At last! A call to arms!

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Ah, the long, languid days of summer. The West Coast has settled into the torpor of a brain-mush inducing heatwave and everything seems, well…West Coastey. I do anyway, with my crew in recess for the summer and that pre-Fringe dip in Indie Stage activity I’ve been feeling like a kid on summer vacation. That should be in summer school. Isn’t it funny how when artists aren’t in the middle of a project we feel like we’re playing hooky? There’s been this guilt gnawing away at the back of my consciousness making me feel lazy, like I should be writing copy or blogging furiously or fund-raising or something instead of just going into work every day at my full time day job. It’s kind of sick.

Well, Rebecca and the Zoo Crew have taken care of that. She’s asked me to pinch-hit for her as ITSAZOO’s publicist while she treats herself to a Grecian vacation. It turns out there is some indie theatrical activity in the offing, and I’m pleased as punch to be helping out this young crew of artists determined to hammer out a niche for our art form here. They’re a brainy, genuinely talented crew out of UVic who have been turning heads with their smart and playful work, both onstage and in clever site-specific productions as well.

They continue to build their canon with the original adaptation The Road to Canterbury, opening here at Queen Elizabeth Park on August 5th. It’s a re-working of Chaucer’s Picaresque tales by Co-Artistic Director Sebastien Archibald that leads you through the park and through some surprising contemporizing of several classic legends. You can read more at their Facebook event page here…

So yay, back in the saddle again. And there looks to be a few more projects bearing down on me, not the least of which is working with the Plank gang again to prepare a critical Fringe guide for this year’s fest (Psst, in case you missed it, they announced this year’s line-up). After the resounding success of last year’s guide, we don’t have much choice.

Anyway Vancouver, that’s what’s going on with me. What are you all working on, besides a killer tan?

This One Goes to Eleven: Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg

Tara is a theatrical force of nature, busy hammering out a viable niche for dance-theatre in Vancouver. She’s been dancing since the age of 3, went to ballet school and theatre school, and earned a degree in dance from Simon Fraser University. She worked with Green Thumb Theatre as a dance/actor. She is now the Artistic Director of Tara Cheyenne Performance, where she develops her own dance-theatre creations along with director Sophie Yendole and composer Marc Stewart. Tara has been nominated for several Jessie Richardson Awards and an Ovation Award for her choreography in theatre.

Click here to see Tara talk about her upcoming work Goggles on a promo I shot for her recently. It was a one-take wonder she came up with on the spot after finding a piece of chalk on the ground. Like I said, a force of nature.

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1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Excited…tired…nervous…repeat…

2. In as many words as tickles your fancy, describe the present condition of the Vancouver stage arts scene.

The scene is one I am proud to be involved in. I’d say that we are just now getting some of the notice I think we deserve. The fact that we are hanging out here on the West Coast and have been partly dismissed for a while has actually been beneficial in that we’re just doing what we feel like without the pressure of being Toronto or Montreal. Our challenges are stuff like “sorry man I can’t make it to your show, I’m climbing the Chief in the morning”.

3. What is the relationship between our theatrical stage community and our dance stage community? Is there a middle ground?

Not enough yet… but I think with so many progressive theatre artists and companies doing interdisciplinary work with strong movement elements, and dance artists and companies doing work with text or using dramaturges etc. we are seeing each other in closer creative proximity. I’d like to see more audience cross pollination. We are all doing the same thing on a basic level making the west coast performing arts landscape a rich one. I love the fact that there isn’t a definable type of Vancouver dance or theatre.

4. Would you categorize our stage industry as ‘risk-taking’? Why or why not?

I’d say definitely yes and definitely no, and every point in between. Because we might not have had the infrastructure/$ other centres have, but we’ve made inventive choices that we may not have made with more resources. It is good on the other hand that we have some bigger establishments doing maybe less risky projects and getting lots of bums in seats. This is important because I believe some of those folks will choose to go alternative once they feel comfortable as a ‘theatre patron’.

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5. What is your niche’s biggest marketing challenge?

Dance is always tricky because people read the word ‘dance’ and assume they won’t understand it, or they’ll be bored without words and story. But I know that once people come to Dances for a Small Stage or The Edge just once they almost always come back. I think we are still relying on outdated or less effective marketing tools and need to expand into groups of people that never get further than So You Think You Can Dance. Most people can imagine themselves acting but few can imagine themselves dancing. The more we get people moving in schools and everywhere the more they’ll feel comfortable coming to see professional dance…well that’s my theory.

