This One Goes to Eleven: Emma Luna Davis

Emma is the true picture of Arts Administrator as Rock Star. With a MA in Arts and Media Management in a European Context from the Utrecht School of the Arts and a Theatre BFA from UBC, together with years of Stage Management and Logistics Coordination under her belt, she exemplifies the passion required on the other side of the stage.

She is currently the General Manager of the quarter-century-old pi theatre. Their current production, After the Quake, is up until December 5, and it is very hard to get a ticket for.

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Cautiously optimistic. (Sometimes, the right answer just doesn’t fit the word limit. As someone who writes grants for a living, cut me some slack?)

2. With no directives on word count, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

Poised. (Sometimes, one word is enough.)

I feel Vancouver’s theatre scene is like an tiger ready to pounce. We’re organized, united, and  our message is clear: the proposed cuts to cultural funding in this province are not the answer.  Our community has been threatened and we’re on the defense. There is fear, for sure, but I also think we’re ready and able to defend our cause.  We know what we’re fighting for is worthwhile, and we believe the average British Columbian does too.

3. How and why did you end up on the administrative end of the arts?

I grew up in the arts — My dad’s a filmmaker, my mum a painter, my sister a graphic designer, my cousins musicians…I don’t know if it was because they saw something in my personality or simply boredom with the lack of variety in the family vocations, but ever since I was little, the message was clear that I should not be an artist. ‘Perhaps a lawyer?’

The problem with this message is that the only way you can truly define yourself as ‘not an artist’ is if you are constantly surrounded by artists, and that’s where I felt at home. But performing was clearly not my calling.  When at university someone asked me to ASM for a project, I discovered UBC’s theatre program and the idea that I could get paid to work behind the scenes was an incredible epiphany for me. I trained as an SM and although I really miss stage management these days, I also found myself dissatisfied with project-based work — there seemed to me to be so many interesting things going on in organizations themselves that I wanted to participate in.  I did an MA in Arts Management and have been slogging away behind a desk ever since.

4. What do you see as the single greatest issue challenging the growth of independent theatre?

The role of the artist in society. To me, almost all of our issues boil down to how we prioritize, and therefore fund, arts and culture and the people who create.

5. Please expand on the ideals inherent in Pi’s wonderful motto “global thinking, local acting”.

Pi’s plays share voices from around the world.  This means that we’re producing work, often in translation, from playwrights near and far.  But we see ourselves as an inherent part of the local community — Vancouver’s talent base, our audiences here, and our colleagues in See Seven and Progress Lab are integral to the work we do.  After the Quake is a great example of this — the script is based on stories by well-known Japanese author Haruki Murakami, but our production team is Vancouver through and through, and so is the impact the show has in this community. It would be a completely different show in somewhere else.

6. How has the Social Media aspect of your marketing program impacted your position in the community?

I see our social marketing as one slice of our communications pi (cough. sorry…).  With all of our communications tools (our shows, print, online and social media, and the relationships we have with our supporters, artists and audiences), we are trying to tell people about the work we’re doing and why they might want to be part of it. Social media gives us a great tool to make that message a 2-way conversation, so that we can hear the response to our work loud and clear. That’s important to me.

7. What type of theatre should we as an industry be pushing for towards bringing in a new, uninitiated audience?

I’ve been really inspired by how much of the response to After the Quake has been people saying that this show makes them want to see more theatre in this town. I strongly encourage them to do so — there is so much incredible work happening and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

I’ve been thinking lately that one of the biggest challenges we face is that the most powerful thing we have to offer — a potentially-transformative, definitely-live experience — is something that people rave about when they’ve had it, but are actually apprehensive of beforehand.  No one thinks they want to be transformed, but they are usually glad they were. I think communicating the value of live theatre is a communications debacle and cracking that nut is definitely something I think about a lot.

8. What’s your number one, all-time theatre pet peeve?

Not being allowed to take my drink and munchies into the theatre.

