Open up and let them in, continued…

openI am an artist in process. We are an industry in process. I am of the opinion that our particular industry is in its entirety process, and nothing more. And I think I’m starting to get an inkling of what that word means.

My process thus far has gone something like this: discovered theatre at 20, fell in love with theatre, ran away from theatre, theatre hunted me down and forced itself on me, discovered that I was, and always had been, a theatre artist, clumsily mounted a string of theatrical events and, most recently, disappeared into the stunted, confused and beaten-down hound that is the business side of the independent arts. That last one has encompassed the last 3 years of my life, and I have lived it; eaten, breathed, touched, tasted it every single day. This has made me joyful, and it has made me furious, it has made me want to bury theatre in a shallow grave in the backyard and never give it another thought.

It has turned me into a preacher, the guy at the cocktail party that just won’t shut up, and it’s utterly taken my tongue and hidden it from me.

This, I realize now, is the process that all pioneers have gone through. I have sought out and wrapped myself in the voices of independent theatre practitioners and audiences – like a junkie with a farmers market of narcotics at his disposal – both in person and out here on the blogosphere. It’s moved from the background of my personality to the foreground, it has become an essential part of my identity. And the pursuit of answers, of method and of financial viability has – like all good art – cost me, as I know it has cost so many of my peers: time, money, sleep, relationship stress, sanity…and that light at the end of the tunnel is still just a pin prick.

But. Taking a breather right now I realize there are some things that I have come to know as Truth. Ideas that became experiments that became facts, forged in the fire of doing the thing and solidified in the forensics. These are chunks of bedrock that I believe we need to be open and loud about, that we need to share with each other so that we can strengthen our bonds as an industry, and as a community.

The Open Up and Let Them In concept – propounded in a post from early June – is one of those big chunks. Simply stated, it’s a shift in the indie theatrical model from putting up little basement-theatre versions of what the big proscenium-arched houses present – with little card table box offices and little Fisher Price mini-bars and redundant ushers – and instead embracing the opportunities presented us by our size and form – namely accessibility to the artists so that we can celebrate and debate the work together. Doing away with the curtain, as it were, instead of merely lifting it at 8:00. Fearing not the judgment of the punters but rather welcoming them as one half of the equation that makes up the performance. Face to face. Creating an experience that is unique unto itself, as similar to civic theatre as it is to Opera or a hockey game.

This idea has traction. Ottawa theatreist Kris Joseph recently writes:

…I am now more convinced than ever that theatre can and must distinguish itself from film, TV, and new media by being completely porous to its audience.

We owe it to audiences to share what we have learned through our practice; this is not an ‘education’ function but a core function.  We owe it to audiences to provide them with art that they want to see and that is relevant to them; this is not a ’subscription renewal’ or ‘programming’ function, but a core function.

See, inside the heart of all the discussion about why theatre is dying lies a rhythmic beat of “it’s not relevant.  It’s not relevant. It’s not relevant.”  We can all hear it, but the response to the drum-beat is generally wrong-headed because it revolves around a revival through increased ticket sales.  No: we need to revolve it around the body that owns the hand that’s banging the drum.

If this integration of art and audience can be achieved, the life-blood of the theatrical form and, yes, even the ‘funding’, will follow.

We can do this. Easily. It’s already so close to what we do already that to avoid it seems quite silly, actually. The magic of small-house theatre is in its connectivity, not its separation. Allow the audiences the ownership they crave and you will never get rid of them.

New Leaf Theatre in Chicago is inviting audiences into some rehearsals. Cambiare Productions in Austin live-streamed their last show to the world for free. Here in Vancouver, Twenty-Something Theatre Artistic Producer Sabrina Evertt blogs about her process openly and fearlessly. Touchstone Theatre is inviting us into the process of their next production, Demon Voice, by posting behind-the-scenes video blogs hosted by multi-Jessie Award winning playwright Shawn Macdonald. Here’s the first two in the series…

Short. Sweet. Inclusive. Generous. Open. We must share to butterfly. But not all of it.  Just enough to let them take ownership of us, not so much that we deprive them of the surprises that they come for.

How much are our audiences going to care about us? Pretty much exactly as much as we show we care about them.

“This guy is going to be a star”

Checked out Zee Zee Theatre‘s Nelly Boy at the PAL tonight in Coal Harbour. Local Playwright Dave Deveau’s new play discussing the marginalization of non-specific gender identity, it’s an intimate and language-driven work that spotlights the work of an actor about whom Colin Thomas writes in the opening line of his review:

Remember the name Amitai Marmorstein. This guy is going to be a star.

We talk a lot about what the next generation of Vancouver theatre is going to look like, and Nelly Boy indeed offers a chance to watch the work of a burgeoning professional. The kind you hope is going to sink his teeth into the industry here and not let go. Just listen to the way seasoned co-star Allan Zynik talks about him in their Video Listing…

Nelly Boy runs until this Sunday. Click here for full details on this production.

