This one goes to eleven: Bill Marchant

Actor, Educator, Playwright, Poet, Songwriter…components of the sum of the Artist. Bill is the head of the acting department of the Vancouver Film School, and the premiere run of his new play Ashes just ended at the Firehall. It received the first honest standing ovation I have given a play in a long time. His is a strong, confident and absolutely Canadian voice.

Here’s a little bit of it now…

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1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Playful.

2. In as many words as you see fit, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

I would love to believe that it is reflective of who we are as people: timid and trembling but full of a fierce beauty and outrageous courage that is ever ready to leap from the safety of its perch. I love the grin on this town. I like its teeth even better.

3. Please share with us the secret to writing a great play.

Get out of the way.

4. How would you like the future of Vancouver independent theatre to look, and what do we need to do to get there?

We are already there. We always have been.  Believe that the truth can pay the bills.

5. What does the ‘current economic climate’ mean for indie theatre here?

Times are always tough for someone. The time is always right to make art. The time is now.

6. What, if any, responsibility does theatre hold to its community?

Its only responsibility is to be a part of that community.

7. How do you know when you’re watching good acting?

When I am not watching acting at all.

8. What do you know about yourself as an artist that you didn’t five years ago?

Love is the only way.

9. How are we going to attract the next generation of artists and audiences into the theatre?

Blood, sex, laughter and love. Same old, same old.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh. Richard III by Him.

11. What’s next?

Last Days of Los Fabulosas starring Nancy Sivak and Suzanne Hepburn.

This one goes to eleven: Heidi Taylor

I met Heidi for the first time a short while ago while she was in rehearsal for the play she just finished directing, and was immediately struck by her passion and directness on the topic of our independent theatre scene. She’s completely immersed in it, as an actor, a director and as a Dramaturg; Heidi is the Dramaturg at the Playwright’s Theatre Centre, actually. She has worked with many of the local companies, including Radix, Public Dreams, The Only Animal, and Leaky Heaven Circus, and she teaches at SFU, from which she holds an MFA. She is a founding member and an Artistic Directer of local company Proximity Arts.

Thanks to Heidi for taking the opportunity to be direct with us here…

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1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Inspired.

2. In as many words as you would like to use, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

Internally vibrant, sporadic in its connection to the world at large, increasing in diversity, chronically under-funded and under-rehearsed

3. Why does theatre still persist, despite years of predictions of its imminent demise?

Everyone makes theatre, whether they know it or not – the form changes, but it’s a natural human activity – telling stories to other people. We just need to adjust the form to keep seducing an audience.

4. What is the greatest strength of Vancouver’s independent theatre? Its biggest weakness?

The community is very interdependent and supportive once you enter it. Under-resourced indie companies lack marketing power to connect with audiences.

5. What should independent theatre be doing better at, towards a goal of sustainability as an industry?

Claiming its space as a necessity for the culture.

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6. What’s your best piece of advice for our neophyte directors?

See more dance, visual art, and live music. Read more plays published since 2000. Don’t be too sentimental.

7. What do you look for when choosing material to work with?

A connection to the unique combination of form and style, and a punctum – some moment that pierces the heart.

8. If you could have a drink with 3 theatre artists – living or not – who would they be and why?

Elizabeth LeCompte, because the Wooster Group makes theatre that is actually avant garde. Wallace Shawn, because he’s a great conversationalist. And Erik Ehn, because his politics and plays inspire me, and I think he’d actually have a drink with me.

9. What’s the single greatest thing you’ve ever seen on stage?

I don’t have one example, it depends. But the Wooster Group’s Brace Up is a highlight. St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, February 2003. A remaking of the Three Sisters, with Willem Defoe as Vershinin – completely deconstructed, elegant, controlled, and spontaneous at the same time. They know that the real event is taking place between the audience and the performers, not the performers and the text. They stopped before the end, said thanks for coming, and it was still a complete experience.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes, which taught me how to look; Actions: an Actor’s Thesaurus by Maria Calderone, which I make all my acting students buy (cause it’s called “acting”, not “feeling”); From Acting to Performance by Philip Auslander, because it buts acting in a context of performance that is much broader, and recognizes naturalism as a style.

11. What’s next?

My company, Proximity Arts, is being commissioned by Neworld Theatre and Playwrights Theatre Centre to create an original outdoor audio walking play. We’re one of five commissionees, and the Pod Plays will be produced by Neworld in October 2009.

Celebrating World Theatre Day in my little corner of the planet

wtd-avatar2This coming Friday, March 27, theatre artists the world over will spend part of their day acknowledging and honouring the larger community of the art form they share in. Designated “World Theatre Day” by the International Theatre Institute, this a marvelous opportunity for us to celebrate together an art form and a way of life that binds us, regardless of borders, language or political differences. It’s a day of communion.

