Sherman, set the WABAC machine for the University of Alberta in the year 2000. Here we find one Medina Hahn, young, ambitious, and industrious. Looking for a way to showcase her studied talents post-ed, she and fellow student/pal Daniel Arnold figure hey, maybe we should sit down and write something for ourselves. Novel idea, that. The result of their efforts was Tuesdays and Sundays (based on a true story), a lovely play about two souls lost in the ether who reunite and piece together their relationship and the eventual tragedy that befalls them. Meant for a one-off Edmonton run after they finished school, Medina and Daniel ended up touring the production for the last seven years, in festivals as far away as New York and Edinburgh, and it had its most recent run at the Waterfront in August. The pair have a busy production company together, and have both recently made Vancouver their home. Medina was good enough to sound off on her new city, which is richer for having her.
1.) In one word, describe your present condition.
Up, down and all around.
2.) What are your thoughts on the current state of Vancouver theatre, as compared to Edmonton?
I’ve heard that theatre in Vancouver doesn’t really exist. I’ve heard that theatre in Edmonton is on a slippery slope. I hear that theatre is making a comeback in Vancouver. I hear people are bored in Edmonton.
Truth is…I don’t know…
I think that theatre is tougher to get done and be seen here in Vancouver. It seems to be way more expensive for smaller companies to give it a go – rehearsal spaces are hard to come by, rentals are expensive and it’s difficult to get audiences out when there’s a beach and an ocean just waiting…I feel like Edmonton has a very long history of theatre and that audiences and other artists are aware of what’s happening in town, seek it out, and for the most part support each other in their endeavors. It probably helps that it’s freezing cold a lot of the time! Also, the Fringe (once upon a time, the biggest in North America) has been such a staple in that community, I’m sure it helps the interest and awareness of theatre bleed out into the rest of the year…
3.) What are your thoughts on now being a resident part of the Vancouver theatre scene?
I’m excited. It’s like a whole new group of people to play with, learn from, create with, be inspired by, fight with, support… I’ve often heard how difficult it is for someone new to break into the Vancouver Theatre scene, so I feel quite blessed. So far, as a creator, playwright, producer and actress, I feel welcomed. And of course, a little frightened.
4.) Which factors in the resounding success of Tuesdays and Sundays would you try to emulate for your next project?
Oh my god…ummm…wow, I would love to emulate ALL of the good! No, seriously, I don’t think it’s possible to emulate anything. That project was what it was, did what it did – it was a magical, surprising gift. And very much it’s own thing.
The biggest thing I’d like is for our next project to speak to the hearts and minds of as many people as Tuesdays & Sundays has. I want this new story to be able to cross cultures, borders, age, language… to be able to speak to mankind, not just certain parts. I know, lofty dream, but one’s gotta try…
5.) How has performing the same show for so many years affected your characterization of Mary?
I think the longer I sit with a character, the deeper I go and the more I learn. Playing Mary has been extraordinary. Time after time I was able to delve deeper and find out new things and be open and surprised by place, time, moment – whatever Daniel was throwing out that day… the various audiences… the venues… the countries… I know it sounds funny, but I often felt like she was there. The more I learned about her, and began to understand her, the more I felt her presence and could delve deeper.
6.) What’s the secret to a successful writing partnership?
Everyone always asks that one and truth is…I’m not sure I have a clear answer. Trust. Lack of ego. The ability to argue and not take it personally. A strong, deep belief in the other artist, your own voice and what you are wanting to say…not from your head necessarily, but from your gut.
Also, knowing and embracing that you don’t necessarily work the same way.
7.) Any words of advice for the aspiring playwright?
Just go for it. Write – whether it has form or not in the beginning…you can start with your heart and then mold it with your head. And do not fuss too much with “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts”. Great things can come from not knowing the “right” way to do something. Be brave. And know that writing is scary. And hard. For everyone.
Also…read and see as many plays as you can, especially when you’re traveling. It can open your eyes to so many new possibilities…
8.) From your experience in other cities, what does Vancouver indie theatre need to do to popularize itself?
It’s a catch twenty-two that one. I think a big thing is getting audience in…and how do you do that? Publicity. With little money sometimes that gets pushed to the waste side, but truly it’s one of the most important things…audiences will go to things they hear about over and over, see on tv, etc. Maybe we all need to help each other out more. It would be fantastic if the larger theatres would allow some publicity for the indie shows going on in town. It seems like they have the larger audience base and it would be so helpful to the smaller scene if they could get press in their programs at a low low rate. Or if the weekly arts publications could give free space when there was room…Big guys helping the little guys could do wonders…
But that being said, I think first and foremost, create great shows. Take risks. Do the things that the bigger theatres won’t and can’t. And touring gets the city’s name out there and people start to see press from other places and are more likely to give it a shot. But in the end, with indie theatre, you have to do it because you love it, believe in it and feel like there is no other option. Passion can do wonders…
9.) How important are the critics to a successful run?
Critics are great for gathering press – not only for the current show, but for future works, grants, etc. Other than that, it’s helpful in getting attention a bit, but it won’t necessarily get someone to come to your show. Especially reviews in the dailies. They’re there for a one day hit, then they’re gone… I find word of mouth and publicity (images, articles, etc…) the most helpful. That being said, if you get completely nailed in a review, I’m sure it impacts your numbers. It also all depends on the city, I find. In some cities, people trust the reviewers, and in others, they don’t respect their opinions. But sometimes if a critic ends up liking the show, they may be able to push for extra “what’s hot” excerpts throughout the run…yet I’m still not convinced that leads to more audience coming…
In guess it seems like a bad review can hurt you and a good one doesn’t necessarily help you in a successful run…where it helps you is further down the road in remounts, grants, etc.
10.) What are your top three reads for the aspiring theatre artist?
I have read soooo many books on theatre, acting, history, etc… I have been racking my brain and in this moment, I pick…
A Practical Handbook for the Actor by Melissa Bruder, Lee Michael Cohn, Madeleine and various others.
This book I come back to time and time and time again. You think it’s basic, but you would be surprised how helpful it is.
Audition by Michael Shurtleff
Another oldie but goodie I seem to crack open again and again…
A Lotus Grows in the Mud by Goldie Hawn
I always like reading about peoples lives. Hearing about the ups and downs is somehow comforting. This is the one I finished last. When I started it, I wanted to quit the business, as I read, I decided against it. For the 30th time!
11.) What’s next?
I’m not a person who can sit still easily so…
– His Greatness (Arts Club) – Recording for a small character never seen on stage.
– Tideline (Touchstone Theatre) – Feel priviledged to be doing a play by this Arabic playwright!
– Any Night (Belfry Theatre/Firehall Theatre) – After years, we’re finally doing this play…
– The Dissemblers (Touchstone Theatre) – Excited to work with old friends and get to play someone…not so nice…
– Any Night (play)
– Annie Logo (musical)
– Tuesdays and Sundays (feature film)
– Alberta Bound (tv pilot)