Tarragon Theatre unveils Under-30 Playwrighting Competition

paper_rsToronto’s Tarragon Theatre has announced a new incentive to encourage new Canadian stage work with, one imagines, a more youthful perspective: the National Under-30 Playwrighting Competition. The winning playwright will recieve $3000 and a spot in Tarragon’s annual Play Reading Week.

To be eligible your birthday must fall after April 30, 1979, and you must be a Canadian citizen. This contest is open to anyone: professional or non-professional. And the play must be in English. Deadline is Thursday, April 30 at 5:00 pm.

Click here for full details and entry form.

This one goes to eleven: Amiel Gladstone

Amiel Gladstone: Playwright, Director, Blogger (he has one of the best titles for a blog ever), he works all over BC from Victoria (a co-founder of Theatre SKAM) to Vancouver to the Okanagan. His numerous plays include Hippies and Bolsheviks and My Three Sisters, a Chekhov adaptation.

Amiel is truly tireless in his efforts to carve out a theatrical legacy for BC, and we’re grateful he took the time to be interviewed. Read on for his thoughts on the business here, and some truly innovative ideas towards lifting us to the next stage…

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1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Bucharest! (I’m here for the Romanian premiere of my play ‘Hippies and Bolsheviks’.)

2. In any number of words, describe the present condition of the North-West theatre scene.

The North-West theatre scene? I’m not exactly sure what the boundaries are of this scene. I have vague ideas of what happens in Whitehorse, Kamloops, Nelson, Victoria and Vancouver, so it’s hard to paint this all with the same brush, but I would say that in the places outside Vancouver I see theatre that is finding ways to survive and the audiences are responding to it, possibly because there is a deep human need to hear stories presented live in front of them.

I think the Vancouver scene has experienced a well documented rise by the latest generation of companies, and we are currently in a plateau phase, which may not be able to last long. I think we need to start taking big immediate steps forward as we risk losing momentum.

3. What is it about the nature of theatre that has kept your attention for so long?

This question makes me feel old. I think part of it is because I still haven’t been able to get it right – there’s always something to be working on to make it better.  Plays are never finished. There’s always structure to be strengthened, moments to clarify, things that I’d like to make stronger, clearer, funnier. The creation of theatre is always changing, always a puzzle, but with no box top to help guide you. It is an emotional elusive compelling thing. And there is no better drug than the deep belly laugh of an audience enthralled. It takes collaboration and trust to make that it all happen. Trust and collaboration amongst fellow addicts.

4. Is playwrighting a solo or collaborative exercise for you? Why?

Initially very solo. This is changing a bit because I’m trying to adapt to the way most theatres work – that is they take a ‘completed’ script and rehearse it. I have started rehearsals with actors with 12 measly pages of script and written furiously as  we went along. It can be a particular kind of hell for actors. But as I said I’m trying to get better and have more on paper before bringing in actors.

5. How are we evolving as a theatre community?

There is more sharing of resources. There is more awareness of how we all fit in the ecology of our community, in fact it appears we actually have an ecology. We are reflecting the diversity of our population more.

6. If you were given one million dollars towards improving the health of independent theatre here, how would you spend it?

I would like to try a grand experiment. In Europe, this idea of running a show for 10 days and then closing is absurd. Equally crazy to them: the subscriber model in which each play runs for 4 weeks whether is is successful or not. The European community does performances once a week, or twice a month say, and is able to run them for months. Audiences are built for successful shows, actors have months to develop roles in performance, Plays can have a longer life and greater impact.

I’d love to be able to try this. Perhaps this is the next step we need.

ATP in Calgary tried a season in rep a few years back and it didn’t seem to work at all, so there is obviously risk involved.

We have many obstacles over here to prevent this, including how the actors’ association contracts, how we schedule our companies, and how the venues are shares. So with my one million dollars I would like a building in which we can try to run shows in rep. Various companies can bring in shows, throughout the season.

This building ideally would have a lot of much needed rehearsal space, and a theatre bar which actually caters to the theatre community, as a gathering place, an idea sharing place, a place to party.

7. What should our new theatre artists know about the legacy of the scene that has come before them?

I think that we are all trying our best.

8. What should they change about it?

I think good work is the best argument for everything.

9. What has been your proudest theatrical moment to date?

Standing in the lunch line up at the Banff Centre cafeteria as part of the PlayRites Colony for the first time.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

Tips: Ideas for Directors by Jon Jory. The most useful book that I have found on directing in today’s world.

Obedience, Struggle and Revolt- A collection of lectures by David Hare. Lucid, provocative, inspiring ideas.

The Stage Lighting Handbook – 4th Edition by Francis Reid.

11. What’s next?

20 Minute Musicals – Theatre Replacement at PuSh. I’m directing short works by Veda Hille and Bill Richardson and Geoff Burner. Jan 29 / 30.

