Theatre Preview: Legends of the Flying Drag Queens

By Stephanie Shewchuk

An interesting amalgam of mud, sackcloth and drag queens awaits at the University of Calgary’s Department of Drama student festival, Taking Flight. All who attend embark on a dark journey of sex, violence and every emotion in between within just 10 plays.

The festival, in its inaugural year, begins with the dual presentation of Mud by Maria Irene Fornes and Jamie Popoff’s Sackcloth. Mud director Kate Newby describes her play as a dark piece set in the poorest region of the Appalachian Mountains. Sackcloth is no more uplifting, following a self-loathing man’s retreat into his imagination to forget his miserable reality. The remaining shows deal with equally weighty material, but are markedly different from each other.

“There’s such a variety of shows,” says Newby. “It’s really a great way to showcase many students at various levels in the program.”

Val Campbell, the coordinator of the festival, agrees Taking Flight is a great way to present the individual work of a large group of students.

“This idea was put forward, because people are maxed out at the end of the semester. Instead of having a fourth main stage production, we decided that Taking Flight will take its place.”

Newby emphasizes the festival is a product of students’ involvement in the design and direction aspects of theatre, not just acting.

“Students have a lot on their plates, but they are extraordinarily passionate,” says Newby. “If you’ve got passion, that’s worth it to me. There’s an energy and a real vibrancy of being young and in creation.”

The festival features original work as decided by a discerning committee. Some graduate students are participating as part of their thesis.

In addition to Mud and Sackcloth, a broad assortment of plays were selected. Drag Queens on Trial by Sky Gilbert is presented with Crave by Sarah Kane and Harry Kondoleon’s The Fairy Garden. Arthur Miller’s work makes an appearance in Clara and the monotony of marriage is analyzed in Landscape by Harold Pinter. The issue of morality is delved into head-first in Bobby Gould in Hell by David Mamet. Two staged readings will also be included with the selections.

“Students are going to see such eclectic work,” says Campbell.

She also stresses the festival’s intrigue, as well as its accessibility.

“We really want to make it accessible,” says Campbell. “Ticket prices are very inexpensive and all shows are only about an hour long. So, for those who maybe haven’t been to the theatre before, it’s a great way to ease in.”

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