Fredericton’s summer theatre festival marks 20 years of new play development with an eclectic mix of stories by a diverse group of New Brunswick playwrights.
NotaBle Acts Theatre Company have been producing a summer theatre festival for twenty years now. Each July festival organizers work to bring the city to life with live theatre performances throughout Fredericton’s downtown district and surrounding neighbourhoods. Showcasing plays by new, emerging and established playwrights from across the province, NotaBle Acts has helped numerous writers hone their craft and see their works brought to life on stage for the first time while also providing countless opportunities for emerging actors, designers and directors.
“It definitely feels a bit surreal to think it’s been this long,” said Len Falkenstein, the festival’s artistic director. “It doesn’t seem like that long ago that Ilkay Silk, Colleen Wagner, Sue Fisher and myself were putting this festival together for the first time. But I guess time flies when you’re having fun. I must admit it feels pretty good, too, to know that something you helped start has endured and been successful for this many years.”
After an unusual year that saw almost all the festival’s programming delivered online, NotaBle Acts’ 20th anniversary season welcomes the return of audiences to venues new and old. This year’s festival will run from July 22 to July 31 and include performances at Memorial Hall, TNB’s Open Space Theatre and Officer’s Square.
As with every new edition of NotaBle Acts, the festival’s 20th anniversary season features a mix of new and returning playwrights. Each year the festival hosts and playwriting competition for submissions across a variety of categories including one-act plays and 10-minute plays as well as works in development that help make up some of the work included in the festival’s reading series, Play Out Loud. There is also an annual middle and high school catagory with the winners being awarded a public reading of their work as part of the full festival lineup.
“The thing I look forward to most is how thrilled new playwrights are seeing their work come to life in front of their eyes for the first time,” said Falkenstein. “And seeing a whole new group of people every year, not just playwrights, but also directors, actors and technicians, discovering their love for working on new plays and how fulfilling that can be when everyone involved is doing that together, working on new scripts by local writers.”
Thirteen new plays will be performed over ten days, July 22-31, including one act plays, ten-minute plays, a site-specific play, readings of new works in development, and 81 Minutes, a mainstage production staged in cooperation with the Falling Iguana Theatre Company, which divides its time between Fredericton and Toronto.
Co-created by Alexa Higgins and Ian Goff, 81 Minutes is a physical theatre and clown-inspired comedy/drama that takes the audience on a fast-paced thrill ride through the true story of one of the world’s most famous unsolved art thefts, which took place at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. This speculative depiction of the heist features a five-person cast playing multiple colorful characters, weaving together the story of the theft with that of the museum’s founder, in a play that will run precisely 81 minutes, the exact length of time the thieves took to pull off their daring caper. 81 Minutes will be performed July 22-25 at Theatre New Brunswick’s Open Space Theatre.
The twelve other new plays to be performed at the festival were selected as winners in NotaBle Acts’ annual province-wide playwriting contest, including MAD about Van Horne by Ron Kelly Spurles and Life Goes On by Muriel Falkenstein, winners of Acting Out, the 2021 competition’s one act category. MAD about Van Horne is a period play set in 1921 in St. Andrew’s, NB, about a local amateur theatre company staging a drama about the town’s most famous former resident, railroad baron and owner of Minister’s Island William Cornelius Van Horne. By contrast, Life Goes On draws on the history of the recent past to tell the intertwined stories of a group of New Brunswick teens living through the early months of the pandemic. Acting Out will be performed at Memorial Hall, UNB, nightly from July 29-31.
Taking it to the Streets, the winners of NB Acts’ 2021 ten-minute play competition, features four short plays performed outdoors at Officers’ Square, including Brandon Hicks’ A Reunion of Lovers, a comedy about two actors trying to perform a romantic melodrama under COVID restrictions; McKenna Boeckner’s Marionettes, a stark drama about two teens growing up in the hinterland of Northern Ontario; Closure, Monika Rennick’s comedy about a meddling mother who’s just not willing to let her daughter’s breakup with her ex-boyfriend go; and Madeline Savoie’s Graffiti; or, the Dangerous Mind of Avery Klein, which offers multiple characters’ perspectives on a teen whose artwork marks her as a high school rebel. These four plays will be performed as an hour of free theatre at 7:30 PM on July 26-29, and will be followed nearby by performances of Neomi Iancu Haliva’s site-specific play Concrete and Plaster. Set in a used clothing store, the play centres on a gay couple whose relationship is teetering over their conflicting desires to stay in Fredericton or follow their dreams elsewhere.
The festival lineup will also feature Play Out Loud, readings of five new plays in development, including three runners up in the festival’s One Act playwriting competition: Limbo by Madeline Savoie, Ill-Advised Capital by Sana Hashmat, and Go Ahead and Make Me the Happiest Woman in the World by Vy Phan. The readings will be rounded out by the two winners of the 2021 NB Acts Middle and High School playwriting contests: Alex Dawson’s She Sssaid and Ava Chamberlain’s The Mushroom Prince. Play Out Loud readings will take place on the afternoons of July 25 and 31 downtown and at TNB’s Open Space Theatre.
Falkenstein’s passion for local stories, local playwrights and locally made theatre is infectious and a big part of what makes each new season of NotaBle Acts special. And once you see things from his perspective, it can be hard to avoid blocking the time to attend at least one of the many performances coming up in the weeks ahead.
“You can spend all sorts of time watching stories written by people you don’t know that have nothing to do with your life or the place you live any day of the year by turning on your TV or going to the movie theatre. How about taking ten days this year, or even just one or two, to go to a theatre down the street to see a story written by someone in your community, that is about the place you live, that speaks in a profound way to some of the realities of your daily life? You’d be helping support local artists and the local economy by doing so. And I bet you would enjoy what you see and have a good time. Plus these plays are mostly short and tickets are either free or very inexpensive. So it’s a low-risk, high-reward proposition.”
For full show, schedule, and ticket details, visit www.nbacts.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.