This One Goes to Eleven: Jessie van Rijn

I am convinced that to nurture a future audience for theatre – all theatre – we need to get ’em while they’re young. In Vancouver, this is where Carousel Theatre comes in. General Manager Jessie came to Carousel via the Chemainus Theatre Festival on Vancouver Island with a BFA in Dramatic Arts from the U of Lethbridge, finding her niche in Administration. She also sits on the Board of Directors of the Jessie Richardson Theatre Award Society.

Jessie is an inspiration.

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Wild. I just drank a huge coffee and my heart’s beating faster than it probably should.

2. In your own choice of word count, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

So many thoughts come to mind… I think many are hurting from the apparent lack of support from some funders, but most are gathering strength from the gads of encouragement being provided by audience members and others in the community. I’m concerned at the amount of artists, administrators, designers, technicians, et al that may be part of a mass exodus to higher ground (or cities/provinces/ areas) during this funding crisis. I’m excited by national and international works that are coming to town in the coming months. And I am constantly blown away by the amount of passion and drive that this community has.

3. Please describe the mandate and vision of Carousel.

The official blurb is thus:

Carousel Theatre is dedicated to inspiring, enlightening and entertaining young people and their families through accessible theatrical experiences that develop audiences and artists. Our work is playful, relevant and vibrant. We are committed to artistic excellence and the support of emerging talent in all areas of the theatre discipline; we believe that youth audiences deserve the very best. Our programming offers a wide choice of exciting theatrical experiences for young audiences and families, and aims to enrich the hearts and minds of today’s youth.

Carousel Theatre plays a unique role in the theatre ecology of our community, and is the only theatre company in BC that produces a fully professional season of mainstage programming especially for young people. Each season more than 60 000 young people and their families benefit from Carousel Theatre’s unique programming. Under the vision of Artistic Director Carole Higgins, Carousel Theatre stages a mainstage season of Literary Classics at the Waterfront Theatre, an Elementary School Touring Program that brings theatre directly to students, a Teen Shakespeare Program each summer and a year-round Theatre School for young people ages 3 to 17 years. Carousel Theatre also runs a mentorship program for fledgling theatre for young audiences companies and a new play development program.

Our mandate is:

– To create theatre especially designed to encourage youth and family audiences to enjoy the benefits of live theatre.

– To provide a means whereby actors, directors and others engaged in the creation of live theatre may develop their skills through experience and training.

– To cooperate with other persons and organizations engaged in theatrical ventures and thereby provide an outlet for their work.

– To welcome and encourage artists who mirror our culturally diverse community.

– To assist & promote the production of Canadian Theatre and Canadian Theatre Artist.

THE MERRY ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD. LAWRENCE HAEGERT (Robin Hood) and JOSHUA REYNOLDS (Little John). Photo by Tim Matheson. Carousel Theatre, 2009

4. How has Carousel been (or potentially will be ) affected by the Liberal’s budget cuts to the Arts?

Confirmed:

– We have had to put our Elementary School Touring program on hiatus. We had been touring within the Lower Mainland, BC and throughout Canada. Our touring program has served just over 39,000 students, teachers, and families in the past year. We’re saddened by this, as our touring program has been gaining quite a bit of momentum as of late.

Looming possibilities that fill us with nail-biting dread:

– Less tickets available for donation to inner city schools and community groups.

– Productions with smaller casts   (It will be difficult for Carousel Theatre to produce a show the size of Robin Hood in the next few years, though we will continue to strive towards artistic excellence in our productions)

– Our accessible ticket prices may need to be increased.

– Less support for infrastructure  (Carousel Theatre only has 3 full-time staff members)

5. How can we attract more artists to the administrative side of the industry?

Current administrators in the community can snap up young, driven emerging artists who are wanting to learn more about the administrative side of theatre to gain skills for producing. These artists who have a talent for the admin side are in desperate need as the theatre community grows and maintains itself.

I think the important distinction is for an artist to know if they have artist-brain or admin-brain, or the healthy balance of both. So many artists feel hindered by ‘the desk’ and think of administrator as a bad word. (I beg of you- don’t take on admin work if you know you’ll hate it- just because you need a joe job. )

I would recommend any artist to pick up some admin skills- you’ll put those tools to use every day. Even actors- you are a business just by being you! Pick up accounting skills to help yourself at tax time, learn how to send an email (with proper punctuation and grammar), think about marketing yourself or your co-op with a website/blog/etc.

