Getting happy with Plain Jane Theatre

Getting happy with Plain Jane Theatre

(This week’s interview features Kate Ryan, director of Plain Jane Theatre, talking about the company’s upcoming musical revue and 10-year anniversary celebration, Get Happy! Scroll down to listen to the show; the interview starts around 6:00.)


There was an interesting and somewhat troubling story in the Globe and Mail this week. It was written by the Globe’s theatre reviewer, Kelly Nestruck, and it was about a recent show in Toronto where only non-white reviewers were invited to review the show. Nestruck, being white, was not on the list.

I felt a bit implicated and guilty when I read this story, particularly because I discovered it less than five minutes after I published a review of Pawâkan Macbeth, which is an all-Indigenous Cree retelling of Macbeth that just ran in the Chinook Series at the Expanse Festival.

I was hyper aware of my whiteness when I attended this show and when I sat down to write the review afterwards. I was seeing it as an outsider to the community and I wanted to make sure that I did justice to it.

As for the issue of not inviting white critics to review your show – ultimately, the people running theatre shows get to decide who gets free tickets. If they decide to exclude certain people for whatever reason, that’s their choice. Now, I may personally think that critics should get a ticket to every show, but obviously I am extremely biased and I can understand when this doesn’t happen – and there have been times when I was denied a request for an additional ticket, or was only given a comp when I promised to write a review. A pair of media comps is standard practice, but sometimes shows only offer a single ticket to reviewers. Again, this is their prerogative. I would definitely feel hurt if I was not invited to review a show purely on the basis of my skin colour, but again – this is the artists’ choice.

Allyson Pratt, Mitchell Saddleback and Sophie Merasty in Pawâkan Macbeth – A Cree Takeover. Photo: Marc J. Chalifoux Photography

I try my very best to post a review of every show I see. I’m not always successful in this, but if I see a show I will always talk about it on this podcast and give a mini review in this space. There have been times recently where I basically had to promise to write a review to get a ticket and I was a little annoyed by it, particularly when it was for shows where I’d already featured an interview with the creators or performers on my podcast. It really highlighted the transactional nature of media comps – at least for some members of the media. You’ll see many people at various show openings who have never and will never write reviews. But as someone who does write reviews regularly, I guess I’m expected to dish out those reviews every time. 

I am very aware of the media landscape out there right now and how hard it is for shows to get much press coverage. And as I just said, these theatre companies and artists don’t owe me anything. 

This recent Globe story also reminded me of something that happened last summer with that paper, where a theatre writer was denied a media pass to the Vancouver Fringe because she wasn’t planning to write any reviews. (Here are my thoughts on the issue of media tickets.)

The cast of The Invisible. Photo by Citrus Photography.

This is a subject that I could talk about for hours but instead I’ll mention a brief review of The Invisible, Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare, which is Catalyst Theatre’s latest show currently running at the Citadel. On last week’s podcast I interviewed Jonathan Christenson, artistic director of Catalyst, and Tara Jackson, who’s a performer in the show.

This is an easy review to give because the show was fantastic. I’m late to the game here and there have already been a bunch of gushing reviews over the show. I’ll add my own voice to that: the singing and dancing is superb, the story is tight and totally engrossing, the staging and sound are awesome, the direction is inventive.

I did take issue with one part of the script, which I’ll explain a little further in the posted review – watch for that in the next day or so. However, this was a fairly minor complaint and as a whole, the story is really interesting and captivating. I particularly enjoyed the performance by Melissa MacPherson, who plays the narrator. But each of the women on stage did a pretty bang-up job in their own unique way.

And now for this week’s interview. I spoke with Kate Ryan, director of Plain Jane Theatre Company, who talks about their upcoming musical revue and 10-year anniversary celebration, Get Happy! The Plain Janes formed a decade ago with the mission to dust off and present lesser-known musicals, the hidden gems of the canon that had been mostly forgotten.

We talk about the Plain Janes’ history, musicals past, present and future, and that ephemeral, elusive concept of happiness.

Show notes and listings:

Every Brilliant Thing, Citadel Theatre, Feb 1 – 23

The Invisible: Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare, Catalyst Theatre, Maclab Theatre in the Citadel, Feb 4 – 23

Wildfire, Rapid Fire Theatre, February 4 – 23

As You Like It, Citadel Theatre, Feb 15 – Mar 15

Les Belles-soeurs, L’Uni Théâtre, La Cité, Feb 20 – 22

Get Happy!, Plain Jane Theatre, Varscona Theatre, Feb 20 – 29

Unleashed, Alberta Ballet, Jubilee Auditorium, Feb 21 – 22

Little Women, Scona Alumni Theatre Co., EPSB Archives: Assembly Hall – Mackway Ave School (10425 99 Ave) – Feb 25 – 29

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