious Cathy Jones (This Hour has 22 Minutes, CODCO) will be hosting An Evening with Cathy Jones.  On the NAC Fourth Stage on June 9th in the afternoon, festival attendees can catch a staged reading of NAC English Theatre Playwright in Residence (2010/11) Tara Beagan’s new play The Ministry of Grace.

There are those who feel (quite rightly) that their experience as an audience member should go beyond the theatre seat.  Magnetic North is more than ready for them with its Encounters Series.  Music and Celebration for the Jewish Wedding is a 90-minute workshop on June 5th at 12:00 pm taking place in the Arts Court Library where participants will join YICHUD (Seclusion) musical director Aviva Chernick, accordion player Ronen Segall and actors Julie Tepperman and Aaron Willis in an exploration of traditional Chassidic melodies and improvisation.  At Club SAW on June 7th at 10:00 pm, the Zuppa Theatre Co. Pit Band will host Karaokalypse, a cabaret of apocalyptic proportions (or at least content).  The following night at the same time in the same place, In the Heat of LaNuit features Alexis O’Hara and her alter-ego Guizo in a multilingual, gender-bending, musical exploration of “our modern day obsession with feelings.”  On June 10th from 1:00–2:30 pm in the Arts Court Library, The Chop Theatre will lead Being Yourself Onstage, a workshop on… well, exactly that most difficult of performance disciplines.  Also on June 10th in the Lecture Hall of the National Gallery of Canada from 3:30–5:30 pm, Nina Arsenault presents her lecture on The Female Form, Beauty and Art.  Throughout the festival (on June 4, 5, 7, 9, 10 and 11, at various times), the Encounters Series also brings the Human Library to the Western Skywalk of the Rideau Centre, where participants will be able to “borrow” people as if they were books in a library and “read” them through candid conversation.

Emerging artists and students of the theatre arts will find Compass Points an intensive introduction to the professional theatre industry.  In partnership with the Ottawa School of Speech and Drama (where most of the activities will take place) and the Ottawa Theatre School, this series of panels, workshops and lectures covers areas such as Creating Theatre Outside the Social Mainstream (featuring Jennifer Boyes-Manseau of Dramamuse, Stewart Legare of Zuppa Theatre Company, Julie Tepperman and Aaron Willis of Convergence Theatre, and Marcus Youssef of Neworld Theatre), performance, make-up (featuring Ottawa’s Lynn Cox and Zachary Counsil), the process of learning and creation (featuring Denise Clarke of One Yellow Rabbit, James Long of Theatre Replacement, and Nicholas Di Gaetano and Emily Pearlman of Ottawa’s own Mi Casa Theatre), playwriting (featuring Robert Chafe, Magnetic North Artistic Associate and winner of the 2010 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama), and grant writing.  This week kicks off with a keynote address by Dustin Harvey (Artistic Director, Secret Theatre, Halifax).

Since 2004, Magnetic North has been at the vanguard of the establishment of theatre as an industry with its Industry Series, a symposium of theatre professionals providing a networking and community-building opportunity that has had deep and lasting influence.  It starts off on June 6th with an Expanded Backyard BBQ (not your average lawn party: the GCTC’s undercurrents festival grew from a seed planted at a previous Backyard BBQ) on the University of Ottawa’s Tabaret Field and a 5 à 7 Keynote Conversation with Daniel MacIvor and One Yellow Rabbit at Club SAW on the subject of truth.  On June 7th and 8th from 10:00 am–1:30 pm at the University of Ottawa Studio, Magnetic Waves will present curated excerpts from new independent work from Ottawa, including Countries Shaped Like Stars (Mi Casa), Merz (Peter Froehlich), Bifurcate Me (Theatre 4.669), Écume (Théâtre Trillium), and Shadow Cutter (Sleeping Dog).  Also on June 7th, in the Arts Court Theatre Lobby, there will be a panel on Colingualism featuring James Long, Stacey Christodoulou (The Other Theatre, Montréal), Thomas Kraus (PAZZ Performing Arts Festival, Oldenburg, Germany), and Ottawa’s own Joël Beddows (past Artistic Director of Théâtre la Catapulte, and University of Ottawa professor).

Ottawa’s climate is actually quite hospitable during the early part of the summer; for a theatrical experience like Magnetic North, it’s worth taking a trip down for the week.  If all that is still somehow not enough theatre for you, there’s no reason to leave your seat: the Ottawa Fringe Festival is waiting in the wings.

Visit the Magnetic North Theatre Festival website to learn more about the festival, or to order festival passes and tickets.