6. Who or what are your great influences?

My friends are an amazing source of inspiration every day- as hokey as that sounds. They are willing to put themselves on the line as actors/producers/designers/musicians- and do what they love, regardless of the risk – as long as they can create. It makes my heart burst, but not in a sticky gross kind of way.

I am also influenced by a great friend- Jeremy Tow. He is the first Artistic Director I have ever worked with as an administrator (while an arts admin intern at Chemainus Theatre Festival), and I will always be in awe of his work, his grace and his passion.

I would also like to mention a particular professor from university who once said about me “She’ll never be a director, but she’d be an amazing administrator.” I hated him with a passion for about 3 years before realizing he was right. I found my home within this community, and it brings me great joy to know that the cogs on this great machine of creation keep turning because of the work administrators do. We help facilitate the artists – which can be an art unto itself.

7. What type of theatre would you like to see more of on our stages?

I love small-scale musicals like Edges, The World Goes ‘Round, etc. I would love to see more new musicals done in Vancouver by smaller companies. More companies taking risks with unusual venues (site-specific, or alternative spaces). Though extremely unlikely, I would also like to request a monthly version of HIVE.

8. What do you know about theatre that you didn’t before working with Carousel?

How amazing it is to introduce children to live theatre. That children make the best critics. That having diverse revenue sources are so important (use what you got!). That you can get tired of the colour purple. That communication is everything.

9. What’s the best way to build our future audience in Vancouver?

Provide them with the best theatre experiences possible, no matter of their age, background, income. Keep theatre accessible to all. Encourage all theatre companies to have one pay-what-you-can performance. Create relationships with your audience members outside of the venue. Garner the support of local print media to continue providing coverage for productions that may be considered ‘small’, ‘indie’ or ‘not big enough’.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

American Theatre, Canadian Theatre Review, The Next Stage

11. What’s next?

10 minutes: Building a contact sheet for A Year with Frog and Toad (spring musical awesomeness starring Allan Zinyk- who is my favourite Vancouver actor);

10 days: I’ll be in Alberta with my family and friends – full on food, wine and merriment;

10 years: Queen of the World!

Child’s artwork created for the first run of Seussical. It is Jessie’s favourite because it has a shark. She likes to think that Eric, the 5-year-old artist, thought “Yes, I’ll draw the hat that I’m supposed to draw… but I think it needs a man-eating shark on it to complete my vision”.

Blog this, Canada! A theatrospherical State of the Union – Round 3

This is the continuation of a conversation on the Canadian theatrosphere started by Michael Wheeler from Praxis Theatre in Toronto. Read Round 1 here, Round 2 here, and Round 2.5: a Kris Joseph Intermezzo here.

It always amazes me that the people who should be pioneers in this new media landscape are the ones bashing it.

Each tool should be thought of as an extension of the work. Not a replacement for it. It’s a chance to extend the story and allow people an entry point.

Each of these tools offers the opportunity to put control in the hands of the artists. Maybe that’s the scary part.

Then if it fails, who’s to blame?

It’s easier to complain about the way the things are.

Perhaps harder to forge new ground. But I seem to remember the best moments onstage coming from embracing the fear.

If the storytellers don’t take advantage of this now. I fear they’ll get left behind wondering where it all went wrong.

That’s not good.

Posts like this are uplifting. It boils down to sharing the work.

Then people get excited about it. They share it.

That’s good.

Indie Artist Marketing Strategist Dave Charest, from the comments section of Round 2.5

I now know an enormous amount about theatre and what it means to be a theatre artist that I owe directly to my time spent out on the theatrosphere. It has provided an education that could fill a book (hmm…), never mind a blog post or two. I have a head full of practical theory that I am quite sure is taught in no academic theatre program in North America. Effective marketing. Resource management. Inclusive audience building. Critical perspective and perspective on the critics. Fundamental responsibility to the community. Diversity consideration. Creative fundraising. Nightly audience care. Cost vs. component. Realism vs. theatricality. (I could go on. And on.) Chapters all, and the book is continuously being written, post by post by comment by response. The blogosphere is nothing short of a revolution in resource accessibility, all that is required to navigate it is an open mind and the ability to parse opinion. I am incredulous as to why its growth here in Canada continues at a snail’s pace.

Does our theatre not want to evolve? Is it so bound up in the traditions and forms of the past that it feels its future has already been bought and guaranteed? Or worse, unconsidered? And in the face of evaporating funding and audiences? If there is an art form with a more blinkered sense of entitlement I can’t imagine what it could be. We need to unite as a progressive industry and nurture the neophytes or remain hobbyists, largely ignored by our communities. We need to ask each other for help. We need to make our proudly held opinions available to each other. We’re too quiet, we need to get loud. The internet is a mighty big megaphone.

