SIA at Joe’s: What We Learned

It all happened so fast. One 90 minute slot in a three-day festival. A play we’d never seen. Actors we’d never met. Yet there was much to take away from our reading of Matthew MacKenzie’s SIA at the first semi-annual Preview of the Arts Festival at Joe’s Pub two Sundays ago. Here’s a few things we figured out (or were reminded of):

Ask and you get; don’t and you won’t. The opportunity knocked the evening of October 13th. An afternoon slot was available the final day of a weekend festival that would feature the likes of John Patrick Shanley and Adam Rapp. We couldn’t really turn it down, but the festival was three weeks away and when you’re a company that produces Canadian theatre, there are logistical realities that make that kind of turnaround a wee bit terrifying.

By Sunday the 17th, we were still trying to figure out what to mount. This was a festival that was previewing the upcoming season and we still hadn’t settled on what our upcoming season was going to be. Luckily, Amos Crawley – our old AD who was our eyes and ears at this year’s Toronto Fringe – was in town and had a very strong opinion. “SIA” was not only the best play he saw at the festival, it was the best piece of theatre he’d seen in a long time. So it was settled: we’d present SIA as a staged reading. Only problem was that we were t-minus 19 days until the festival and we had never met the playwright, read the play, or even considered casting. So we sent Mr. MacKenzie an email and hoped for the best.

We got better.

Not only was Matt thrilled to have us read SIA, he had somehow convinced the original cast to travel down on what was now two-weeks notice. We asked, and we got.

Preview of the Arts is an initiative worth supporting. A three-day multi-arts festival that featured names like Shanley, Rapp, and Turturro, along with institutions like the Museum of the Moving Image and American Place Theater was, for all intents and purposes, a one-woman operation. Nickey Frankel put it all together and filled houses throughout the weekend. Imagine what she could do with some funding.

The National Theatre School is pretty important. It’s not like we didn’t know this already and it’s not like we haven’t had first-hand experience promoting graduates from Canada’s most prestigious theatre school (see: Rubenfeld, Michael; Hewlett, Kate). But three quarters of the SIA/NYC creative team were NTS Alumni and, well, you couldn’t help but be impressed. Here’s to another 50 years.

SIA is a really, really good play. Mr. MacKenzie has created a deeply moving and thought provoking piece that never loses its humanity. SIA is an honest and humble examination of the relationship between North America and West Africa that engages its audience with strong, sympathetic characters. The audience at Joe’s told us what many north of the border already had: that SIA should not just be a consideration at the Bridge, but one of our highest priorities. We wholeheartedly agree.

Photos by Kyle Dean Reinford

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