English Theatre’s The Collaborations transports local play from a small space to the national stage

Up to low - photo by sarah hoy
Up to Low on stage at the NAC from May 4 to 19 © Sarah Hoy

On a deep winter’s night, Sarah Garton Stanley, Associate Artistic Director of English Theatre, ventures out into the cold to hear a group of actors read an early draft of Up to Low, directed by Janet Irwin and based on the novel by Ottawa’s beloved Brian Doyle.

“I’ve wanted to tell this story for 20 years and when I heard about The Collaborations I brought the play to Sarah,” recalls Janet, who also adapted the novel for the stage.  “It was great to hear Sarah’s opinion.”

Janet was grateful for the funds she received from The Collaborations to help her develop her play.  And she’s grateful to NAC supporters who help make the funding it possible. “Your support gives small projects the chance to blossom into something beautiful,” she says. 

English Theatre’s faith in the play gave Janet and her team of artists confidence and the support they needed to help get them to the next stage of development. “They took a struggling group of artists and brought us to the point where we knew we could do this,” Janet explains.

That’s very much the goal of The Collaborations – which is to invest in the great work already being created across Canada and giving it the chance to thrive.  In so doing, English Theatre is building meaningful connections with artists like Janet and giving audiences the opportunity to enjoy live theatre that might not otherwise have been able to endure.

“The support of The Collaborations helped us hang on,” Janet explains.  “The play is local, Canadian and universal.  My dream was to bring it to the national stage.”

Up to Low premiered in a small arts space in a renovated courthouse in 2015.  The audience of 100 people sat in bleachers and loved every minute of the magical, mystical tale of a young boy’s journey to manhood in the 1950’s Ottawa.

Both Sarah and English Theatre Artistic Director Jillian Keiley saw the play and enjoyed it so much they approached Janet with a special offer.  “They said they were going to produce the play and include it in their 2017–2018 Season,” Janet recalls.  “I thought it was going to run in the Azrieli Studio.  I was absolutely thrilled when I learned it was going to be on the main stage.  It took me back to the moment when I first dreamed the play could be on Canada’s stage in Ottawa.” 

Janet’s dream is about to come true.  Up to Low will run in the Babs Asper Theatre from May 1 to 19, 2018.

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