I make such a pointed sales pitch for the theatrosphere here for a specific reason; to address the number one, all time, top reason I keep hearing from my peers for not becoming part of the conversation on-line. It isn’t that most theatreists don’t get it, or that they’re timid, or they think those of us that do it are weird. The top reason for the industry’s reluctance to blog is that they’re concerned about the time factor. That they don’t even have time to deal with the myriad of tasks that already sit on their plate. So the biggest roadblock standing in the way of a true ongoing national forum on theatre is the one thing that everyone on the planet – especially those running businesses – can get better at: time management. All I can say to that is this: as the forces aligning against us continue to strengthen, as funding diminishes and entertainment options grow, the everyone-for-themselves school of theatre business is no longer viable. Being a part of the discussion is no longer optional. You can do it. You need to do it. Theatre needs you to do it, it’s vital that we have a bigger virtual room in which we can strategize, disagree and share stuff, a space that we can ask for and offer assistance in. I say this from the perspective of a guy who has been immersed in it long enough to be able to report back on the power and effectiveness of the theatrosphere, someone who has no other agenda but to live to see nothing less than a rebirth of the particular brand of storytelling that he loves, and profit for its practitioners.

I am done bitching in bars. I am pushing my stakes on the table publicly, here and now, and I encourage my colleagues in theatre to do the same. Our stock-in-trade is dialogue. Let’s employ its power to discover the way forward towards a world class theatre in Seattle.

Paul Mullin’s introduction to his brand new blog Just Wrought

So here’s what I’m suggesting: open yourself a blog account. Choose a cool template. Start your first post by answering the question “what is the current state of my theatre industry?”. You’ll be amazed at what that will make you want to write about later. Then start a feed reader account and subscribe to some great theatre blogs to read over your morning coffee. (The sidebar on the right is a good place to start exploring.) And when you read something that resonates, comment on it, or even better, write about it and link to it. And keep writing about the stuff that moves you, that frustrates the hell out of you, that makes you crazy, people will find you and respond to you when you talk to them, I guarantee it. Reorganize your schedule so you have about 2 hours a week to spend on your blog and give it a shot, and start meeting other theatre types. You might be surprised at how thrilling connecting with people with like minds and problems can be. If you hate it, stop, by all means. But please go into the party with an open mind and carve out your own corner with your own voice.

I’m confident that once it’s proven its worth to you and your organization you’ll want to increase your social media presence. You can expand your reach and influence literally as far as you can imagine. In an ideal world, as Mike suggests in the last round of comments, our companies will have someone on staff to handle the social media/marketing of our brand and vision (Some of us already do), so that the directors can direct and the actors can act. We must move our process out of its little dark rooms and into the world where it can be seen, felt and explored. There is no time left for individualism in the selling of theatre art, we simply have too much work ahead of us. So please, open up and let us in.

This One Goes to Eleven: Stephen Park

If you want to be a good actor you need to be continuously acting. This is the lesson I’ve learned over the past 4 years from watching Steve Park; as an actor in my ensemble, as a TV/film actor, and as an acting instructor at the Lyric Studios and the Vancouver Film School.

Steve is also one of the most frank and opinionated artists I know. I’m grateful he brought that to TOGtE…


1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Charged.

2. In your own time and number of words, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

I think that our theatre scene is on the brink. Of many things. Evolution, extinction, revolution, transformation. It feels to me that a great shift is possible. I believe that it is inevitable and necessary. The old models both business and artistic are no longer relevant or viable. The way in which the newer generations get their information, their stories, their entertainment is vastly different then how I did as a kid and as a young man. The internet and the digital age has changed the playing field. There are some companies who have seen this and embraced it. They are the ones that will continue. The companies that continue to experiment with and search for new ways to tell stories are going to prosper. I don’t think that the stories themselves change it is the story telling that must.

I also believe that this change is going to clean out the gene pool, so to speak. The business of theatre making has changed. Permanently. The funding sources, the marketing, the potential audience. We as an industry have to get off the Government tit.  As the population grows so does the opportunity for different funding sources. I can hear it now, “If I don’t get government funding, if I don’t get community assistance, I won’t survive.” Well, maybe you shouldn’t. If you provide something that the community wants, even – dare I say it – something that it needs, you will survive. You will flourish. I am not saying that we should do away with Government support of the Arts. The funding levels and infrastructure levels are below ridiculous. I am saying that even if they were exceptional, it is a stupid idea to be reliant on one food source. More resource sharing between companies, and we are seeing that now, more private sector investment. Make what you are selling profitable and the funding will come.

