Downstage Performance Society
Our Story Why We Exist
Sixteen-year old Sunny needs to talk about what’s been happening to him. Cloistered in the Forest Lawn bedroom of his friend Keira, he starts a live video for his loyal followers who know him from his lip-sync performances as rihannaboi95. As you watch on your computer or phone, Sunny spills his heart out to you, talking, dancing and crying as he works through the events of the last few days.
rihannaboi95 was a play by Canadian writer Jordan Tannahill that was performed live by a solo actor in a bedroom and livestreamed to viewers in Calgary as well as across Canada and several international locations. Dealing candidly with bullying, identity and the pain of self-invention, the show offered viewers an intensely empathetic first-person account of a queer teen's experience at a time when Gay-Straight Alliances were becoming an increasingly polarized issue in Alberta.
During and after the show, audience members had access to an anonymous chat. Teen viewers connected openly with adults their parents’ age about navigating their sexual and gender identities and the challenges they faced within their high schools – a powerful bridge between experiences made possible through a great piece of art.
Our Impact What We Do
Founded in 2004, Downstage is a Calgary-based organization dedicated to producing Canadian theatre that creates conversation around social issues. With a focus on new work created by local artists, we offer artistic experiences that are entertaining, inventive, thought-provoking and highly relevant to your everyday life.
All of our performances are followed by a moderated post-show discussion where audience members can engage with each other about the ideas provoked by our shows. This post-show engagement coupled with a commitment to attracting an audience that mirrors the diversity of our city helps to create opportunities for ‘social bridging’: allowing people to form connections to others who are different from them, whether in terms of age, culture, life experience, profession or ability.
Our plays serve as a touchstone for conversation, inspiring a seniors’ life-long learning group to have a spirited debate with teenagers about our public education system after a performance of Bashir Lazhar, or ranchers and landmen to connect over shared challenges around land use during the run of Good Fences.
Our Programs How We Do It
We support the creation of exceptional new plays about local issues. We work with local creators and playwrights, often over the course of several years, to develop and premiere new plays that speak to issues of concern to Calgarians through entertaining and inventive theatre. Past works have tackled a range of complex and challenging topics including consumer debt, geo-engineering, the relationship between the energy industry and ranching, genetic testing, eco-anxiety, ethical dilemmas around the charitable model, and the impact of violent art on society.
In the last eight years, we’ve developed and produced seven World Premieres, all by Albertan writers, with a strong response from audience members and critics alike. Six of these shows were nominated for a Betty Mitchell Award for Outstanding New Play, with two receiving the award, and many going on to future productions, touring and publication.
We find innovative ways to remove barriers to attending live theatre. We have an insatiable desire to make theatre more relevant and accessible to a wide range of Calgarians, with initiatives like tours to suburban and rural community halls, livestreaming performances online, and our ongoing Pay-It-Forward program which offers 25% of all tickets at no cost on a first-come, first-serve basis. We recently partnered with Inside Out Theatre to offer our first relaxed performance for audience members with sensory processing concerns, a partnership that will continue in 2017-18 with a relaxed performance and two ASL-interpreted performances.
We contribute towards a healthy local theatre community. We curate the Motel Theatre in Arts Commons, one of the most affordable theatrical venues in the city that is a first home for many emerging and experimental groups. We host the 10-Minute Play Festival at the High Performance Rodeo, a popular annual showcase of indie theatre companies. And we support the development of new works through our Uprising New Work Program.
Our Requests What You Can Do
- Come see a show – and bring a friend along, too! As a small company, word of mouth is one of our best tools to expand our audience. You can also help spread the word about our Pay-It-Forward program that offers 25% of tickets at no cost.
- Become an advocate or volunteer – Consider hosting a Living Room Theatre event, a fun and relaxed way to help expand the circle of support for Downstage. At these events, our supporters invite friends and colleagues to their home to see a short excerpt of a Downstage work-in-progress and learn more about our company. You may also want to consider applying to join our dynamic Board of Directors.
- Support our work with a donation – Your gift can go directly toward the Pay-It-Forward program to support the cost of a ticket for someone who may face a financial barrier, help us develop a World Premiere work by a local theatre artist, or support one of our other programs. Give today or contact us to learn how your gift can make an impact!