The Next Stage will be hanging a Gone Fishing sign on the door for the next 10 days. I’m taking a trip to Ontario to sit by a lake with a couple of beers and a couple of artist friends of mine, and administer a much-needed energizing to the batteries. Then I’ll be paying homage to the Blogfather with a hefty bottle of BC Pinot Noir. And then I’m coming home to kick independent theatre ass and watch West Wing DVDs. And I’m running out of the West Wing pretty fast.
One of the true forces of nature at work over on lovely Vancouver Island. In addition to being an acclaimed playwright, Janet has been the organizer of the Victoria Fringe for the past 18 years. She sits as the Fringe’s Artistic Producer, and organizes year-round theatrical events, like Uno fest and Intrepid’s Presenting Series.
We’re proud to host Janet here on the verge of the 2009 Vic Fringe, running from August 27 to September 6.
1. In one word, describe your present condition.
Standing at the intersection of Art and Showbiz.
2. In as many words as suit you, describe the present condition of Victoria Theatre.
Finally emerging from its chrysalis and taking flight, gorgeous and exotic, after the world’s longest freaking pupation.
3. How does the Victoria Fringe impact independent theatre the rest of the year?
After the city’s three “rentable” venues closed in the 90s, the Fringe pretty much was the independent theatre scene in Victoria – it was sad. A lot of artists just packed up and moved – there’s a missing generation of theatre artists here. With a few very notable exceptions of established professional alternative companies, (Theatre Inconnu, Theatre SKAM), no-one was even trying to produce fringe-style theatre in Victoria at other times of the year. Although we save half spots in fringe for local companies (about 25 spaces), eventually that dwindled down to 2-3 per year. The loss of small venues, and failed attempts to revive them, was hard on morale for indie companies and artists – and audiences. They had a lot of catching up to do by the time things got rolling again.
Now there are several small venues in Victoria – Theatre Inconnu has it’s own space across the street from the Belfry, Intrepid Theatre operates two spaces (the 50 seat Intrepid Theatre Club and 150 seat Metro Studio), the Victoria Event Centre is a great cabaret space and home to the brilliant Atomic Vaudeville, a few dance and art centres got rolling, and Theatre SKAM is still out there making theatres anywhere and everywhere – bike trails, art schools, campgrounds. What’s interesting about all these spaces is that they were created out of “private” partnerships with commercial landlords, other non-profits not involved in arts who had empty space, and personal donations, initiated by the companies who needed the space. No matter how many civic facility reports pointed directly to the need for smaller performing arts spaces (and not the Sydney Opera House in the Inner Harbour), the city was never going to address the problem. So we stopped waiting around and did it ourselves.
4. If you could change one thing about how the Fringe is structured, what would it be?
Nothing. I stand behind the priniciples of the fringe completely – unjuried, uncensored, 100% of the box office to the artists, accessible to everyone. It works. It shouldn’t work, but it does. There are brilliant shows, great efforts, and learning experiences – but seriously, you’ll see the same percentage of each in a juried festival. I go to lots of fringe and non-fringe theatre festivals, and the ratio of “good” to “WTF?”, in my opinion, is generally about the same – only at the Fringe, I always feel like the artists are giving it everything they’ve got – and of course they need to learn all those promotional and marketing skills to stay afloat in such a competitive marketplace. If I see crappy theatre at a big ticket juried festival with loads of promotional bucks behind it, I’m more likely to feel angry, sad, and robbed.
5. Who are your great influences as a playwright?
I have lots, but I do love Tom Stoppard. I want to be curious as a playwright, to investigate all kinds of biographical or historical or political subjects that interest me, through theatre. “Clever” is too often an insult, and beautiful dialogue that sounds like intelligent people talking is underrated. Why not be as clever, articulate, and literate as possible, while still being entertaining? I love Sondheim too, same reasons.
