Right, summer blogger break is officially over, as indicated by the pissy weather out of the dining room window, so it’s time to resume my diligent blogging duties, instead of hanging this site on the interview series alone. Thank you to everyone who checked in during the summer, which has been one of many revelations, theatre-wise. People, we need to talk.
The theatre here is stagnant. I’m not breaking any news here, and I know I talk about this all the time. As a matter of fact, lots of people here talk about it all the time. And talk. And talk. It’s time to do more than talk if this is ever going to change. It’s time, if you will, to act. So let’s break the problem down…
1.) What do I mean when I say that theatre is stagnant? There are several groups and companies in town that are working hard to put good theatre up, right? Indeed there are, God bless them. And we all have the same number one problem: how to get our houses as full as possible, so we can make a profit, so we can put up another play. I’ve yet to hear anyone complain that they keep turning too many people away. If we get enough people out to our shows on a regular basis, not only could we put some money back into our companies, but everyone involved could get paid for their time as well. Wouldn’t that be something? But the single hardest part of mounting a play is getting an audience of people that we don’t know personally in the seats and their money in the shoe box, that is, the enormous number of people who don’t have the word theatre in their list of entertainment options. The problem is not only getting our marketing in their face, but convincing them to spend the time and money on our little thing that they know nothing about, using only our enthusiasm. This is, incontrovertibly, our number one problem.
Now my key point about this issue is this: this is not a new problem. This has been the problem in Vancouver for years and years. And yet we keep plugging away, show after show, using the same marketing tactics and theatres and programs and street cards and posters and fundraisers…and theatre doesn’t get any closer to the mainstream, to a larger media, or into the consciousness of the city outside the choir stalls. We’re spinning our wheels. We’re running around within a model that doesn’t work, and it’s been given more than it’s fair chance. It’s time for a new model.
2.) What’s the new model? I have absolutely no idea. But, but, I’m pretty sure that the answer lies within the theatre community, or rather, strengthening ties within that community. It’s not that big. We’re not in direct competition with each other. And we all love theatre, with the kind of verve that can only be described as infectious. If we get behind each other, communicate with each other, and support each other, it will cast a net over the entire city that will create such a buzz that everyone will want to know what all the fuss is about. That’s how this city works, it’s fueled by trends. From Critical Mass to pole-dance classes, cool experience spreads virally here when people start talking about it. The groundwork has been laid for theatre to be Vancouver’s next big trend, it just needs us to push it out of the darkness and into the light, and it will stay there, it’s theatre for crying out loud, the greatest communion of humankind to its universe that’s ever existed. It’s bigger than my company, or your company, it’s necessary, in a way that no other form of art is. It gets us talking. Let’s start by talking amongst ourselves.
3.) Prove it. Fine. I will. I have personally had friends come out to our shows that have come up to me afterwards and said “dude, I’m gonna be honest. I only came out tonight because you’re a bud and I wanted to support your shit. But seriously, that was awesome. I thought it was going to be boring and preachy and over my head, but that ruled. That’s theatre? I will see anything you guys do.” Many friends. And I hear the same story time and time again from other theatre people I talk to. Vancouver is a latent theatre town, it loves it, it just doesn’t know it yet. Getting the word out to it is a responsibility we all share.
But really, the proof’s in the pudding. And the pudding last year came along courtesy of Hive, or as I call it; the future of Vancouver theatre. Please observe…
There it is, Vancouver independent theatre working in harmony to create what could be the single greatest theatrical happening ever in this city. The irascible Colin Thomas of the Straight had this to say: “Hive blew my mind. It’s one of the most exciting artistic events I’ve ever experienced…I relished everything I saw. This evening will be the stuff of legend.” (Click here for the full review.) The movement’s already begun.
Let me put it to you this way: if your company is comprised of 12 artists telling people about your play and they tell 20 people each, and half of them tell two people, that’s 480 people that have heard about your play. Now, if there’s 12 other theatre companies of the same number telling the same amount of people about your play (and you about theirs, of course), 5760 people that have nothing to do with you have heard about your little production, and the exponential buzz marketing starts from that number (which is completely arbitrary and produced from about the lowest figures I could justifiably use here). I’ll hand out your street card to 20 people, easy.
I don’t have any answers here. All I know is that I love what I do, and I’d like to do it for a living. I think it’s possible. What do you guys think?