3. What is the relationship between our theatre scene and the local TV/film industry, from an actor’s point of view?

Well, before all the work dried up, not too much. But now, everyone wants to do a play.

I mean, I still hear it all the time, television and film Actor. Theatre Actor. Not often just Actor. There is this notion that you are one or the other and (almost) never the twain shall meet. A shame really. There are lots of Actors in town who do both. But I think that most are identified as one or the other. I think that the relationship should be one of symbiosis. I think that all actors should work in all possible fields. It just makes you a better Actor.

4. Once we’ve got a new audience into our theatre, what’s the surest way to get them to return?

Turn them on. Get them off. Emotionally, Spiritually, Sexually. Make them fully half the equation of the experience. I mean, what makes you go back to something again? Not Pretty clothes and sleek programs. Not shamelessly self indulgent and neutered acting. Not half-assed stories. Not, “I did a scene from this play in acting class and I fucking rocked, so now I want to do the whole play so I can really jerk my ego off.” I go back to companies and plays that shake me, shift me. Things that make me wonder if the actors are really acting. Stories that force me to confront and embrace parts of me that I hadn’t before. Stories that are True and celebrate all of the Human condition.

We have to get our audience to work for us. We have to get them to tell other people, “You have to see this show.” We have to get them to bring other people through the doors. We do that by embracing just how smart our audience is. How much they are dying to go into the unknown with us. They want to jump and not pull the cord. If the product is good enough, it makes you as an audience member feel like you just shared something special and unique. Something “Cool and Sexy and New”. You do that and the audience will then become your marketing arm.

5. How are we as a community rising to meet the government’s recent treatment of us?

We are not. We are standing around in silent grey squares jerking off and looking like a bunch of flaky artists.

This will change exactly nothing. The powers that be will do nothing until their jobs are in jeopardy or there is a real profit to be made from doing something other then what they are currently doing.

Politicians are affected by lobby groups, yes? The B.C. film commission isn’t demanding that our tax incentives match what the rest of the country is doing because they are in the Liberals back pockets. U.B.C.P. would rather argue amongst themselves then stand up to the provincial government on behalf of their membership.  ACTRA is seemingly in the business of preventing small and independent theatre to exist, for our own protection they tell us. It is almost enough to make want to throw in the towel. We need to form a strong lobby group. We need to find Patrons, wealthy, connected patrons, who are passionate about Arts and Culture.

This Fight isn’t limited to our provincial government either. The biggest spotlight in our country’s history is about to be shone on Vancouver. If our community had some balls we would leverage that fact and deny our services to The Olympics until the government gave us what we want. I went to this year’s Wrecking Ball. It was an embarrassment, if you ask me. It is supposed to be an event that ignites our political will as a community. It was milquetoast at its worst. We had to have an Artist from Toronto come and give us shit for not standing up for ourselves. This is Crap. Get mad, get smart and get vocal. Challenge businesses that you patron to write their MLA. We need to march, we need to protest we need to define exactly what we want. We need to make the general public understand what has been done to them by the government’s slashing of funding. Nobody will give a good goddamn about something they don’t feel affects them directly. They sure as shit won’t give a fuck about silent grey squares. I don’t. Why should they?

6. Finish this sentence: “Dear Premier Campbell…”

You’re doin’ a heck of a job, Brownie!

7. What’s been your greatest revelation about theatre since being involved with your own company?

How important the audience is to the whole event. It is a communion on every level and it takes putting yourself completely at the service of the audience. Check your Ego at the door. When that is accomplished the transformative power of the live theatrical experience is unlike anything else. It can have the power of a great rock concert and the intimacy of making love all at once.

8. Define the term “Good Acting”.

The fearless and creative expression of the reveal of your true humanity.

9. What is your career highlight to date?

The 21st Floor, Ashes, Gift of Screws and The Englishman’s Boy.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

4:48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane
Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad
And whatever the next thing is that Bill Marchant is writing.

11. What’s next?

Putting my money where my mouth is.

Blog this, Canada: a theatrospherical State of the Union – Kris Joseph Intermezzo

I’ll be posting the next round of the cross-country back-and-forth between us and Praxis Theatre soon, for now there’s a comment on the last entry left by Ottawa actor/blogger/bon vivante Kris Joseph that demands its own post. Because it manages to be hilarious and bang-on topic simultaneously.