6. If I gave you one million dollars to improve the independent theatre scene in Vic, how would you spend it?
In a world where our company wasn’t facing cuts and funding freezes…I’d put half of it into upgrades of existing small theatres that the communtity can rent. New risers, better signs, ventilation, small things. Assuming the other half isn’t worth investing in an endowment for the forseeable future, I’d love to see a new small professional producing company get started in Victoria. There’s still room on the ladder between the Fringe and the mainstages, and a lot of rungs missing yet.
7. What has been your proudest theatrical moment to date?
It’s not really a theatrical moment, but when Smoking with Lulu (Emphysema: a love story in Canada) was on in London, I was walking through Soho to rehearsal and remember thinking – how the heck did this happen? Also, I was directing Pinter’s Trouble in the Works when I was in second year at UVic, and in the scene Mark Dusseault (now publicist at the Belfry) sat at a desk and picked up one of those hinged picture frames, like pictures of your kids might go in, and said “My Jacob’s Chuck? Not my very own Jacob’s Chuck?” That might be my number one moment, really, but you had to be there.
8. What is your best advice to young companies entering the Fringe world?
Do the best work you possibly can, and learn as much as you can, artistically, promotionally, organizationally, from your own experience and from seeing the work of other artists. Within the “Fringe world,” no one cares where you came from or where you went to school – if you’re really good and have something to say, you rise to the top, and you can be seen by thousands of people, across the country. And it will be your own genius and originality that got you there. You can walk out on that stage a nobody, kid, and come back a star. All the theatre cliches live on at the Fringe, that’s why I still love it after 18 years of organizing it. It has an energy, hopefulness, simplicity, innocence, ambition, and enthusiasm about “puttin’ on a show” that is the reason people get involved in theatre in the first place…and then we forget. My theory is that people get snooty about the fringe when they’ve forgotten what they used to love about theatre.
9. Should the relationship between Vancouver theatre and Victoria theatre be strengthened, and if so how?
Yes, of course. It’s cheap and easy to move a show between the cities. Intrepid has made an effort to get more Vancouver work over here – lately boca del lupo, neworld, here be monsters, theatre terrific, and lots of solo artist for the Uno Fest. And now I think more theatre companies in Victoria are at a stage to be “exported” to Vancouver and the rest of the country, I don’t think this was as true five years ago.
The 23rd annual Victoria Fringe, in late August. I’m writing a play about the educated horse Beautiful Jim Key, and the start of the civil rights, literacy and humane movements in the early 20th century. And from October 22-25, Victoria is hosting the next Performance Creation Canada gathering, which we’re all excited about. C’mon over.
Of all the potential pitfalls and rewards that come with the choice of staging a site-specific play – and the one that fascinates me the most – is the X-factor. The uncontrollable element. The condition of staging a controlled work in an uncontrolled environment. You have to factor in available light, unpredictable weather, hungry bugs, volume issues and people who call the cops on you. That last one happened at the play I saw tonight, and it’s a first for me.
I caught the sold-out performance of The Road to Canterburytonight up at Queen Elizabeth Park, it’s the latest tweaked-history laugh riot from the young crew at Itsazoo Productions. Basically a guided tour through comical contemporizations of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, it’s a youthful and confident stroll through a pretty setting-turned-historical context. With tonight’s added bonus of being surrounded by an actual SWAT team and buzzed by a police helicopter. This is where the benefit of having a company equipped with cool heads comes in handy.
One of the tour’s guides, you see, is a parody of an over-zealous American army vet now finding work and happiness in the arena of private security. His costume sets him as such, complete with Marine corps tattoo, obligatory army boots, headband and prop rifle. That last little item apparently raised a bit of a fluff with at least two separate members of the public with whom the production nightly shares the park , as the local authorities received a couple of alarmed calls from the cell phones of some very concerned citizenry.
To the full credit of the attendant police squad, the stealth with which they handled the situation was amazing. Not one member of the audience had any idea that they were surrounded by SWAT and the actors – especially the “Mercenary” Jason Moldowan – didn’t bat an eyelash during their performances, despite being questioned behind the scenes of the ongoing show (literally behind the bushes) and asked to produce the offending costume and prop. As a matter of fact, actor Ella Simon managed to work the hovering helicopter into the show. I had no idea about the drama unfolding behind the drama until after the performance when I spoke with the crew. (I’ve been working as the play’s publicist while Rebecca‘s been on holiday.)
