Local actor Ben Ratner also happens to be local writer/director/acting teacher Ben Ratner. His face is well known to Vancouverites from his co-starring role on DaVinci’s City Hall and from the many locally produced indie films he’s been involved with, notably his Leo Award-winning turn in Mount Pleasant and his own Moving Malcolm, which he wrote and directed.
He has appeared on stage in, among many others, his self-penned play Cherished and Forgotten, and received a Jessie nod for American Buffalo in 1995.
Ben’s latest directorial effort opens this week: Dying City by Christopher Shinn at Little Mountain Studios. He talks about the piece on camera here. And about our theatre in general here…
1. In one word, describe your present condition.
2. In your own choice of word count, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.
As a performer, I’m not part of the mainstream theatre scene, and only make occasional appearances on-stage in the indie theatre scene, so I am ot really entitled to spout off on this. I can only say my experiences as a participant have always been rewarding, and my experiences as an audience member have been hit and miss.
3. Lack of money is usually cited in these interviews as the most common road block for indie theatre. Is there a disconnect here where art and business should meet, and why?
Indie theatre is not a safe business bet, nor is indie film. The money is in the mainstream, and even there they struggle. You gotta do it ’cause you love it, period.
4. What is it about Dying City that our audiences really need to experience?
I have been emailing with the play’s author, Christopher Shinn. He told me that when he wrote Dying City, he “wanted to write a play that would kill the actors”. So…come see if our cast makes it through the run alive!
5. Does stage work have a responsibility to provide us with a sense of hope?
Everything is subjective. You can only do what you believe in and hope it reaches people.
6. Speaking as an instructor, what is the single most common problem neophyte acting students have to overcome?
Laziness. And it’s not just the neophytes
7. What is the best piece of acting advice you’ve ever received?
While working on a feature called Wrongfully Accused in ’98, I asked the late Richard Crenna, whose career spanned over 50 years, this same question. He told me “sit down whenever possible”. (He meant conserve your energy for when you need it.)
My acting teacher, Ivana Chubbuck, used to always tell us to “Play our scenes to win and make positive choices.” This has become the cornerstone of my teaching ideology and acting style.
8. Given one million dollars to improve our independent theatre scene, how would you spend it?
I’d put together the most talented and ambitious creative and business minds I could find, pay everyone a decent wage, and let them work their magic full-time in order to mount top-notch, well advertised shows in our own little hundred seat theatre, with live jazz in the adjoining bar. Don’t know how long the money would last, but we’d put on some damn fine shows.
9. Given a time machine, what would you like to say to a young Ben Ratner just starting out on his career?
Skip Los Angeles, spend those 3 years in New York instead.
10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?
I’m a meat and potatoes man, play-wise. I’d say almost anything by John Patrick Shanley, A view from the bridge by Arthur Miller, American Buffalo by David Mamet, and now, of curse, Dying City by Christopher Shinn.
11. What’s next?
As a writer, currently developing a one-hour TV series for CTV. As an actor, currently shooting Carl Bessai’s latest film, Fathers and sons. As a director, my short film, Power Lunch, has just been invited to the 2009 Mexico International Film Festival. As a teacher, I continue to offer very demanding scene study classes to some of Vancouver’s least lazy actors. Interested thespians should contact Geoff at firstname.lastname@example.org to get more info.