Setting the stage
While June tends to be a quiet month for most Calgary theatre companies, that’s not the case with Lunchbox Theatre. In fact, June is an important month for “the world’s longest-running lunchtime theatre,” thanks to the Suncor Energy Stage One Festival of New Work.
For 24 years, the Stage One Festival has been an important ground for developing new one-act plays, many of which will appear on the Lunchbox stage in coming seasons.
Playwrights submit their works-in-progress and those whose plays get selected then have the opportunity to work with a cast of actors and a director to workshop their script. At the end of the weeklong workshop, the play receives a public reading.
At this year’s Stage One Festival there will be readings of eight new plays — seven of which are by Calgarians — on Fridays and Saturdays throughout June.
Lunchbox artistic director Pamela Halstead says she received about 50 submissions this year, about half of which were from Calgary, but that she didn’t plan that nearly all those chosen would be by local playwrights.
“It really depends on what’s in the pile,” she says, adding that Calgarians do have a “bit of an advantage,” as they better understand Lunchbox’s mandate — finding one-act plays that “entertain and engage people, as well as have legs under them in terms of writing and heart.”
While most Calgarians don’t have Christmas on their minds in June, there are two holiday plays in this year’s Stage One mix — Halstead says having a holiday-themed show on the Lunchbox stage in December is a much-beloved tradition, so it’s necessary to have some appropriate plays “in the works.”
One of those plays is by Calgary playwright Neil Fleming; titled The After Party. The action takes place at the office Christmas party, where crushes are revealed and realized.
The other holiday show, James Hutchison’s Christmas Suite, is about a man who rents the titular suite in a hotel so he won’t be home alone on December 25.
“We all like to think Christmas is the most joyous time of the year, but it’s also a reality that Christmas is the time of year with the most suicides and, if you aren’t in a situation with friends and family around, it can be a sad and isolated time for people,” Halstead says.
Besides Fleming, who also wrote last year’s holiday entry, another familiar name for Lunchbox audiences has a work at this year’s festival — Glenda Stirling, who presents the third instalment in her Shopaholic series.
There are also two musicals this year. The first, Homecoming King, with a book by Dave Deveau and music by James Coomber, explores what happens when, in the wake of a car accident, two women are notified that their husbands are in critical condition — as they wait in the hospital, they discover they are married to the same man.
“It’s serious, but it’s also a ridiculous slice of absurdity,” says Halstead.
The other musical, Grant Tilly’s Bingo Ladies, is rather self-explanatory.
Halstead says, in a play-reading situation, there are various approaches when it comes to actually presenting the musical portion of a script. Sometimes, actors will just read the words to a song; other times, the composer might sing a song a cappella.
Ken Cameron’s contribution to the festival is called Star Kiss. It deals with the first interracial kiss on television back in 1968, courtesy of Star Trek, which Cameron can’t actually identify by name because of licensing issues.
Halstead says Stage One is a venue for both established playwrights, like Cameron, and for those who are emerging. One of those is Brieanna Blizzard, whose play, The Surrogate, “is a crazy fun piece about how family can drive us bananas,” according to Halstead.
The final piece is courtesy of Dirty Laundry — “Calgary’s only totally live, totally improvised Soap Opera” — called Anethesia’s Antique Road Show. It offers a bit of a departure from the usual Stage One offerings.
“This is the first time we have done something that is not playwright driven. Whole parts of the play are improvised, depending on what the actors get from the audience,” Halstead says.
The thrust of the show is that Anethesia is trying to recall significant moments in her life, with the help of “artifacts” provided by audience members. The show closes this year’s Stage One with two outings on June 22 and 23.