Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Theatre Aquarius Returns with Mary Francis Moore’s Inaugural Season

The lights went dark at Theatre Aquarius twenty months ago. And when the lights eventually came on with an announcement this week of the company’s 21-22 season, it looked very different. 

For starters, Artistic Director Ron Ulrich quietly left the company at the end of the 20-21 season after an announcement to retire in June of 2020. The pandemic extended his tenure, and Ulrich officially left the company in July of 2021; just days before new Artistic Director, Mary Francis Moore stepped in. 

Although Theatre Aquarius hasn’t staged a full production in twenty months, the theatre has spent the fall getting prepared for performances with two one-night only events. This week, the company provided details on what Moore has planned for her inaugural season.

“We’ve curated a season of four mainstage productions, running from December through May.” Moore states in a recorded video message for subscribers, posted on the Theatre’s social media. “This season is about family; where we come from, about the tales we carry, and about the relationships that matter the most to us.”

“There’s no place like home” is the Theatre’s theme of the season, encouraging audiences to return after a long absence. The theme also highlights the number of local performers featured throughout the season- an early fulfillment of Moore’s promise to cultivate opportunities for local talent and develop relationships through the community. Tickets for the 21-22 season go on sale beginning November 29 at 11am.

Moore’s first season will open in December with a down-to-earth, family-friendly production. Home for the Holidays is a concert featuring performers who call or have called Hamilton home in a kitchen-party style event that unapologetically nods to Moore’s time as an artistic leader in the Maritimes. This show also marks Moore’s directorial debut in a mainstage production as Theatre Aquarius’ Artistic Director.

The January offering, Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story, is a music-theatre hybrid concert klezmer folk-fusion created by playwright Hannah Moscovitch, director Christian Barry (Halifax’s 2b Theatre, which originated and produced the production) and local musician Ben Caplan. Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story is based on the family history of Moscovitch’s great-grandparents, who came to Canada in 1908 and has won a number of awards, including Toronto Critics Circle Awards for Best New Musical & Best Director and has been named a New York Times Critics Pick.  

One-man show Made in Italy will make its Theatre Aquarius premiere on February 23, 2022. Created and performed by Farren Timoteo, Made in Italy is loosely based on the creator’s father, a second-generation Italian-Canadian who looks for his place in the world while noting life’s similarity to a multi-course meal. 

Moore returns to direct the company’s final production of the season, The Hours that Remain. The first published play by Keith Barker (the current Artistic Director of Native Earth Performing Arts) is inspired by Canada’s missing and murdered Aboriginal women along British Columbia’s Highway of Tears. Since its 2012 premiere, the play has won a Saskatchewan and Area Theatre Award for Excellence in Playwriting, and a Yukon Arts Award  for Best Art for Social Change. 

Not addressed in the announcement was the status of Ring of Fire; the Johnny Cash inspired musical that was postponed multiple times throughout the pandemic. As of May 2021, it was promised to be included in the 21-22 season. 

Behind the scenes, Moore and Executive Director Lorna Zaremba have a lot of work ahead of them. At the end of the 2019-2020 season, the company’s accumulated deficit had expanded to over $800,000 or 18% of their average operating budget. As deficits of this amount may jeopardize the total awarded in the government granting process, Theatre Aquarius will likely need to submit a deficit reduction plan as part of future funding applications.  

As for Theatre Aquarius’ attendance, which boasts over 100,000 audience members each year, it is still uncertain whether they will return- or when. Consumer confidence surveys (which Theatre Aquarius audiences participated in) note a hesitancy among older audiences to return to indoor performing arts; this demographic is a key constituent to the company, arguably making up the majority of their ticket buyers and subscribers. To alleviate concerns, Theatre Aquarius has announced that the 21-22 season will open with 50% seating capacity. 

However, Moore’s presence and interest in collaboration and inclusion bodes well for the future of the company. Since taking over as Artistic Director, Theatre Aquarius has shone a light on other local theatre creators, supporting independent and new works. This strategic shift offers the opportunity for the artistic community to see Theatre Aquarius in a new and different light than it has more recently been presented in when headlines noted that “Theatre Aquarius had blocked them out.”   

There’s an incredible opportunity for growth within the Hamilton community to develop new audiences with new and different stories. As Theatre Aquarius rebuilds following the pandemic and a change in their artistic leadership, time will tell if there really is no place like home.

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