For you consideration:

I certainly don’t mean to imply that having staff to support the activity of a theatre company has no value — certainly not, and I can bend your ear with great stories of how my new-media-exploits on my current contract are being supported and facilitated by staff people. I do think the “silo” approach to theatre is inefficient, though. But that’s a little off-topic, so I’ll just point you at one of Chad Bauman’s great blog posts on the subject, here: http://arts-marketing.blogspot.com/2009/09/problem-of-silos.html

I think there’s great value in referring back to Simon’s metaphor of the theatrosphere as a ongoing cocktail party. Right now there are a growing number of people who’ve heard there’s a cocktail party going on. “Some cool people are there,” they think, “and cocktail parties seem like a really good idea. But I have to be up early in the morning, and I’m really not sure what I want to get OUT of the cocktail party, so maybe this isn’t the right time. It’s not the kind of cocktail party I like, anyway — the music is loud, and let’s be honest: I prefer the kind of party where everyone is sitting politely in the dark with their cell-phones off watching important people play charades and reflecting on how awesome the experience is. Besides, I think it’s really important that we have a vision for what OUR Cocktail Party Experience should be before we go rushing off to just any old party. Is this party using industry-proven Best Party Practices? Because unless I can prove to my friends that I met at least Six Valuable People, which is a Clearly-Defined Goal for my Planned Party-Going Experience, the whole thing will be a waste of my time! And if I DO go, we’ll have to have a Party Post-Mortem tomorrow to figure out if the party was a good idea, and whether or not we should go to the next one.” Well… in the meantime, the party’s going on without those people. And the people AT the party are meeting other people, sometimes connecting and MANY times not connecting. Success ISN’T guaranteed — life sucks that way — but you have to be present, at least, to get any benefit.

So COME ON, people. Just put on a clean shirt and GO TO THE PARTY. Leave yourself open to who you might meet and what you might talk about once you’re there. You can test the waters by DOING, or you can plan too much, and miss the party altogether. I don’t care how much I get teased for it: snapping a quick pic and tweeting a caption only takes a few seconds, and costs nothing. MAYBE nobody will like it. Maybe everybody will. I may be sick of rehearsing Scene Four for 30 hours, but to somebody who never rehearses anything (read: someone who normally doesn’t ATTEND THEATRE), this could be cool and interesting stuff they’ve never heard before. Or maybe the ONE person who has a wig fitting fetish and loves my twitpic is also a patron, or a media person, or a philanthropist, or a historian, or a playwright, and that person responds, which starts a relationship that can bear an infinite variety of fruit over time.

ARTISTS, I firmly believe, need to start looking at this stuff with the same level of priority they give to things like keeping their resume up-to-date and keeping on top of audition postings and agent relationships. It’s a critical part of the business and, Manda, your job will get EASIER once you have artists around you who come to YOU and say “how can I help?”. Right now, the average theatre artists’ response to technology like this is like the marketing director asking for cast headshots and hearing “oh, I don’t HAVE one of those. Is that important?” in response.

And I want to talk about the issue with permissions, as well, because it is a constant source of frustration for me. We live in a world where average, normal people are using these tools ALL THE TIME: my neighbours have their own channel on YouTube. My buddy updates his Flickr stream constantly. Some kid at MIT has a Twitter account for his FLOWER GARDEN. Students half my age are shooting great-looking and creative videos, using their iPhones, on their weekends. And WE have a bunch of guilds and unions — everyone from Equity to ACTRA to IATSE — reacting in varying degrees with the same kind of outdated, protectionist claptrap that is killing the traditional broadcast and recording industries. They are (back to the metaphor) standing OUTSIDE the cocktail party, peeking in the window between bouts of navel-gazing, fretting about how going to the party will affect their income and the livelihood of old codgers who never liked parties in the first place. The problem definitely lies in their court, but folks who are making headway in this area need to throw that window open, show them the air is fertile rather than toxic, and invite them in.

Sometimes — I’ll freely admit it — I break the rules ON PURPOSE, just to prove that nobody has to go on the dole because I shot a 30-second clip of a lit set. In fact, these things sell tickets; they raise the profile of the work; they connect artists to one another. Hell, sometimes they do NONE of those things — but they DON’T HURT and I challenge anyone to prove otherwise.

