Difficult, primal, heart-wrenching theatre

Loren MacDonald is a third-year theatre student with a flair for concise, off-the-cuff reviews of plays.

“[Lion in the Streets is] a very unique, experimental play about how people might behave if they had all expectations stripped away and exposed in the most primal manner.”

Ivan Henwood, the play’s director, concurs: “I definitely agree with that statement. Lion in the Streets is uncompromising and may be difficult for some people to watch as some of the scenarios and situations that happen in the play are very graphic and heart-wrenching.”

The play will be the first main stage production of the University of Manitoba’s Black Hole Theatre Company’s (BHTC) 2013/14 season. It is the fifth play by award-winning Canadian playwright Judith Thompson.

Henwood has been involved with BHTC for eight years, since commencing his undergraduate degree. This experience laid a framework for his life’s work following graduation.

“My experience at the [BHTC] has translated into a career working in professional theatre. Shortly after I completed my degree (BA English honours) I began working as the associate artistic producer at Winnipeg Jewish Theatre. I also run local independent theatre company Snakeskin Jacket with my wife, Jane Walker, who is also a graduate of the program and recently started working as the theatre and film program office assistant at the U of M. Creating theatre is a huge part of both of our lives.”

MacDonald’s ambition when he graduated from grade 12 was to obtain a science degree and become a doctor. Bearing witness to the events of BHTC’s Scene Night 2011 led him to a different post-secondary education than he initially envisioned. He was impressed by the camaraderie of the troupe, in addition to the evening’s host—a lamb puppet controlled by puppeteer and faculty member Tim Banfield—and Steve Csincsa’s scene from The Cripple of Inishmaan, which involved six eggs being smashed on his head.

“[BHTC] is very open and friendly and always looking for new people,” says MacDonald.

The company has an open theatre concept which allows anyone to audition for shows – so unique, in fact, that MacDonald emphasized that BHTC is the largest non-union open theatre company in Manitoba.

The theatre is set to undergo design changes, which will see it switch from a thrust stage, with audience members on three sides—although for Lion in the Streets the company is removing a wall to provide seating in the round—to the very traditional end stage design, in which the audience is all on one side of the stage.

Henwood is excited about the changes, but mourns the loss of a unique space.

“The intimacy and the thrust setting make it very exciting to see a show at. I will miss the current [BHTC] stage terribly as there is no other venue like it,” says Henwood, who feels Lion in the Streets may be the last chance for the public to experience one of the most unique theatre spaces around.

“All in all it will be presented like no other production has been in the past and patrons will get to see a side of a theatre never before seen. In a way, it is sort of a farewell tour to the [BHTC]. I can’t express to you how much I will miss the venue.”

Henwood emphasizes the quality of the performances at the venue.

“Some patrons in the city avoid the theatre altogether because it is not ‘professional,’ and that is really sad and disheartening because—and I say this as someone who attends an abundance of local theatre, both community, independent, and professional—the BHTC has consistently been putting on some of the best theatre in town for years. What Chris Johnson [U of M faculty member who joined in the 1980s] created years ago has really grown into a beautiful thing.”

Lion in the Streets will be showing Nov. 19 and 26 at 7 p.m., and Nov. 20-23 and Nov. 27-30 at 8 p.m. at the BHT. The venue is located at the lower level of University College, 220 Dysart Road, for only a little while longer, so you must be there to experience theatre like you may never have the chance to again. Contact the 24-hour box office at 204-474-6880.