Speaking of engaging the next generation of theatre artists, Patrick McDonald has made that very thing his stock-in-trade for since 1988. As Artistic Director of Green Thumb Theatre, he has been at the forefront of the drive to develop theatre artists and audiences for 20 years, a milestone that was recently celebrated at a veritable who’s who of Vancouver’s artistic community.
In 1998 he won a Jessie for Continued excellence in vision in the field of Theatre for Young Audiences, about as great an award as I could possibly imagine. He’s been recognized and awarded many times over for his work as a director and a leader in his field. And apparently, he’s not slowing down.
Congratulations Patrick, here’s to another 20…
1. In one word, describe your present condition.
2. In as many words as you’d like, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.
I think we are missing the mid-range theatres. By that I mean companies who produce a 5 to 7 play season and run each production for 3 to 5 weeks. Two examples would be Tarragon in Toronto and GCTC in Ottawa. They both own venues so they are more in control of their destiny. The mid-size allows everyone in theatre to grow as an artist. The contracts and budgets are more substantive—actors enjoy the lengthier runs…and it helps pay the bills. We have a lot of great work being created by the smaller companies but it seems everyone outside of the larger companies is boxed into 10 day runs. There is no chance for word of mouth and no chance for actors to settle into the run. Once the excitement of opening is gone you wake up and realize you will be unemployed in a week. So for me the eco system is not functioning properly for Vancouver theatre artists.
3. How has Green Thumb evolved from where it started 20 years ago?
Well, it started closer to 35 years ago. I have been here for 20. When we started we only created work for elementary age students and now we do work for elementary, high schools and young adults. We are one of the only companies in Canada developing work for the young adult market. I am talking about 17 to 30 year-olds. They are terribly underserved.
4. What do you know about theatre now that you didn’t then?
It doesn’t get any easier.
5. For those of us just starting our theatre companies, what’s the key to longevity?
Well, it helps if you don’t have any other skills. But if you do have other skills I believe you must be engaged with the content of the work you produce. You must remain interested in the mission of your company.
6. What kind of content lights a fire in young theatre artists above all else?
I can only speak as a director but I think they are most excited by work that speaks to them as people and not theatre artists. Plays that are about the lives they are living.
7. What can we as a community be doing better to popularize the art form?
It would be great if theatre were a part of the popular culture. For that to ever happen it must be embraced by our media and ticket prices need to be much more affordable.
8. What is your proudest moment from the last 20 years with Green Thumb?
I don’t think I can just pick one. There have been a lot of great moments. I guess I would have to say our work in developing new playwrights.
9. What would you like the legacy of Green Thumb to be in Vancouver?
Legacy is like a tombstone. I want it to continue to be a vibrant producing theatre company.
10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?
I really don’t have three. I don’t even have one. Sorry. I do really enjoy hearing Sir Ken Robinson speak on creativity. I encourage everyone to check out his speech on Ted talks.
11. What’s next?
I think another 20 years. Terrifying, I know.