6. If I gave you a million dollars to improve the industry of dance theatre here, how would you spend it?

I’d get people dancing and making dances. Community outreach style. And I’d try to make the dance artist more of a celeb/ “star” like  musicians or actors are. We have a few but most people don’t know who Pina Bausch was.

7. What questions do you wish people would ask about your work?

That’s a hard question. I’m happy answering any questions people might have. If the work doesn’t say what I’m intending and people have to ask then I need to work on that aspect.

8. Who are your great influences?

Steve Martin, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Denise Clarke, Pina Bausch, Robert LePage, Harold Lloyd.

9. Given a time machine, what would you tell a young Tara just starting out on her career?

There is no one way to do things. Trust your seemingly crazy instincts even if you think they are obvious, too silly, too easy, done before, undefinable.

10. What are your top 3 inspirational reads?

A New Earth – Ekhart Tolle, The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp, Excuses Be Gone – Dr. Wayne Dyer

11. What’s next?

I’m going into the final phase of creation to finish my latest solo, Goggles, which will premiere at the Cultch Nov. 17-21. Then I’m going to continue working on a group piece (working title Highgate) dealing with Victoria funerary obsessions. I’m excited to work on other artists. I’m also excited about getting into this gothic creepiness. Its so compelling. I’m looking forward to seeing where my work will lead me, creatively and globally. I never thought making a piece about a teenage headbanger boy would lead me to perform bANGER at the South Bank Centre London last summer, so ya never know what’s gonna happen or “who” might show up…

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This One Goes to Eleven: Max Reimer

A native Vancouverite, Max returns to the West Coast from a 12-year stint as the Artistic Director of Hamilton’s Theatre Aquarius to take on the newly created role of the Playhouse’s Artistic Managing Director, a hybrid of two previous administrative tent poles. He will rely on his varied history as a theatre artist – as actor, choreographer, director – and his academic training in sociology and economics – which includes an honours degree from SFU – to oversee operations and to move the Playhouse forward.

I can’t imagine how busy this man must be right now, and we thank him for taking the time to answer 11 questions…

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1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Huh?

2. In as many words as you’d like, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

Vibrant, diverse, smart. Much of it atomic but some of it atomized – powerful work, but in some cases, the activity is dispersed across the spectrum of practice and geography to its credit and sometimes detriment. Exciting theatre, especially when produced and presented in combination with other artists and groups, or when able to carve an audience out of the landscape. Audience-building when one doesn’t have a building is still the biggest challenge for many.

3. What do you see as the great strengths of your hybrid position of both managing and artistic director? What do you see as the biggest challenge of such a position?

I see the mission with two eyes. Metaphorically, depth perception is created in the parallax of two eyes reconciling two views into a single image. I do this in my own brain. At large theatres, the two views are normally provided by at least two people and reconciled in conversation. The advantage of a hybrid is speed and resolve. The advantage of two or more heads, is wider perspective and “bounce”. I have to go find people to bounce with. The bounce in the two-headed model is built in.

4. What criteria do you look at when considering a play from outside of Vancouver for Playhouse production?

The Playhouse, when at its best, is a portal to the world of theatre, providing voice to our playwrights on a bigger playing platform, and providing a window to the world for Vancouver to see what’s going on across our country and around the world. This second part is as important as the first and is part of our founding purpose. Since I have the whole world to pull from, I must find the very best from the classic and contemporary world on which our theatre artists can chew and our audiences find engaging.

5. What can we be doing better to cultivate the next generation of theatre-goers?

Early life experiences are key to patronage. And we are social beings wired to especially seek and enjoy shared experiences. Young people like classics too. The material has to be good and crisp.

6. What was your impetus in removing the Playhouse restriction of only producing plays from 1950 on?

The Playhouse has to also provide graduate opportunities for actors and the ancient and 20th century classics often provide those opportunities. The Playhouse has also historically developed an audience with an appetite for those plays and themes.

7. What do you see as the relationship between the regional theatres and the independent theatre companies of Vancouver?

We’re part of an ecology. Just imagine only one of those types. We feed each other whether we co-produce or not.

8. What is your proudest career moment to date?

The Drowsy Chaperone being of such high interest to Vancouver.

9. What would it take to get you to crack the boards again in a Playhouse production?

Hmmm… I’d have to be right for it. I’m too good at casting to put myself in things.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

I can’t tell you!!! I’m thinking of doing them in my next seasons.

11. What’s next?

Look for a new physical impression downtown in the facility. Star power in the next season soon to be announced. I’m working on the 2010-2011 season already with the National Arts Centre already interested! More activity in a more animated Playhouse. See you there.

Photo courtesy of The Playhouse and photographer David Cooper.

