National Arts Centre's 2018/2019 season to include 'Pigeon King'
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
The Pigeon King, the 2017 Blyth Festival collective creation, will now be part of the 2018/2019 National Arts Centre (NAC) English Theatre season.
This marks the first time that a Festival production will grace the hallowed stage of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
“This is truly a proud moment for the Blyth Festival. This is the first time in Blyth’s history that one of our shows, a show created and realized on our stage, will play on the NAC’s definitive stage,” said Blyth Festival Artistic Director Gil Garratt in a press release. “Packing up the truck and taking our actors across the province to mount this play at the NAC English Theatre is a testament to the relevance of the plays that the Blyth Festival produces; relevant here at home and on a national stage.”
The play tells the story of Arlan Galbraith and Pigeon King International, the Ponzi scheme that shook North America and saw families across Ontario and beyond lose millions. Festival artists Rebecca Auerbach, Jason Chesworth, George Meanwell, J.D. Nicholsen, Gemma James-Smith, Garratt and director Severn Thompson conducted extensive research in the months leading up to last summer’s premiere. The show was well-received and immediately garnered interest from theatre companies around the country.
The Pigeon King will close the NAC’s 2018/2019 season with a run scheduled from April 24 to May 5 at the Babs Asper Theatre.
In an interview with The Citizen, Garratt said that the roots of the play making its way to Ottawa go back to last season when Jillian Keiley, the NAC’s English Theatre artistic director, came to Blyth to see the show.
Keiley attended a show, Garratt said, that included one of the Festival’s “talkback” sessions. When she saw the show’s engagement with members of the public, as well as with the agricultural community through the talkback session, Garratt says she was very enthusiastic about its potential beyond Blyth.
After the show, Keiley travelled to Bayfield with Garratt and his wife Gemma James-Smith for dinner at their farm and couldn’t stop complimenting the show.
Just a few weeks later, Garratt received a call from Keiley. She said she was seriously considering bringing The Pigeon King to the NAC, but didn’t think it would fit into its programming until the 2019/2020 season. However, it was only another few weeks later that Keiley found a spot in the theatre’s coming season and wanted it on the Ottawa stage as soon as possible.
Garratt began making calls in an attempt to round up the on-stage actors who made the show happen last year. Luckily, everyone was available, so Garratt said the 2018/2019 season was a possibility.
Garratt says he has been part of a NAC production before, when he acted in The Glace Bay Miners’ Museum as Neil Currie. However, bringing a Festival production there for the first time, a piece he helped to create, is a different feeling altogether.
He said that the theatre is an institution and the pinnacle of Canadian theatre, so he was beyond honoured when he was asked to bring a Festival production there.
Beyond that feeling of accomplishment, however, Garratt said that he felt the inclusion of The Pigeon King in the NAC’s season spoke to how universal the Festival’s shows can be.
The story The Pigeon King tells, Garratt said, really shines a light on the best work the Festival does, which connects both with its local community as well as the communities beyond Huron County’s borders.
As far as the NAC is concerned, with its cross-country reach and influence, Garratt said it doesn’t get any better than having the Festival’s work validated by such an institution. With an English theatre, a French theatre and a new Indigenous theatre, as well as divisions for both music and dance, the centre really is crucial in Canada’s artistic history, Garratt said.
The NAC English Theatre Series, of which The Pigeon King will be a part, aims to bring together some of the best shows from across Canada, according to the Festival’s press release. In the 2018/2019, many of the stories will focus on real-life stories and characters in an attempt to tell the country’s stories through some of its most interesting characters.
“The artists who constructed our stories have looked deep, examined the viscera and challenged the surface assumptions. These are great characters on the surface, however, what goes on inside them is where the magnificent humanity bubbles, and where the real theatre lives,” said Keiley.
The Theatre Series begins with Silence, the story of the romance between Mabel Hubbard and Alexander Graham Bell, written by Trina Davies and directed by former NAC English Theatre Artistic Director Peter Hinton.
The season’s second show is The Hockey Sweater: A Musical by Emil Sher and Jonathan Munro, directed and choreographed by Donna Feore. The Wedding Party, written by Kristen Thomson, is next, followed by Angélique by Lorena Gale. The Pigeon King then rounds out the five-show season.
For more information on the NAC’s upcoming season, visit nac-cna.ca/englishtheatre.