By Adam Corrigan Holowitz, January 08, 2018
When “Silence” by Trina Davies opens at the Grand Theatre on January 19, it will be the first world premiere on the Spriet Stage since Allan Stratton’s “The Phoenix Lottery” in 2001. It will mark the return to the Grand of great Canadian director Peter Hinton.
Hinton in the mid-nineties staged at the Grand “Atlantis” and Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”; two plays that were on the vanguard of the theatre of that decade. Along with Hinton’s welcome return, the Grand has started a new a deepened commitment to accessibility in the theatre. These are significant artistic developments that deserve celebration.
New Play Development
One of the first announcements Dennis Garnhum made when he became artistic director of the Grand was Compass, a new play development program. This program demonstrates a new commitment from the Grand to create plays from the ground up.
When a theatre develops and premiers a new work, it is contributing to the ever-growing theatrical canon. I believe in Canada when a theatre, especially a larger regional theatre, is creating new work an important political statement is being made.
If you look back many decades at the programming of Canada’s regional theatres, you will see that more often than not the large Canadian theatres have been importers of American and British plays. Less often have Canadian theatre institutions been generators of original work. The Grand’s commitment to new play development makes the theatre visible and relevant to Canadians today.
“Silence” is the first play to be developed through Compass, and who better than Peter Hinton to direct this first of the Compass plays. Hinton throughout his career has been a brave champion of new plays. Early in his career he worked with many alternative theatres including Crow’s Theatre, then a renegade company and now an established company at its new home in Leslieville. He was associate artistic director of Canadian Stage, where he put a focus on new play development. He was the dramaturg in residence of Playwrights Workshop Montreal, a non- producing company solely devoted to play development.
Then from 2005 to 2012 Hinton was artistic director of the National Arts Centre English Theatre, where he shook the theatre up in a big way. In his first year he programmed the first all Canadian season at the NAC.
As a director audiences will know his work most recently from his string of acclaimed productions at the Shaw Festival. I count a few of those productions as some of the best theatre I have ever seen, including Hinton’s production of “Pygmalion” set in the present day, with a Vivian Westwood inspired punk design.
His directing style is notable for deep research and investigation. Hinton’s understanding of the period and world of the play he is directing has great strength. There is visual poetry to the design and staging in Hinton’s work, with great consideration to the imagery. Perhaps one of the most interesting elements that occasionally appears in Hinton’s style is the deliberate use on anachronism in his work. Sometimes this appears in musical choices, such as in his 2013 production of “Lady Windermere’s Fan” at the Shaw where the soundtrack was a brilliant mix of Rufus Wainwright, Katy Perry and Velvet Underground. Or this past spring in his staging of “Louis Riel” for the Canadian Opera Company, the chorus appeared as modern politicians. These staging choices offer a juxtaposition that illuminate comments on the period and provoke complex questions for the audience.
“Silence” will also highlight a current and much-needed trend across theatre of making plays more accessible.
This season the Grand is offering performances that are American Sign Langiage interpreted and open captioned performances. “Silence” is about Mabel and Alexander Graham Bell. Mabel was completely deaf from a young age. The play is about Mabel’s experience of living in a world of silence. It is also about Mabel’s relationship with Alexander Graham Bell and how the couple communicated. For this production, actors of the deaf community play some of the roles; a significant step forward for casting in the theatre industry. For far too long there has been a great deal of ableism in the casting of plays. Now we are starting to see diverse casting in terms of multiculturalism but also in terms of physical ability and cognitive ability.
So when you see “Silence” celebrate all these and more of the dynamic and progressive elements of the production. Also revel in the thrill of seeing new work, be surprised as a new play emerges right before your eyes. You can tell people, I was one of the first to see “Silence.”
The Grand Theatre
Jan. 16 – Feb 3
Purchase tickets online
Box office: (519) 672-8800