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For three Calgary playwrights, the planets have aligned to make the 2022 Calgary Fringe Festival the launch pad for their latest work.
There were 14 coveted spots at this year’s festival that were awarded through a lottery, and according to the festival’s director of production, Michele Gallant, the competition was fierce. It was sheer luck of the draw that Caroline Russell-King, James Odin Wade and Katie Miller will premiere their works from July 29 to August 6 at one of four Inglewood venues: Alexandra Centre, Festival Hall, Gravity Espresso and Wine Bar, and Lantern Community Church.
A play’s journey is not complete until it has been performed for an audience, and each of these new plays will have six performances. The response of the public, the acceptance and the possible enthusiasm are what could propel these works to future productions with local and even national companies.
Russell-King, who is a playwright, playwright and theater critic, began work on her play Absinth Bourbon Vodka and Saki three years ago. It is the story of a playwright who takes in a new student who is a recovering addict.
“Every playwright’s work is semi-autobiographical, no matter what you’re writing about, but I’m a playwright and so is my character, so in this case, it becomes more specific. For four years, I taught creative writing to recovering addicts in a halfway house, so that experience has been incorporated into the work. The character of the young man is completely my invention. He is not someone I have met,” says Russell-King.
She won’t elaborate on the plot, insisting that the less someone knows about it or the characters, the more they’ll enjoy experiencing it. She says her inspiration came from reading John Logan’s 2009 play Red about an artist whose art theory is challenged by the young man she hires to mix paint for his new project.
“It was more than the themes of Logan’s play. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of two character works like Willie Russell’s Educating Rita, Stephen Massicotte’s Mary’s Wedding and Logan’s Red and that’s what I wanted to do with Absinth Bourbon Vodka and Saki.
The play stars Kathryn Kerbes and EJ Candelaria and is directed by Valerie Pearson.
“Val Pearson was my Drama 30 teacher at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School. Twenty-five years later, he starred in the Lunchbox Theater production of my play Second Chance First Love and now, 10 years later, he’s directing a play of mine. He is one of those dream couples because I have a lot of respect for the way he approaches directing. I know my game is in the best hands.”
Absinth Bourbon Vodka and Saki performs at the Alexandra Center and has a live steam production on August 6 at 7:45 p.m.
James Odin Wade wrote the first draft of his In Case of Fire in 2014 during his first graduate year at the University of Calgary.
“I read an article about a Mormon woman whose husband admitted, for most of their marriage, that he had not believed in God. The article was about how this initially affected her and how they were able to get through this crisis.
“I grew up in Lethbridge and had several Mormon friends, but in each case, when their parents found out I wasn’t Mormon, the relationship fizzled out. I learned early on what an insular and isolating religion can be.”
Wade says he wanted to address a similar dynamic in his play, so it begins with the husband “getting caught up in a lie and having to admit he hasn’t believed in God for a long time. This makes the couple count on faith, life, death and their relationship. The play is a comedy/drama full of twists.”
In Case of Fire has had quite an illustrious history. In 2016, when Mark Bellamy was its artistic director, Lunchbox Theater prepared Wade’s play. It was enthusiastically received, but he admits he “would have been surprised if Lunchbox actually produced it considering the subject matter.”
In 2017, the play won the Ottawa Little Theater National One-Act Playwriting Competition, and the following year was a finalist for the Georgia College Arts and Letters Drama Award. In 2018, under the direction of Stafford Arima, it received a special reading in Theater Calgary’s Out Loud series.
This fringe production, directed by Cayley Wreggitt and starring Siobhan Cooney and Spencer Streichert, is presented at the Alexandra Centre. It will not be broadcast live.
Wade is no stranger to the Calgary Fringe Festival. His play WILF premiered in 2013, Helmut’s Big Day was presented in 2015 and A Song of Bucephalus in 2017.
As a teenager, Katie Miller performed in StoryBook Theater shows like Annie and Les Miserables. After high school, she moved to Toronto. One of her contacts in the theater community was musician and composer Steve John Dale.
In 2020 they teamed up to create Flash, a musical about four friends who have a near-death experience.
“We call Flash our pandemic baby. It was initially going to be a song cycle about fear and how we’re afraid of different things, but it eventually got into this story about how these four people’s lives flash before their eyes in that moment between life and death,” he says. Miller.
In the song Move On, the character remembers the loss of a father and what it meant to them. In Ca n’t Deny the character questions his relationship with religion. With topics like this, Miller says it’s no coincidence that they show up at The Lantern Church’s sanctuary.
“Being in the shrine is definitely a happy accident,” says Dale, adding, “although there are themes that are serious and even intense, there’s a lot of lightness in the show and in the songs. I think we left the audience in a hopeful place.”
Dale will play guitar alongside Calgary musician Alex Bullen. Miller appears in the cast alongside Calgarians Katie McMillan and Andrea Page and Torontonian Jillian Robinson.
For a schedule of all performances, both live and broadcast, and to purchase tickets, visit https://www.calgaryfringe.ca/