A small group of us theatre types from several points around the planet got to talking about this day on twitter a while back (twitter’s handy for pan-continental conversation) and decided it was a worthy enough idea to give it some broader exposure. So being fairly Web 2.0-minded, we set up a blog to raise some awareness and to act as a virtual gathering spot for our fellow theatre artists to meet ‘n greet. Our mission, in a nutshell, was this:

1. Do something that expresses your love of theatre.

2. Share it with the world.

Well, I’m proud to say the idea has proven to have legs. I’d even go so far as to say it’s taken flight. We’ve been getting letters telling us about WTD events that we’ve had to run through google translator to be able to read. Here, check the WTD map. My favourite response on the blog so far told us that: وب لاگ نوجوانان linked here saying, “1 فروردين: روز جهاني رفع تبع …” It’s wonderful, and wonderfully inspiring.

The key to the project is its simplicity. We’re fascilitating that part of us that loves to be a part of a community bound by passion. We would love you to join us if you feel so inclined.

Here’s what I’m doing on Friday. Two members of my theatre company just so happen to be involved in a play that’s running that night. One of them wrote it, the other is in it. (It’s Bill Marchant’s Ashes at the Firehall, click here for all the info, and a word from Bill.) So we’re taking the night off from creating, and we’re taking a field trip…dinner together, drinks, then we’re going to sit in the dark and watch some enlightening art. The director of the play is reading Augusto Boal’s WTD message just before curtain, which I’m going to video tape and upload to the site for all to see. After the play we’re all going to trip down to the Vancouver WTD after-party and raise a glass to our fellow artists around the world, and drop some good wishes onto the site as well. I hope to see you there, live in person or on the blog.

What are you guys doing? Share in the comments, or better yet, upload some video, photos or text to the media feed like this…

The Real Thing: Stoppard’s cricket bat incites to write

cricket-bat1It’s amazing to me how few still-composing A-list playwrights there are out there with work in heavy rotation. The Big Guns – the few that we waggish theatre-types gush about to each other about over the good glassware – seem to move in trend cycles through the Canadian stages and kind of define the period; Mamet segues into LaBute back into Mamet who gives way to a flutter of Shanley…we seem to be coming into a Stoppard right now, CanStage has announced the inclusion of the dense and lovely Rock ‘n Roll in their upcoming season, The Invention of Love is impending at Jericho and The Real Thing is impressing its eager audience right now on the Granville Island Stage. I’m just waiting on the announcement of another mounting of Dogg’s Hamlett/Cahoot’s Macbeth, surely not far behind.

I’m just thinking out loud here, but does theatre have a kind of collective consciousness when it comes to established works? Do we adhere to the cache of a particular playwright at certain periods the way that hem lines and Federal Government approval ratings rise and fall? There was a gush of Sarah Kane productions awhile back from points all over the continent after years of shying away from the complexities (and rawness) of In Yer Face, perhaps there’s some connective undercurrent in the gestalt that gurgles up a particularly masterful voice that resonates at a particular time.

If this is the theatre community’s version of cycling through CDs in the car stereo, I’m pretty happy with the current playlist. Seeing The Real Thing at the Arts Club last week reminded me of how much I like my theatre with some loquacity, Stoppard is a giant word-nerd and proud of it. This ain’t theatre for the uninitiated, the dialogue unspools relentlessly, and it takes solid actors to keep it rolling throughout. (Which the Arts Club certainly had, especially in leads Jennifer Lines and Vincent Gale who made it look easy, and in young Julie McIsaac, looking in her short time on stage like she was having the time of her life.) This work wears its brains on its sleeve, and is obviously autobiographical. (‘Auto-something’, in Stoppard’s own words.) It was written in 1982 as a reaction to critics who panned the playwright for being unable to write about love, and for not providing good roles for women. Whether or not he was successful in that reach is something you’ll have to judge for yourself, but he certainly succeeded in writing a love letter to the power of the written word. His avatar in the play, Henry, beautifully snobs out about a bad piece of writing by metaphorically comparing a cricket bat to a plain plank of wood:

real-thing-078sThis [cricket bat] here, which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor. It’s for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you’ve done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly. What we’re trying to do is write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock it might travel… [He clucks his tongue and picks up Brodie’s script.] Now, what we’ve got here is a lump of wood of roughly the same shape trying to be a cricket bat, and if you hit a ball with it, the ball will travel about ten feet and you will drop the bat and dance about shouting ‘Ouch!’ with your hands stuck into your armpits. [indicating the cricket bat] This isn’t better because someone says it’s better, or because there’s a conspiracy by the MCC to keep cudgels out of Lords. It’s better because it’s better. You don’t believe me, so I suggest you go out to bat with this and see how you get on. [he reads] ‘You’re a strange boy, Billy, how old are you?’ ‘Twenty, but I’ve lived more than you’ll ever live.’ Ooh, ouch! [He drops the script and hops about with his hands in his armpits.]

This play was a marvelous reminder to me – written as it was for the theatre set, playwrights in particular – that we need to aim at writing cricket bats, then taking to the field with them. If for no other reason than there is lots of room out there in the field for playwrighting that we, the keepers of the collective consciousness, will deem the next big thing.

‘Cricket Bat’ courtesy of Flikr user No Sex, Bone Dragon