Rob Kempson – NotaBle Acts’ Artist In Residence for 2019

Toronto-based playwright Rob Kempson has been working closely with many of this year’s featured playwrights in preparation for the 2019 edition of the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival. 

Matt Carter

If there is one lesson Rob Kempson hopes to teach the playwrights involved in this year’s NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival, it’s that a first draft is never a final draft.

“The journey for each play is totally different and I think it’s important to remember that playwriting is not like other writing,” he said. “A play is meant to be spoken and not read so that means you have to take a crack at it, hear it, and then take another crack at it. You’re never going to find it all in the first or second draft.”

Kempson is this year’s NotaBle Acts Artist in Residence. As an instructor at Humber College, Randolph College and Centennial College, he spends a lot of time working with new playwrights to help them develop their voice and grow their work.

This month he is in Fredericton working with a dozen young and emerging New Brunswick playwrights whose work will be featured as part of this year’s festival lineup.

“It’s not only about learning and developing at this stage,” said Kempson. “It’s actually about learning professional practice, the practice of developing a new play.”

Kempson is an active contributor to the Toronto theatre scene and has written, composed, performed and directed on many of the city’s notable stages.

“This is the first time I’ve been an artist in residence at a festival. Every other residency I’ve had was based on something else,” he said. “I was either there just to write or to just to teach workshops.  This is a little bit more fulsome than what I’ve done in the past.”

Kempson began working with many of this year’s festival playwrights earlier this month via Skype before he arrived in Fredericton. Those early discussions helped spark new ideas, providing many of this year’s writers with their first outside feedback on their work.

“I’ve made some great connections so far and have seen some really exciting movement in the work,” said Kempson. “Sometimes with newer writers there can be a really hesitancy to take those big steps and make big choices and changes in their work. It can be scary. But everyone I’ve been working with have been totally fearless in that they have embraced this collaboration as a real collaboration.”

NotaBle Acts’ 2019 lineup includes the work of 14 New Brunswick playwrights including the winners of this year’s middle and high school playwriting competitions.

An important festival on the city’s annual calendar of events, each new edition of NotaBle Acts’ provides audiences with numerous opportunities to engage in theatre with fully produced plays that take place in theatre, outdoor plays that require little to no staging, site-specific work and readings of new plays in development.

“The range of stories is huge. It’s really diverse. I think what I’m really excited by about this festival is that I didn’t know the multiplicity of kinds of people that would be involved,” said Kempson. “I knew there would be some current and former students of Len’s [Falkenstien] but I wasn’t expecting the passion in this community for this kind of work.

“So often in community theatre settings, there isn’t the opportunity to engage new writers and new scripts and to develop that work. And that work is ultimately what Canada does best. We aren’t known for having this long back canon that we pull old favourites from like the British and the Americans do. So for me, NotaBle Acts is such a great training ground for new writers to get experience. As a dramaturg, I feel really grateful to get to intersect with these artists at this point in their writing and their journey.”

NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival runs July 23 – August 3.

2019 Festival Overview

The NotaBle Acts Theatre Company will stage its 18th annual Summer Theatre Festival, showcasing new plays by emerging and established New Brunswick playwrights, from July 23 through August 3 at venues across Fredericton. This year’s festival will see sixteen new plays performed over twelve days, including one act plays, ten-minute plays, a site-specific play, readings of new works in development, and a pair of professional mainstage physical theatre productions staged in cooperation with two acclaimed New Brunswick theatre companies, Fruit Machine by Solo Chicken Theatre Company’s The Coop, and Overlap, a play by Satellite Theatre.  

Mainstage Productions

Co-created by Alex Rioux and Samuel Crowell along with Coop company members, Fruit Machine is a physical theatre exploration of one of the most shameful chapters in Canadian history, the gay purge that took place in the R.C.M.P. and Canadian Forces in the 1950s and 60s, which included prospective recruits being subjected to testing by the “Fruit Machine,” a device that purported to identify those with homosexual tendencies. The July 23rd preview performance of the play will be preceded by a panel discussion about the role and importance of using theatre to stage and educate about queer history.

Overlap by Céleste Godin, first staged by Moncton’s physical performance-focused Satellite Theatre, is a play about the company’s home city, both a love letter to and a stinging critique of the city of Moncton itself. Performed in French with English surtitles, Overlap is a deft examination of modern Acadian youth, their relationship to home, and their desire for reinvention. Fruit Machine and Overlap will both be performed at the Black Box Theatre, STU, with Fruit Machine running July 23-25 and Overlap performed July 26-27.

Acting Out: Two One-Act Plays

Thirteen of the new plays to be performed at the festival were selected as winners in NotaBle Acts’ annual province-wide playwriting contest, including With Love, Josephine by Sophie Tremblay-Pitre and Gullywhump by Greg Everett, winners of the 2019 competition’s one act category. With Love, Josephine  is a cross-generational Romeo and Juliet-like love story set against the backdrop of Canada’s class and linguistic divides, while Gullywhump is a tale of gothic horror set in the backwoods of New Brunswick about a controlling father, the damage he has done to his family, and the gullywhump, a monster in the woods that ties them all together. With Love, Josephine and Gullywhump will be performed at Memorial Hall, UNB, nightly from August 1-3.

Free Outdoor Theatre

Taking it to the Streets, the winners of NB Acts’ 2019 ten-minute play competition, features four short plays performed outdoors at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery Café, including Brandon Hicks’ The Hoard, a comic take on the Marie Kondo-inspired decluttering craze; McKenna Boeckner’s The Year Where No One Dies, about two brothers dealing with their mother’s death in an alternate reality where dangerous thrillseeking has become the norm because for one year everyone is immortal; Ghostwriter, Sophie Tremblay-Pitre’s comedy about a ghost who enlists a reluctant descendent to complete her feminist writing project; and Robert Lynn’s Ribbit, Ribbit, about a skeptical young girl’s encounter with Fredericton’s beloved Coleman Frog. These four family-friendly plays will be performed as an hour of free theatre at noon on July 29 and August 1st and 2nd, with additional 7:30 PM performances on July 29 and 30. On these evenings, Taking it to the Streets will be followed by Carlee Calver’s haunting site-specific play A Coward-Bird’s Song, a tale of regret and lost love in a mythical Fredericton once populated by bird people that will be performed at sunset on the Green near the Gallery.

Readings of New Plays in Development

The festival lineup will also include readings of new plays in development, including four scripts that were runners up in the festival’s One Act playwriting competition: Jean-Michel Cliche’s science fiction-inspired S.C.O.P.E. (July 23 at The Grad House); Damon Gordon’s dark comedy Killer Counsel, about a serial killer couple seeking marriage counselling, and Sue Rose’s The Plucking Dark Ages, a powerful work about the migrant crisis on the southern U.S. border (both to be read July 28 at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery); and Jena McLean’s A Canyon Contained, about two sisters’ conflicting responses to the pressures placed on young women in contemporary culture, to be read July 29 at the Picaroons Roundhouse along with the two winners of the 2019 NB Acts Middle and High School playwriting contests: Alexandra Dawson’s Noise and AJ Robinson’s The 10:15.  The festival’s lineup of readings will be rounded out by Queen James (or All the King’s Men), a new play written during his time in residence with the festival by NB Acts’ 2019 Playwright/Dramaturge in Residence Rob Kempson, about the little-known homosexual double life of King James I of England.

For full show, schedule, and ticket details, visit the Shows and Tickets and Festival Schedule tabs on this site, or phone 506 478-1288.