And so the (finally) sunny West Coast bids a fond adieu to Mag North (or ‘Canada’s National Festival of Contemporary Canadian Theatre in English’ for long. Canafestconcanatheng? Seriously guys, nothing snappier jumps to mind?). Traditionally with me the close of a run portends a short bout of postpartum, so I suppose I’ll be dealing with something similar now that I’m no longer submerged in the daily tub of theatrical exploration that was these last two weeks. *Sigh.* And so we must turn our gaze back to the future of our stage, both local and national, and start to think ahead.
What do we take from this year’s festival? In what way is its success measured? Perhaps this would be better phrased by asking what it was that you were hoping to take away from it, and did it deliver? Were you entertained? I sure as hell was. Mostly. Did it create new connections between practitioners? Undoubtedly. Did it raise the profile of new theatre here in Vancouver? Somewhat. Nationally? Probably. But for me the big consideration is, and always will be: did our audience grow? And more directly: did we as an emerging theatre city take full advantage of Ottawa’s big, noisy, contemporary theatre road-show while we had it here to seed new ticket buyers?
I wish there was some way of quantifying this. Some kind of Mag North exit poll along the lines of “was this your first play, and did it make you want to see another one?”. I would love to be able to chart the growth of Vancouver as a theatre town as we move forward. But left to conjecture, I would say yeah, a few people here stuck their toe in, from the hype generated by HIVE if nothing else. And isn’t that the great hope from a project that consolidates 11 small companies into one super-company: to promote the component brands and build the bigger buzz? To be able to say hey, if you liked that 15 minutes, you need to see our next full-length? And does this marketing agenda extend to the festival as a whole?
Festivals like this one, the Fringe, Summerworks etc. have an function inherent in their existence to be a giant marketing tool, a sampling plate that convinces newcomers to make theatre a part of their monthly entertainment diet. I see this overshadowed a lot of the time, here in Van anyway, by the convenience of getting some theatre in a conveniently packaged form – because hey, everybody’s doing it right now – only to see it disappear back into the broader unconsciousness when the tent poles come down. The same problem plagues the Jazz Festival here too. You can’t get into the buzzy shows during those two weeks, but how many rooms in the city of Vancouver can you go to see consistent live jazz the rest of the year? Two? Three?
I’m not putting the onus on the Festival organizing committees. God knows they’ve got enough on their plates just keeping the wheels on the tracks. As we move from Mag North towards the Fringe in September it’s us, the artists, that need to be asking ourselves and our companies whether we are using the high profile and marketing muscle of these events to their full advantage for the future of the game, and talking it up enough out there in the outfield. And not just participating theatreists either, but anyone with a vested interest in promoting a sustainable theatre. I’ll lay down a challenge right now. Come September, make it a mission to take two non-theatre people from your social circle, work, the gym etc. to a Fringe play. I’ll pledge to do the same, and I’ll print their impressions on it right here on The Next Stage as ‘civilian reviews’. And I’ll do the same for any of your theatre guests if you’ll send me their reactions.
Sound like a plan?