Sebastien is a playwright/actor/director straight outta the theatre program at UVic, and is spinning his BA in theatre into his own company; ITSAZOO, where he resides as one of their four artistic directors. His well-received play Grimm Tales, a site-specific contemporizing of the works of the Brothers Grimm, is running in Victoria now and hits Queen Elizabeth Park on August 14th. Click here for all the details.
2. So what’s your ‘how I fell in love with the theatre’ story?
I desperately wanted to partake in my elementary school’s Talent Show (I was in grade 5), so I wrote a play called Kung Fu Super Cop and starred as the lead. To this day it is my crowning achievement.
3. What is your ambition for the future of ITSAZOO?
I want ITSAZOO to be the premier company in Vancouver for new work and emerging artists. I know far too many talented directors, writers and actors who aren’t seeing any stage lights or having their works produced. This town is a small pond, with a lot of familiar fishes circling the water. But there are some new eggs hatching. And ITSAZOO has a fish tank just for them. Okay. I think I’m done with the pond metaphor. I want ITSAZOO to help shape a Vancouver theatrical community that appeals to everyone. I want Vancouverites to take theatre seriously as an art form, as an event, and as an enlightening form of entertainment and I want ITSAZOO to be part of that cultural shift. I love this city. I really do. But, I feel that we are behind most cities culturally and artistically. I also want ITSAZOO to be a hot ticket in this city. I want to do sensational, controversial pieces that leave people talking long after they’ve left the theatre and I want to inspire people who don’t give a shit about any of this stuff to come to a show and discover something new.
4. In terms of preparing you for a theatre career, what aspect of your UVic training do you feel was the strongest? The weakest?
The strongest part of my uvic training was SATCo. This was the student run alternative theatre company that operated with in, but did not answer to, the department. I wrote and directed 3 plays in my time at the Phoenix and that taught me a great deal about the basics of creating and putting on a show. Also, theatre history is a must. You don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. My acting training was fairly strong and I was given some tremendous opportunities (I can’t say the same for some of my class mates-this is the risk of theatre school) but some of the acting training was bullshit. Absolute bullshit. I feel comforted when I talk to friends and acquaintances from theatre programs in Vancouver, and beyond, and find that they too are learning a fair bit of bullshit. However, this is also extremely frustrating. Stop charging us so much money for bullshit! If you are going to charge money then everything, I mean everything, should be relevant, constructive, and educational. EVERYTHING. Don’t just wake up in the morning and regurgitate some tired old lesson plan that you’ve flogged to death. We’re paying you to teach us. So teach us. Don’t act like you’re teaching us.
5. Can you give us a window into your construction process as a playwright?
Inspiration generally comes from a healthy mix of social outrage, borrowed (sometimes stolen) ideas, and intoxication. This eventually turns into something resembling a story for which I then write an Act and Scene breakdown and then, finally, the first draft. For Grimm Tales I read and reread 10 fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, conceptualized them within a contemporary framework, and then threw in all the theatrical “bells and whistles” I could think of. Oh, and then added an over-arching narrative. That part’s important, too.
6. If you could have drinks with 3 theatreists, alive or dead, who would they be and why?
Harold Pinter-because nobody does it better. Nobody. Just about every contemporary playwright is following his lead.
Bertolt Brecht-because he reinvented modern theatre and has given us more, in my opinion, than anyone else, including Shakespeare. Shakespeare couldn’t go 3 rounds with Brecht. That’s a fact.
Susan Lori Parks-Because she’s one of the most fearless and provocative playwrights alive. Now if only more people had the balls to put on her plays…
I’d invite Peter Brooke, Sam Shepard, Samuel Becket, Antonin Artaud and Carol Churchill, too, as long as we’re fantasizing. That would be one hell of a party. Lots of Wild Turkey.
7. What, if any, is the responsibility of theatre to its community?
Theatre has the responsibility to entertain, enlighten, and educate. Not necessarily in equal parts, but some level of each is required. If a show is missing any one of these qualifications it is, in my opinion, unsuccessful. We can assemble people under one roof and perform for them live, even interact with them if we choose. Why not say something worthwhile?
8. What have you found to be the freedoms/restrictions of your site-specific work?
Theatre outdoors is like spending an afternoon naked on Wreck Beach. It’s liberating and it just feels right. Challenges include enough projection and presence to compete with the rest of the outside world.
9. What is your favourite theatrical moment to date?
As a performer I have two. Performing as Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls during my training at the Phoenix. Not because I like the show (Guys and Dolls is the theatrical equivalent to masturbation. It feels great while it’s happening, but afterwords you wish you had experienced something you could truly share with another individual). But because I over came many personal obstacles, learned how to sing, learned a dialect, and helped carry the show as one of the leads. And performing in Casualties of Progress, which was ITSAZOO’s Vancouver debut, because I finally figured out what acting is. Now if only people actually came out to see it…
As a spectator it’s also a tie. This past year I had the privilege of seeing two outstanding shows. Boxhead and Palace Grande. These shows blew my mind wide open. It will be a great day when these types of shows are performed constantly in an artistically thriving Vancouver.
10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?
True and False by David Mamet – I don’t revere Mamet as much as others do, and his theories aren’t universal by any means, but Stanislavski is a dick and Mamet teaches us to get over ourselves as actors and get the damn job done.
Towards a Poor Theatre by Jerzy Grotowski – a fascinating approach that Canadian theatre needs a lot more of.
The Theatre section of the Georgia Straight – it’s how I keep tabs on what’s going on and I enjoy seeing shows and comparing my reviews with Colin’s and Kathleen’s.
11. What’s next?
This year marks ITSAZOO’s first full season. We perform Grimm Tales in August at Queen Elizabeth Park. Then we’re doing a One Act Play Festival, which will showcase 4 new works from across Canada. Look for Four Course Meal sometime in November. In the Spring, we’re doing a show I’ve been working on for years, Death of a Clown. This was a finalist in the 2007 Theatre BC National Playwriting Competition and I can’t wait to show it to a Vancouver audience. It’s a wild mix of Orwell, Brecht, and clowning. And local clown Gina Bastoni is offering us some guidance. We’ve got a show in the works for next summer but we’re still keeping it a secret. Oh, and we’ll be putting on a production of Albee’s Zoo Story sometime this year, as well. All this without any funding from Canada Council. Now, imagine what we could do with money…