This one goes to eleven: Spectral Theatre Society

I wish a stage company like the Spectral Theatre Society on every city. Operating from their theatrical lair deep in the heart of the Downtown East Side, these guys wear their love for genre fiction on their sleeve, and produce consistent, well branded work. You always know the experience in store for you at a Spectral Show.  They represent fun combined with a relentless work ethic. Plus they have awesome merch. Seriously, read the Teddy Bear.

This interview also represents a first for This One Goes to Eleven: our first group interview. When I asked to interview company member Simon C. Hussey he responded with the whole crew. Spectral’s interviewees are Simon, Michael Methot and Michael Cope, and founding members Desmond Arthur Hussey and Blake Drezet.

Take it away boys…

Michael Cope, Simon C. Hussey, Desmond Hussey and Blake Drezet.
Michael Cope, Simon C. Hussey, Desmond Hussey and Blake Drezet.

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Thirsty – SCH

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

Acknowledged professionals spending time with other unacknowledged professionals to foster relationships that will benefit the larger community as a whole. Unfortunately, the money aspect all too often intrudes in way that stifles interaction. All levels of grant applications need to broaden their criteria for accepting and issuing funds that only seem to go to established artist or the people who know someone in the system. – MM

Cloistered. A lot of cool stuff but not a lot of chatter. People are doing amazing work all over the city, but there’s a real closed circle within those groups. I think the scene needs to be more welcoming. – MC

On one hand, the Vancouver theatre scene is vainly struggling to maintain its integrity, or dare I say its very existence, by pandering to a generation of theatregoers that are totally uninterested in seeing fresh, new, contemporary theatre, while on the other hand, begging for a handout from Civic, Provincial and/or Federal governments to support whatever theatre, original or otherwise they hope to produce.  Ultimately it is hogtied by beaurocracy and conservative thinking, and lacks the creative edge necessary to produce anything truly outstanding. – DAH

Theatre in Vancouver is on the cusp of a major shift. The big companies are steadily losing steam; the bloated industry built around them unable to support itself without government subsidies and dauntingly high ticket prices.  Smaller, more innovative companies are beginning to rise up and break free of the unionized strangle-hold by working outside established venues to create a new vision of theatre that is innovative, self-supporting, and affordable. – BD

I probably won’t articulate this properly but I’ll give it a stab. Ah…fuck it. If it’s alright, I think I’ll just go ahead and rant. Are we talking about the “scene” or the “market”? If we’re talking about the “scene” then I’m going to say we have a pretty vibrant scene. And by scene I mean a lot of would-be actors, artists, directors and writers, going to classes, hanging out at “industry nights”, wrap parties, auditioning for Bard, Carousel, Arts Club or Playhouse and going to each others shows etc. “Hey Bobby, if you come see my show at the Havana I’ll come see your show at The Beaumont!” “Gosh Sally! Sure thing!”  The “market” however; not so healthy I’d say.  And that environment doesn’t help to foster innovation and cheats the theatre going audience in the long run.  Here we are, a metropolis of some 3 million or so, and we’re only barely able to sustain 4 or 5 major companies.  And if those companies want to sell tickets they’re sort of cornered into presenting the “MOR” or “Top 40” equivalent of what theatre has to offer because that’s apparently what this town wants. If it’s not a name brand they’ll balk. Even still, if you think those companies are sustained by ticket sales alone, think again. Most, if not all of them, are “registered charities”. What’s left for the smaller companies taking chances on little known or original scripts in this town?  I’ll tell ya, squat. This is ironic because it’s small-theatre that’ll save the day in the end; by challenging audience expectations and broadening the audience base with interesting and entertaining theatre that draws neophytes in. We need to demonstrate more effectively and consistently to an ever alienated audience how awesome a theatre-going experience can be. No more baby pabulum folks! Go big or go home!  The future of theatre in this town depends on you! – SCH

3. How do you wish the official definition of the word ‘theatre’ would read?

At present, we’re not interested in drawing theatrical definitions, only expanding them. – BD

4. Describe the target demographic of Spectral.

Theatre for people that hate theatre. In other words, it is a rally call to those who have lost faith in what was once a powerful medium of expression. – DAH

Spectral is primarily focused on producing strange tales rife with audacious spectacle; so our demographic falls within some hazy parameters. We appeal to youth, nerds, horror buffs, curiosity seekers, people who enjoy their theatre bizarre and people who don’t normally like theatre at all. – BD