Actor wanted for Fringe play

Casting Call

Shotgun:

  • A 45-minute comedy for the Vancouver Fringe Festival seeks a male actor (late 20’s-late 30’s)
  • The play is based on the experiences of four teachers in a carpool.
  • Performance Location/dates: Pacific Theatre (Sept. 11–20th, 2009)
  • Rehearsal dates:  July/August, evenings & some weekends (specific schedule TBD by cast)

Jody Parasiers & Kari Marken (Russian Undies Theatre Co.)

Please contact rushinundies@gmail.com as soon as possible to arrange a one-on-one audition.


Fixing theatre, one tweet at a time

Random tweet from Rebecca on Tuesday morning:

Off to have breakfast with @cynnamons. Vancouver theatre publicists unite!

To which I responded with a flippant:

@rebeccacoleman @cynnamons Hi girls! If you figure out how to fix #theatre today, let me know?

To which Travis responded with a considered:

@thenextstagemag Give a leading indie company in each city a budget half as large as the largest company for three years.

And then is was game on, in < 140 characters.

thenextstagemag: Who’s got some ideas on how to #fixtheatre?

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hummingbird604: Create targeted socmed campaign to influence funding organizations 4 theatre

thenextstagemag: Convince each large civic theatre to foster one indie company on a side stage per year, as many productions as they can fit

autoblot: Develop resources to help small companies learn how to reach beyond the ‘family and friends’ audience.

walt828: teach artists entrepreneurial skills. REAL entrepreneurial skills

thenextstagemag: Take one non-theatre friend to a play/month, and stick around afterward to meet the cast

brovermania: Small, affordable venues, cheap tickets, short plays, beer.

performaddict: Integrate video games with theatre and open the shows explicitly to gamers.

IanAMartin: What about free booze during performances? Or even ‘drinking in the seats’ being ok?

miketobias: @DallasTheater: Michael Kaiser says arts orgs need federal policy, not just fed funding: http://bit.ly/10hnfc

theatre_20: foster a new generation of theatre-goer’s by creating theatre that is about them rather than their ancestors

happierman: make it affordable. make it often. make it interactive.

nyneofuturists: be willing to change start times, audience/stage layout, and allow beer

foyee: compromise less. Don’t give up on an idea because someone tells you it can’t be done.

halcyontony: don’t be scared to try something new?

foyee: Longer rehearsal/workshop time. Venue rent subsidies.

performaddict: Figure out how to make it cheaper. I’m all for a living wage, but most theatre is prohibitively expensive

foyee: Be inclusive, not exclusive and stop being pretentious about our art.

lacouvee: non traditional venues, non traditional times, make it relevant, exciting & dangerous also affordable

lacouvee: Talk about everybody who works in theatre, not just the actors & directors

lacouvee: reach out to minorities, help theatre to reflect our diverse cultural mosaic

thenextstagemag: Get loud and blog.

getrealtheatre: Getting them young means teaching drama, stagecraft in schools – this fosters a lifelong love of the art

DaveCharest: Set a regular schedule of emailing subscribers. Show them WHY they should be excited about theatre.

theatre_20: training institutions that make learning the “biz” side of “show biz” as important as the art.

DaveCharest: Enable fans to spread the word.

judithsthoughts: ticket prices are a huge deal, but i also think theatre has to stop being so commercialized.

judithsthoughts: i miss the days when bdwy was full of special shows, and not disney movies made into shows.

christinequinty: recognize that the relationship between large theatre and independent theatre can be one of mutualism, not competition

DaveCharest: Use a combination of text and HTML emails. Start building connections with the audience.

judithsthoughts: when teaching its important to get everyone involved – that way kids that arent “actors’ or “singers” feel included.

DaveCharest: Make it easy for people to get involved

FacesofWayne: build a community, put a quality product on the stage, promote the high quality product within and outside the community.

christinequinty: break down the perception that theatre is, as was described to me by a prof in an academic class at UBC, a ‘bourgeois art form’

travisbedard: Stop whining about what everyone else isn’t doing. It’s not a problem – you just found your niche.

gladyssantiago: Utilize Twitter & other social media platforms for ticket giveaways. Generates buzz, great WOM

DaveCharest: Why should audiences get it? Start educating.

thenextstagemag: Separate indie theatre from classical theatre in the public’s perception. Re-brand as sexy and relevant.

rebeccacoleman: I would love a vibrant online arts hub with photos/video/blog where everyone can promote their stuff.

FilmguyWon: Theatre will never thrive unless you raise a generation of Writers of plays. Otherwise it’s just the same old stuff.

macwrites: Playwrights: write plays that you yourself would honestly set aside an evening to go out & see (even if no friends are in it).

