Stage Lab Theatre Festival
Presented by the University of Alberta Department of Drama
Monday, August 27 - Friday, August 31 at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Timms Centre for the Arts (87 Avenue and 112 Street)
With the school year filled with student festivals, artistic demonstrations and annual showcases of BFA student productions, it’s logical to imagine that summers in the University of Alberta’s Department of Drama are fairly quiet.
But behind the scenes, the professors who dedicate their falls and winters to education and research have been hard at work. This year marks the second in a row the staff of the drama department have toiled to present StageLab, a multimedia theatre festival that showcases their creative genius.
Conceived by department chair Kathleen Weiss, the festival was born last summer with the object of offering the creative minds in the department an outlet for their ideas. For the researchers, professors and professionals involved, this opportunity meant that their work, often created privately, could be shared with one another and the public.
“The original idea was that there’s all these amazing people in the drama department — faculty, staff, actors and academics. They develop all these projects in their work, but rarely get to present them to audiences,” explains festival producer Priscilla Yakielashek. “StageLab gives them the opportunity to show their work and their research to the public, to their colleagues and the rest of the university. Really, it’s a humble way of sounding the trumpets for what they do.”
The process starts with one member of the department at the helm of each of the festival’s seven productions. From there, the pieces expand outwards, gathering talent from throughout the university community.
“Many of (the department members) are working with university graduates, current students and people from other faculties,” Yakielashek explains, “Ultimately, that’s one of the main criticisms about the drama department or any department — we should be sharing our work with other departments and working together.”
As the collaborations grow and expand from across campus to across the country, the scope of talent involved is as diverse as the scope of this year’s productions. Filling up several spaces in the Timms Centre for the Arts, the original works vary in form: dance pieces, a sound installation and a foreign language play adaptation are just some of the many media of theatre involved. For many of the department members, it’s a chance to explore new formats entirely by going beyond their usual academic environment.
The result is an amalgamation of distinctive and interesting theatre created by the very people who teach it to students. Further motivating the contributors to that end is the incorporation of a theme, with last year’s production focused on the concept of new Canadian works.
“This year, we asked people to consider the idea of ‘in-between’ and put their show around that concept,” Yakielashek says. “The biggest thing we have happening is playing with in-between spaces — really thinking outside the box of where we can present the stage and how we can organize the audience relationship with the performers.”
The productions vary from using the traditional space on the Timms Centre stage to more unexpected locations. One show uses the prop storage room to present to the audience, while a sound installation occupies the walkway area that connects the Timms Centre to FAB. The result, Yakielashek explains, is a surprising and unconventional atmosphere that audiences don’t often find in theatre, allowing them to get a closer look at the abilities of the very people teaching them at the university.
“None of the forms really follow a typical, proper play format — the boundaries between audience and stage open up,” she says. “It’s really an inviting atmosphere: intimate and informal.
“With StageLab, you’re really surrounded by theatre instead of sitting back and watching it from a distance.”
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