An Edmonton Theatrician

I discovered that I was most passionate about acting and theatre when I was still a young student here in Edmonton. Then I left Edmonton at age 17 and stayed away for 13 years traveling all over the world. I graduated from National Theatre School, and lived in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. I came back to Edmonton partly because Brian Paisley started the Fringe Festival in 1982. I presented my first Fringe play in 1984, and in 1985 I wrote “Life after Hockey” which became quite a hit.

The Edmonton Fringe Festival is the largest theatre festival in North America. For some reason Edmonton has embraced theatre, so I stay here because I love the audiences. Fringe goers, curious about new work, line up – sometimes for hours, sometimes for blocks – to see a completely obscure work no one’s ever heard of just because they’re interested in the playwright or actors. Edmonton audiences are unique in this regard. It doesn’t happen like this at other festivals.  

I have deep roots here; I’m a born and bred third generation Edmontonian. And I love everything about theatre – hanging lights, building sets, acting, reading plays – it’s what I’ve done for my whole adult life. I call myself a Theatrician – a word coined by a mentor of mine – meaning those who practice theatre in many different ways, because I am an actor, writer, producer, director, and teacher.

Edmonton is a great town in which to produce theatre, and it’s a mysteriously active and supportive theatre community. Nationally recognized writers have come from here, and Edmonton has had a profound effect on English-Canadian theatre. It’s interesting that this prairie city produces a lot of theatre. I have a theory that it’s because we’ve always had to entertain ourselves up in the Great White North, so we’ve gotten used to talking to ourselves and talking about humanity and the nature of our collective enterprise.

I was telling someone who didn’t come from Edmonton about Heritage Days. He said, “So how many people do you get out there?” I said 400,000 (the population of the city wasn’t much more than that at the time). Everybody goes. “What is it?” he asked. “It’s a festival where you walk around and look at everybody else’s cloth and costume and eat their version of a perogie or a hot dog or a dumpling. We hang out in the park together and enjoy the weather and celebrate our diversity.” I mean that is a really amazing fact about Edmontonians, they actually like to do that together. Just look at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival – we like to sit on a hill together and listen to brave new folk music from all over the world.

I like the way we accept newcomers and new energy. I like everything about Edmonton but the weather, and I don’t even mind the weather that much. You’ve got to get outdoors, you’ve got to ski or skate, and you have to enjoy yourself in the winter months!

The festival energy is amazing; we are the city of festivals. As soon as it is warm enough to take off our layered clothing, Edmontonians get out there and enjoy the festivals and each other’s company. I think someone who doesn’t know much about Edmonton would be amazed by the quality and by how much art we create here, and the passion with which people get together to celebrate that.

Where Next?

Ken Brown

Photo of Ken Brown

Kenneth Brown is the artistic director of THEATrePUBLIC and an acting instructor at MacEwan. His plays have been produced in German, French and English in 6 countries. A passionate hockey fan and an Edmonton Eskimos season ticket holder, Ken coaches his son’s soccer team and enjoys cycling in the river valley.  

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