Flaming tubas and dying snowmen

Ghost River builds a theatre of ice and takes on spaghetti westerns

Ghost River Theatre’s 12th season — the first under new artistic director Jason Rothery — features four original works throughout 2008-09. The season starts off in September with Double Solo a co-production with Urban Curvz Theatre. Ghost River offered a Double Solo bill for the first time last year consisting of Iraq & Back and My Autopsy . This year the one-act plays that will be staged back-to-back are Kira Bradley’s The Motel Years and Nicole Zylstra’s EFFable which she previously performed at the Solocentric Festival in 2005.

“Double Solo is a riff off of Solocentric” explains Rothery. “It speaks very closely to Ghost River’s mandate of taking a personal experience and through the art of storytelling turning it into a performance piece.”

In The Motel Years Bradley explores what it’s like growing up in a motel and the concept of “home.” In EFFable Zylstra details her first flirtations with Christianity and love and some of the questions and struggles that ensue. “It’s an incredibly funny portrayal of that struggle” Rothery says.

Rothery hopes that by establishing Double Solo as an annual feature of Ghost River’s lineup it will become a “lynchpin for the season.”

“The challenge of doing new play production is that every time you step up to the plate you have a new bat” explains Rothery. “Every time we put up a new work we have to explain why people should come and see it. Having Double Solo as a recurring lynchpin will start to create some familiarity with the audience.”

Ghost River’s second show produced in conjunction with Alberta Theatre Projects (ATP) and Vancouver’s The Only Animal will certainly play a part in establishing that broader public awareness. Called NiX the show will première as part of ATP’s playRites Festival. What’s more it will be staged right in Olympic Plaza. “ NiX is one project that we’ve been working on for quite awhile. It’s exciting that it’s finally coming into fruition” says Rothery.

NiX will use a theatre built out of snow and ice the first of its kind in Canada. Props used in the show will be of blown glass made to mimic the appearance of ice. “ NiX is inherently spectacular. The concept of having a theatre built out of snow and ice has a certain Cirque du Soleil aspect to it that’s quite enchanting” Rothery says. “We want to animate the space in Olympic Plaza in a certain way so that every time people come back they have a new connection to the Plaza.”

NiX’s “plot” runs a far second to the spectacle of the whole production but roughly it “follows a few survivors and an arsonist through the fireworks at the end of the world.” It also features a “flaming tuba a snowman death scene and the vivifying prospect of a thaw.”

The final show of the season is called Something to Do With Death a play inspired by Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. This show will be presented in conjunction with Eric Rose’s Invisible Elephant company. “Eric is passionate about spaghetti westerns” says Rothery. “These were films I had no interest in and hadn’t seen until Eric approached me. There’s a wonderful mythology to the tales Leone told.”

One of Rothery’s other goals for Ghost River is to emphasize collaboration. “It’s my desire to work with as many artists as possible” Rothery says. “We’re not operating in isolation. Calgary has gone through an incredible theatre boom. We’re all here we’re all creating works but what makes us distinct is that we’re the only company in the city that creates develops and produces exclusively new work.

“Doug (Curtis) has trusted me with the reins” adds Rothery. Curtis is the founder of Ghost River Theatre but had to step down as artistic director earlier this year due to his battle with Parkinson’s disease.

“I hope this season reflects my desire to continue Doug’s vision for the company but also reflects my own vision and the kind of work I’m interested in producing.”