Jack Pine – a new children’s opera by Veda Hille. Directing this world premiere for Vancouver Opera which will tour schools and go to BC Scene in Ottawa. Public premiere February 15 at Centennial Theatre in North Van.

The Ends of the Earth. Directing Morris Panych’s Governor General Award winning 1992 play at the Belfry Theatre in Victoria, opens March 15.

E-stage for the Vancouver Playhouse. Guiding high school playwrights through some script development workshops during Spring Break.

I love my city

From the Georgia Straight today:

York Theatre safe at last – by Jessica Werb

After over a year of campaigning, battles with city hall, and business negotiations, the future of the York Theatre now appears to be secure.

At a news conference on Monday, February 2, the City of Vancouver, the Wall Financial Corporation, and the Cultch, will announce a partnership and outline their plans to save and restore the theatre as a live performing arts venue.

Mayor Gregor Robertson, president of Wall Financial Corporation Bruno Wall, Jim Green, executive director of the Cultch Heather Redfern, Save the York Theatre Society founder Tom Durrie, and architect Gregory Henriquez are scheduled to speak at the Sheraton Wall Centre late Monday afternoon.

Our deep and profound gratitude to everyone involved in this resounding victory for our culture of theatre . I am immensely proud to be a Vancouverite today.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user SqueakyMarmot

Eulogizing yourself

Canadian playwright Leanna Brodie on the question:

“What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?”

“In writing with humour and insight of a varied and distinctive panoply of characters, Brodie showed an infectious compassion for all, without pity or sentiment for any. That is why audiences still love to see her plays, and actors still love to play them.

They also single-handedly created world peace, which most people see as a plus.”

That about sums it up for all of us, I think.

If you’re not yet reading Torontonian MK Piatkowski’s series of playwright interviews Umbrella Talk, you’re in for a huge treat. One of my favourite weekly hits of inspiration. Check it out at her company blog; One Big Umbrella.

At last: Craig’s List and Steve Fonyo set to music

push-logo_2009Seriously, sometimes theatre marketing is all in the titles. Tonight’s line up at Club PuSh (the temporary entertainer’s lounge set up on Granville Island for the duration of the festival that I wish was a real bar in Vancouver all year round) jumps right off the page.

Two Twenty-Minute Musicals begin the entertainment tonight, followed by the “atmospheric, wry and jazzy” group The Beige. (Click for samples of a few of their tracks.) Both musicals are directed by prolific BC playwright and director – and co-founder of Victoria’s Theatre SKAM – Amiel Gladstone (check back tomorrow for a great This one goes to eleven with Amiel).

The first one caught my eye because my wife has a bona-fide addiction to Craig’s List, and she plays the thing like a harp. Do You Want What I Have Got: A Craig’s List Contata is a musical piece about the ubiquitous stuff-shuffling site, with music by Veda Hille and book by Bill Richardson. Yep, he of the CBC. Veda has a splendid blog, check it out to hear her performing one of the songs from the play; Decapitated Dolls, at home accompanied by her crying newborn. Awesome.

Next up is something called Distant Second: The Steve Fonyo Story by Geoff Berner. If you’ll scan Geoff’s Wikipedia page, you’ll get a good indication of what you may be in for with this on.

Both shows play tonight (Thursday, January 29) and tomorrow night.

Club PuSh is located at Performance Works on Granville Island – $20 at the door, free after 11:00 pm.

This one goes to eleven: Bob Frazer

Meet Vancouver’s Bob Frazer. (There, we lay claim to him. It’s official now because it’s on the internet.) Born in Ontario but raised in the Okanagan, Bob has become a bit of a Golden Boy of our stages here. I love his simple bio from the program for his current production of Skydive, onstage now at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage as part of the PuSh Festival:

He is a regular contributor at Bard on the Beach and has helped develop over 50 new plays. He has written three plays, graduated from Studio 58, and created life twice. He is a lucky, lucky man.

In fact, his version of Hamlet during Bard’s 2005 season was a smash critical and commercial success, I still hear it referenced in reverent tones during theatre coffee shop talk. And together with theatre school buddy James Sanders he is once again causing a buzz with the high-flying Skydive.

We’re grateful this week’s 11 questions didn’t go too heavily with his disposition…

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1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Tiredsoreexhilarated.

2. Describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene in as many words as you need.

For some reason we can’t seem to get enough audience out to see the work. I think we need to be bolder, better and prouder. Vancouver theatre is truly some of the best in the world and just think how great it would be if we all took that next step to be better. We may then break up some of the infatuation we have on the film and tv industry in Vancouver. It’s funny, but I think theatre may be messed up by the film industry. Other cities that don’t have as thriving a film and TV industry as we do concentrate all their efforts on theatre. They put every effort into making sure the shows are great. We strive to do good theatre but we are always thinking about that film and that TV show. We lose great designers and actors and technicians daily to the film industry and a lot of our media is about what is filming in town and what celebrity was seen on Robson. Other cities do interviews with theatre artists instead of filling up columns with the latest news about a street shut down for a stunt on a big budget movie. But I should take my own advice and instead of bitching about it, I should do something about it.

