It was with great pride that I published last year’s World Theatre Day speech by Canadian icon Robert Lepage here on The Next Stage. The International Theatre Institute, a organization comprised of 96 member countries (or centres, of which Canada is not yet one), has celebrated March 27 as a day to honour the devotees of performance art the world over since 1961. Every year a theatre arts luminary is invited to compose a speech in honour of the day, and to have that speech read before performances on that day all over the world.
As someone who is fortunate enough to be in constant communication with amazing theatre artists around the world through my submersion in the blogosphere – peers that I am constantly being educated and fueled by – I find the idea of celebrating our common passion together on one devoted day enchanting. A small group of us from Canada, the US, Australia and Great Britain have started a little town square here on the World Wide Web to hang out in on March 27 and share our unique experiences of the day together. Our intent is to celebrate community and leave behind a chronicle of the party. Please join us, the door is wide open.
As tradition holds, the kick-off to the WTD celebration is heralded by the publishing of the message by the ITI. This year’s chosen composer is Augusto Boal. For those of you who don’t know, his story goes a little like this:
Boal took an interest in theatre at an early age, but did not become involved himself until he received his degree. Shortly after graduating from university, Boal was asked to work with the Arena Theatre in São Paulo, southeast Brazil. It was here that he began to experiment with new forms of theatre.
Boal’s teachings were controversial, and as a cultural activist he was seen as a threat by the Brazilian military regime. In 1971 Boal was arrested and tortured. He was eventually exiled to Argentina, where in 1973 he published his first book “Theatre of the Oppressed“. He later fled to Europe, and eventually lived in Paris. There he taught his revolutionary approach to theatre for 12 years, creating several Centers for the Theatre of Oppressed, and in 1981, organizing the first International Festival for the Theatre of Oppressed.
After the fall of Brazil’s military dictatorship, Boal returned to Rio de Janeiro where he lives to this day. He has since established a major Center for the Theater of the Oppressed in Rio (CTO Rio), and has started over a dozen theater companies that work to develop community-based projects.
My pride this year comes not from being able to reprint Mr. Boal’s speech, but to be able to link to it on a bunch of other blogs. It’s such a great indicator of the surging of the popularity of my beloved art form.
You can read the speech here.
Or even here.
The revolution will not be televised, but it just might be blogged. Theatre nerds unite!
Plank Magazine today posted a letter by local theatre-goer David C. Jones which posits that our local theatre scene doesn’t accurately reflect the inherent cultural diversity of the city. Mr. Jones goes further to suggest that the lack of actors from non-white backgrounds could constrain the growth of our theatre industry:
Young, diverse high schools students do a field trip to see a show at The Arts Club or wherever. They see an all white cast and no matter how much they are captivated or intrigued by the thought of acting and getting training – they figure – why spend the money for training since I won’t get cast anyway since the theatre is a mostly exclusively white career choice. Then a theatre company tries to cast diverse but there are no trained diverse actors.
The article also reprints an letter sent from Mr. Jones to VancouverPlays.com which continues the discussion. An quick exerpt:
If one of the jobs of theatre is to hold a mirror up to society, then I don’t know what society they are reflecting because it is not like any I have seen anywhere in Greater Vancouver.
What do you think? Do we have a responsibility to our city to be better representing it demographically? Should our companies be choosing racially diverse material reflective of our cultural growth? Or do artists only have a responsibility to produce material reflective of their own tastes and backgrounds?
There’s some great must-read letters about this being reprinted at VancouverPlays.com too…
Richard Wolfe is an architect of the Canadian theatre scene in the truest sense, much of the work we are doing now is being built on a foundation of effort that he has been putting in for quite some time. He recently assumed the role of Artistic Director of Pi Theatre after 12 years as co-founder, director and co-artistic producer of Theatre Conspiracy, which received 24 Jessie Richardson nominations for outstanding work under his tenure. He has been a theatre educator across the country, a past president of the See 7 Performing Arts Society here in Vancouver, and a member of the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas. He holds an MFA from UBC.
He shows no signs of stopping breaking ground.
