MAA & PAA Theatre
Celebrating Alberta’s Past and Alberta’s Future
MAA & PAA Theatre was formed in 2006 as a partnership between historian Karen Simonson and theatre producer David Cheoros. The company endeavours to balance a respect for accurate and fact-based research using primary sources, and a range of theatrical tools and devices. We seek to tell stories of contemporary relevance, with a special interest on Alberta history and Alberta authors. MAA & PAA is eager for its work to function equally well in theatrical and non-theatrical contexts. Three of our projects have premiered at the historic Roxy Theatre in Edmonton, and we are honoured to present in that context. However, the productions are also designed to come to their audiences, with performances in such venues as conference halls and ballrooms.
The company’s initial project was an adaptation of the letters of Dr. Mary Percy Jackson. Dr. Jackson, an English doctor who came to work on the Alberta Frontier, wrote an astonishing collection of letters home over the course of her first two years in Canada. In consultation with Dr. Jackson’s family and with the support of the Provincial Archives of Alberta, a distillation of the letters was woven together with more than 150 archival images and films over the winter and spring of 2007 to create Letters from Battle River: The Adventures of Dr. Mary Percy Jackson. A preview of the production starring Heather D. Swain was offered as part of the Edmonton and Athabasca Historical Festival and went on to an acclaimed run at the 2007 Edmonton Fringe Theatre Festival. To read an article written by Karen Simonson for Archives Society of Alberta magazine detailing the events and collaborations leading to Letters to Battle River, please click here.
Starting in 2007, MAA & PAA began the process of transforming the upstairs program room of the Strathcona Branch of the Edmonton Public Library into a theatre venue for the Fringe. Soon, other artists became interested in the space, and now we program a set of eight productions at the venue each year. In 2012, artist and audience demand prompted us to expand programming to the Milner Library Theatre downtown.
In 2008, MAA & PAA worked with the Provincial Archives of Alberta again, this time on a prominent part of Alberta history – the scandal that drove Premier John Brownlee from office and brought down the dynasty of the United Farmers of Alberta – as told in Respecting the Action for Seduction.
Also in 2008, MAA & PAA began presenting the work of other authors. Edinburgh playwright Tim Crouch’s innovative drama an oak tree has received rave reviews in London and New York. We were honoured to create the first production not starring the playwright and to have veteran performer, author, and composer Dave Clarke in the role. an oak tree will premiere at the Roxy on August 1, 2008 and go on to a run at the 2008 Edmonton Fringe Theatre Festival.
Former Edmonton Poet Laureate Alice Major spent ten years crafting a cycle of contemporary tales in verse, drawing for inspiration on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and a world of mythology and literature. The resulting collection, The Office Tower Tales, combines an aching familiarity – the world of cubicles and non-fat lattes – with a heightened sensibility that forces us to look again. Her tales are framed by the coffee-break musings of Aphrodite, Pandora and Scheherezade. Alice has adapted selections of her acclaimed collection for the stage, giving voice to her spare and expressive text.
In 2009, MAA & PAA created two original works. The Unmarried Wife: The Passions and Photography of Gladys Reeves and Ernest Brown charts the professional and personal lives of two of Edmonton’s first, and most influential photographers, and features an array of their own photographs and documents. This work is another collaboration with the Provincial Archives of Alberta. GUT was a more personal exploration – David’s autobiographical examination of the health, social and interpersonal impacts of a lifelong struggle with weight. Both works were presented at the 2009 Edmonton Fringe.
In 2011, MAA & PAA was pleased to partner with historian and author Debbie Marshall on Firing Lines: Journalist Beatrice Nasmyth Covers the First World War. Nasmyth was one of the first Canadian women to cover the war from both London and the Front llines, and her reportage helped to provide a distinctly female perspective on the war for millions of Canadians.
In 2012, MAA & PAA worked with Leilani O’Malley and M.L. Morin on the creation of a stage work based on Leilani’s life. Invisible Child: Leilani Muir and the Alberta Eugenics Board. We were also pleased to work with Brindle and Glass Publishing on a collection of the first four history plays we have produced. Entitled Her Voice, Her Century, this collection launched in October 2012.
In 2013, Invisible Child was honoured with the Gwen Pharis Ringwood Award for outstanding play, awarded each year by the Writers Guild of Alberta. At the Fringe, MAA & PAA presented Never Let the Crew See You Cry by Linda Wood Edwards.
In 2014, MAA & PAA produced both the French/English hybrid En Anglais, S’il Vous Plait, about the struggle to recognize the French language and culture in Alberta, and Bible Bill: the Gospel Musical, about the life of premier and televangelist William Aberhart.
In 2015, MAA & PAA assisted Darrin Hagen with a workshop production of Witch Hunt at the Strand, a history of the police investigation into Edmonton’s gay community in 1942. The play, which had been in development for nearly a decade, was recognized with a Sterling nomination for Fringe play.
MAA & PAA has remounted Letters from Battle River in 2008 and 2009, and then created a new production in 2016. All of our productions have been designed to be touring-friendly.