A graduate of the theatre program at UVic, Sabrina has a solid academic footing in both directing and costume design. She is the artistic producer of Twenty-Something Theatre, a new, energetic Vancouver company that is already notable for its excellent taste in established material. Their next production is Wallace Shawn’s The Fever, opening January 29th at the Beaumont Studios.
1.) In one word, describe your present condition.
2.) In more than one word, describe the condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.
The Vancouver theatre scene is a complicated one. I really believe that the issues concerning the Vancouver theatre scene generally reflect the issues that Vancouver is dealing with as a whole. Vancouver is not yet a BIG city in the way we think of New York, London or even Toronto. People resist change, and in much the same way that Vancouverites are resisting the amount of growth that is happening in this city (with condos being built, housing prices going up, fancy new transit systems being built, the 2010 Olympics), the established theatre practitioners in this city resist change as well.
For so long the theatre community and the audiences available to go and see theatre were comparatively small, so for these established theatres and theatre practitioners who have managed to gather a steady following I can understand how they don’t want to let go or risk the chance of losing what they have fought so hard to build. When I lived in London I had the great opportunity to hear Trevor Nunn speak and he said there is nothing worth doing if risk isn’t involved. The higher the risk the bigger the pay-off, consequently: the higher the risk the harder we may fall; however, it is from the great failures that we learn. Status quo takes us nowhere.
And that is sort of how I see the Vancouver theatre scene. It is happy with the status quo. You’ve got your established theatre who cater mainly to an older, loyal audience. Then you’ve got your alternative theatre who do very exciting but very different work. You’ve got a few festivals with the Fringe and PUSH, but where is the theatre for the young, average Joe? These are the audiences of the future so why aren’t we thinking about how we can appeal to them?
3.) What is the long-term vision for Twenty-Something?
Long term I would like to be able to produce a full-season of shows to continue giving more and more opportunities to young artists.
4.) What criteria do you use for choosing material?
Firstly, it must be a great play, and I understand that what makes a play great is subjective, but it must be, in my opinion, solid writing. Secondly, the majority of roles must be in our target demographic (approx 18-35). Thirdly, it must have issues that reflect the lives of this demographic and then society as a whole.
Then for me personally if I am to direct the production it must have some new element that interests me, that I haven’t done before or that I will learn from.
5.) What can we be doing better to popularize theatre for a twenty-something demographic?
This is “THE QUESTION” isn’t it?! Truthfully, I don’t know if I have anymore insight into this one than anybody else, but I will give it go.
The easy answer is to make going to the theatre an “it” thing to do for your average twenty-something demographic. Let me just clarify what I mean by average. I am talking about the everyone and anyone in the twenty-something demographic: the ones who listen to The Beat, who shop at places like Aritizia or Lululemon, who eat at Earls or Cactus Club, who go to the clubs on Granville, who go to see the big blockbuster movies, etc. These average twenty-somethings are looking for fun, but to them a night at the theatre does not equal fun. I’m not saying we need to pander to our instant gratification generation but I do think we can find a balance between commercialism and artistic integrity. I think we can make theatre fun and thought-provoking. How do we do this? By putting on high-quality productions that appeal to their lives, and most importantly market the theatre in the same way we market movies, or restaurants, or nightclubs. Somehow we need to make it hot, exciting, and the place to be. That could be a start.
6.) How well did your academic theatre training prepare you for running a company?
No training program is perfect but I feel that I developed a lot of skills that have become indispensable, especially discipline. Often when we think of artists we don’t think of discipline as an immediate tool, but it is necessary because in order to ever get things done (and done well) an artist must be disciplined.
7.) Costume design is often one of the last things considered in indie productions. Any thoughts on how to approach this component?
Well, first of all, costume design wouldn’t be one of the last things to be considered. Costume design is important because it immediately supports the characters in the story being told. It helps an actor find his/her character. And when it comes right down to it if the actors are not believable as their characters then the audience won’t suspend their disbelief. No matter the production, I personally believe design, all design, should be one of the first things to be considered. The design of a production supports the story and the visual story should mold seamlessly together with the action. This overall vision for the piece, in my opinion, should be the very first thing to be considered.
8.) Who are your major influences?
You would think this would be an easy one to answer, but for me not so much, because I am influenced by so many things. I try to read and go to see as many plays/productions as possible. I travel as much as I can and am often highly influenced by the places I travel, too. The people I meet. The plays and productions I see while I am there. I am influenced by my friends & family. I’m definitely influenced by other theatre practitioners whether it be old professors/instructors & mentors and/or other directors, actors and designers, etc. In many ways I am a like a giant sponge and I just soak up as much as possible from wherever I can. That probably sounded cheesy but, oh well, its true.
9.) What would you like to see more of on Vancouver stages?
I would like to see the Vancouver stages take bigger risks and do something that is daring and new and contemporary and relevant. I would like to see something that reflects the fact that we live in a cosmopolitan city. I would like to see some Canadian theatre that isn’t just about the prairies or the backwater experience or the Yukon goldmine. We aren’t just a bunch of hicks & outsiders. Why can’t we write plays and/or produce plays that reflect this?
10.) What are your top 3 theatre reads?
Oh gosh…this is a tough one to narrow down. Ok I’m just going to attack this one from a purely directing standpoint.
1) True & False by David Mamet
2) A Sense of Direction by William Ball
3) The Empty Space by Peter Brook
11.) What’s next?
Up next for Twenty-Something is the summer show and at the moment I am pretty sure, it is not 100% definite quite yet, that we are going to be doing SubUrbia by Eric Bogosian.