This article by Tamara Aschenbrenner appeared in our Info Edmonton Magazine March/April 2022.
From hot boy summer to hotter YEG theatre
You may have heard of Grindstone Theatre and its famous winter show, Jason Kenney’s Hot Boy Summer, a satirical musical that expanded its run several times due to overwhelming attention, support, and sold-out performances. Everyone wanted to check out this local independent theatre’s ultimate parody of Alberta’s 2021 “open for summer” plan. Was it because it was local theatre? Because people were tired of being cooped up for so long during a pandemic and thrilled that there were events again? Or was the precise political angle reflecting the reasons people were cooped up to begin with and drawing even non-regular theatre-goers into seats?
The pandemic certainly altered the evolution of live theatre, with shifts in focus to digital platforms and desperation (some may say) for creative outlets. The characterization of Premier Jason Kenney by Grindstone actor Donovan Workun started as part of a COVID-friendly digital Christmas special in 2020 that then evolved on TikTok in quick silly sketches meant for comedic relief about Alberta’s current events. The musical drew attendance from the likes of NDP leader Rachel Notley and MLA Sarah Hoffman, both of whom were also portrayed as characters on stage. “I don’t even think of myself as a very political person,” shares Grindstone founder and artistic director Byron Martin. “So the fact that we have half the politicians in the city and province coming to see the show, and the kind of political impact it’s had, is surprising.”
Until now, Grindstone’s claim to fame was their award-winning musical comedy, The 11 O’Clock Number. “I always think of it as the backbone of the company,” says Martin. “The show itself has been amazing to see all the artists who have come through.” It launched the company’s first season in January 2012 and has appeared in venues across the city, including the Old Strathcona Theatre and Arts Barns, before getting its permanent home at Grindstone Theatre four years ago. The show happens weekly and is structured much like a classic musical—but improvised based on audience suggestions. If you go enough times, your odds of getting your own life turned into a musical are greater!
“Everything we do comes from the desire to make people laugh and create community and to promote arts and culture in the city,” says Martin. “It’s really great when people are catching on and supporting it.” Along with musicals, the theatre company also produces and hosts sketch comedy, karaoke, dance parties, outdoor events, and open mic nights. And if you’re looking to hone your own comedic chops, Grindstone even offers workshops throughout the year for improv, sketch writing, and burlesque. Martin says they often look to The Citadel as a framework for expanding a theatre company to include multiple venues and its own theatre school.
Edmonton’s theatre and arts community only continues to grow. “All the theatre companies are busy because it’s the first time we’ve had a long enough run with sustainable COVID guidelines to be able to produce theatre,” says Martin about the shows scheduled across Edmonton. “Many people realize how important social interaction is and how we need the arts in our life to make it worth living in a big way.”
Visit Grindstone Theatre just south of Whyte Avenue, and be sure to visit the bistro for hearty favourites like perogies, mac n’ cheese, and draft beer—or take a roll of the dice with the randomized D20 Shot.
Check out more articles from our March/April 2022 issue!