Fredericton’s Theatre Free Radical join the lineup for this year’s Edmonton Fringe Theatre Festival.
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I always get the ‘warm fuzzies’ when I read about artists from Fredericton turning heads in other cities. I have a lot of pride in our community and the people who help to make it such an inspiring place to live. But while my attention is often focused on noisy musicians making a beautiful racket on stage, there are many artists from our neck of the woods who are finding success on a national level, turning heads in their own circles and in communities from coast to coast.
Take Fredericton playwright Len Falkenstein, for instance. For well over a decade Len has been a major motivator within the city’s theatre community, encouraging and inspiring young artists through his work with UNB Drama, NotaBle Acts Theatre Company, Bard in the Barracks, and Theatre Free Radical who will perform his latest play, Lac/Athabasca, as part of the Edmonton Fringe Theatre Festival, August 12-21. This series of performances follows successful runs in Vancouver, Toronto and several dates throughout New Brunswick, easily making it one of the most-viewed, most-performed New Brunswick plays in a long time.
“This is going to be our sixth run of the show and sixth different city for it,” said Falkenstein. “We first performed it in September of 2014 in Vancouver. Then it was selected for performance at the SummerWorks Theatre Festival in Toronto in August of 2015. After that we embarked on our slow motion New Brunswick tour, I guess you could say, performing in Fredericton last October (co-presented by NotaBle Acts), Sackville (co-presented by Live Bait Theatre) in March, and Saint John in May (co-presented by Saint John Theatre Company). Now we’re heading to Edmonton for our first Alberta performance. Also along the way the play has had a staged reading in Ottawa in April 2015 and a week-long professional workshop and staged reading in Kingston, Ontario in January (with Ontario casts), so in total that’s eight cities that have seen the show in some form.”
As far as made-in-New Brunswick theatre goes, Lac/Athabasca is a major success story helping to bring national attention to the province’s theatre scene. The play is a politically charged piece of art, dealing with issues tied directly to Canada’s ongoing environmental and industrial concerns, inspired by both the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster that ravished the small Quebec community in 2013.
“It is pretty remarkable,” said Falkenstein. “I feel quite lucky and thrilled to have had the show go so far. I find that when you write something you have no idea whether it’s any good or not. You’re so far inside it that it’s hard to know how it’ll work for someone who’s not inside it. I definitely had that feeling going into the first run two years ago.”
From the play’s Vancouver debut through to its upcoming Edmonton run, Falkenstein has managed to keep a consistent cast with very few changes. That cast includes Jake Martin, Rebekah Chassé, Jean-Michel Cliche and Alex Donovan with Dani Brun joining for this run.
“Through tenacity and some luck, we’ve been fortunate to have the same cast for the first five runs of the show, which has been fantastic,” he said. “The actors have been able to evolve and grow with the play, which has also changed and grown over the two years. But for the run coming up, we’ve had to replace one actor, Emily Bosse. Dani Brun, who has been our stage manager for the show and is a fine actor in her own right, has been able to step into Emily’s roles quite seamlessly, leaving me to take on stage managing for the first time, which has not been so seamless.”
So, what lies ahead for Lac/Athabasca? With members of the cast now scattered in cities across the country pursuing their own work and careers in theatre (Alex Donovan will remain in Edmonton to attend U of A’s MFA Directing program and Jake Martin recently moved to Toronto), performances are becoming increasingly challenging.
“The play is going to be published by Playwrights Canada Press in early 2018, so it will live on in that form,” said Falkenstein. “I’ve also sent it to a few theatres for consideration so we’ll see if anything happens there. I’m not sure if Theatre Free Radical will be performing the play again, but it’s not impossible. We’ve had an inquiry from a company in Maine that is interested. But we’ll see. If this is the end for the show, it’s been a more than great run, which is all you can hope for.”