PlayRites 2K: heating up Calgary’s stages

January is a boring month. All the holiday excitement is over just as it begins–unless you happen to live in Calgary and harbour a passion for theatre.

PlayRites 2K, Alberta Theatre Projects annual festival of new Canadian plays, is back. For six weeks, starting Jan. 14, four plays will be running simultaneously, as well as writing contests, readings and other frivolity.

"The PlayRites festival has got a real kind of national and international profile," said participating director Roy Surette. "People come from all over the world and it’s considered one of the major new play showcases in North America."

Surette is a longtime fan of PlayRites, but due to time constraints has never directed before. This year, however, he has managed to √ět The Coronation Voyage into his schedule. Surette discovered Voyage, written by Michel Marc Bouchard, and pitched it to ATP and they went with it–even though it needs 14 actors.

"It’s a play that’s been produced in French once, about five years ago, but it’s never been done in English," explained Surette. "It has been restructured… although its not an absolute world premier of the play, this version of it is quite different."

The plot centers around an ex-mobster, who betrays his employer. His son is a concert pianist, whose hands are crushed by his father’s enemies. The family, including another younger son, are relocating to England to escape the mob. On the trip, however, the father is tempted to sacrifice his other son in order to gain new passports. Aboard the ocean liner headed to London are a variety of other characters, some headed to see the coronation of the Queen, others with more sinister callings.

The new version of the play has higher stakes for the characters. According to Surette, the original version the separate story lines and characters didn’t seem to have much to do with one another, and watching the play felt like watching a soap opera.

"[Now], it’s accessible and compelling. The characters, although they are a little exotic, are easier to relate to, and they’re fun to watch," explained Surette.

"Of the four mainstage plays, three are pretty edgy in their own way. They’re not absolutely alternative theatre, but if you come to the festival you’re gonna see a lot of edge. You’re not going to just see sitcoms."

The three other plays Motherlode, Appetite, and Knock, Knock, will also be playing during the festival. They are the stories of an unwed mother and her choices; a strange and sinister dinner party; and an absurd case of mistaken identity. Many actors are working on at least two of the plays. Often, the plays selected for PlayRites are unfinished works with the writer, director and cast working on the script while rehearsing it, which is much different from the usual methods of production.

Other events during the festival include a 24-hour playwriting competition, readings throughout the city, as well as a plays performed at secret locations, that ATP will bus theatre-goers to see. The last weekend of February is the "Blitz Weekend," where extra events and show times will be happening.

For more information on the PlayRites 2K performance schedule, go to <<www.atplive.com>>

For tickets call 294-7402. Shows run nightly, except on Mondays, until Feb. 27.

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