1. In one word, describe your present condition.
2. In a bunch more words, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.
I think Vancouver is in the process of developing an ecology that’s truly inter-generational. I hope we can eventually support this properly. Theatre as a profession has been growing in this country, probably since the late 1950’s, which was when the regional theatre system was born (MTC was the first in 1958). Quebec playwriting took off in the 60’s and English Canadian playwriting in the 70’s. The country was beginning to tell its own stories to its own citizens and needed artists and institutions to realize them on the stage. Canada now has the infrastructure to allow theatre artists to call themselves professionals and to be paid for their work. Our present challenge is to provide the circumstances where individuals can actually expect, if they have talent and determination, to have a theatre career. This means having a viable ecology that supports the full range of theatre artists from emerging practitioners to senior ones. The Vancouver scene is still struggling with this reality.
3. How are we going to get the next generation of theatre-goers hooked on what we do?
I’m optimistic about the future of theatre. The continued mediation of human contact through digital means will eventually wear thin. Hooking up on Facebook isn’t the same as hooking up on a Saturday night and watching YouTube isn’t the same as being at a live event. People will crave theatre as an authentic human activity. It’s up to us to spread the word.
4. What’s the origin story of your life in the theatre?
I started in high school as many people do. We had a very good program. From there I went on to study drama at the University of Saskatchewan where my first two acting teachers were Jane Casson and Susan Wright. Jane is Sybil Thorndike’s granddaughter and a member of a great English acting family whose work spans the 20th century (Shaw wrote Saint Joan for Sybil). She is a very talented woman and drove us in a way that the old school British system is famous for. Susan (Janet Wright’s sister – Janet is currently of Corner Gas fame) was one of this country’s finest actresses. The whole department was run by Tom Kerr as a first rate professional training conservatory. It was rigorous and infectious. I had no choice but to go on.
5. What trends, if any, are you noticing lately in Vancouver theatre?
There seem to be more small venues breaking out and the range of work is extremely wide. And, as we all know, the practice of devising theatre and collective creation is alive and well.
6. What are the great strengths of our independent theatre industry here? Our weaknesses?
Our strengths are the depth of our talent and the passion of our practitioners. Each of our larger training institutions put a different emphasis on their approach to the art and this makes for a real diversity of interest and practice in the community. Our weakness, I think, is a general lack of exposure to influences from the theatre world outside of Vancouver. Of course PuSh and the Cultch help in this regard, but I’m always surprised at how few people I speak with go elsewhere to see shows (this is a generalization of course). I don’t mean London, New York or Toronto (which is a good idea) but even Seattle. There are major theatres there including On The Boards, which is an excellent institution. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Ashland) in southern Oregon has the same budget as the Shaw Festival and just as many theatre buildings but a lot of people I’ve spoken with don’t even know it’s there. This kind of exposure to the outside world can lead to better work at home.
7. How important is it to showcase our work outside of Canada?
It’s very important to get outside of the country to promote the reputation of Canadian culture. It can also help the domestic scene by proving to sponsors and funders that Canadian theatre is good enough to be taken seriously outside the country and is therefore worthy of increased support inside. Unfortunately one of the well known problems with the Canadian psyche and its longing for affirmation is the deep-rooted attitude that local talent is only remarkable if it succeeds elsewhere. We may be getting over this kind of thinking but we’re not there yet.
8. Which 3 theatre artists, living or dead, would you like to buy a drink for, and why?
Anton Chekhov because of his ability to be an extraordinarily perceptive communicator of the essence of what it is to be human.
Vaclav Havel because of his practiced belief that theatre in society can and should be much more than mere entertainment.
Julie Taymor because of her imagination – the conversation would be sure to take some unexpected turns.
9. In what way are you a better director now than you were five years ago?
I’m more able to envision the finer details of a show after reading a script, complete with a wider sense of production possibilities.
10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?
Dictionary of the Theatre: Terms, Concepts, and Analysis
by Patrice Pavis (Author), Christine Shantz (Translator) (academic perhaps, but remarkable in its scope).
