The Citadel’s New Beat

Edmonton’s premier playhouse reaches for new audiences.

When the Citadel Theatre announced its 2012/2013 season in March, it was to a mix of criticism and adulation. Yes, it welcomed the popular Rapid Fire Theatre into the family and announced concerts, talks, cabarets and backstage parties in the Rice Theatre. But that space was only available because the alternative theatre series it housed was gone. The banner under which Ben Elton‘s Popcorn and Wajdi Mouawad‘s Incendies were billed had theatre-lovers decrying that the Citadel has lost its edge.

But has it?

According to Bob Baker, the artistic director since 1999, you just need to look closer. “We’re not really losing anything, we’re just evolving it to the main stage,” he says. As such, there’s no more distinction between what is mainstream, family or “alternative.”

Since 1974, alternative programming at the Citadel was a concentrated effort, though at times it was dormant for years in between. When Baker took the reins in 1999, he revived the Rice space for more controversial shows, the kind he was used to when he cut his teeth at Phoenix Theatre, a fearless company in the ’80s that produced plays he calls provocative even by today’s standards.

But times have changed. “Our audiences are more adventurous than we’ve been giving them credit for,” he says, admitting the Citadel “might be guilty of losing people by playing it safe” on the main stage.

Money too reason for the consolidated program, with two fewer shows than last year. Across the continent, theatre subscriptions are shrinking, he says.

He hopes by hosting special events and putting shows like the upcoming teen musical from the afterlife, Ride the Cyclone (something that might otherwise be relegated to “the children’s table”) in Shoctor Hall, it’ll engage new audiences.

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