9. Any words of advice for someone considering the leap into arts administration here?

Sigh. Marry rich? But remember, if and when you get a full-time job, no matter how badly it pays, it’s endlessly more stable than the tenuous existence of the artists you work with. That should make you humble, and grateful. I know I am.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

Architecture critic Peter Reyner Banham ‘learned to drive so that he could read Los Angeles in the original.’  Taking a page from his book, the most important way to “read” theatre for me is to watch it. I’d say my 3 favourite productions have been:
– Oerol (2005) (I know, it’s more than one production. But the whole experience was pure magic.)
– Far Side of the Moon
– Quidam

11. What’s next?

Actually, I’ll be on maternity leave as of April, so that’s definitely a new chapter for me. Pi on the other hand is looking very forward to building on the success of After the Quake. Stay tuned!

The BC government has declared war on the Arts. Choose your weapons

Just to be clear, this is what we’re talking about:

…in late August and early September of 2009, Gordon Campbell’s government announced massive cuts. First, they announced that the share of casino revenues that traditionally went to support the activities of charities, including non-profit arts organizations, was going to be used for other, unspecified purposes. Then, in the September budget, they announced that the legislative appropriation for the B.C. Arts Council would be reduced by 81% for 2009-10, reduced by 85% for 2010-11, and then further reduced by 92% for 2011-12.

92%. It just sounds ridiculous coming out of my mouth when I tell people about it. It doesn’t even sound real. It’s the kind of thing you would do to punish someone. Like the arts sector in BC is having its allowance docked for something it didn’t even know it was doing. Or not doing. Is that it? We had a time limit to make ourselves an essential part of the fabric of society and the Liberals have decided we didn’t quite make it? That the work we do and the love we put into it is all well and good, but of no use to our cities, towns and neighbourhoods? That we’re non-essential? That art is by nature an avocation?

There was a piece in Monday night’s Wrecking Ball Cabaret by Mark Leiren–Young wherein “Minister of Tourism, Culture and Arts” “Kevin Krueger” told us that the reason he yanked our funding is because if he took it from ferry workers, mailmen etc, they’d just quit, and we’re just going to keep on doing what we do anyway. Could that really be it? Is that the crux of the whole affair, that because we’re artists we’re just going to lie down?

This fight isn’t about a debate over funding models. It’s not a moral issue about profiting off of gaming money. Those are questions for another day. Our “representatives” in government just said “get a job”. They said that because we work on the thing we’re passionate about, we’re merely hobbyists. This is not our government, so we’re going to have to make some noise.

The Alliance for Arts and Culture is doing a splendid job of helping us get noisy. There’s a new button on the sidebar that will take you to a new site they’ve set up to provide us with a tool kit – or should I say arsenal – to point our advocacy in the right direction. (For those of you who are good enough to subscribe to the RSS feed, the button is below…)

It’s a very simple and well laid-out site that offers viable options for taking the fight to the steps of the people that need to hear us. No one’s advocating pitchforks and torches just yet, but silence sure isn’t the answer.

Consider adding the button to your site and social networks, you can email Kevin Dale McKeown at and he will provide you with the button’s html code and some accompanying text.

And speaking of making noise, there’s a flash mob planned for 4:30 today at the Waterfront Station to raise some public awareness, here’s the info from Adrienne Wong:

At 4:30pm on Thursday November 26th please come to Waterfront Station.
Sing “Standy by Me” in solidarity with members of Vancouver’s music community.
Have your voice heard.

Please come and disseminate invitation widely.
*We are inviting the MEDIA and the more the merrier – and more impressive*

Here are the details:
A WHAT? : some might call it a flash mob…
TIME: singing begins at 4:30 sharp, arrive a couple minutes early, blend in, then just go with the flow when the singing starts
LOCATION: Waterfront Station, find the crowd
WHAT: Stand by Me – sing along or bring an instrument!
SHOW YOUR COLOURS: write “music” or “theatre” or “film” or “dance” or “sculpture” on your shirt, or hold a sign
LOOK FOR: a banner that says “Stand by us and stop arts cuts
AT THE END: disperse back into the city


After the Quake: Our best defence is exceptional art

Indie theatre is a tough little mistress. My investment in her, my drive to make her popular, to share her potential with just a few more people takes its toll on me. And I know it. Hackneyed theatre makes me, well, it makes me angry, if truth be told. I’m not saying that feeling is justified, but if its done really poorly it makes me want to run away from it as far and as fast as I can, and just get my storytelling fix from novels and the occasional movie.  It can make me clueless as to why I would ever want to toil in its short-reaching, revenue-free depths.