The defilers of convention.  Anyone that has grown tired of the “same-old, same-old” but at the same time refuses to grow cynical. – SCH

5. What do you feel is key to maintaining a healthy working relationship within an ensemble company?

Communication. Lateral hierarchy. – MM

Spectral has always succeeded in fostering a genuine spirit of community within its cast and crews, and I think this is due to several factors; Love, respect, a relaxed, friendly atmosphere, and a mutual love of the craft is part of that, but also an openness to artistic collaboration. Everyone here is encouraged to express their own creativity within their departments. No one is lording over anyone else. I believe that is a big reason why so many our crews come back to work with us again and again. – BD

6. What is your biggest challenge as a Vancouver theatre artist?

I am loathe to admit it, but it’s the promotion of theatre itself that poses it’s biggest challenge. In a city where there is a hundred events going on any given night, theatre has come to take a back seat to Clubs, live music events and the almighty cinema. Getting the word out to the public about a given show can be an uphill battle and effective advertising is prohibitively expensive, yet it’s clear that theatre must win back its audience or it will only continue to fade into an eccentric conceit of the wealthy few, and for that it must make itself cheaper, more accessible, and a great deal more fun. – BD

Keeping the office clean. – SCH

7. If someone gave you a million dollars to improve the Vancouver theatre scene, how would you spend it?

Easy. Use half of it to build a mid-sized, affordable, multi-use venue. Put the other half in a high interest savings account and hand out no-interest loans to small theatre companies producing innovative, original works. – SCH

8. Who or what are your great influences?

Who: Rod Serling. What: Abstract association and imagination to praise the independent and original concept. – MM

Peter Brook. Ray Bradbury. William Shakespeare. – MC

The have-nots, the pack rats, those who “make-do”, the innovators, the inventors, the thinkers outside the box, the road side prophets, the drunken sages, “the lovers, the dreamers and.” Kermit the frog. – DAH

We have been influenced by weird late-night television, strange old comics, and speculative fiction, as well as creative innovators like Jim Henson, Burtolt Brecht, Eugene Ionesco, and Tim Burton. – BD

EC Comics, Jim Henson, Vincent Price, Billy Van, Weird Circle, Inner Sanctum and Mel Brooks. – SCH

9. Where is the next generation of theatre-goers going to come from?

Massive orbiting clone banks. – SCH

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

Have way more than 3 favourites from various genres because theatre is supposed to challenge your emotions and your pre-conceptions on any given subject matter. – MM

The Empty Space, Towards the Poor Theatre, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. – MC

Sam Sheppard, Samuel Beckett and, though not a playwright, a definite inspiration, H. P. Lovecraft. – DAH

An Actor Prepares, Acting: The First Six Lessons, Story (not really about theatre per se). – SCH

Huh? – BD

11. What’s next?

Spectral Theatre’s Late-Night Double Feature (running April through August) followed by A Christmas Carol in December then Dead Ends – VI in 2010.

One more chance to catch Ashes

I had a load of people asking me if and when they could get another chance to see Bill Marchant’s recent play Ashes after I flipped my lid for it on World Theatre Day.

There’s one more chance to catch this roundly excellent production this coming Friday, May 1 at the Metro Theatre: 1370 Marine Drive SW (604-266-7191) as part of Theatre BC’s Greater Vancouver Zone Festival. There’s a schwack of other good work worth checking out all week there to.

The man himself on his own work…

My very own marketing Simonar…er, Seminar. Wanna come?

socialmediaThis is an important section of history for the Independent Arts. Something amazing is happening right now, a consciousness shift into a new way of how we deliver our work and our message to our audience. It’s about what we have to do now to sell ourselves, and get our art distributed. It’s an amazing time.

Marketing has evolved from what it was a generation ago. The old model of getting ad copy and images into the faces of anybody and everybody just doesn’t work anymore. We grew up with it, and it’s become noise that we can filter out with hardly any effort. It’s a change that’s been tearing through every industry. Now it’s our turn. It’s time to stop spending our budgets and time on taping posters to lamp posts. It’s time to start making real connections.

The internet is garish and often tacky, it’s full of crap, and sitting with it for too long hurts your back. It’s content is free, so it’s noisy in a language all its own. It’s also a big, shiny tool, and a very effective tool when wielded properly, because everyone is now spending a certain amount of their day on it. And they finally have total control over what information they receive. This means that our audience will now find us, we just need to be ready for them when they do. It’s going to take some creativity. Fortunately, that just so happens to be our stock in trade.

