The Value of Theatre, Summarized

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Yesterday’s theatrenet roundtable on the value of theatre was the best and most vigorous use of this form of discussion that I’ve seen yet. Well done, Slay, and thanks. We should be doing this once a month. Maybe take turns throwing out the month’s topic? For those of you who missed it or are new to wading through the tangle of this particular web, Ian at Theatre is Territory has dutifully corralled some highlights from various participants’ dialogues and provided links to the full articles, click here for the day’s Coles notes. They’re some of the most thought-provoking opinions I’ve yet read on the subject of our thang.

How is Theatre Valuable?

Matt over at the theatrenet’s one-stop shopping emporium Theatreforte and some friends are spending today blogging about the essential question concerning our corner of the art world: What is the value of theatre? This, I feel, is an outstanding topic for discussion, as the one thing the blogs in our galaxy can agree upon is that what we need is a shiny new audience to work for. Without a clear and concise articulation of why theatre is a necessary facet of contemporary culture the odds of converting the uninitiated is slim to zilch.

This is absolutely a marketing issue. Recently in one corner of the nets there were efforts made by various bloggers to summarize their ideals about new theatre, this in response to a challenge to take a break from our usual verbosity and compress our arguments into easily digestable tracts. Not an easy exercise for writers, or for artists period for that matter. Practitioners require scope and 360 degree examination, but potential customers need brevity. If we are to seed a new generation of theatregoers, we need a convincing pitch at the ready at all times, indeed it should be the first item in our tool kit.

And we should be talking about it more. Well, maybe not the bloggers, that’s probably impossible, but anyone who works in theatre should at every chance be preaching the gospel of why they love their art form, to the point of annoyance. I think a lot of theatre people, at least in Vancouver, are a bit closeted about their passion, maybe because of an awareness of a common perception of it as being boring and staid. That’s not ever going to change until we’re out about it, and nerdishly share that passion with everyone we come into contact with. At least until theatre is branded as the new “everybody’s doing it” thing and enjoys the popularity that we all know it deserves.

So thanks to Slay and co. for inviting us to take a look at the essentials. Here’s a first draft crack at my elevator pitch for theatre as the new black…

What is the value of theatre? In a word: immediacy. Stella Adler said that theatre is the spiritual and social X-ray of its time, and therein lies its value; it has the ability to connect to its audience, to their immediate concerns, their hopes and fears, in the most direct way that an art form can; it is entirely visceral. Being in the room with the artist while the art is being made makes you implicit in the process, part of the dialogue. Theatre is not about the past, or the future, it is not about New York in the sixties, or Elizabethan England, or five minutes ago, it is about the right now, the very moment that the players and audience members inhabit as representatives of their immediate community, and the common rhythm that this generates. Everything that they discuss together is about the things that are affecting them right now. Theatre is impossible to experience passively, and therefore it is our sharpest instrument to carve out change, whether social or personal. Its direct relevance to its community and the communion that it elicits is the reason that theatre has been around, literally, forever. It brings us face to face with each other, and ourselves.

Meh, a bit chewy, but a good start. What about you guys? Why do you dig on theatre?

Luckily for us, Red Light Winter held over until March 22.

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This is not a review. We’re not doing those right now (although we might start down the road a bit). This is a gush. This is a love letter to playwright Adam Rapp, and a fan letter to the cast and production team that make up the Speckled Bird Equity Co-op. This is one of those plays that makes you want to call all your friends and tell them to see it come hell or high water or, if you happen to have a blog, to go straight home and gush about it.

Simply put, this is the kind of play that should be being mounted here, the kind of work that utterly convinces you that theatre is still vital. For non-theatregoers, it’s a preconception killer. It is contemporary, it’s raw, it’s heartbreaking, it’s freaking hilarious, and it’s not afraid to be smart. Actually, it proves that you can write a smart play that can still pierce your audience to its emotional centre. And most importantly, it’s identifiable. Either you recognize aspects of yourself onstage, or you recognize aspects of people in your life. It will give you pause. That’s good theatre.

Technically, the play is superb. If you’re an actor, you really want to see this cast work. Unselfconscious, simple acting between people listening to each other. God, I love watching actors listen to each other. Their timing was splendid, and every pause was earned. I was drawn in. This is great direction married to open acting.

Two acts, cast of three, lights up and lights down. With songs by Tom Waits. Red Light Winter is being held over until this Saturday at the Havana, you will love me for recommending this play to you. Click here for more info.