One final point, on inundation. Some people get DO annoyed by all the email and Facebook messages. And at that cocktail party — as Simon said — some folks are gentle and wise, and some are obnoxious and crass. There is work to be done in matching content to the right tool, and in terms of style and etiquette, but this comes with learning and experimentation — we can all participate here and learn together. In the early days of the web and email, people did all sorts of silly things, but we learn by doing and by sharing with other people who are doing. For example, I can tweet a pic of a wig fitting, but I dare not spend three hours writing a blog post about it, or an evening editing a video of a wig being put on my head. And NOBODY wants an email newsletter with “SEE A PIC OF MY WIG FITTING!” as a headline.

Some media — like email — is serial: people are expected to read every piece they get. Other media — like Twitter — is parallel: it’s like having 200 channels on my TV; I’m NEVER going to sit down and watch everything that was broadcast on every channel, but my friends tell me what shows they like, and once in a while I get told about something cool that I then choose to track down. Trepidation about getting into some forms of new media is sometimes a belief that the new thing is serial (like THEATRE — the thing we KNOW — AHA!), rather than parallel (the thing we’re afraid of).

This One Goes to Eleven: Dave Deveau

It’s always a pleasure to feature young and determined local playwrights on TOGtE. With a BFA from York and an MFA from UBC, Dave’s not just sitting around waiting for someone to stage his work. He created Zee Zee Theatre together with partner Cameron Mackenzie, and they just finished a successful run of his new work Nelly Boy.

Dave is also an actor, librettist, screenwriter, dramaturg, and songwriter. And interviewee…

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Alight.

2. In your very own word count, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

Brimming with possibility.

3. What’s your “how I fell in love with the theatre” story?

The same old “as a kid I was always in the school play” etc etc story except what really engrained it as something that I would do for the rest of my life was Michel Tremblay. I saw a production of Les Belles Soeurs at the GCTC in Ottawa in, I think, grade nine which transformed me. I subsequently read all of his works, both plays and novels and fell absolutely in love with the world of his work. It really turned me on to Quebecois theatre as a whole, and just made me more determined.

4. What are your great strengths as a playwright? Weaknesses?

It will sound so trite, but I truly have no idea how to write a play. Even some of the greats have described that feeling – of approaching a page and still having no idea how to begin. And I’m very much still in that place. I’m my own worst enemy in many ways. And I procrastinate. But when I see that deadline on the horizon, the play will get written, no question. I’ve never missed a deadline in my life. I may doubt every word I’m churning out in the moment, but by an hour before deadline, I breathe belief into it somehow.

5. Who are your big influences?

Tremblay (see above), Brad Fraser, Michel Marc Bouchard, Daniel MacIvor, but mostly the biggest influences in my writing stem from seeing everything I possibly can. During my undergrad in Toronto I made a point of seeing 2-3 shows a week. Nowadays it’s not as frequent, but I still see at least 2-3 shows a month. Even the worst shows teach me something about my own practice, so I can’t begrudge them being painful experiences as an audience member.

6. Are we as a community doing enough in response to the government’s recent treatment of us?

I had a recent conversation with a theatre colleague here in town who moved here from Quebec. He’d mentioned that if these cuts happened in Quebec people would simply burn down the government offices. It would be an unthinkable act. I think we’re doing what we can, but it all seems rather polite. But, especially when juxtaposed with a crackdown on policy in the wake of the Olympics, I don’t know what other choices we have.

7. In a perfect world, through what process would a script of yours be developed into a finished piece?

My experience developing my play Nelly Boy was pretty much as good as it gets. I was commissioned to create a short piece for a Theatre Direct in Toronto in 2004 and they stayed on board its development into a full length until the workshop production in 2007 at which point my partner’s company Zee Zee Theatre took over. There’s something really amazing about having that kind of enormous timeline to really sink into a piece. But ultimately if a company gave me a reading, that would be opportunity enough to show that the plays I’m working on have possibility. So listen up, Artistic Directors, I have a million and one plays in the works and one reading is all it will take to get the ball really rolling. (If only this business were that simple!)

8. From your experience with Zee Zee, what have you found to be the largest roadblock to starting a successful independent theatre company?

Funding is always a gamble. We were lucky that with Nelly Boy we received over half our budget from Canada Council, but that’s unusual for young upstarts like us. It’s really a matter of doing everything in your power to publicize your show, and being prepared not to make anything for your own work. That becomes your investment in the company. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and then down the road, once you’ve developed a following, which we’re really starting to, things get easier.

