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Concrete Theatre

Community and Theatre for Young People company, based in Edmonton Alberta. It was founded in 1987 by a group of students and instructors at the University of Alberta, including Mieko Ouchi, Caroline Howarth, Elinor Holt, Kazimea Sokil, and Jan Selman. Its original project was to use theatre as a tool to empower people to tell their stories and change lives, using collective creation to explore social issues such as drug abuse, teenage sexuality, race relations, and single parenting. The name “concrete” reflects the company’s initial focus on urban Edmonton. It was registered as a Not-For-Profit Society in 1989.

In the early 1990s, Concrete Theatre worked with schools in participatory workshops, including Love, Anger and the Media about gender and violence; and Acting Our Colours about race relations among teens. In 1994, with funds from four social service agencies, the company produced Decisions, Decisions by Mieko Ouchi, about drug abuse, racism, and dating violence. Other productions included The Multi-Cultural Project, which reflects Concrete’s commitment to promoting cultural diversity.

Crips Against the Law of Gravity and Return to Sender by Heidi Janz were plays by and about the disabled community. The Road Show, performed on an Edmonton Transit bus, tackled environmental issues. Tryptych (1998) comprised three personal monologues: Surface Tension by Elyne Quan about her own Chinese-Canadian heritage; By This Parting by Mieko Ouchi about the internment of her Japanese-Canadian great aunt in a British Columbia TB sanatorium; and subtext by Uma Viswanathan about her Indian heritage. Naomi’s Road, Paula Wing's adaptation of Joy Kogawa’s novel, was produced for school and community audiences in 1999, and won the Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Award for Outstanding Production for Young Audiences. Rice: Stories with a Slant (2001) examined the Asian-Canadian experience in works by Quan, Ouchi, and Jared Matsunaga-Turnbull.

Jane Heather’s Are We There Yet?, which explores teenage sexuality, has been adapted and performed by a wide range of actors for culturally diverse audiences across the country, including the Saskatchewan Native Theatre, rural Nova Scotia, and inner city Vancouver. In 2005 Concrete and several institutional partners were awarded a SSHRC CURA research grant to tour and study the response to the show by culturally diverse grade nine audiences.

The 2002/03 season included Joan MacLeod’s The Shape of a Girl (Sterling Award). The 2003/04 season included The Incredible Adventures of Mary Jane Mosquito by Tomson Highway, and the 2004/05 seasons included The Plum Tree by Japanese Canadian Mitch Miyagawa, which considers the complexities of the Redress Movement, and of ownership as a way of establishing identity. The 2014 production of I Am For You, which featured swordplay as a way of working through teen conflict, won a Sterling Award for Outstanding Production for Young Audiences. The Antyssey won the 2015 Sterling Award. Mieko's new play, Consent which challenges high school audiences on the subjects of sexual encounters, gender equality, individual rights and respect, toured to 65 schools in 2018.

Concrete Theatre has also developed and produced plays for young children. Productions include Lig and Bittle by Jared Matsunaga-Turnbull and Elyne Quan (Sterling Award 2001/02), which subsequently toured to the Young People’s Theatre in Toronto; Carnival Magic by Pat Darbasie, in celebration of Black History month; and Nami Namersson, The Viking Who Liked to Name Things by Trevor Anderson (book) and Bryce Kulak (lyrics), which considers issues of cultural colonization (three Sterling Awards).

The annual Sprouts New Play Festival for Kids was launched in 2002. Its mandate is to develop new plays for children by Alberta writers, which focus on cultural diversity in Alberta. Vern Thiessen drew on his Mennonite background for his first play for young people, entitled Bello (2017) performed in both French and English, in a co-production with UniTheatre.

In February 2019, Concrete Theatre premiered an extraordinary new opera by Dave Clarke, presented by Workshop West Theatre for the SOUND OFF Festival in the Chinook Series. Songs My Mother Never Sung Me was developed over a period of ten years from the original 15 minute play for the Sprouts Festival. It is based on the playwright's experiences growing up with a deaf mother, and is performed by deaf and hearing actors and singers using ASL, and a pianist to show the diverse ways in which individuals can communicate. It was co-directed by Mieko Ouchi and Caroline Howarth.

Co-Artistic Directors of Concrete Theatre are Caroline Howarth and Mieko Ouchi.

Website: www.concretetheatre.ca

Other source: Liz Nicholls. “Youth Specialists ground fantasies in Concrete,” Edmonton Journal 27 Sept 2009: B2-3.

Profile by Anne Nothof, Athabasca University

Last updated 2020-01-14