From March 20-23, Essential Collective Theatre in association with Theatre Aquarius, will be presenting the world premiere of The Team written by playwright Michael Kras in the Roberston Theatre in the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.
The production focuses on five women (performed by Lennon Bradford, Emily Lukasik, Kaitlin Race, Laura Welch & Kaylyn Valdez-Scott) who deal with locker room ‘homophobic jock’ culture and cyberbullying found in high schools. In this day in age, the story is vital, “relevant, accessible and compassionate.”
The eighty-minute play centres around lead character Bobbie, who has just returned back to school after grieving the suicide of her brother, a former high school basketball star. In her efforts to self-rehabilitate, Bobbie joins the senior girls basketball team as they prepare for a challenging run to make it to the championships. Notions of grief, fear, and identity preside over each member as they individually grasp with the uncertain ideas of what their future holds.
The collaboration between Hamilton playwright Kras and Essential Collective Theatre [ECT} began about over two years ago when Colin Bruce Anthes, Artistic Director, reached out to Kras to work on another project entirely for his other company, Twitches & Itches Theatre, prior to his designation with ECT.
“Before Colin was announced as incoming Artistic Director, he asked if he could read a copy of The Team. A few months later, he rang me up to offer the play a place in his first season at ECT,” explained Kras.
“At the same time, Theatre Aquarius (who were a giant part of developing the play) had offered it a place in their upcoming season in the Studio Theatre. Excitingly, instead of one offer cancelling the other out, ECT and Aquarius joined forces and this is the first time those theatres are presenting a play in partnership.”
Kras, born and raised in Hamilton, studied at Humber Theatre School where he studied in their acting conservatory. During his time there, Kras discovered his voice as a playwright, rather than an actor and in 2015, upon graduation, Kras moved back to Hamilton and created the independent company Broken Soil Theatre. His plays Places, #dirtygirl, and The Year and Two of Us Back Here all premiered at the Hamilton Fringe Festival winning awards including Best of Fringe and Audience Choice.
The Team marks his first ‘professional’ playwriting debut, and will be published by Scirocco Drama later this year. The play was also the winner of the prestigious Herman Voaden National Playwriting Prize. The nation-wide competition is named to honour the Canadian pioneer playwright Voaden, and the award is dedicated to honouring his goals to develop a distinctively Canadian art of the theatre and to encourage the writing of Canadian drama.
“Fresh off completing an early draft of The Team, I heard it read off the page and, honestly, I felt unusually good about it even for being so early in development. So I sent the play in for consideration,” Kras explained.
“Almost a year later, I’m sitting in a coffee shop and I get a call saying that, after multiple juries and heavy deliberation, that my play had won the prize. The first words out of my mouth were “you’re kidding” and I was a little paranoid that it was a mistake up until I finally got that official letter of confirmation a few weeks later. I’ll always consider it an immense honour, and it gave me a pretty huge boost in my confidence as a playwright.”
This production will be Kras’ first time letting a director take helm of one his plays. As an independent producer, Kras has always been on the inside, looking out. With Anthes captaining (as director) the team, and his extremely qualified line-mates (James McCoy, Set & Lighting Design; Joanne Pacinda, Costume Design; Ethan Rising, Sound Design; Rebecca Walsh, Production Manager; & Jessica Campbell Maracle, Stage Manager) providing the frameworks, The Team is poised to shatter expectations.
“Giving my baby to someone else to raise comes with a lot of anxiety. But, honestly, I’ve been put so at ease by the trust, love, and respect I have for ECT and the artists bringing this production to life,” said Kras.
“From the moment I saw the kickass cast and crew assembled, I knew the play was in excellent hands. Watching them at work has been incredibly emotional for me. The chance to observe an amazing room of artists bring my play to full life for the first time with such deep empathy, intelligence, and guts is an enormous gift.”
The Team runs at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton from March 14-15 and at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre from March 20-23 (you can buy tickets here).