The smart people of the world who know how to build internet things have been busy making the place ready for these kinds of introductions. They have created systems whereby people looking for things they think are cool can meet the people that create them. And they’ve kept them all free, miraculously enough. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, etc, etc…these are all meeting areas where you can connect with people who are interested in your product. This is the new marketing.

If this is all a bit new to you – and as you’re an artist with more tactile things on the go there’s a good chance it is – all you need is to learn the language of this way of communicating. If it sounds weird and freaky and intimidating that’s because it’s supposed to, it’s new. I’ve been doing this for a while now and believe me, it’s actually ridiculously simple once you learn how it all fits together. If you’re reading this, you’re halfway there. You’re just going to have to do a little composing of your own soon…

I know the big change is coming when this tool kit tips from being used by a small amount of people to the majority of us. I know it’s coming because the number of times I get asked about it is increasing by the day. So if you’re interested in getting a comprehensive introduction to the language and tools that comprise Social Media, you can sign up for one of the seminars that Rebecca Coleman of Rebecca Coleman Marketing and Media Relations and I are holding through the Alliance for Arts and Culture (Who, by the way, recently proudly announced the launch of their very own blog. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is!). We’re keeping them fairly small so there will be lots of personalized interaction. But spaces are apparently going fast…

Demystifying Social Media:
Arts Promotion in the Online World

Tuesday, May 5, 2008

and

Tuesday, May 12, 2009
1:00 -5:00pm
Alliance for Arts & Culture Boardroom
Suite 100 – 938 Howe Street

The face of marketing has changed. Traditional public relations techniques are evolving to keep pace with rapidly advancing technology, instant communication and an audience faced with staggering choice. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Blogs, LinkedIn, Flickr… it’s noisy, it’s overwhelming, and it’s here to stay. How do you get a handle on it all?

This four-hour workshop will help neophyte and experienced arts marketers and publicists to navigate this new world of opportunity. Site by site, we will:

* introduce you to the language and etiquette of social media and Web 2.0
* define its place in your personal marketing toolbox
* dispel all those inevitable misconceptions that go hand-in-hand with emerging technologies
* help you create a new media marketing plan that’s right for your organization

Workshop cost: $50 (+GST) for Alliance members, $75 (+GST) for non-members

Pre-registration and payment is required. Pre-payment is required in order to register for the workshop. We accept Cash, VISA, MC, or cheque. Please call our office at the number below with a credit card number or mail a cheque or drop off your payment in person at our office. 24 hours cancellation notice required to obtain full refund. The Alliance reserves the right to cancel workshops if registration is too low.

Please phone 604-681-3535 or email info@allianceforarts.com to register.

And, of course, we’ve got a Facebook page if you’d like to share…

Facilitators:

Simon Ogden is a produced playwright and the Managing Director of Lyric Stage Project, an outgrowth of Lyric School of Acting. He is also the marketer and publicist for LSP, and actively promotes the industry of theatre through his online Theatre magazine The Next Stage, with the ultimate goal of creating a sustainable independent theatre community in Vancouver. He has been writing and producing his own work for ten years, and with the Lyric ensemble for two, with whom he recently mounted a successful run of their first original full-length work, The 21st Floor, at the PAL Theatre in Coal Harbour. Follow him on twitter @thenextstagemag

Rebecca Coleman has been a freelance theatre publicist since 2001, working for companies like Touchstone, Ruby Slippers Theatre, Capilano University’s Theatre Department, Presentation House, Radix and Leaky Heaven Circus. An actor, writer and producer, she is also very passionate about helping artists to be better businesspeople. For two years, she was lead facilitator at the Alliance’s SEARCH Program, a self-employment program for artists. Over the last year, she has become increasingly interested in using social media networking to market the arts, and writes about the subject frequently on her blog, The Art of the Business. Follow her on twitter @rebeccacoleman

This one goes to eleven: Lois Dawson

Continuing our TOGtE Stage Manager series, we are proud to present you with Ms. Lois Dawson: professional SM, theatre buff and all around social media socialite. You can read about her consistently updated love for the stage at her own blog here, and have a #theatre conversation with her most times of the day here.

And right about now you can read her take on her city and its theatre scene…

headshots

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Motivated.

2. Choosing your own number of words, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

The Vancouver independent theatre scene is exploding with new companies.  Every time I open the newspaper and look at the theatre listings there are more companies, doing challenging plays from every genre.  There is certainly more theatre happening than I can create the time to see and that is a great problem to have.

