New theatre companies kept the scene lively this year. Natalie Pendergast picks out a few favourite up-and-comers.

photo Ryan Whynott

Two thousand five has been a year of opportunity for independent theatre artists. With the launches of so many new companies, the sudden growth of indie productions proves that even with obstacles like few venues and small budgets, for our theatre community, the shows must go on.

In March, one of Halifax’s few full-time veteran actors swapped the spotlight for the director’s wand for Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. Martha Irving has been a professional actor for more than four decades and always considered herself “just an actor” until fellow actor Corey Turner asked her to direct the John Patrick Shanley play at The Crib. In a way, the surprising tale of the two unlucky and unlikely individuals finding each other mirrored the surfacing of Irving’s hidden talent. The moral of both Danny’s and Irving’s stories was that the reward is in the journey.

Tragic hero Jonathan Stewart took the humdrum out of post-student life by producing a hilarious series of six short, interconnected plays called The World Ended and Nobody Noticed. The Tragedies frontman enlisted the help of Evan Brown, Dean Constable, Kate Wivell, the BusStop Theatre and directors Linday Dobbin and Mary Cobham. The April performances earned experience for the 23-year-old Islander, who has now tried his talents at rock and stage. (What will he tackle in 2006; interpretive dance, perhaps?)

In April, DaPoPo Theatre’s The Modern World had the audience laughing over one man’s pursuit of his dream woman. The satire went on for a few nights at The Crib and paved the way for DaPoPo’s fall play, Rossum’s Universal Robots. The science-fiction/social commentary was about robots programmed to work and obey—only they ended up in revolt. Garry Williams directed the first play and co-directed the second, sharing the position with Howard Beye.

For actor Craig Boutilier, the only way to get his foot in Halifax’s theatre door was to build the door himself. That’s why he founded Genesis Theatre and directed its first play, Closer, in November. The dark character study portrayed the selfishness and ruthlessness of four people with nothing in common but each other. The BusStop Theatre housed the performance, which was preceded by the 2004 movie adaptation.

Cowboys are the most typical heroes of American Western landscape, and yet Dustin Harvey insisted that his Cowboy Show was not only unpredictable, but revealed a secret spectacle as well. The play debuted to a controlled audience of eight people on September 25, one year after the risk-taking Harvey was threatened with a lawsuit for his toy-based parody of Waiting For Godot.

Fat Morgan Theatre Company applied a hefty dose of comedic relief to an unusual couple of misfits in Gay White Trash at The Crib on November 24. Birdy Num Num alum Michael Best expanded his 15-minute sketch about two small-town life partners who defied the mainstream stereotype of haute couture gays into a full-length production. The couple sought to medicate their mid-life crisis by moving to the big city, but they ended up finding a lot more.

Despite the abundance of indie energy, there are still many hurdles for artists to overcome. “There are no places for the independent theatres to rehearse and produce shows (that we can afford),” emailed Fat Morgan’s artistic directors Tara Doyle, Marty Burt and Jackie Torrens in a joint statement. And the province doesn’t “have an arts board. So there’s your official respect for the arts. Luckily, there are some great theatre companies here that do their work in spite of the obstacles. What we really need is a 50-seat, affordable, black box theatre that all the independents can use!”

For Halifax, 2005 was 12 months of new indie projects from grassroots companies and amateur ex-rocker playwrights and professional actors taking the director’s seat. Where there were opportunities, there were artists to take them and where there were none, they created their own. The memory of this year is not only still fresh, it’s fuel for the theatrical fires to come in 2006.

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