Downstage calls themselves “theatre that creates conversation,” but the upcoming 2022/2023 performances might be more belly laughs than boisterous talk.
The theatre is bringing a pair of comedy shows, one of which is a world premiere, to the stage this season.
“We decided like ‘hey, this is a real reason for comedy, we’ve been through a lot as a society, we’re braving coming back to live performance for a whole first season back,’ so why not come in and laugh about it and then talk about it,” said Clare Preuss, Downstage’s artistic director.
Coming in is the incredibly well-received Gender? I Hardly Know Them, which has garnered multiple five star reviews throughout its various runs. That’s including a sold out one at Edmonton Fringe.
Co-created by Elena Belyea and Sydney Campbell, it tackles the topic of gender and queerness in what the troupe describes as Netflix’s Nanette meets the Baroness von Sketch Show.
“People will want to get those [tickets] right away, because it’s going to be so funny. These two are ridiculous,” said Preuss.
Fresh content for Calgary audiences
Audiences will see an updated version of the show for its Downstage theatre debut. Preuss said that the duo has been honing sketches, working on jokes, and will be bringing the freshest content to performances.
She said that the format of the show allows audiences to let their guard down, have some big laughs, but also appreciate some challenging subjects in a relaxing setting.
“I mean, this gender conversation is not going anywhere, right? It’s something that’s continuing to grow in prominence in our society,” she said.
“So rather than avoiding it, or kind of being uncomfortable about it, why don’t we just look at it, laugh about it, and then go OK, like, here’s some possibilities.”
Preuss said that they were incredibly fortunate to have Belyea return to Downstage, after being the world premiere theatre for her other play, Smoke.
“So we’re really lucky that we got the Calgary premiere of the show,” she said.
Gender? I Hardly Know Them runs from Oct.12 through 16 at the Motel Theatre in Arts Commons.
World premiere of The F Word
Coming in February is the world premiere of The F Word, by Keshia Cheesman and Bianca Miranda.
The show is being presented by Alberta Theatre Projects as a Downstage production in association with Theatre Calgary.
The theatre is calling it a playfully political pop-art piece, with the tagline of “go, grow, glow. Take up space.” The show centres around the idea of a coming to age, and how friendships formed relate to the concept of fatness.
“I think that’s a really honest thing—they also go on all sorts of adventures: everything from direct address to the audience, to storytelling with each other, to going into scenes, there’s music, there’s fairy tales, and there’s some infomercial fun,” said Preuss.
“I saw an in-development reading of it, and at the end, the audience just leapt to their feet and began clapping, it was so inspiring.”
The show has been in development for the past several years, getting its start through One Yellow Rabbit’s beautifulyoungartists program, and in Handsome Alice’s collective creation show inVisible.
Preuss said that it was very exciting to do the world premiere at the Martha Cohen Theatre with three different theatre companies involved. The production is employing a number of well-known Canadian theatre artists, alongside some of the best local talent.
“Our goal is to is to bring it around the country, and maybe even further than that,” she said.
The F Word runs from Feb. 9 through Feb. 19, 2023.
Welcome audiences to take a risk, for free
One of the things that Downstage will be continuing this year is providing free tickets to their shows for people who might not know if theatre is for them.
“If money is an issue, or you know what, you might even have plenty of money but you just don’t want to spend your 30 bucks on that because you don’t know if you’re gonna like it, we have a Pay It Forward program,” said Preuss.
“I welcome people to take a risk,” she said.
If people want to try out a theatre show, they can contact Downstage beforehand to register for a Pay It Forward ticket.
All of the shows are aged 16 and up this season, and the theatre company is encouraging families with older teens to come and visit, and to spark conversations from the shows as a family.
“There’s a lot of integrated conversations that I think are really interesting for people of all ages, and I love it when families come, people come for intergenerational art appreciation.”
For more details on the upcoming season, see Downstage’s website at downstage.ca.