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Debbie Gray


by Jane Enkin, July 12, 2012

Recently, my son Shlomo spent time translating a society page piece from an old Yiddish paper about a lovely Winnipeg party. I think I'll put on my society page hat for this article – A Do For Debbie was a lovely gathering of Winnipeg arts supporters, arts creators, and family, friends and admirers of Debbie Gray.

This celebratory evening to honour Debbie's Gray's philanthropy, a major fund-raising event for Winnipeg Jewish Theatre, included only the briefest of speeches. President of the WJT Board of Directors Judith Putter presented a commemorative gift to Debbie Gray and she gave a humble, charming response. Michael Nathanson, Artistic Producer of the WJT opened the evening with an appreciation of Debbie Gray's contribution to WJT, but reserved most of his impressions for a thoughtful note in the program.

Debbie Gray is a tireless, hard-working and down-to-earth contributor to many causes. She has brought time, energy and leadership to Jewish efforts like the Combined Jewish Appeal, and organizations benefiting the wider community, such as as the Winnipeg Foundation. Michael Nathanson writes that when he first met her, he realized that “...she clearly loved theatre and talking about theatre and was interested in what we were doing at WJT. What I didn't know then is the depth of her passion for the art form, her desire to see the best possible theatre in Winnipeg, and her extraordinary commitment to serve both the Jewish and Greater Winnipeg communities...Debbie’s generosity is not limited to theatre. Her desire to help others branches out in many different directions. The list of organizations and charities she's touched is a lengthy list. She believes in the Jewish community, she believes in Winnipeg, and her vision is to help others any way she can...we thank her for the opportunity to thank her.”

A lively reception in the lobby followed a rich presentation of musical theatre pieces and play readings in the Berney Theatre. The evening was planned by a WJT committee chaired by board members Wendy Wilder and Doris Bass.

Kayla Gordon kvelled about the musical theatre performers she brought to sing on stage, while her proud parents, Ralph and Ethel Gordon, kvelled about her.

These singers were all young, all lovely to look at, and very talented. Many have trained with Kayla Gordon, and most have studied music or theatre at U of M or U of W. Director/actor Connie Manfredi gave a terrific comic performance as the frustrated singer in Alto's Lament. Nathan Costa, Baillie Park Payne, Julie Lumsden, Shayna Paulicelli and Brenna Sutherland all gave solid performances. Tierra Watts made a complex acting piece out of the powerfully emotional Come To Your Senses. Nelson Bettencourt's tender Run Away With Me covered a range of moods and energies, sung and acted beautifully.

Two numbers gave us a taste of Fresher, Winnipeg Studio Theatre's upcoming Fringe Festival production. Adam Hurtig and Mallory Schellenberg sweetly checked each other out in their duet Funny. Darren Martins delivered the full throttle, old-fashioned romantic balladRupert's Lament. Hurtig and Bettencourt appeared as back up singers to send the whole thing up, but the sincere love song still came through.

Speaking of the Fringe, Connie Manfredi's next project is the Fringe show The Agonyand the Ecstacy of Steve Jobs. Inthe audience was Sarah London, who will appear in MTYP Yo. Co.'s Fringe show Puzzled. Ivan Henwood is the director of the Fringe play States of Shock:A Vaudeville Nightmare. The actor/director is happy to have joined WJT full time as the company's new Associate Artistic Producer.

At the heart of the presentation were play readings from past WJT productions.

Marina Stephenson-Kerr and Mariam Bernstein read their show-stopping scene from Angels in America: Millennium Approaches. It was exciting to see these actors, in their heels and chic little black dresses, become a crazy street person and a powerful Mormon mother. Bernstein is enthusiastic about recreating her multiple roles in WJT's Angel's in America: Perestroika in October.

Stephenson-Kerr joined Graham Ashmore as cautiously loving daughter and father in a scene from Alix Sobler's Some Things You Keep. Sobler's new play Rewritten premieres at WJT in May, 2013.

Arne MacPherson spoke in the character of a conflicted German officer in Treblinke in Way To Heaven, raising questions about the possibility of resistance.

MacPherson and Ashmore closed with a fascinating glimpse of their roles as friends trying to reach through their differences on Mid East politics in Michael Nathanson's Talk. They spoke about their experiences touring the play in Israel. Ashmore recalled an impromptu performance for a few people in their hotel mezzanine in Tel Aviv; MacPherson later spoke about meeting Palestinians in his East Jerusalem hotel, with its breathtaking view of the Old City.

As Michael Nathanson wrote in his tribute to Debbie Gray, “Her encouragement has helped us risk programming new works and risky works.” Angels in America is an important work on a grander scale than earlier WJT productions, both challenging and beautiful. Some Things You Keep is by local writer/actor Alix Sobler. Michael Nathanson's Talk, with its layers of metaphor about friendship and shared and conflicting narratives, was a finalist for the Governor General's Award in Drama.

Nathanson continued, “...She wants other people to get the same joy from theatre that she gets. It's not about having theatre create activists after seeing a political play, it's about the dialogue that gets stoked, the ideas that get fomented, the way we can look at ourselves and our lives and increase our empathy for others. “

I'll close with a request – please encourage everyone you know to send announcements, press releases and information about upcoming arts events in our community. And maybe a few sparkling social events as well.

WJT unveils 2012-2013 season

Coming off a season that was all hits and no misses, WJT has another remarkably promising lineup for 2012/13:

Angels In America: Perestroika (Oct. 24 - Nov. 4): WJT reunites the cast and production team behind the first part of Tony Kushner's epic for the Winnipeg premiere of its second part. After seeing Millennium Approaches, this is now the production I'm most looking forward to seeing next season.

SondheimFest Special (Jan. 23 - Feb. 3): WJT returns to the MTC-sponsored Master Playwright Festival with two shows. During the first week of the festival, Toronto improv company The National Theatre of the World (who delivered a spectacularly hilarious show at WJT earlier this year) return to improvise in the style of Stephen Sondheim. And during week two, WJT partners with local musical theatre company Dry Cold Productions to present Sondheim's musical revue Follies.

Rewritten (May 1 - 12): A world premiere of the latest from local playwright Alix Sobler (whose last WJT show, Some Things You Keep, was a winner). This play takes as its premise the idea that Anne Frank survived the Second World War, only to struggle to tell her story in 1950s New York.

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