9. What do you know about theatre now that you didn’t when you finished school?

I’m starting to get a real sense of the business. At least from a producer point of view. I still have very little idea of how, as a playwright, one gets produced in this country. You can submit all you want, but it’s a matter of proving yourself as an artist first. And the best way we’ve been able to do that is by risking our own finances (with my previous company Thirty Below Theatre and with Zee Zee) to get the work out there. The next thing I need to start figuring out is how literary agents work.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

As a playwright I think the best book about process is Stephen King’s “On Writing”. It’s such a down-to-Earth read, no pretention, and just something that anyone who’s ever attempted to put the pen to the page can relate to. I often use it when I teach.

Though I’ve already managed to get him in there twice, I’d have to say the work of Michel Tremblay. Not all of it is brilliant, but 90% of it is. And those are better odds than we see coming out of a lot of playwrights.

And then probably CTR (Canadian Theatre Review). The best way we can create work is by being part of the greater community. Pick up the new issue, it’s well worth it.

11. What’s next?

I just finished the Playwrights Theatre Centre Colony working on my solo show My Funny Valentine which we’d workshopped at the SummerWorks Festival in Toronto last August. The show has completely transformed to the point that very little of it remains from that workshop – new characters, new structure, new thrust. I’m going to spend some time working on that piece with the incredible actor Kyle Cameron (who you might know from Greenthumb’s Cranked). And of course I have about another 5 plays on the go simultaneously: a musical about bigamy, a summer stock play about senior citizen swingers, my epic thesis play which has been picking up accolades across the country, but still has no production in sight, and a whole bunch of juicy roles for women (finally – my female actor friends have been harassing me for years!).

But I also have a day job now. You can find me at The Cultch.

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Alight.

2. In your very own word count, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

Brimming with possibility.

3. What’s your “how I fell in love with the theatre” story?

The same old “as a kid I was always in the school play” etc etc story except what really engrained it as something that I would do for the rest of my life was Michel Tremblay. I saw a production of Les Belles Soeurs at the GCTC in Ottawa in, I think, grade nine which transformed me. I subsequently read all of his works, both plays and novels and fell absolutely in love with the world of his work. It really turned me on to Quebecois theatre as a whole, and just made me more determined.

4. What are your great strengths as a playwright? Weaknesses?

It will sound so trite, but I truly have no idea how to write a play. Even some of the greats have described that feeling – of approaching a page and still having no idea how to begin. And I’m very much still in that place. I’m my own worst enemy in many ways. And I procrastinate. But when I see that deadline on the horizon, the play will get written, no question. I’ve never missed a deadline in my life. I may doubt every word I’m churning out in the moment, but by an hour before deadline, I breathe belief into it somehow.

5. Who are your big influences?

Tremblay (see above), Brad Fraser, Michel Marc Bouchard, Daniel MacIvor, but mostly the biggest influences in my writing stem from seeing everything I possibly can. During my undergrad in Toronto I made a point of seeing 2-3 shows a week. Nowadays it’s not as frequent, but I still see at least 2-3 shows a month. Even the worst shows teach me something about my own practice, so I can’t begrudge them being painful experiences as an audience member.

6. Are we as a community doing enough in response to the government’s recent treatment of us?

I had a recent conversation with a theatre colleague here in town who moved here from Quebec. He’d mentioned that if these cuts happened in Quebec people would simply burn down the government offices. It would be an unthinkable act. I think we’re doing what we can, but it all seems rather polite. But, especially when juxtaposed with a crackdown on policy in the wake of the Olympics, I don’t know what other choices we have.

7. In a perfect world, through what process would a script of yours be developed into a finished piece?

My experience developing my play Nelly Boy was pretty much as good as it gets. I was commissioned to create a short piece for a Theatre Direct in Toronto in 2004 and they stayed on board its development into a full length until the workshop production in 2007 at which point my partner’s company Zee Zee Theatre took over. There’s something really amazing about having that kind of enormous timeline to really sink into a piece. But ultimately if a company gave me a reading, that would be opportunity enough to show that the plays I’m working on have possibility. So listen up, Artistic Directors, I have a million and one plays in the works and one reading is all it will take to get the ball really rolling. (If only this business were that simple!)

8. From your experience with Zee Zee, what have you found to be the largest roadblock to starting a successful independent theatre company?

Funding is always a gamble. We were lucky that with Nelly Boy we received over half our budget from Canada Council, but that’s unusual for young upstarts like us. It’s really a matter of doing everything in your power to publicize your show, and being prepared not to make anything for your own work. That becomes your investment in the company. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and then down the road, once you’ve developed a following, which we’re really starting to, things get easier.

