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.