3. Please complete this sentence: The Stage Manager is the most important person on the production because…

…the Stage Manager is the centre of morale for the show and is the conduit of information for all involved.  Of course, one of my keys to successful stage management is impartiality, so saying any one person is most important defies that.

4. How has your immersion in social media changed your world as a theatre professional?

There have been three main ways that my recent immersion in social media has changed my world as a theatre professional.  The first is the extent of dialogue that is happening in the theatre blogosphere about all facets of theatre.  Each morning when I check my RSS feed there are about 20 new blog posts to read, each with its own opinions and insights.  Of course, there is also a lot of noise, but I’m learning a lot about how other people create theatre, study theatre & believe theatre should be.

The second change has been the amazing community that I have found there.  Don’t get me wrong – there is a great theatre community in Vancouver and I love being a part of it, but the online community is at my fingertips 24 hours a day. Being involved with the World Theatre Day blog and having international conference calls has really expanded my theatrical world.  I now talk to theatre artists in Australia & across the USA on a daily basis and when I have a theatrical challenge, I have a whole community to approach for potential solutions.

The third thing that it has changed is the possibilities for collaboration.  In the midst of our planning for World Theatre Day ideas were brought forward to collaborate internationally on a radio play or some other theatrical venture.  I have no idea whether or not anything will come of that, but the potential for it has certainly piqued my interest.

5. What’s your “how I fell in love with theatre” story?

I have been attending theatre since I was a child: community productions, school productions, church productions, and once in a while a professional production.  It seemed only natural to get involved when I was in high school.  My first production was Hot Line by Elaine May and I was the head of props – a job that quickly evolved into head of props, head of costumes & stage manager.  Despite the craziness of that experience, I was hooked and continued to work on the high school productions.  I grew up in the Okanagan where there is not a lot of professional theatre, but my high school had a program where once a year 45 students and four chaperons would visit Vancouver, Calgary, or Edmonton for five days.  We’d see as many plays as could fit, tour universities & academies, and get backstage tours.  I went to university not intending to do theatre, but I like to say that theatre pursued me, wooed me, and won me.

in-the-booth

6. Does theatre have an inherent function beyond telling a story?

This is a question that I could spend years discussing and discovering. In short, I believe that yes, theatre does have an inherent function beyond telling a story, in fact, multiple functions. One of these functions is that theatre serves as a lens through which we can better understand our society.  The stories that we choose to tell speak volumes to who we are as a culture.  Another function of theatre is creating a connection between the artists & the audience, as well as between the various audience members.

7. What type of theatre would you like to see more of on our stages?

One thing I love about the Vancouver theatre community is the diversity of what is produced.  We have site specific work happening. We have shows by new playwrights happening alongside Canadian classics, Shakespeare, & musicals. We have companies devoted to plays by women, Native stories & mental health issues. The one thing I’d love to see happening is work that explores & utilizes social media in some ways.  I recently read an article about a show in Pittsburgh that used SMS to allow the audience to interact with the performers.  Audience members would send SMS messages to an assigned number and the stage manager would arrange for the messages to print from printers hidden in the trees.  Those sorts of ideas really excite me.

8. What do you see as our main roadblock to becoming a thriving and popular industry?

I think our main roadblock is actually a handful of perceptions that people hold about theatre.  The first problematic perception is that theatre is expensive.  Reality is that seeing a show at the Arts Club, Playhouse or Center for Performing Arts is more than most of us can afford on a regular basis, but the independent companies are doing shows that are $15 or $20 each, and often they have 2-for-1 nights. That makes it cheaper to see a play than to see a movie.

The second incorrect belief that people have is that the only theatre out there is at the Arts Club, Playhouse or Center for Performing Arts. Yes, there is theatre there, but there is also all of the independent theatre happening throughout the city, a lot of which I believe engages younger generations on a level they can better relate to.

Thirdly, a number of people see theatre as a cheap knock off of film.  When people attend theatre expecting to see a performance that is essentially film, they are inevitably disappointed, and they don’t need to be. Theatre is not film, and it works best when it doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is.  Some of my favourite moments in plays have consisted of very theatrical moments. When Blackbird Theatre Company did Peer Gynt a couple of years back and created the ocean out of waving fabric stands out as a beautiful example. These three incorrect beliefs are not the totality of the roadblocks that prevent us from being a thriving and popular industry, but I believe that addressing them would be a great place to start.

