City of Wine festival brochure. Design by Elliott Smith.
“One of 2009’s theatre highlights. Here’s a toast to Bacchus in hopes that the cycle has continued life, for what we saw was an extraordinary piece of theatre as well as an epic undertaking.”
– NOW Magazine
“This amazing project has been in gestation for 15 years, thanks to the caring arms of Brian Quirt and Naomi Campbell at Nightswimming and the boundless invention of author Ned Dickens.”
– The Toronto Star
“Ned Dickens has devoted seven plays, and 16 years of his life, to retelling the tale of Thebes, a sex-and-blood-drenched saga that peaks in the story of Oedipus but starts generations earlier. All seven are now being mounted in sequence in Toronto, in a kind of super-workshop, by seven different theatre schools from around the country, under the auspices of the professional company Nightswimming. It’s a dizzyingly ambitious feat of producing and, despite inevitable unevenness in writing and production, a dizzying achievement.
As with any good cycle, the more you see, the more you want to see. Dickens’ commitment to telling and linking his stories pays tremendous dividends. I’ve never before been as gripped or as shocked by the self-undoing of Oedipus, who appears in two plays and is well played in both — though by two different actors. The future of this project, however fearsome the logistics, must be a full professional production with consistent casting.”
– The National Post
CITY OF WINE
By Ned Dickens
City of Wine is Ned Dickens’ seven-play cycle telling the story of the Greek city of Thebes – best known as the home of Oedipus. The seven plays are: Harmonia, Pentheus, Laius, Jocasta, Oedipus, Creon and Seven. Beginning with the founding of Thebes by Cadmus and Harmonia, and ending in the city’s demise seven generations later on the battlefield of Troy, City of Wine provides a timely commentary on leadership and civic life. Alarming, funny, sexy, thoughtful and powerfully visceral, the plays offer vivid reflections on all that it means to be human and part of society. This contemporary look at some of western literature’s most remarkable characters breathes new life into their stories while introducing the citizenry of Thebes as distinct yet familiar individuals, an approach to the ‘chorus’ that is unique to Ned’s vision of this legendary city.
Nightswimming began work on City of Wine in 1997 when we commissioned Ned to write Jocasta (cast of 15), a prequel to his version of Oedipus (which had been produced in 1994 by Sarah Stanley’s Die in Debt Theatre, and which Brian had dramaturged). We then commissioned Creon in 1999 (cast of 8), and workshopped both plays and Oedipus (cast of 16) in 2000. At that time, we established a developmental partnership with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, which held further workshops and public readings of the trilogy. Nightswimming subsequently commissioned Harmonia (cast of 12, 2005), Pentheus (cast of 18) and Laius (with the National Arts Centre; cast of 14, 2006) and Seven (cast of 7, 2007).
The City of Wine project, which focused on the development of all seven plays, ran from 2006-2009 and included full productions by seven theatre schools from Newfoundland to British Columbia. In May 2009, Nightswimming brought these seven productions (and more than 150 students) to Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille, where the seven play cycle was performed in its entirety twice over the course of six days.
Read about the groundbreaking City of Wine festival in Canadian media:
The Toronto Star
Currently, Nightswimming is assembling a network of producing theatres and festivals to present the professional world premiere of the entire seven-play cycle in 2015.
For information about specific scripts, please contact Nightswimming Producer Rupal Shah.
Playwright Ned Dickens and Dramaturg Brian Quirt began work on the cycle in 1994 when Die in Debt Theatre (Toronto) commissioned Ned to write a new version of Oedipus for an outdoor production that the company presented to great acclaim that summer. Receiving the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Production, Ned’s Oedipus was a masterful and unusual retelling of the story, and one that inspired he and Brian to examine more deeply the story of Oedipus’ wife Jocasta, and the story of Jocasta’s brother Creon. These conversations led Ned to conceive of two companion plays: Jocasta, telling the story of Oedipus’ birth and the love affair that unites him with Jocasta; and Creon, a revisionist look at the story of Oedipus’ daughter Antigone.
Nightswimming commissioned these two plays, developed them over several years, and did a series of developmental workshops of the trilogy of plays. During this process, Ned continued to look both forward and backward in Theban history, discovering that the legendary city had a lifespan of not much more than seven generations. Looking at the richness of stories generated by the ancient Greeks about this remarkable city, Ned conceived of a further four plays that trace the city’s life from its founding by Cadmus to the demise of its last residents on the battlefields of Troy.
Nightswimming committed to commissioning those four plays and established a partnership with theatre training institutions across Canada to bring the plays to production readiness.
The City of Wine Festival
This national project offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for more than 165 students to participate directly in the development and production of a new play in partnership with leading theatre artists and their fellow students the country. To accomplish this we established relationships with the following theatre training programs:
Sir Wilfred Grenfell College (Corner Brook, Nfld); Concordia University (Montreal); George Brown College Theatre School (Toronto); Humber College Performance Training Program (Toronto); York University (Toronto); Studio 58 (Langara College, Vancouver) and Simon Fraser University, Contemporary Arts (Vancouver). The National Theatre School of Canada (Montreal) and the University of Alberta (Edmonton) also participated in early phases of the project.
This project brought together students from across Canada to develop, rehearse, produce and present Ned’s seven plays. A central element of this initiative was Nightswimming’s plan – never before attempted on this scale – to take Ned and Nightswimming staff into each school to workshop the plays with the students, and in doing so to offer the students a remarkable opportunity to participate in the creation of a major new work of theatre as part of their training.
