The Inspiration behind The Invisible – Agents of Ungentlemanly Warefare

on Tuesday, 24 July 2018. Posted in Latest News

An Interview by Vertigo Theatre with Playwright Jonathan Christenson

We asked Jonathan Christenson about Catalyst Theatre’s upcoming production of THE INVISIBLE- AGENTS OF UNGENTLEMANLY WARFARE. THE INVISIBLE will be premiering May 11- June 9 as the fifth show in our 2018/2019 season.


THE INVISIBLE – AGENTS OF UNGENTLEMANLY WARFARE has its roots in real-life history, including Canadian Millionaire William Stephenson’s WW2 contributions to British Security in the fight agains the Nazis. How are you going about researching these stories, and what excites you about what you’ve learned so far?

 The first book I read was A Man Called Intrepid. It’s a biography of William Stephenson that was written in 1976 before people generally knew much about the Special Operations Executive (SOE) – the agency Churchill secretly set up to fight a covert war of espionage and sabotage in Europe during WWII. The book was originally considered a work of non-fiction, but over the years its veracity came into question and it was recently reclassified as fiction. Which is interesting because I imagine that in the world of espionage the truth can get very slippery. Anyway, I started there because Stephenson was this Canadian who had a huge impact on WWII and on the evolution of espionage during the last half of the 20th century. And I’d never heard of him. I’m interested in Canadian stories that have the potential to speak on a global level and I was struck by the international nature of this story. It had a significant Canadian connection, but it had equally strong ties to British, European and Asian history.

More than anything, though, I was interested in the women who were recruited by the SOE as secret agents. I had no idea that women played this particular role in WWII. And these women were fierce. They weren’t the agent/seductress sort of female spies that populate the work of writers like Ian Fleming. So, I got my hands on as many books as possible about them. There have actually been a lot of them written over the past two decades. And as I began reading these books, I also started to see the stories of these women cropping up more and more in popular culture. There seems to be a growing interest in them.

One of the women that I became most intrigued with was someone named Vera Atkins. A lot of people say she was the real-life inspiration for Ian Fleming’s Miss Moneypenny (much as many people say that William Stephenson was the inspiration for James Bond). Vera was very high up in F-Section – the branch of SOE that was dealing with agents in occupied France and she became very involved in the lives of the female agents. Before they set off on their missions, she was often the last person to see them.  At the end of the war, many of these agents were missing and no one knew what had happened to them. Vera made it her personal mission to go to Europe after the war and find out.  She spent months investigating and, if not for her, the stories of many of them may well have been lost forever.  I find Vera an endlessly intriguing character and she was the first to really take hold of my imagination.

THE INVISIBLE is titled as such because it refers to spies in the Second World War, but there’s possibly another meaning about this story being “hidden” by history, while other more famous aspects of the war are celebrated. Was it important to you to write an “untold” story? What excites you about being able to bring this to the stage?

 Yes, absolutely. As male agents were increasingly identified & targeted by the Nazis, female agents were recruited from around the world & trained at secret camps throughout the UK & Canada. Women, it was believed, could coordinate the resistance without being suspected, without being observed, without being detected.  Women could be invisible. We’re reimagining the stories of this international team of female agents through a 21st Century lens. Drawing on historical research, film noir, spy fiction, & graphic novels, we’re working on creating a genre-busting, multi-lingual, “film noir musical” for our times, a contemporary portrait of 7 extraordinary women who risked their lives to fight a dangerous war of sabotage, propaganda & espionage during WWII, only to find themselves betrayed by the very world they believed they were fighting for.

Catalyst and Vertigo previously collaborated on NEVERMORE, which went on to tour nationally and internationally, including a run Off-Broadway. What are you looking forward to when working with Vertigo again? What unique aspects do you find Vertigo brings to the table?

We had a great time working at Vertigo in 2011! The Vertigo audiences were fantastic – so supportive and enthusiastic about NEVERMORE. So, I’m definitely looking forward to sharing this new work with them! Also, Vertigo has a fantastic team! Artistic Director Craig Hall and Executive Director Rose Brow have been amazing! It’s not easy committing to something that only exists as a concept. It requires a lot of trust and confidence. It asks everyone involved to take a leap of faith. That’s not easy – stepping into the unknown – and even in the world of theatre, people can be reluctant to take that risk. But Craig and Rose never hesitated and I’ve really felt, from the very beginning, that we’re all in this together.  It’s been a real gift to begin a creative journey by such trust and support.

Photo of Vera Atkins, Spy mistress.

More Awards For Vigilante

on Thursday, 14 December 2017. Posted in Latest News

For Immediate Release

Internationally acclaimed CATALYST THEATRE, resident company in The Citadel’s Maclab Theatre, received the CAPITAL CRITICS AWARD FOR BEST PRODUCTION in Ottawa on Monday evening for its production of VIGILANTE.

