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…
1. In one word, describe your present condition.
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.
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.