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The Plays the Thing in Old Strathcona
by Lawrence Herzog
Inside Edmonton | Vol. 20 No. 27  | July 04, 2002
They're the characters behind the characters. David Belke, Stewart Lemoine, John Hudson, Darryl Lindenbach, Jonathan Christensen and Joey Tremblay are just some of the talented directors and writers that bring Old Strathcona's theatre district to life.

From new works to new takes on classic material, from improvisation to the world's longest-running live improvised soap opera, the diversity of material is wide and astonishing. When the curtain goes up in Old Strathcona, audiences are entertained, invigorated and challenged to laugh, think and talk about what they've seen.

The New Varscona Theatre, in the heart of Old Strathcona, is home for Shadow Theatre, a company that aims to provide an "evening of excellent entertainment." The company's works have been described as intelligent, warm, human, engaging and affecting. David Belke, one of the most accomplished playwrights, is Shadow Theatre's playwright-in-residence and producer.

Artistic director John Hudson programs an eclectic season of classic, new and contemporary plays. What we do and what the other theatres do in Old Strathcona is really about challenging and entertaining audiences, Hudson. It is such an honour to be part of such a collective. Theres an energy that really makes the work better.

One of the biggest success stories at The New Varscona is DIE-NASTY!, the world's longest-running, live, improvised soap opera. It's been more than 10 years since a close-knit family of 11 actors have worked together to create character-based, long-format, improvised theatre.

The show is produced by Stewart Lemoine and directed by Trevor Anderson and performances are every Monday night from October through May. DIE-NASTY! has also performed an annual Soap-a-Thon every September for the past nine years - a 53-hour non-stop improv marathon that is the world's longest. Special guests at DIE-NASTY! have included Austin Powers himself, Mr. Mike Myers, and SCTV's legendary Joe Flaherty.

Long before TV shows like Whose Line is it Anyway? became popular, the art of improvisation was alive and well in Old Strathcona and continues to flourish. Theatresports, Chimprov, Touring Shows and workshops are among Rapid Fire's improvisation offerings.

Theatresports, a weekly improv show, is now into its 22ndt season and draws capacity audiences to the New Varscona Theatre every Friday night at 11. Audiences come to enjoy teams of improvisors create comedy scenes in a pseudo-competitive setting. Chimprov, a long-form improv show with no rules, no limits and no guarantees (except continuous laughs!), runs the first three Saturday nights of every month at 11 o'clock and the variety show Oh Suzanna takes the stage the last Saturday of every month.

A dedicated ensemble of performers presenting new works created specifically around their talents is the heart of the strategy at Teatro La Quindicina, which was formed for the first Edmonton Fringe Theatre Festival in 1982. Teatro has been performing regularly at The Varscona Theatre since 1993 and is guided by renowned playwright and director Stewart Lemoine.

Catalyst Theatre is a Strathcona-based theatre company that creates and tours new work by Jonathan Christensen and Joey Tremblay and a team of artists. During the past five years, Catalyst Theatre has garnered over thirty awards and nominations for its touring productions The House of Pootsie Plunket and Elephant Wake.

From its grassroots beginnings as Chinook Touring Theatre in 1980, Fringe Theatre Adventures has flourished for more than 20 years producing professional live theatre for young audiences, both in Edmonton and to schools and communities throughout Alberta. Based in The Arts Barns, Strathcona's arts complex, Fringe Theatre Adventures' annual programming includes Fringe Theatre for Young People, Edmonton's only season of theatre for young people and their families. Guided by artistic director Darryl Lindenbach, the theatre plays a crucial role in developing new audiences and making theatre accessible to youth through its mainstage, school matinee and touring productions.

The Walterdale Playhouse, in the historic 92 year old former Strathcona Fire Hall No.1, is western Canada's longest running community theatre. It has presented an eclectic selection of Canadian and International plays for 43 seasons, including many Edmonton premieres. Upcoming productions include An Evening of One-Acts -- The Beaver Effect by Mark Stubbings, Infidelity by David Owen and Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin's "Savage/Love", June 10th through 15th, and Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show July 24th through August 3rd.

In a part of Edmonton with more theatres in a few square blocks than any other place in the province, the toughest part might be making a decision. Adding to the challenge is the enticement offered by the Princess Theatre, which presents some of the best performances ever captured on celluloid. Opened in 1915, its another treasured piece of Edmonton history which is now the city's premier art house cinema, showing little known gems from little known filmmakers. It's cinema that challenges and invigorates and offers pricing well below the chains -- $8 for general adult admission and $5 for matinees and Monday screenings.

If youd like to offer your thoughts, please drop me an email at lawrenceherzog@hotmail.com For information on reprints of previously published articles, check out my website at www.lawrenceherzog.com

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