9. Where would you like to be career-wise in 10 years?

I have every intention of remaining in stage management and continuing to refine my skills. I intend to join CAEA in the next 10 years and be able to live comfortably off a stage managers income – no more wondering where the next month’s rent will come from. I would also love to do a tour with Cirque du Soliel.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

In the spirit of social media I’ve decided to pick my top 3 theatre blogs. It’s hard to choose as there are over 100 in my RSS feed, so these are the top 3 of the moment:

Irresistible Theatre – Angela Konrad

Theatre Ideas – Scott Walters

T.D. Tidbits – Jean Burch

11. What’s next?

My current show, Stop Kiss, opens at the Havana on Friday (preview tomorrow!) and runs until May 2nd.  Tickets are $20 and can be reserved by calling 604-630-9051. As well, I’m in rehearsals for You Still Can’t at Pacific Theatre which runs May 15 – June 13th.  You can find more info about that one at www.pacifictheatre.org.  And after that closes I’m heading up to Kamloops where I’ll be spending the summer emmersed in Shakespeare with the folks at Project X www.projectxtheatre.ca.

Creative marketing watch – Merch edition

My name is Simon. I’m a huge theatre nerd. If I establish a relationship with a company, or a band, or a festival, I’d pay money to show it. There are a lot of people just like me.

new-leaf-in-van

I’ve got a relationship with these guys solely through our social media connections, where they continue to open up their process and remain accessible to their audience and their larger community. They’re cool and they know it.

My name is Simon, and I’ll wear your merch.

Creative marketing watch – web edition

creativity-mantra

Image courtesty of Nick Keenan Artketing Inc.

When it comes to getting the brand and the message out to the people, there is no industry that has such a perfect inversely proportional equation of cash<creativity as the Independent Stage. How can we plug this equation into our marketing operations to tip this see-saw back the other way a little?

Obviously, I spend a fair bit of time among the internets, and it’s no secret that I hold the firm belief that Stage has to cozy up to the Web more and more as on-line resources continue their transition from ‘trend’ to ‘new media’ to ‘media’. So I’m always scanning like a vulture for fun and creative uses of the medium to sell live performance. Here’s a few recent samples:

  • I caught a tweet from Chicago’s Urban Theater today that pointed me to a new posting on their Vimeo page. It’s a quick clip of their Artistic Director inviting his community to come out and see their new show, Broken Thread. The production quality of the clip could be better, but it offers a direct connection to the AD himself, tells you it’s a low-cost affair and how to buy tickets. And if you follow the link to their web site, there’s more video all over it, including an interview with the playwright of the show. Simple and effective, and personal. Actually, that sounds a little familiar…
  • Another Twitter-related hit: a few weeks ago I casually answered a theatre trivia question tweeted by New York’s Playhouse 21, and within minutes they sent me back a congratulatory tweet asking me where they could send the prize. At this point I know nothing about this company (I’ll follow anybody on Twitter that claims theatre), nor that they were even offering prizes for trivia tweets. I just tripped over the question and happened to know the answer. But I sent them my address anyway and pretty much put it out of my mind. Until a week later when a package arrived from West 19th Street in NYC containing my swag: A personal letter from the company’s founder and a packaged DVD of one of their productions. How cool is that? And remarkably pro-active, the letter contained information about their upcoming projects, their budget requirements and a sponsorship request. Brassy. I don’t have any money to give them, but I can sure plug them to my online community (that’s y’all). This is a great lesson: you never know who is going to be responsible for bringing in money, so target your best-bet demo and scattershot your Social Media marketing. (Incidentally, Playhouse 21 also has one of the most unique mandates I’ve ever heard of: they adapt classic “Golden Age” television from the ’50s into theatre. Now that’s niche.)
  • This one I’m deeply in love with: New York’s MCC Theatre (yuh-huh, also on the Twitter) holds on-line auctions for memorabilia from their plays once they’re over. Right now the available items seem to be signed playbills and music and lyrics, which is cool, but as someone who has left some plays wishing I could get actions figures of the characters and playsets for those action figures, I’m thinking: how about auctioning off redundant props or costumes or set-dec after the run, and making sure everyone in the audience knows about it? I may be in the minority here, but I flip out when I see a merch table outside a theatre. Cater to nerds like me, I’ll make it worth your while.

How about you guys? Anybody seen any kick-ass Creative Marketing Solutions lately that they’d care to share?