Drama fest’s Magnetic

Theater spreading Candian cheer through touring shows

OTTAWA — The first Magnetic North Theater Festival has just completed a 10-day showcase of dramas from across the country, combined with a series of “magnetic encounters,” featuring a variety of speakers and theatrical panels.

The main aim of the annual fest, which is dedicated to work on tour, is to provide a forum for Canadian theater “to celebrate quality and diversity” and “to stimulate creative vision from coast to coast.”

Advance sales for the inaugural fest were hot, says publicist Leah Geller, and the concept of a traveling festival/theater conference focusing on distinctively Canadian themes was greeted with enthusiasm.

Fest artistic director Mary Vingoe said the productions she selected during her tour of the country have in common “a very strong sense of place. They could have only come from their city of origin.”

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For instance, Andy Jones’ quirky, one-man comedy show “To the Wall,” which opened the fest, is as firmly rooted in Newfoundland as Sheldon Elter’s “Metis Mutt,” a bittersweet tell-all, one-man comic look at the life of a Metis youth, is in the prairies.

The often fringe-style, experimental productions garnered mixed reviews, but the panel discussions and roster of speakers, which included such big names as Christopher Newton (recently retired artistic director of the Shaw Festival), Gordon Pinsent and R.H. Thomson, received universally positive response.

Fest also focused on commerce — like the Banff Intl. Television Festival, it is a marketplace for networking, discussing and selling current and future productions.

Supported by the newly incorporated, nonprofit Canadian Theater Festival Society, fest is based in Ottawa but will travel around the country, returning to Ottawa every second year. The 2004 edition will be in Edmonton, Alberta.

The National Arts Center was co-presenter of this year’s event. The venues for this year’s presentations were the NAC, the Great Canadian Theater Co., Arts Court, the U. of Ottawa and Ottawa Little Theater.