This one goes to eleven: Rachel Peake

Hailing from Saskatchewan and now residing in Vancouver by way of the Drama Department of the University of Alberta, Rachel has been seriously busy making inroads into our theatre scene. A director/writer/producer/performer, she has worked with companies all over town, including Bard, the Arts Club, Boca del Lupo, Neworld, The Playhouse, Radix, Yorick…the list just goes on and on. She was recently named Artistic and Administrative Associate of the Solo Collective alongside Aaron Bushkowsky; their new project True Believers launches October 29 at the Waterfront.

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Energized

2. In your own length, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

Vital, broad-spectrum, supportive, strained, exploratory, rags and riches (from financially hobbled to smooth-sailing)

3. Why is theatre necessary?

It’s alive.  It’s a shared experience.  It’s the only way to witness magic in real life.

4. Does theatre resist the mainstream of the cultural entertainment arena?

It doesn’t actively resist it.  If it does resist it is a self-protective response: “if the big kids won’t let me play then I don’t want to play with them anyway”

5. What should we as artists be doing better to develop the next generation of theatre-goers?

Keep making more and more exciting art – keep bringing new ideas and energy forward.  Make it affordable.

6. What makes the work of Solo Collective “unique, intimate and completely original”?

Solo Collective has finessed the form of an evening of collective monologues – an exciting way to solo performance in many forms all in one night!

Also, Solo supports new scripts by Western Canadian playwrights (including emerging playwrights) in a climate where collective creation often leads, and provides numerous opportunities for freelance directors, which are often rare.

7. What’s your best advice to new directors learning on the job?

Be an idea fountain – bring a wealth of things to the table, but be willing to let ideas go.  Refine your eye but trust your gut.  Learn pith – express your ideas as efficiently and directly as possible.

8. Which 3 theatre artists, living or otherwise, would you like to have drinks with and why?

Shakespeare’s the obvious one – just to see if the man is anything like the work, and to clarify a few things…

Julie Taymor – I don’t always love her work, but I’d be fascinated to pick her brain and see how certain things come about.  Plus I think she’d make for an interesting evening.

James Fagan Tait – he pushes the envelope of theatre and brings a different perspective to everything: expanding the art form in different directions.  Plus he is my mentor and dear friend so we’d have a great time!

9. What is your career highlight to date?

Probably the one-woman show I wrote and performed as my graduation piece for Studio 58 called My Other Mothers.  I put a great deal of myself in it, was very proud of it, and only performed it once, in front of a very loving audience.  It’s a bit idealized in my memory, so it ill be tough to beat!

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

A Director Prepares by Anne Bogart, Angels in America Part One by Tony Kushner, anything written by my friend Darcy Bruce

11. What’s next?

Directing the Staged Reading for Solo Collective in November and then directing Écran de fumée for Théâtre la Seizième in the new year.

Artists v. Harper: a handing voting tool

Thanks to friend Kirsten for this tip: The website voteforenvironment.ca provides up-to-date statistics for each riding and offers up the best party to vote for in each to ensure the conservatives get unseated. Just plug in your postal code and it gives you a bar graph of your riding’s standings and the best bet scenario for your strategic vote.

Apparently my riding (Vancouver East) is so solidly NDP that I can vote any which way I choose. Yee Haw!

Click here to see where your neighbourhood stands.

Seeing the party as half full

My theatre company, upon its inception, developed a fun tradition. Before each of our productions so far we’ve thrown a fundraising party to help pay for production costs. Right from the outset we made a few branding decisions; we would always emphasize the ‘party’ over the ‘fundraiser’, label them as sequential ‘XperiencE’ parties, advertise with the same tone of graphic (variations on the company jester, provided by our volunteer artist Irvin Walkes, scroll down to see the best one yet), and to live up to the party name by making sure each was a unique experience, with the first part of the night boasting some kind of performative aspect, and the second a knock-down, drag-out dance floor party. Each of the XperiencEs to date have met these criteria admirably, I’m proud to say.

We held our third XperiencE this past Saturday. We marketed it like crazy through the usual channels (street cards, email-outs, Facebook etc.), and through some new ones (I invited some highly googleable local bloggers and got the party mentioned in non-theatre social circles as well, for example). We asked a legion of local comic talent to perform for free and they obliged, stand-ups and sketch crews put out for hours throughout the studio. (Thank you, thank you, thank you to all y’all, my guts still hurt from laughing). The ensemble themselves performed their individual tasks efficiently and without complaint well into the early hours. It was, in fact, the smoothest party we’ve ever thrown. The people that came had an amazing time, and I heard this from them all night long. The problem was that not very many people showed up. About half the usual amount of guests, I’d say, and a distinct lack of the regulars. We didn’t come close to our financial target.