VIGILANTE, which premiered at THE CITADEL THEATRE during the 14/15 season, is a riveting rock musical that tells the shocking story of Johannah Donnelly and her six dangerous yet devoted sons. Written, composed and directed by Catalyst’s Artistic Director Jonathan Christenson, VIGILANTE ran at the NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE in the 897-seat Babs Asper theatre in April.

Jan Alexandra Smith, who plays the fierce Donnelly matriarch, also received the Capital Critics Award for Outstanding Performance by a Leading Actress. The National Arts Centre engagement of Vigilante was the final stop of a three-city tour that included a sold-out run at the 900-seat GRAND THEATRE in London, ON, and at PERSEPHONE THEATRE in Saskatoon, where it was nominated for 11 SATAwards, winning for Best Production, Best Performance in a Leading Role (Jan Alexandra Smith) and Best Set Design (Jonathan Christenson).

Upcoming from Catalyst at The Citadel Theatre is their presentation of the hit new musical ONEGIN, that’s been taking the country by storm. The Vancouver Arts Club production runs in the MACLAB THEATRE from January 17-28.


on Thursday, 12 October 2017. Posted in Latest News

For Immediate Release


We are thrilled to be announcing a new programming initiative, “Catalyst Presents”, launching with the hit indie-rock musical Onegin!

Onegin (ON • YEG IN) is the indie-rock musical that’s taking the country by storm. Catalyst Theatre presents this multi-award-winning Vancouver Arts Club production on the Maclab Stage from January 17th to 28th, 2018.

The Globe and Mail

Onegin wowed Vancouver audiences in 2016, winning an unprecedented 10 Jessie Awards. This thrilling new adaptation of Pushkin’s timeless poem and Tchaikovsky’s renowned opera, brings a thoroughly modern sensibility to a romantic Russian classic. Its high-energy musical score tells a sweeping tale of infatuation, unrequited love, and intrigue. Catalyst Theatre’s Artistic Director, Jonathan Christenson saw Onegin at its phenomenally successful Arts Club premiere in May 2016.

“I remember watching the show for the first time. In one of the songs Onegin sang: ‘Amuse me, surprise me, shake me … try and wake me’ and at the performance I saw the entire was doing just that for the audience! This show is raucous, irreverent and highly theatrical – a hysterical yet touching re-imagining of a literary classic that will blow your mind!”

Onegin tells the story of Eugene Onegin, a wealthy Russian playboy who, bored with seducing women in Moscow, sees a chance for a change when he inherits a country estate. He soon becomes fast friends with Vladimir, his new neighbour, who introduces Onegin to the love his life, Olga. Olga’s sister, Tatyana, falls madly in love with Onegin, but Onegin sets his sites instead on Olga, rejecting Tatyana. In a jealous rage, Vladimir challenges Onegin to a duel, and what ensues changes everyone’s lives forever.

“I was immediately struck by the similarities between what Amiel and Veda were doing and what we’re doing at Catalyst, namely re-imagining what a musical can be,” Christenson says. “It ignited my interest in bringing work like this to Edmonton. It’s the perfect show to launch our new initiative “Catalyst Presents” which in the coming years will see Catalyst bring exceptional new productions by some of Canada’s most exciting and ground-breaking companies to Edmonton audiences.”

The Vancouver Sun

To launch “Catalyst Presents” we’re offering Radical Ticket Pricing!


Lana at  (780) 431-1750

Vigilante Takes Home Three SATAwards!

on Wednesday, 20 September 2017. Posted in Latest News

September 19, 2017

We are thrilled to announce that Vigilante won three SATAwards. These awards recognize and celebrate professional theatre artists and organizations in Saskatoon and surrounding area.

Vigilante was nominated for 9 awards and took home the prize for:
-Outstanding Production
-Outstanding Leading Performance – Jan Alexandra Smith
-Outstanding Set Design – Jonathan Christenson.

Big thanks to everyone involved in the SATAwards, and to our presenters at Persephone Theatre.

More info about the wards here.

Catalyst Welcomes Acting Managing Producer, Brenda O’Donnell

on Tuesday, 11 July 2017. Posted in Latest News

For Immediate Release - July 11, 2017

Catalyst Theatre’s board of directors announces that Brenda O’Donnell will assume the position of Acting Managing Producer, effective July 11th, 2017.  Ms. O’Donnell was previously the Executive Director of the Arts Touring Alliance of Alberta and is a senior arts administrator with extensive experience working for many of Edmonton’s theatre companies. Ms. O’Donnell will work closely with Mr. Christenson, the board, and the staff of Catalyst Theatre, to assist during the search for a new Managing Producer.


4 Play 2020 will be on April 3! Save the Date. 

Join us for our wacky, crazy, over the top fundraising event – Over the Edge With 4 Play. Some of Edmonton’s most incredible theatre artist gather to participate in the craziest fundraiser in town!



4 brand new Canadian plays made in just 12 hours.
Join 4 playwrights, 4 directors, 4 actors and 4 designers as they set the stage on fire during our infamous fundraising extravaganza!