Huge praise and props to FoH Manager Devon Taylor for handling the whole situation with note-perfect grace, not one line or feather was ever out of place. The professionalism and confidence of the company was inspirational. They all just had that “well, that’s the theatre” attitude about the whole thing. It was a pleasure to be a part of.
The capper to the whole evening, solidly in the vein of site-specific randomness, was the rather, ah, incontinent old hound dog that took centre stage during the show’s finale and decided to continue the scene’s cheeky scatalogically-influenced opening right in front of the grave of Geoffrey Chaucer himself. For, like, 5 minutes. It’s the kind of thing that’s only funny when you’re there, where the utter ridiculousness of it can be shared with a common group experiencing it together. And the poor dog owner who had to make a mortifying forced entrance stage right to deal with his poor old dog’s mess…it was heart-breaking and hilarious all at the same time. And again the cast just went with the flow, and somehow wrapped the whole thing up before the light finally gave out. Bravo to one and all.
Tonight was truly one for the books. Theatre rules.
A few weeks ago, an unimaginable tragedy struck the family of Kim Collier and Jonathon Young, the ever-inspirational power couple at the forefront of the Vancouver Independent Stage industry. They lost their daughter Azra and her two young cousins; Phoebe and Fergus Conway, to a freakish flash cabin fire in Eagle Bay on the shores of Shuswap Lake.
It should be an immutable law of the universe that you don’t outlive your children. We join the community in offering our love and thoughts and deepest condolences to the families.
A memorial scholarship is being set up in the name of the children, and donations are being accepted to help with the costs of its development. If you would like to contribute you can drop a cheque off at any Bank of Montreal in Canada payable to Collier, Young, Conway In Trust, or you can mail one to
c/o The Cultch
1895 Venables Street
Vancouver, BC V5L 2H6
Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love
A Killer of A Good Time
Day: Wednesday August 19th, 2009, 7pm
Location: Roxy Burger, 910 Granville Street, Vancouver, BC
Tickets are $10 which includes 1 free drink (approx value of $5) plus if you hold onto the hard copy of your ticket and show it at the box office during the run of the show you will get $5 off the price of admission.
So, basically it’s free. Everyone loves free stuff, right?!
All proceeds go directly to covering the cost of this production.
There will be a 50/50 draw and lots of raffle prizes. Plus we will be having a special presentation at 10pm.
What is it?! You’ll just have to show up to find out what it is…
MORE ABOUT THE PRODUCTION & THE COMPANY:
Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love was immediately controversial for its violence, nudity, frank dialogue and sexual explicitness. But it was quickly acclaimed by critics and audiences and was named one of the 10 best plays of the year by TIME Magazine. Since then the play has been produced worldwide, translated into multiple languages and received many awards. David McMillan is a former actor, current waiter on the verge of turning thirty. Together with his book-reviewing roommate, Candy, and his best friend, Bernie, David encounters a number of seductive strangers in his search for love and sex. However, the games turn ugly when it appears a serial killer lurks among them. A compelling study of young adults groping for meaning in a senseless world Brad Fraser’s Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love will run this summer from August 25th – September 6, 2009 at the Playwrights Theatre Centre on Granville Island.
Twenty-Something Theatre is dedicated to providing Vancouver’s emerging theatre artists, in all disciplines, with opportunities to practice their craft. We are striving to enhance Vancouver’s theatre community with life-affirming, socially-relevant productions featuring the city’s best up-and-coming artists. Entering into our fourth year of production our annual summer production has included such highly acclaimed works as Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth, Neil Labute’s The Shape of Things and Eric Bogosian’s SubUrbia.
This is fun, The University of British Columbia’s resident radio station produced a PSA for ITSAZOO’s The Road to Canterbury which, incidentally, opens tonight in a PWYC preview. Many thanks to CiTR 101.9 FM for the wonderful helping hand, check out their site here, from which you can stream their arts report. The ad is running on CiTR as well, or you can check it out here…