Stage InvasionFunding cuts and the recession cast a pall over Vancouver’s stage scene last year. Who knew what 2011’s tighter budgets would hold for the city’s arts community? Would those smaller companies and festivals that depended on provincial grants manage to survive? Would arts groups band together to create co-productions? Would international and touring acts fill in the inevitable holes? As it turns out, the answer to all these questions is yes. From puppets to Panych to the King of Pop, there are plenty of things to look forward to on the city’s stages in the year ahead.
THE PAVILIONRenowned Vancouver-based actor Bob Frazer takes the director’s chair and launches his production company, Osimous Theatre, with a play that has been billed as “an Our Town for our time.” (The comparison to Thornton Wilder’s treacle-laden ode to 19th-century rural America — a staple of the Midwestern high-school drama circuit — is likely meant positively. We can’t see how, but there it is.) Those who lack a taste for the sweetly earnest can take heart in the fact that The Pavilion is the creation of Craig Wright, an Emmy Award-nominated screenwriter and producer of TV hits Six Feet Under and Brothers & Sisters. Lead actor Craig Erickson plays Peter, a man who returns to his hometown for his 20th high school reunion and meets up with his old flame, Kari (Dawn Petten). Parnelli Parnes, as the narrator, guides the couple through their time together. Promising a bare-bones production (no set, minimal props), The Pavilion could be the start of something great. Jan. 8-23 at Firehall Arts Centre (280 E. Cordova). Tickets $25 from 604-689-0926 or FirehallArtsCentre.ca.
PuSh FESTIVALLaunched in 2003 by then-Rumble Productions director Norman Armour and Touchstone Theatre’s Katrina Dunn as a performance series for three new works, the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival is now a dead-of-winter arts powerhouse (with a $1.7 million budget) that brings internationally acclaimed performers to Vancouver and showcases plenty of local talent, too. The focus of many of the fest’s free and ticketed events this year is Vancouver’s 125th anniversary. Considering the continued financial fallout from the Olympics, PuSh may be the only birthday party in town this year. Jan. 18-Feb. 6 at various venues. Visit PuShFestival.ca for schedules and ticket prices.
AVENUE QHaving seen this wonderfully funny — and often raunchy — puppets ’n’ humans musical in all its Broadway glory several times over the years, we’re thrilled that the Tony Award-winning Avenue Q is finally making its way to Vancouver. Audiences will no doubt be drawn in by its delightfully on-the-nose songs (“The Internet is for Porn,” “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”) and vigorous puppet sex, but they’ll become emotionally invested in the achingly familiar narrative of aimless and lonely people trying to figure out who they are. Feb. 1-5 at Centre for Performing Arts (777 Homer). $61.25-$86.75 from Ticketmaster.ca.
FUNNY GIRLSChelsea Handler
If you like your funny bone tickled by wickedly clever and acerbic female comedians, you’re in luck. In the coming months, Vancouver plays host to a bevy of brilliant visiting acts, like vodka-swilling talk-show host Chelsea Handler, insult comedian Lisa Lampenelli, acid-tongued actress Wanda Sykes, and the reigning queen of self-deprecation, Joan Rivers, on hand as part of the Unique Lives & Experiences series. Chelsea Handler appears Feb. 19 at the Orpheum (Smithe & Seymour). Tickets $69.50-$89.50 from Ticketmaster.ca. Lisa Lampenelli appears Feb. 26 at River Rock (8811 River Road, Richmond). Tickets $54.50-$64.50 from Ticketmaster.ca. Wanda Sykes appears May 6 at River Rock. Tickets $54.50-$64.50 from Ticketmaster.ca. Joan Rivers appears May 17 at the Centre for Performing Arts (777 Homer). Visit CentreInVancouver.com for ticket information.
ENCORE!The cast of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Three of the best stage productions from the 2009/’10 season are making their way back to Vancouver stages in 2011. Blackbird Theatre’s brilliant production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a bitterly funny yet devastatingly dark tale of marital discord, moves from the Cultch to the Arts Club, featuring a star turn by Gabrielle Rose. A Beautiful View stars Colleen Wheeler and Diane Brown as two women who tiptoe around friendship and love for over 20 years, and boasts a masterful script and subtle direction from iconic Canadian writer-director Daniel MacIvor. And, drawing inspiration from Henrich Harrer’s book of the same name is Mascall Dance’s The White Spider, which pairs mountain climbing and dance as it chronicles the challenges of scaling the north face of the Eiger Mountains. If you missed any of these the first time around, consider yourself lucky to have this second chance. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? runs Feb. 10-Mar. 12 at Granville Island Stage (1585 Johnston). Tickets $29-$49 from ArtsClub.com. A Beautiful View runs Apr. 4-9 at Presentation House Theatre (333 Chesterfield, North Van). Tickets $24-$28 from PHTheatre.org. The White Spider runs Apr. 10-16 at the Shadbolt Centre for Performing Arts (6450 Deer Lake, Burnaby). Tickets $25-$30 from ShadboltCentre.com.