This One Goes to Eleven: Marci T House

Please meet the unstoppable force that is Actor Marci T House. Marci relentlessly works on her craft all over Vancouver stage, TV and film, seemingly popping up in something everywhere I turn. And she finances her habit by doing a little architecture on the side. She is onstage right now as Viney in the Playhouse production of The Miracle Worker.

You can tell her country of origin by her spelling of theatre and colour in the following conversation…

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1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Hungry!!!!

2. In as many words as you damn well choose, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

Hmmm…tired but trying for a rebirth? I love theater. It is my favorite medium as an actor. However, as an actor of color, it’s very tiring to stay optimistic, encouraged to audition for, or even attend theater in Vancouver. I’m not going to apologize for my desire to see people that look like me on the stage, especially when I always see the words, “color blind casting”. Rarely is this evident once I’ve paid my money to see the show, unless the role is specifically written for a character of color. This city claims to be very liberal when it is the most conservative place that I’ve ever lived…and this is number seven for me; so I’ve been around. I travel every opportunity that I get in order to see as much theater as I can, (i.e. New York, LA, Ashland, Oregon, Chicago, and soon Toronto) but when I come home to Vancouver I’m usually disappointed. Though, I do believe that the changing of the guard is coming to pass. You can’t hold the talented, stop-at-nothing, resilient people down for long.

3. What are the great strengths of the theatre scene here? Its weaknesses?

I like the ambition of the independent theater companies and small houses. I find that quite a few of them are trying new things, so that is a positive, for sure. I had the pleasure of working with Secretly Women Productions earlier this year at the Havana Theater on Commercial Drive. We did a short run of the play, Stop Kiss. It was a good show and a great cast. Our two leads were also the producers, I reiterate, talented, stop-at-nothing, resilient people. They are the ones who are getting things done and not waiting for permission to work. Currently, I’m working under the direction of the wonderful Meg Roe with The Miracle Worker at the Vancouver Playhouse. What an opportunity for a person so young and to be so damn good at what she does. I feel very honored to be working with her and the Playhouse Theater. They understand that in order to stay fresh and current you must revitalize, which means keeping new ideas, people, and artists in the mix.

I find its greatest weakness is that the theater scene is quite closed to newcomers.  I often see the same actors on the stage. I’ve also spoken to many local actors who have tried to audition for various companies in town and have not been given the opportunity. Last, but definitely not least, is the lack of diversification in both the plays chosen and actors cast. This is quite a contradiction considering how diverse this beautiful city of Vancouver is. It is simply not apparent in its theater production. However, that’s just my opinion.

4. What do you consider the great triumph of your career thus far?

Wow! I’ve been blessed, to be very honest with you. I think I’ve had quite a few triumphs. Before I moved to Vancouver, I was living in LA and I decided to produce my own original play. It was a two-hander with the ridiculously talented Victoria Platt Tilford. We created the stories, hired the writers and directors, as well as raised the monies all on our own. Sixteen shows later… three NAACP Theater nominations for best ensemble, best original playwright(s), and best set design. We didn’t win, but as the cliché goes, it really is great just to be nominated.

My move to Vancouver has also been a great triumph to my career as well. After seven very hard years in LA, I almost left the business all together. So, I prayed on it and then Vancouver opened up for me. As an American you’re socialized to believe that the US is the center of the world, and that there is never any reason to leave it. Meanwhile, three years later in Vancouver, I’m simply living a life that enforces what I knew to be wrong about the so-called land of opportunity. I’ve found so much beauty and peace here in this gorgeous place. Not to mention…I’m a working actor. I booked more work in my first year here in Vancouver, than in the entire seven years that I lived in LA. Yeah, Vancouver was the best move I could’ve made.

5. What is your best advice to our new actors just starting out on their careers?

STUDY!!! Fall in love with this thing that we do. Truly get hungry enough to better understand what the hell it is that we do. Be inquisitive. No one should know more about what you do than you. You should be able to hold your own in any room with your vast knowledge of this business and its craft. You should know the what’s, when’s, who’s, and even the why’s. For instance, you need to know what’s being shot here, what’s coming to the stage and when, who’s being cast, who’s casting, directing, producing, and the list goes on. I find that people who obtain success without having any knowledge of how they got there…are really fucking miserable and insecure people. They are some of the worst “artists” that I’ve ever met. Develop other aspects of yourself …REALLY find out who you are. In the end, no matter who you are, this business will break your heart. It doesn’t love you, so you had better have beautiful people in your life that would still love you, even if you were delivering the mail.

I don’t have a theater degree, and in some ways it makes me feel a bit inadequate and/or insecure when I approach the work. I always feel like I don’t what the hell I’m doing. I decided to major in Architecture instead of Theater. Thus, I have a BA in Architecture and a MA in Urban Planning Policy and Design. Growing up in Chicago and doing theater, I was fortunate enough to work with some amazing actors, but they were all broke and struggling to pay their bills. I grew up poor, and didn’t want that for myself.  So, I decided to get my degree in something else that I enjoyed.  It was the best move I could’ve made. I continued to do plays and take acting classes as well. My architecture gives me financial freedom to study, travel, have a full life, and not go crazy when I’m not working. It even allowed me to finance more than 50% of the play that I produced while still in LA. Though it creates a lot of long hours of work for me, I’m still thankful for it.

