Welcome back gentle reader, it is my distinct pleasure to introduce you to a true Vancouver theatreist, Mr. Galen Olstead. Furthering his life-long commitment to theatre, Galen is the artist relations manager at the gorgeous Kay Meek Center in North Vancouver, a relatively new facility that boasts a 500 seat Main Stage and an intimate 200 seat studio theatre. He was kind enough to offer his view on the state of the union from the other side of the Lion’s Gate…
1.) In one word, describe your present condition.
2.) In as many words as you choose, describe the current condition of Vancouver theatre.
In the midst of a sea change; I see a number of the prominent players moving on. The East Cultural Centre and Vancouver Playhouse have both undergone creative/administrative shifts. This can also been seen at the provincial level in theatres such as the Belfry which recently has undergone a turnover in Artistic Directorship.
The scene currently offers what I feel is a disproportionate number of remounts. Where are all the writers? It’s probably more the case that I need to get out more.
3.) What trends do you see emerging in North Van theatre?
The North Shore seems to be split between three mainstage theatres, each making significant choices about their style, and in turn are beginning to define themselves in significant ways.
Family entertainment is definitely drawing the largest audience. While the North Shore has a vibrant theatre and Arts community, it caters to a family centered community bias.
There does however seem to be a smaller focus on developing work that appeals to a more explorative audience. Presentation House in particular stands out as the venue that is helping to bring original/alternative theatre to the North Shore.
There’s a personal hope that with the arrival of Ian Forsythe we will see the arts here begin to be focused on a larger scale. At the very least it shows a real commitment from the City/District of North to step things up a notch.
4.) In terms of choosing material, what should Vancouver theatre be
concentrating on in order to attract a new audience?
I think it should just be all the things it actually is. It’s pretty diverse and can be honest when it wants to.
5.) What do young theatre companies here need to do to popularize their art form?
Advertise. You simply can’t do enough to tell people about what you are doing. So many artists are getting the word out so poorly that they are killing any hope of being noticed before they have even presented anything. It’s equally frustrating to see groups that are presenting (in my humble opinion) crap – but seem to find consistent audiences. Despite their lack of artistic merit, these groups have learned how to advertise.
6.) What would you like to see more of on Vancouver stages?
Puppetry. Children’s Theatre. Original Works. I would love to see more mixed-media. I am overwhelmed to see people that I knew when I was younger making work that resonates with me – people that innately take risks – T.J. Dawe, The Old Trout Puppet Workshop, Britt Small…
7.) Why is theatre important here?
For me this is an odd question because I cannot imagine a community without theatre of some kind. Maybe the question is meant to ask what Vancouver has to contribute to theatre. I’m not sure.
8.) Any pearls of wisdom for young companies looking for production space?
I hear Chilliwack has lots of room…less condos. Honestly – seek until ye find. Space is dire and there seems to be no real solution – even groups with budgets are finding it hard to get space. There are any number of ways to approach it – look to larger groups to see if they have space outside their schedule, time sharing with other smaller groups, – at this point even office space becomes an option.
9.) What is your most memorable theatrical experience?
Passing out in front of a packed audience during a Beckett monologue…
10.) What are your top three theatre reads?
The National Theatre in London has had a great success with an adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse – so I have been trying to locate anything written by him.
I love the website www.ubu.com – it has such weird things that you never get to see or hear in your daily travels.
A book I am trying to lay my hands on is Rehearsing With Gods. This is a collection of essays on the Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont which has had a long history of political activism through theatre (on a communal farm no less – I can’t think of anything more leftwing!)
11.) What’s next?
Vancouver on the international stage.
What do young theatre companies here need to do to popularize their art form?
“Advertise. You simply can’t do enough to tell people about what you are doing. So many artists are getting the word out so poorly that they are killing any hope of being noticed before they have even presented anything.”
Mr. Olstead makes this point so well. And it’s a point that gets made by so many smart people, in so many ways over here at The Next Stage.
I hope people are listening. I know I am. Or I’m trying to, anyway. And advertising doesn’t mean glossy spreads in fashion magazines. And it’s not limited to a small poster & postcard run for your next show.
We are a community that prides itself on its creativity (almost to the point that many of us have huge chips on our shoulders about it – I know I do). But where are our creative marketing solutions? Too few and far between.
Here’s a marketing challenge for anyone who wants to accept it:
Find a way to get the name of your independent theatre company mentioned in a major daily newspaper within the next two weeks.
Any mentions count. (A letter to the editor might work.)
OK. I’m done ranting. Thanks guys – for the space and ongoing inspiration.
That’s awesome, thanks Ian. What a good idea. And what an interesting paradox that you brought up, one of the most creative and unreserved art forms has trouble coming up with creative ideas to sell itself. It has to be better articulated that part and parcel of the job of being a theatre artist is to sell your product, constantly.