Punctuating from the Wings

Matthew MacKenzie continues shaping Edmonton’s theatre scene as a recipient of the 2020 Edmonton Artists’ Trust Fund

Matthew MacKenzie was drawn to theatre as a teen, but there was a catch.

He wasn’t so interested in being onstage.

“I loved to watch the shows I was in from off-stage,” he recalls, with a laugh. “Listening to the audience’s reactions, feeling that magic every night, got me hooked — just not onstage.”

He found playwriting to be a much better fit, and it’s since become his career: Currently the artistic director of Punctuate! Theatre, the Métis playwright’s works have seen wide acclaim, both locally and afar, with eight professional premieres across Canada since 2014.

MacKenzie is one of the recipients of the 2020 Edmonton Artists’ Trust Fund (EATF), a joint project between the Edmonton Arts Council and Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF). The EATF is an investment in local talent: Its recipients each receive $15,000 to support their work in the city.

It’s a gift that makes MacKenzie appreciate being an artist in Edmonton, especially right now.

“Telling artists in other parts of the country what just happened, they’re like, ‘What?’” he says, of receiving the fund. “It’s really a special thing that we’re able to access as artists in Edmonton.”

One of MacKenzie’s newer works, After The Fire, was set to open at the Citadel Theatre before the pandemic shuttered the building. Despite that setback, Citadel Theatre artistic director Daryl Cloran — who nominated MacKenzie for the EATF — notes that, “I’ve been floored by his ability to make stuff happen.”

“He’s always the first guy to reach out to me, not only about his own work, but about the work of other Edmontonians that I should get to know or get to see,” Cloran continues. “I’ve always really appreciated that community-minded spirit that he has.”

To that point: in his Punctuate! role, MacKenzie is overseeing a playwrights’ unit, supporting the creation of new works from 15 Canadian playwrights of diverse backgrounds.

MacKenzie himself currently has eight scripts in some stage of development. And while the pandemic means those won’t see stages immediately, the EATF will help ensure they’re ready to share when live theatre returns.

“It allows me to buy time,” he says. “It’ll help me in the short term, big-time. But really it’ll help me for years to come, because I’ll have these plays that will hopefully be ready to produce. And then things hopefully kind of snowball.”

Learn more about the EATF