In taking on the unenviable position of Vancouver Fringe Executive Director, David not only managed to put together an outstanding festival in the face of a venue-disrupting civic strike, but he also weathered a shit-storm of controversy about the Fringe’s decision to try out a new idea to raise awareness and pay down its debt. Oh, the temerity – obviously there’s no room for experimentation and new ideas in indie theatre, let’s just keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. Yeesh.
Congratulations on a job well done, David, and thank you for all your hard work promoting the most essential and disregarded art form in Vancouver.
1.) In one word, describe your present condition.
Recovering…from my recent bout of Fringe.
2.) In any amount of words, describe the condition of the Vancouver indie theatre scene.
I think there’s a lot of creative energy here – a lot of people suffering to put innovative work on the boards.
3.) How did you come to a post in arts administration?
I started out acting (Isn’t that what gets us all into this mess in the first place?), but later found my calling as a director. So I did a couple of degrees, directed a lot of plays and along the way I gathered experience in fundraising, grant writing, producing, publicity, and filling gaps…the Fringe was a natural fit for me. Its such a vibrant and essential part of theatre in Canada. I’m passionate about the role that the Fringe plays.
4.) What are the top 3 things you now know about indie theatre that you didn’t before heading up the Fringe?
I’m really still learning about the scene. In many ways the Fringe is part of and not a part of the rest of the theatre scene. I’m working to try and bridge the gaps.
5.) What was the biggest obstacle in mounting this year’s Fringe?
6.) What was your proudest moment at this festival?
Seeing a line up out the door for people waiting to buy beer at the Fringe Club…that and hearing the crowd respond to our first act at the Opening Night Gala from backstage.
7.) Any words of advice for prospective Fringe artists?
No. Anyone who participates in the Fringe comes to table with passion and determination. These are the essential ingredients.
8.) In terms of marketing, where can local companies improve throughout the rest of the year?
I think everyone can profit from cross promoting each other’s work – that’s what makes the Fringe wheel go around. I know it’s more difficult to organize outside of a festival, but word of mouth works. Theatre is old-fashioned that way.
9.) What would you like to see more of on Vancouver stages?
Spoken word. I think we have some world class talent here that I would like to see cross-pollinating with the theatre scene. I also love the proliferation of puppets that are working their way into plays.
10.) What are your top 3 theatre reads?
The Empty Space – Peter Brook. I can’t say how much that book affected my understanding of what theatre is and why we do it.
The Making of Modern Drama – Richard Gilman does a great job of contextualizing the 19th and 20th Century, which is where most of our theatre conventions, habits and obsessions come from.
Endgame – Samuel Beckett. A true masterpiece.
11.) What’s next?
2008 festival planning started last week.
RE: Jordan’s emphasis on cross-promoting each others’ work. I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes it seems like theatre makers are more than happy to share basic ideas, actors, directors and the like, but when it comes to marketing and promotions, we tend to seize up and be a lot more guarded about sharing information and resources. Some theatre companies are even stingy with the links list on their websites! On one hand, I guess we need to be careful not to associate our companies with “bad” art and lazy artists (whatever that means) – but it’s not as if we’re in direct competition with each other to sell widgets (which seems to be the informing principal in traditional corporate marketing).
Ultimately, there is a relative dearth of marketing know-how in independent theatre communities to begin with (at least in Toronto). That we should be withholding of the few precious bits of insight and power we do have strikes me as extremely shortsighted.
Anyway, thanks for your hard work at the Vancouver Fringe – wish I could’ve seen some shows. How did the Encore Series turn out in the end?
I think you’ve actually hit on the key to the very future of indie theatre there Ian, an essential idea that very well may stop us spinning our wheels and start us moving forward again. (I’m actually in the middle of writing a post about this right now.) This is what I’m talking about when I go on about changing the model, a united network of theatre companies would have the ability to create the buzz outside of the arts community that we need to make theatre ‘hip’ here, if we remain fragmented we’re just going to be singing the same song about how hard it is to effectively market with little money. None of us has a guaranteed audience large enough to allow us to be selfish with our resources, but we have enough artists with a common goal that must learn how to communicate better. An “I’ll promote your show if you promote mine” kind of idea is where to start. Everyone just needs to check their egos…
Speaking of egos, the hue and cry over the Encore Series was something to see here, lemme tell ya. The hissy fits and the amount of huffing and puffing over the Fringe’s honest attempt to do something – anything – new to promote itself and lighten its debt load was amazing to me. The Fringe administration isn’t a star chamber of zealots, they’ll listen to their artist’s opinions and adjust things accordingly, nobody has to start slinging mud over a trial run of a new idea. Members of the local media using their position to demean the organization was puerile as well. I wonder how loud some of these crews would be hollering if they’d been invited to be part of the Encore…
“I wonder how loud some of these crews would be hollering if they’d been invited to be part of the Encore…”
At risk of trafficking in cliches, this whole Encore thing reminds me of that oft-told criticism of Canadians: we’re afraid of success – and we certainly don’t want other people to become “too successful” – not on our dime.
Anyway. At least the people are arguing about theatre. That’s a good sign isn’t it?
Yes, I suppose any publicity is good publicity, but at it’s core it’s artists cutting down other artists who have honest intentions instead of maturely communicating with them, it makes me so mad. Are you making a good living with your art alone? If so, please tell me how the hell you’re doing it, and then continue to be cutthroat and competitive.
That’s a great point. This is a really interesting topic – not one I’ve thought a lot about. When I look at trying to improve my theatre community, I mostly look at what we’re NOT doing – but there’s probably a lot of stuff we ARE doing that’s just as counter-productive as what we’re not doing. Great food for thought here. Thanks guys!