3. How does the reality of theatre work compare to what you imagined it would be when you started in it?

It really doesn’t differ from what I dreamed it would be. I am in love with theatre and have been excited by it all my life. And now after 15 years of professional work I still think a theatre is one of the greatest places to be at any time of the day. Whether I’m watching or acting in a show.

4. Describe the ideal relationship with your director.

Hard, honest work. A daily laugh or two, and a lot of trust. Then a cold beer at the end of the day.

5. What do you know about the craft of acting that you didn’t before starting work on Skydive?

It seems that every show I do I realize there is a new lesson I need to learn. Skydive has not been an exception, but I’d rather keep my ego somewhat intact by not divulging the simple lessons Skydive has taught me about acting that I should have figured out years ago.

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6. Do you see any trends developing within the theatre movement in Vancouver?

Having just returned from seeing shows in Montreal, Calgary, Toronto and New York, it’s clear to me that site-specific theatre doesn’t really happen in other cities like it does in Vancouver. We have cornered the market and continue to develop what site-specific theatre is.

7. What’s your best advice for young actors trying to break into the theatre scene here?

It’s tough but you can do it. Anyone can do it.

I truly believe to be successful in theatre anywhere, you have to have more than a surface desire to succeed. I mean that celebrity should not even take up one second of your thoughts. Being the best you can be at your chosen profession should be at the forefront of your thoughts. And as long as you have a strong desire to succeed and be great it doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you do it. So crash auditions if you want to work in the big theatres and can’t get an audition. But don’t crash the audition and do something shitty. Be prepared. And I mean totally prepared, not just off book (because most are off book) but three levels past that. Create your own stuff if you want. But don’t create shit, create greatness. And don’t let shit be shown until you are satisfied that it is great shit. Go and see as many different artistic things as you can. Inspiration comes from many different places.

But first and foremost do your absolute best. Put the effort in to make it better than anyone else could do. If you don’t know what that is or how to do it then ask.

8. What’s your career highlight thus far?

I have two. Hamlet and Skydive.

9. Given a time machine, what would you say to a young Bob Frazer in his high school drama class?

Keep going and trust everything that is going to happen to you. Some of it will hurt but you’ll be okay.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

The year of the king, by Antony Sher; any Arden Shakespeare edition; True and False, by David Mamet. (Half his crap is false but half of it is true. And I love his audacity.)

11. What’s next?

A new western in Kamloops; Iago at Bard on the Beach; and Realwheels‘ next project (as yet un-named but really exciting!!!!).

Funky Cold Medea

Tim Matheson
Sexin' up Euripides: Actor Maria Luisa Alvarez in UBC's Medea. Photo: Tim Matheson

Tonight I was treated to a long-overdue fix of classical stage by the theatre department at the University of British Columbia. They are ambitiously tackling the Greek tragedy Medea, and as much as I talk about the importance of staging contemporary theatre in Vancouver as a necessity towards growing a new, as yet uninitiated audience, I do love me some heady stage and have had a long standing, nerdy affinity for the olde, wordy roots of our craft. And before tonight I hadn’t seen any in a very long time.

The play is being staged in the absolutely wonderful Telus Studio Theatre out on the UBC campus. It’s a dream room; cylindrical with exquisite acoustics and vertical tiered seating. I sat watching the actors work in that space with a great deal of jealousy. Actually, never having gone to theatre school myself, the whole affair made me jealous and kind of regretful that I never went that route. These young actors have a full production staff behind them and they’re up there earnestly ACT-ting their hearts out in what is considered one of the pivotal plays in the history of the craft…you could see the passion and love of craft that was driving them from start to finish. I truly hope I was watching at least some of the future of theatre in Vancouver work it out tonight.

The story of Medea is legend, the titular character is the wife of Jason (he of the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece fame) who murders her two sons and the new object of her husband’s affections in cold blood. She’s kind of the patron saint of crazy spurned lovers. The play is a pivotal work in theatre’s timeline because it’s generally considered to be the first play that removed the Gods from the machine and dealt with the straight-up messy human condition. In contrast, UBC alumnist and Vancouver theatre vet Lois Anderson has chosen not to direct the piece in a straight-up literal manner, she has instead  composed a version of the play that uses a myriad of interesting choices and devices that makes maximum use of all members of the cast; who rotate roles, provide the choral soundtrack and add percussive emphasis to the dialogue and action. She even manages to work in a rather funky contemporary dance number. It’s altogether an impressive display of what seems to be every facet of the UBC Theatre program’s training regimen.

Hopefully, digging into this kind of work will continue to produce workhorses of our stage industry here in Vancouver. Bard on the Beach Artistic Director Christopher Gaze was in the audience at the show tonight as well, perhaps he was scouting for some fresh talent. You just never know.