And then, suddenly and quietly, I’ll find myself witness to a stage work that bursts the clouds and reminds me exactly why I love theatre so deeply. And it makes me want to stay in it forever, no matter what the price.

You should see After the Quake.

A co-pro by pi theatre and Rumble Productions, local indies that have been around for 25 and 20 years respectively, it is testament to where you can get to in the work with enough time and talent invested in it. It’s not politically charged or form-punishing or experimental, it is simply a vehicle to serve the medium: the sharing of stories. Constructed in script and direction in a way that could only be presented on an intimate stage, After the Quake understands its function from top to bottom. pi and Rumble have clearly taken all the necessary time and consideration to each of the production’s components, after-show cocktail conversation could be taken up entirely by the set design, lighting, sound design, acting, costuming, direction…this is a perfectly balanced play. And I think that’s where the inspiration I felt walking out of the theatre is borne from; the affirmation that so many forms of art must combine in harmony to make the whole truly transcendent. A play can be successful with one component out of tune, but when all are compelling it can truly take flight.

I’m very grateful when a theatrical experience moves me to gush. The hard work that went into this piece is evident, as is what I can only assume to be a rather hefty production price tag (which is the kind of thing you think about when you’re in the business of making theatre, I suppose), and it’s a powerful argument for raging against a government who would dare deem work like this unimportant. This is the frame of mind I’m going into the Wrecking Ball in tonight. This is a worthy fight.

One of the best ways to fight it is to tell everyone you can to see the work that affects you.

Check out the short promo below, they didn’t even scrimp on the poster art, which is original for this production. And there’s a little taste of the sound design as well…

This One Goes to Eleven: Bill MacDonald

Meet a true vet of the Vancouver stage (and screen) scene. Bill’s been wielding and teaching his craft for over two decades, and he’s still going strong. His work in the recent Fringe production Matters Domestic with Nancy Sivak was universally praised. Bill can swing between gravitas and hilarious in a single beat, he’s got one of the widest ranges of actors I know. You can catch him in the premiere of Shawn Macdonald’s Demon Voice at the PTC until November 28.

1. In one word, describe your present condition.


2. In as many words as you deem necessary, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

Brave. Facing budget cuts, the art will go on. Nothing will stop it.

3. What was it about the script for Demon Voice that grabbed you?

The honesty. The poetry. You know when a writer is writing the truth, because you respond to it. You say, “Yeah, I know that. I want to express that, explore that, share that with others, with an audience.” The research I’ve done for the role has affected me in a personal way. That turns me on. That’s why I do theatre. That’s why I live.

4. What is the number one thing you need from a director when working on a new play?

A strong vision, awareness of everyone’s journey, enjoyment of actor’s playing. It’s by playing that the text comes alive, physicalizing the story. You need a director who’s not afraid to take risks. Find the individuality of this playwright, rather than making him/her fit an already existing model.

5. What’s the best piece of acting advice you’ve ever received?

Breathe. Listen. Receive. Give.

6. What’s the most common stumbling block you help your neophyte students climb over?

Confidence. Overcoming self doubt. Learning to express themselves fully and completely.

7. What’s your favourite theatrical memory?

I have many; I’ve been doing this for 20 years. The first one that comes to mind, I was doing “The Slab Boys” by John Byrne in Edmonton. The scene required me to pose next to a James Dean poster and imitate him. I had a hard time getting the James Dean squint. Back then you could smoke on stage. Opening night I took my pose and lit the cigarette with wooden matches and melted my eyelashes together. I got the squint.

8. What style of content or subject matter would you like to see more of on our stages?

As long as it is honest and revelatory, I’m into it. Canadian content would be a bonus. I’d even like to see more plays about Vancouver. Shawn’s made Vancouver sexy and interesting. I feel there are a lot of stories in this city that can be told.

9. Given a time machine, what would you tell a young Bill MacDonald just starting out on his career?

I’d tell him to do whatever the fuck he wants. He’ll learn sooner or later, one way or another.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

The Empty Space by Peter Brook

Theatre and its Double by Antonin Artaud

Any Biography of Laurence Olivier

11. What’s next?

“The Edward Curtis Project” written by Marie Clements and directed by Brenda Leadlay for the PuSh Festival in January at Presentation House.

Photo of Bill MacDonald and Patrick Keating in Demon Voice courtesy of Touchstone Theatre