This collaborative educational process culminated in 2008-09 when the seven plays were produced by seven of the schools (Grenfell College, Concordia, Humber College, George Brown College, York University, Studio 58 and SFU).
In May 2009, Nightswimming produced the City of Wine festival, an ambitious, innovative national event presenting the seven school productions at Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto, enabling audiences to view the entire cycle in sequence for the first time ever.
City of Wine has already had a significant impact on students, audiences and the training of a new generation of theatre artists. It challenged students to work at the highest standard possible in collaboration with professional artists and institutions, and offered them not only mentorship, but brought them in contact with their fellow students from across Canada.
Download the City of Wine festival programme booklet here.
In addition, Nightswimming commissioned a French-language translation of Harmonia by University of Ottawa playwright Michel Ouellette. The National Arts Centre (Ottawa) co-commissioned with Nightswimming the play Laius and was an ongoing partner in the development process.
The seven plays are:
Harmonia – Daughter of the gods Ares and Aphrodite, Harmonia and her mortal husband Cadmus are the founders of Thebes. In the kitchen of Ares’ palace on Mount Olympus, surrounded by the lusty desires and petty games of both gods and mortals, Cadmus wins the love of Harmonia but incites the fury of the gods. Harmonia gives up her immortality to pursue this love as she and her new husband are driven from Olympus. They vow to found a great city dedicated to equality and truth – and thus Thebes is born. A great love story merges with a search for freedom in this beautiful and romantic start to the cycle.
Commissioned by Nightswimming. Student production by SFU Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, directed by DD Kugler.
Pentheus – An alternative version of the events of The Bacchae, this play introduces us to Harmonia and Cadmus’ grandson Pentheus, who finds himself chosen king just as the city is undergoing an unexpected transformation. Also brought to life are the magical characters of Tiresias, the seer whose prophecies play a pivotal role in city’s story, and Bacchus, the god whose gift of wine brings both joy and chaos to Thebes. The tragedy of King Pentheus (and a hidden love story!) brings Thebes into a new era.
Commissioned by Nightswimming. Student production by Humber College, Toronto, directed by Tatiana Jennings.
Laius – Laius, the great grandson of Cadmus and Harmonia and next in line for the crown, wants for nothing. However, after a botched coup attempt, Laius is driven into exile, where he festers in bitterness and self-pity until he commits a crime that will haunt Thebes and its people for generations. How do we create our leaders and what do we demand of them in return? This play is central to the City of Wine – much wine is consumed as the people of Thebes struggle within this crisis of leadership.
Commissioned by the National Arts Centre and Nightswimming. Student production by George Brown Theatre School, Toronto, directed by Eda Holmes.
Jocasta – This play illuminates the story of Jocasta, one of the great figures of ancient mythology. Twenty years after the events of Laius, the exiled Laius returns to Thebes, marries Jocasta and she bears him a son. The first act of Jocasta traces the descent of the city, under Laius’ rule, into dictatorship and despair. Act two brings with it a much-discussed moment in Greek mythology: the charming and magnetic first meeting between Jocasta and Oedipus. With no idea what their relationship portends (for themselves or for Thebes) their happy marriage restores peace to the city.
Commissioned by Nightswimming. Student productions by Studio 58 at Langara College, Vancouver, directed by Craig Hall; University of Alberta Theatre Department, directed by David King (2004).
Oedipus – Oedipus’ attempt to relieve Thebes of a plague, and the curse that brought it to the city, brings the famous story of Jocasta, Laius and Oedipus to its disastrous and horrifying conclusion. One of the world’s great tragedies finds new life in this thrilling new version.
Commissioned by Die in Debt Theatre. Premiere production by Die in Debt Theatre, Toronto, directed by Sarah Stanley. Student production of revised script by Concordia University Department of Theatre, Montreal, directed by Ulla Neuerburg-Denzer.
Creon – On a pleasant evening, years after the events of Oedipus, a visiting stranger enters a peaceful tavern and acquaints himself with the Thebans savouring the local wine. His questions about their city and their history result in an impromptu and often comic reconstruction of the story of Antigone. A controversial story about leadership is re-evaluated and the fate of Thebes is explored, disputed and reinvented. Once again, wine points the way, bringing both chaos and, finally, good cheer in its wake.
Commissioned by Nightswimming. Premiere production by Theatreworks, Toronto, directed by Vikki Anderson (2007); student productions by Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Memorial University, Corner Brook, Newfoundland, directed by Jillian Keiley; Humber College, Toronto, directed by Alex Fallis (2002)
Seven – During the siege of Troy, seven scruffy citizens sit drinking around a campfire. After receiving orders to go on a futile and certainly fatal mission in the morning, the seven Thebans spend their last night trying to make sense of their lives, their place in history and in memory. Will wine offer insight or blindness? How will they meet the challenge that dawn brings? What will remain of Thebes after they are gone?
Commissioned by Nightswimming. Student production by York University Department of Theatre, Toronto, directed by Sarah Stanley.
Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto
The City of Wine festival featured two complete runs of the cycle between May 5-9, 2009.
By Ned Dickens
Artistic direction & Dramaturgy by Brian Quirt
Produced by Naomi Campbell
Festival Set Design by Vikki Anderson
Festival Lighting Design by Rebecca Picherack
Production Management by Caroline Hollway
Associate producer Rupal Shah*
Dramaturgy & sponsorship by Marie-Leofeli R. Barlizo*
Wardrobe coordination by Linda Muir
Transportation & volunteer coordination by Jill Ward
Stage coordination by Sandy Plunkett & Michael Wheeler
*services generously supported by the George C. Metcalf Foundation