6. How should we as a community be responding to the BC Liberals recent treatment of us?

Here’s a question, I must admit, that I’m not very knowledgeable of. I’ve kept a distance with the political arena, since my arrival, due to the fact that I am unable to vote. Also, since I’m still trying to understand all of the parties, majorities, minorities, additional elections, and the like, of the Canadian government system, I am not an authority to comment. Again, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a bit confusing to me. I’m also a borderline conspiracy theorist. I find it very hard to trust politicians and/or government. I don’t find them to be very honest. After all, I’m an American who is still suffering from the 9/11 propaganda that my own government is still pushing down the world’s throat, as well as the financial crisis …oh, and did I mention the bogus war that we are fighting too? I’m sorry, I digress.

I guess the only thing that I can say is that maybe this will encourage more funding from the private sectors. I also think it’ll make people work harder for their art. I think that maybe more freedom to create art that is not mandated, shaped, or controlled by the government would allow for a truer freedom of expression from this country’s artists. Why should American art(ists) be crammed down Canadian throats? Maybe it’s time to see what Canadians really think, instead of being dictated to by the government with the monies being funneled into the arts. Just my opinion, but I’m always for less government.

7. Who are your great influences, and why?

Honestly, anytime that I see great work, I’m influenced. It’s why I do this. When I was a kid, I lived in front of the TV. No matter how I felt, there was always a film, TV show, or something that could change how I felt about myself, the reality of my life, or whatever. When I was in kindergarten I said “I want to be a movie star”. I’ve been chasing that dream ever since. So, when I see actors like Meryl Streep, Jeffery Wright, Harry Lennix, or Shanesia Davis, I am in awe. I want to be that escape for my audience. So I am influenced by all of the great work that I see.

8. What type of theatre should Vancouver be producing more of, with an eye to future audience growth?

I hate to beat a dead horse, but MORE, MORE, MORE! We need more theater of color, new works, and shows that also cater to a younger audience. Let’s face it, we love the classics, but there are some really great new works out there too! (i.e. Intimate Apparel, RUINED, August: Osage County, Equivocation, Passing Strange, In the Heights…I could go on) I understand that you have to please those season ticket holders, but you’ve got to entice the new audiences too.

9. Fantasize your ideal career trajectory.

Broadway, followed by some great independent film roles… in between time. I wouldn’t be mad at a TV series (or 2) that lasted anywhere between 3-5 years…or longer.  I wouldn’t turn down a few Tonys, Emmys, Golden Globes, Grammys, nor Oscar Awards (yeah, I like awards.)

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

I seem to be gravitating toward Lynn Nottage at the present. Her works Intimate Apparel and Ruined are at the top of my list, respectively. I am also partial to August: Osage County by Tracey Letts.

11. What’s next?

EVERYTHING!!!

The 10th Making a Scene Conference hits Granville Island this week

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This coming Thursday, October 29 marks the kick-off of the 10th Making a Scene Theatre Conference, the annual performing arts think tank hosted by the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance. The conference has a new slogan this year: “Theatre Matters”, presumably in response to the current Liberal governments contention that it doesn’t. Indeed, many of the session topics address the new climate here, with a keynote address by George Thorn entitled Walking the Tightrope and sessions such as The Art of Show BUSINESS and Politicking in the New Economy, it’s clear what a lot of the talk will be about.

There’s lots more subjects of discussion, of course, you can read the full line up here. Rebecca and I will once again be holding forth on the potential of Social Media at a breakout session on the Saturday at 1:30.

Please note that registration is required for the full conference or for individual days, you can register online here.

It’s a great chance to connect and network as an industry, and as a community. Hope to see you there!

Battery Opera re-prices remount tickets at $267.67 each

At the beginning of this year, Battery Opera sold out 40 straight shows of Artistic Producer David McIntosh’s East Side literary walkabout Lives Were Around Me. Plank Magazine’s Rachel Scott began her review thusly;

Battery Opera’s production event Lives Were Around Me is an intimate and startling theatrical experience. Although I have little idea of what happened, I was captivated by every moment.

That run in January cost each of its 3-per-show audience members $26 ($18 for Students, Seniors and Battery Opera members). Tickets for this remount, which opens November 17, cost $267.67. That’s two-hundred and sixty-seven dollars and sixty seven cents. Each.  And your admission price gets you a free drink at the Alibi Room, the launching point for the piece.

This little jump in ticketing is in response to the BC governments recent withdrawal of the majority of provincial arts funding. It’s reflective of the actual cost of the site-specific production, I can only imagine what that figure would be if they were renting a venue on top of things. Paying the $267.67 is the only way to reserve a spot.

If you can’t afford this price, you do have options. I’ll let David McIntosh explain it to you himself:

Click here for full details on this production