This One Goes to Eleven: Cynnamon Schreinert

Certainly one of the hardest working women in Vancouver show business, Cynnamon is an actor/photographer/writer/publicist, whose boutique PR and communications agency C.L. Schreinert & Associates devotes an enormous amount of their client load to the local theatre scene. In amongst many others, she has handled publicity for Bard on the Beach and the Van Fringe. This interview continues a series with women who are experts in the field of the business side of our business, and we’re proud to introduce you to her.

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1.) In one word, describe your present condition.

Organized chaos.

2.) In more than one word, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

It seems that people, not just the community members, are opening up to theatre. I’ve seen a real change in the audience. It’s a good sign that theatre is reaching the masses. Part of that is the excitement that has been brought back into it with a resurgence of productions going up.

3.) Seen any good plays lately?

I have seen so many plays this past year; some were good, some were par but overall I find it inspiring. The energy required for each production should always be acknowledged. It isn’t easy to put all of this together, especially for the smaller companies who don’t have the funding resources that larger companies do. If I had to give an opinion, I would have to say that my favorite theatre experience from 2007 was Timon of Athens. It was a very special production.

4.) Let’s say that I just wrote my very first play and I’m in the process of producing it. What do I need to do to win a Jessie with it?

For that you’d need to first ensure that the production was eligible. All of the eligibility requirements are on the Jessie site www.jessies.ca. Once your show has been approved for judging, my strongest recommendation would be to put on a good show. I would suggest that you have a solid script that has been dramaturged. Combined with good acting, directing and production value those are the elements that create winning productions.

5.) I’m also kind of nervous about inviting the critics to the show. Any advice for me on this one?

Don’t be nervous! Imagine that they are on your side. They want to see a good show; they want to be blown away. I’m pretty sure no one sets out that night to write a bad review; it’s only bad if it’s a bad production. There is limited space for the arts and most of that should be a positive reflection of theatre as a whole. That is what will encourage more people to come and view it.

6.) What advice do artists need to hear about the business side of their art?

Just that….it is a BUSINESS. You need to have a plan and think of where your career is going. There are so many things that you can make happen for yourself and it all begins with writing down goals. From there you have the makings of an action plan. I advise all artists to take time aside and formulate a five year goal plan that includes 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 3 years and then 5 years. When you write things down you become accountable and are more likely to reach your goals.

7.) Do you see any trends emerging within Vancouver theatre?

It’s always interesting to think of what the next trend will be. For theatre in Vancouver, I think this is the trend. With the support of the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad, Canada Council and private donations there are more opportunities for performance groups than ever before. Companies that have built a reputation for producing solid work have an opportunity to partner with other groups that may not receive as much in funding. The co-production is a great way for both companies to produce something and each receive recognition for the work.

8.) What potential does the internet hold for us as a publicity and marketing tool?

The internet is a limitless ocean. There is no end to the number of blogs, commentaries, business sites and social networks. It is all about having information accessible to the public. For a theatre company, one of the best things that they can do is invest in a website that is easy to navigate and reflects the style of the company. Have a special page for media and on there keep your press releases, press kits, photos and video. The simpler it is for the media to find your information the higher your chances of being mentioned. And the cost is minimal compared to the return on investment.

9.) What’s the best lesson you’ve learned as a business-woman since you started your company?

Luck is when opportunity and preparation meet. By having a focused plan I was able to work towards a goal of having a work/life balance. And sometimes that means diving right in. Don’t be afraid of what might happen; be more afraid of what may not happen if you don’t take a chance.

10.) What are your top 3 theatre business reads?

1. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare – the passages are timeless
2. The Artist’s Way – I’m choosing that publication because the morning pages were the most valuable thing. You can not spend three months complaining without actually doing something about it.
3. Sanford Meisner on Acting by Sanford Meisner – every actor should engage in Meisner training at one point.

11.) What’s next?

The 2008 Bard on the Beach season is just around the corner. I really enjoy the summers in Vanier Park and find there’s a magic in the air down there. In addition to Bard I also work corporately, giving me a fantastic career balance.

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

One Year In.

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Wow. It’s been an entire year since The Next Stage made its first entrance. Glancing back over the first post from that day I’m pleased to realize that not much has changed with regards to my mission statement, and I have to say how proud I am to have discovered so many other people through the interconnectedness of blogging that share it with me. Thank you to all of you in the theatrosphere who continue to take the time to share your experiences, inspire, cajole, ask questions, inform, and entertain for no other reason than the pure love of theatre. It amazes me. I’m proud to be a member of the club.

And thank you very much to everyone who has read, and continues to read, my little magazine. And to all of you who have supported me in this, and especially those that have given freely of their time to answer some questions in public, my sincerest and most heartfelt gratitude. We’ve all set a distinct goal, and the one thing I’m sure about after a year in this space and the many conversations through it is this: we’re moving closer to that goal every day.

What’s Next?