11. What’s next?
I just finished Live From a Bush of Ghosts at PuSh for Theater Conspiracy. Pi‘s Bashir Lazhar previews on March 5th at Performance Works (www.pitheatre.co) and I’m directing a reading for the Scene First program at the Gateway at the end of March.
Our good friends at the Toronto SummerWorks Festival are preparing for round 2 of their Performance Gallery (Inside the Box) initiative, opening August 6th at the Gladstone Hotel on Queen Street out in the Smoke. If you’re a theatre maker interested in brief, site-specific work, this is something to look at…
What would you do in a completely empty hotel room or the hallway in between? What is the importance of the audience to this piece? Does the risk and imagination stretch beyond the physical confinements?
Launched in 2008, The Performance Gallery (Inside the Box) was one of SummerWorks many new initiatives. In its inaugural year, the gallery, which took place on the 2nd floor of the Gladstone hotel, featured an eclectic group of artist offering everything from short plays to dance to performance art to improvised concerts. This year we return to the Gladstone (Aug 6-9 & Aug 13-16th) and are seeking site-specific but not necessarily site-themed pieces (7-10 minutes) in all performance mediums.
Please follow the guidelines below when putting together your proposal for the Performance Gallery. All applications should include:
1. Letter of Intent: Maximum 2 pages, giving an overview of your work, this project, where it is at in its development, what you plan to do, and how you plan to do it. What excites you about it? Please specify whether you are looking to perform for one night or the duration of the gallery.
2. Support Materials: (Optional) We will accept up to three pages of support material for you and your project. These can include resumes, short bios of key members in your team or letters of support from professional artists if the jury may be unfamiliar with your work. Please do not exceed the maximum of three pages.
RULES & REGULATIONS after the jump:Read More »
Despite gloomy predictions of the future of indie theatre in these trying economic times (anyone else about done with that phrasing?) it’s heartening to see ever more new and driven companies springing up in Vancouver. Companies with something to say, and the desire to say it from the stage. Companies with more passion than money, and the will to get the production up regardless. Companies like Zee Zee Theatre. Welcome to the neighbourhood, guys.
Artistic Director Cameron Mackenzie began his company with a script that he loved and the will to jump through all the expensive hoops required to give a professional voice to that script. He found a great space to put it in (the fantastic PAL theatre, poised to be the new darling of the indie theatre set , so long as the residents can be kept from wandering in on rehearsals). He hired a killer production crew (including SM extraordinaire Jill Perry – if anyone’s looking for a serious talent behind the board drop me a line, I’ve got her number). He took up the directing reigns himself. He went the full equity route and impeccably cast the play with a trio of very good actors (Vancouver workhorses Allan Morgan, Jeff Gladstone and Jon Lachlan Stewart). He went out and charmed a whole bunch of sponsors. He put someone very smart (and this is a big one) in charge of fundraising who, well, raised some funds. He hired a damn good publicist, which paid off with a glowing benediction from CT himself. And they got on the cover of the major publication catering to a main target group. And on top of everything else, he contacted the neighbourhood’s resident blogger – yours truly – and invited him to the show in hopes of getting a little industry bump online, knowing full well that this site does not host reviews. A professional effort from a first-production company. I’m more than a little impressed.
The inaugural playscript – Whale Riding Weather by Canadian Bryden MacDonald – is certainly one of those pieces of writing that can get under your skin if it speaks to you, a work of dramatic realism that demands real privacy from the actors in the work. It’s a good choice, and it lives up to the promise of the theatre, namely making us the audience feel like a bunch of voyeurs. Like we’re witnessing an extraordinary day in the lives of people just like us, that go through the same emotional meat grinders that we all do, in our own weird ways. There’s something in there about the appeal of the theatre, something that lets us know that we’re not alone in all our human messiness. It’s a noble and necessary mission, one that serves us as a society. The hard part is getting society in to these rooms to witness it, and that’s the real trick, isn’t it?
I’m proud to see independent Vancouver artists like Cameron Mackenzie taking the task this seriously. If we keep going like this, Vancouver could very well be a formidable force in presenting indie theatre to the world as a profitable and sustainable industry. And that’s a future worth fighting for, no matter what the economic times we happen to be stuck with.