VanMusicals: Incorporate non-traditional (colour-blind) casting whenever possible

TheatreSmart: Have talk-backs after every show!

KurtDaw: If you want to #fixtheatre you have to look at British models that drive down ticket prices and bring in new, younger audiences.

FacesofWayne: http://bit.ly/D0ki8 (Ottawa) The ideas here are applicable everywhere.

FacesofWayne: @TheatreSmart I am not a big fan of talkbacks. Actors are not authorities on the play. They are just performers.

nyneofuturists: here’s something to add to @thenextstagemag’s discussion about theater from yesterday: (via @TDFNYC)

Now that’s a great way to kick start a week. My admiration and thanks to all who dropped a #fixtheatre tweet, commented and re-tweeted.

Don’t hesitate to drop any more thoughts in the comments, or keep the discussion going on twitter with the #fixtheatre hash tag. The revolution will be hashed out…

Image courtesy of Flickr user Max F. Williams

Determining the industry’s blood type

I’m a total Robert Lepage fanboy. Case in point; last year while the rest of the 17-men stag party I was with in Vegas started the night with a UFC fight, I suffered their slings and arrows and tucked myself into a middle seat at Lepage’s Cirque installation Ka, alone with a box of popcorn and a Bourbon Manhattan (Vegas is a trip). Nerdy, yes. Worth it, most definitely. My gushing over the play when I joined up with the squad caused more than a few members of the actor-rich crew to express just a touch of envy. And then we got really drunk. Anyway, I’m tangenting…

I’m turning to Robert Lepage for inspiration more and more these days. The guy’s genious is no secret, but it’s something in his relentlessness of production that keeps pushing me. He’s the founder and AD of the production company Ex Machina, and I’ve been submersed in the content of their web site for a while now. Just don’t call it a theatre company:

In 1993, when Robert Lepage asked his collaborators to help find a name for his new company, he had one condition: the word theatre could not be part of the name.

Ex Machina is thus a multidisciplinary company bringing together actors, writers, set designers, technicians, opera singers, puppeteers, computer graphic designers, video artists, film producers, contortionists and musicians.

Ex Machina’s creative team believes that theatre needs new blood. That the performing arts – dance, opera, music – should be mixed with recorded arts – filmmaking, video art and multimedia. That there must be meetings between scientists and playwrights, between set painters and architects, and between artists from Québec and the rest of the world.

New artistic forms will surely emerge from these gatherings. Ex Machina wants to rise to the challenge and become a laboratory, an incubator for a form of theatre that will reach and touch audiences from this new millennium.

I wanted to share it with you, it’s a content-rich site full of video of their work. I tend to hate theatre on video, but for study/archival purposes it’s great, and most of the stuff here is prepared trailer-style, with a lot of thought given to video production. I have no idea what’s going on throughout most of this video, for example, but I know that it makes me want to make art.

The success behind Lepage and Ex Machina seems predicated on enlarging the scope of what we generally consider collaboration. It requires an unclenching of our usual control over ideas, and seems to require the development of a higher degree of tolerance for chaos. It frightens me and I love it.

How far out of our comfort zone are we willing to journey to propel theatre to where it must go?

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My thanks to LSP ensemble member Steve Park for the heads up. I should be posting his interview any day now.

Who says there’s no great heartbreaking roles out there?

Looking to diversify your role base? Like making children cry?

Apparently, if you’re an actor having trouble finding work you’re just not looking hard enough. There’s some money parts waiting for you if you comb through Craigslist. From the Washington DC edition:

My deceased aunt gave my two kids a Cocker Spaniel a few months back. The dog has been a terror and become overwhelming for me. I am a single father raising two young children. I cannot face telling the kids that the dog must go. I have found a good home for the dog, and just need someone to transport the dog, and play the villain.

Premise: You will be the dog walker hired by daddy (me) to walk Skittles. I will introduce you to the kids,spaniel and you will tell them you are going to help Skittles get her exercise when Daddy is too busy to walk her. At that point you will walk Skittles to your car and take her to her new family 20 minutes from my place. Then return holding just a leash. The story will be that Skittles broke free of the leash and took off. At this point prepare for crying, things being thrown at you, and possibly cursing. My kids are young and dramatic, their girls.

Pay will be $500. The job will take roughly 2 hours at best.

This job is ideal for an actor looking to diversify their role base, or someone who genuinely likes to make children cry. Acting experience is a plus, but not necessary. Please inform me of any prior experience in this kind of situation.

Ok, now hands up all of you who would consider this job, if even for a second.