9. What do you know about theatre now that you didn’t when you finished school?

I’m starting to get a real sense of the business. At least from a producer point of view. I still have very little idea of how, as a playwright, one gets produced in this country. You can submit all you want, but it’s a matter of proving yourself as an artist first. And the best way we’ve been able to do that is by risking our own finances (with my previous company Thirty Below Theatre and with Zee Zee) to get the work out there. The next thing I need to start figuring out is how literary agents work.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

As a playwright I think the best book about process is Stephen King’s “On Writing”. It’s such a down-to-Earth read, no pretention, and just something that anyone who’s ever attempted to put the pen to the page can relate to. I often use it when I teach.

Though I’ve already managed to get him in there twice, I’d have to say the work of Michel Tremblay. Not all of it is brilliant, but 90% of it is. And those are better odds than we see coming out of a lot of playwrights.

And then probably CTR (Canadian Theatre Review). The best way we can create work is by being part of the greater community. Pick up the new issue, it’s well worth it.

11. What’s next?

I just finished the Playwrights Theatre Centre Colony working on my solo show My Funny Valentine which we’d workshopped at the SummerWorks Festival in Toronto last August. The show has completely transformed to the point that very little of it remains from that workshop – new characters, new structure, new thrust. I’m going to spend some time working on that piece with the incredible actor Kyle Cameron (who you might know from Greenthumb’s Cranked). And of course I have about another 5 plays on the go simultaneously: a musical about bigamy, a summer stock play about senior citizen swingers, my epic thesis play which has been picking up accolades across the country, but still has no production in sight, and a whole bunch of juicy roles for women (finally – my female actor friends have been harassing me for years!).

But I also have a day job now. You can find me at The Cultch.

Blog this, Canada: a theatrospherical State of the Union

Guest Post by Michael Wheeler of Toronto’s Praxis Theatrefirst in a series…

Simon Ogden and I are thoroughly 21st Century collaborators: I have directed one of Simon’s plays (twice), submitted another of his plays to SummerWorks (unsuccessfully), and we run parallel blogs in Toronto and Vancouver that have collaborated from early in their inception.

Simon and I have never met each other.

When Michael Rubenfeld asked me to write something for Works about “the internet, blogs and everything that’s going on in Canadian theatre” I was psyched, but immediately had misgivings: Why would a printed static document that contained my thoughts and observations be a good way to explore something that people are so interested in because of its ability to be dynamic, interactive and immediate? The solution comes in the form of a new collaboration between two people who have never met each other.

We’re going to have a conversation and we don’t know exactly where it’s going to go. The comments on this post will become a post on Praxis Theatre and the comments on that post will become a post on The Next Stage. In general we’re going to talk about what we’ve seen so far in the Canadian theatrosphere, where we think it’s going to go, and probably most importantly, what people haven’t figured out it can do. We’d like our readers to chime in too if you feel so inspired. Just be aware we reserve the right to print (or not print) your comments in the real world version of this online experiment in stocktaking.

Enough with the preamble!

This week in Toronto, NOW Magazine published its decade in review. Here’s what Jon Kaplan and Glenn Sumi had to say about performing arts and the interweb:

While the digital revolution hasn’t changed theatre much – sure, we can buy tickets online – it’s revolutionized comedy. Brampton’s Russell Peters increased his fan base exponentially thanks largely to social media sites, eventually becoming the first comic ever to sell out the Air Canada Centre. Today’s comics need a viral YouTube video.

What do you think? Have comics harnessed web technologies better than theatre artists? Is the fact that I am using “theatre artist” to describe ourselves part of the problem? Even if comics have used it better, I don’t agree that being able to buy tickets online is the only effect social media has had on theatre.

As blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media gain popularity they’re giving emerging artists a louder voice in terms of promoting both their work and the ideas that they represent. A $3000 publicist is not THE ONLY way to get your message out anymore. People often mistakenly refer to this as “free” marketing, which rests on the assumption that your own time is worth nothing, but it is certainly a new opportunity.

The other thing I think it has done is increase the sense of community that revolves around these tools. It’s easier to feel more of a part of things now: I can go to Daniel MacIvor’s website and see what he’s up to, I can go to the Event Page for a play I’m going to and see who else is going, I can debate the merits of Stephen Harper’s piano playing performance on the Tarragon Theatre Facebook Fan Page, and in general I can put more faces and personalities to names. The notorious “impossible to break into unless you went to NTS” inclusive theatre scene seems to be breaking down in the wake of all this unregulated interactivity

Over to you S.O.

(I have no idea if anyone ever calls you that.)