And I’m very happy about this.

Here’s why. It drove home to me, finally, that mounting an ambitious, full-length play and hanging your budget on a fundraising party is simply amateurish. We’ve moved beyond small cast and short plays and so must our fundraising move on to the next stage. And perhaps branding our parties as a fundraising series has put some people off, and to them it just looks like we have our hands out again. That’s no good, they’re supposed to be a killer experience first and foremost, something not to be missed. Maybe our agenda has gotten in the way of that. Either way, it’s time to grow up, and evolve. This is an exciting time for us, as we move towards a new level of professionalism. And I promise that all our parties after this will be just for fun, not for profit.

And now it’s time to get to work. That glass ain’t filling itself.

Vancouver picks up the Wrecking Ball and runs with it

Well, that rocked. Vancouver’s Wrecking Ball, which opened with an all-party debate on the arts and then moved into a cabaret of political theatre, went off tonight with a bang, and judging from the amount and enthusiasm of the attendees, was a good indication of a freshly politicized artistic front.

The anti-Harper sentiment in the Stanley Theatre was palpable, it hung heavy in the air like smoke from the wings. The place was packed for the start of the debate, which was gently and efficiently moderated by Hal Wake, Artistic Director of the Vancouver International Writer’s and Reader’s Festival, who delivered questions submitted by members of our arts community. All four Federal parties were represented, only three of them were from from Vancouver Centre. Conservative candidate Lorne Mayencourt declined to attend, so John Cummins from Delta-Richmond East filled in the gap. Fortunately the crowd’s dissension consisted mainly of a few audience members voicing their displeasure at his party’s policies and some persistent hissing in response to his somewhat repetetive responses. Despite some rather cheeky verbal policy sparring between the candidates everyone was reasonably polite and well-behaved. Peter Birnie delivers a comprehensive play-by-play here.

Moderator Hal Wake watches Michael Byers (NDP), Adriane Carr (Green), John Cummins (Con) and Hedy Fry (Lib) administer a vigorous pandering to the crowd
Moderator Hal Wake watches Michael Byers (NDP), Adriane Carr (Green), John Cummins (Con) and Hedy Fry (Lib) administer a vigorous pandering to the crowd

From there the night was turned over to Spirit of the West’s John Mann and local actor and theatreist Jonathon Young, and the Wrecking Ball was in full swing. Some highlights:

Mann and Young Master the Ceremonies

Writer Alex Ferguson delivered a Buddhist koan to Mr. Harper, tounge firmly in cheek

Us, on the phone with the Victoria Wrecking Ball. Uplink provided by the technological wizardry of Jonathon Young.

Rick Dobran as Harper’s assistant, Kevin McNulty as Harper in Lucia Frangioni’s ‘The Ordinary Canadian’. Directed by Michèle Lonsdale Smith. Best line: “With all due respect sir, Jesus wouldn’t vote for you”.

Local punk legend Joey “Shithead” Keithley ripped into the night with a kind of ‘DOA Unplugged’ set. And killed it. Damn, but can this man still tear up a guitar.

David Bloom reads Judith Thompson’s ‘Nail biter’, a stunning new monologue about the Omar Khadr case, a Canadian citizen arrested at 15 on suspicion of murdering an American soldier in Afghanistan. A provocative and predictably meaty piece.

Michael Turner (Hard Core Logo) wrote ‘A Two-Hander’ for the party. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Jonathon Young play Stephen Harper. (Shown here with actor Laara Sadiq.) The sweater vest was one of four ‘authentic and autographed’ Harper sweaters he was giving away to the crowd.

Bill Richardson of the CBC had agreed to write a piece for the night, but Mann announced that he had canceled due to the CBC policy of ‘remaining at arm’s length from anything political.’ Boo. In its place to end the night was a epically sarcastic bit of cabaret called ‘Extraordinary People’, written by Allison Badger (I think), and directed by the Arts Club’s Bill Millerd, set at one of our typical gala artist soirees, darling. You know, the kind we’re always frequenting with our gobs of cash and privilege.

Allan Morgan and Katie Wright

Jennifer Lyon and Bill Dow

It was an honour to be among that crowd and those artists tonight, and it feels like something’s started rolling. I, for one, think we need a whole lot more of this kind of thing. Anyone else have any thoughts or stories around the first nation-wide Wrecking Ball?