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Salamander Theatre looks forward to new recruits, gears up for Remembrance Day production

Kyle Darbyson | Fulcrum Contributor

A new partnership

IN THE HOPES of recruiting more talent, the Salamander Theatre for Young Audiences is looking forward to auditioning actors and actresses from the University of Ottawa for their upcoming season. They are in the stages of forming a partnership with the university’s theatre department.

Joël Beddows, associate professor and chair of the department, says this collaboration came from a mutual interest in promoting English-language theatre for young people in Ottawa.

“The aim will be to make sure that more of our graduates get to perform with Salamander Theatre, because it’s a good company for them to start out in,” says Beddows. “We’re trying to make sure that this is something that can be done in the long term. We don’t want it to be a one-time kind of thing.”

At the moment, Beddow can’t announce exactly what form the partnership will take, but he hints that it will have to do with the allocation of the department’s resources towards Salamander Theatre and allowing members of the company to use the university’s facilities.


Where Poppies Blow

With Remembrance Day just recently passed, the Salamander Theatre is bringing the story of Canada’s involvement in the First World War to light with their latest production Where Poppies Blow from Nov. 5–16 in Ottawa.

This particular play, penned by Governor General Award-nominated playwright Hannah Moscovitch, takes a look at the Canadian home front during the early years of the war, and examines the loss and sacrifice associated with this conflict as seen through the eyes of a child.

This synopsis is very fitting, since this theatre group specializes in exposing Canada’s young people to all manners of drama and pathos through theatrical arts. Founded in 1993, Salamander Theatre was designed to bring professional-level theatrical performances to youth of all ages while also providing drama-in-education workshops and curriculum-based resources to teachers in the Ottawa region.

Despite the fact that these productions are primarily aimed at educating young people, the people behind the scenes at Salamander have no intention of shying away from the serious adult subject matter that underlines many of their productions. They already demonstrated this mentality back in October when they adapted their own version of Macbeth for the stage, as they made sure to include all the grizzly violence and murder that Shakespeare’s classic is known for.

“I think that because we play to young audiences, people are really concerned about censorship, or they’re really concerned that the audience won’t understand,” says Kate Smith, artistic director of the Salamander Theatre. “Often, people underestimate kids, and I don’t think you should ever play down to your audience.”

This blunt and honest approach comes across in Moscovitch’s narrative, which follows an 11-year-old boy named Gus who has stayed behind on the home front while his older brother is away fighting in Flanders Fields in Belgium.

“He takes the audience on a little journey through his town,” says actor Zach Counsil, who is a member of Salamander’s core acting company “Basically, we get to see how war is changing the world that he lives in.”

Smith, however, hints that the boy’s journey will not lead to a happy conclusion and that the realities of the war will eventually come crashing down on him.

“The thing that I think is really brave about this play is that it is being really honest about the atrocities of war with children,” she says. “There is death in this play, and it’s not a maybe. It’s a certainty.”

Even though Smith takes great pride in conveying such knowledge of Canada’s past to the next generation of Canadians, she also reveals that such a responsibility can be quite a burden to bear.

“We’ve performed for children whose parents are soldiers serving in Afghanistan,” says Smith. “That’s a heavy responsibility. I viscerally feel that emotional weight after we leave a show.”

However, Counsil strikes a different note when confronted with this reality.

“I feel privileged,” he says, with a sense of genuine excitement and enthusiasm that mirrors the play’s young protagonist that he portrays.

With the strength of some potential new recruits behind them, Salamander can move forward with educating future generations of Canadians with honest plays in the same vein as Where Poppies Blow.