Theatre Preview: Thespian adventures

People don’t go to the theatre for many reasons, all of them unfortunate. For some, “theatre” is a stuffy rendition of The Nutcracker at Christmas, sweating through itchy clothes your parents crammed you into when you were too young to resist. Others remember high school outcasts embarrassing themselves at assemblies with interpretive dance. Of course, some of us were those outcasts and want to leave that chapter far, far behind.

Bullshit.

Theatre isn’t just spandex-straining bulges and melodrama. Sure, high school angst has spawned countless wanky one-man shows as embarrassing for their audiences as their performer, but when theatre is well done it is beautiful, personal and engaging. If you’re a student with a Live Rush card, it’s cheap too.

Good theatre, like all good art, is as accessible as mainstream movie schlock, keeping your eyes so fixed on the stage that you’ll completely forget you’re absorbing culture. This season, for instance, local theatre company Maple Salsa will bring Neruda Nude to the Big Secret Theatre in the Epcor Centre, featuring a production of naked poetry readings. They’ll contort their bodies, they’ll read the works of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and you’ll see lithe nude thespians. Everybody wins.

For those who aren’t ready to jump headlong into the avant garde deep end, there’s always Theatre Calgary, Calgary’s first professional theatre company and a consistent source of familiar stage fare like The Miracle Worker, Guys and Dolls and the consistently crowd-pleasing A Christmas Carol. Big sets, big casts and big plays–it’s a theatrical behemoth on par with a megaplex.

Next door in the Martha Cohen Theatre, Alberta Theatre Projects makes its home. Along with One Yellow Rabbit–whose High Performance Rodeo is an annual treat for people who prefer to wander off the beaten path–ATP has been in business since the late ’70s. Renowned for its annual playRites Festival, which showcases new Canadian work, ATP strikes a comfortable balance between the familiar and the innovative. Though its mix is more eclectic than the older, larger Theatre Calgary, this season boasts familiar titles like Amadeus and Treasure Island.

Fans of the likes of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot can find what their looking for with Vertigo Mystery Theatre, which provides a steady source of murder mysteries and whodunits at the base of the Calgary Tower. Their venue is barely three years-old after moving from the Calgary Science Centre and it’s a hop, skip and a jump away from the best theatre bar in town: The Auburn Saloon. There’s something to be said for relaxing with a martini while scanning the bar for the faces of the actors you’ve just watched. If they drink enough, you might just see another show for free.

If you’re not sold on the idea of sitting through two hours of theatre, you can always break in on your lunch break with Lunchbox Theatre in The Bow Valley Centre. Just bring your lunch, or buy it in the mall’s food court, and take in a one-act show with a running time under an hour. The plays nearly always comedies and you can be back to campus in time to return to the monotony of your physics lab.

One of the most exciting parts of any local theatre scene are its unproven commodities. From community theatre to young upstart companies, Calgary sees the addition of at least another theatre company every year. Some, like U of C alumnus Ground Zero Theatre, are already well on their way to becoming Calgary mainstays, while others like theatreBOOM are quickly building their reputations. Fresh talents can usually be found at Pumphouse Theatre, which has been a venue for emerging artists and community theatre since it was converted from an abandoned pumping station in 1972.

One of the most exciting new additions to Calgary’s theatre scene is sure to be the addition of a familiar company’s new venue. After being booted from the basement of the Jubilee Auditorium before its centennial makeover, Theatre Junction has begun to convert the oldest theatre in Western Canada from a neglected golf shop into The Grand, a “culturehouse” that will create a triumvirate of major theatres in the downtown core along with the Epcor Centre and Vertigo Playhouse.

In spite of all the unfortunate reasons not to go to the theatre, it is immediate, original and often a simple excuse to feel like the social better you’ve always hoped to be. Buy a cheap ticket, see a new show and spend the rest of your night sampling the Auburn’s wine list until your criticisms are as sloppy as you are. If you haven’t found a good reason to go, you haven’t been looking.

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