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!!!

This One Goes to Eleven: Jeff Hyslop

A Vancouver native, Jeff is a Canadian gem with a packed career as a musical theatre actor, singer, dancer, choreographer, and director already behind him, and still going strong. I remember seeing Jeff years ago in the titular role in the Canadian touring production of The Phantom of the Opera, and he was most recently tapped to direct Eye Heart Production’s current run of Good Boys and True, up now at the Firehall.

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1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Elated

2. In as many words as you’d like, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

First time back in over 6 yrs – a little difficult to say yet. It seems there are more and more independent productions happening – and that is a good thing for the community.

3. What first spoke to you about Good Boys and True?

The intelligence of the writing, it’s simplicity but most of all it’s scope – which is huge.

4. What’s your most recent revelation about yourself as a director?

I can communicate my ideas clearly and in this particular piece was able to meld diverse abilities in the acting team and bring together a strong ensemble led by Teryl Rothery.

5. What can/should we be doing as an industry in response to the recent government funding cutbacks?

We have to keep showing up! We have to keep the ARTS alive. We have to incite the public sector and rally their support and interest, an ongoing challenge.

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6. What is your fondest theatrical memory?

The most fun I’ve ever had in the theatre was touring Canada in the British Panto – Aladdin with Ruth Nichol, Karen Kain, Ross Petty and Bruno Gerrussi who played my mom, Widow Twanky. We were the “5” Muskateers.

7. What would you like to see more of on Vancouver stages?

More of everything – Entertainment!

8. If you could have drinks with any 3 theatre artists, alive or dead, who would they be and why?

Helen Mirren – the most intellectual actor in the business.

Mike Nicholls – the most intuitive director around.

Stephen Swhartz – prolific Broadway composer – Godspell, Pippin, Wicked….

9. What’s your best piece of advice for our young actors just starting out on their careers?

Learn your craft – sing, dance, act, play a musical instrument, ride horses, play sports and most of all, READ everything!

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

Diana Rigg’s – No Turn, Unstoned!

Stephen Sondheim’s Bio

Any and all plays.

11. What’s next?

The development and production of the original new musical “Dancing in the Coal Dust” by composer/librettist David Warrack.

Based on my concept of the legend of Ginger Goodwin, a Yorkshire coal miner who revolutionized the working conditions in the mines of B.C. during WWI. He got the 8 hour work day for the miners.

This One Goes to Eleven: Denis Simpson

From his Wikipedia page: Denis is a Canadian actor, singer, dancer, choreographer, songwriter, writer, director, judge and humanitarian. (He is involved in charitable work with Aids organizations, and hosting local events.) The original bass vocalist for The Nylons, he left the band to appear in the Broadway musical Indigo before they became commercially successful. He was also a longtime host of the children’s television series Polka Dot Door.

Kick ass.

Denis is the director of the upcoming Fringe production Nggrfg, written by and starring Vancouverite Berend McKenzie, a touring Fringe hit that’s been gaining a lot of traction on its way back here. He talks with us about the play, the condition of the theatre scene here, and how we should be reacting as artists to the government’s treatment of our industry…

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1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Grateful.

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

As subjective as such an answer as this will be, I think that thanks to the smaller, independent theatre companies, that the theatre scene in Vancouver is thriving.  Any opportunity to express and share stories is a vital way of communicating, in this show and tell art form…a way to truly heal and unite people, regardless of age, race, economic advantages, abilities or disabilities….we are all in this ‘culture’ together.  Life is short and precious, and thank God for theatre that tells our stories of hope, loss, love, and that can not only engage and stimulate the mind, but also heal the soul.  I think there are enough budding companies in the city that are taking chances in that direction…new voices need to and are being heard.

3. What first spoke to you about the script for Nggrfg?

Berend (McKenzie) is brave enough to shed light on two words that we as black gay men, have heard too many times in our lives…words that have been used too flippantly without consequence to the recipient of them.  The history of the words are best researched and thought about, before they are fashionably used to be ‘hip’.

4. What is the temperature of the reactions to Nggrfg so far?

The reactions to NGGRFG in Edmonton, have been unanimously positive, favourable and thought-provoking. Critics love it, and most importantly, the door has been opened through Berend (McKenzie’s piece) to engage in a dialogue about the power and effect of the N and the F word.

5. What is your best piece of advice for our neophyte directors?

Yikes! I am one of those people. I think that one has to be a dramaturg, making sure that the story is the important thing being relayed, and that the actor is in the safest and most exhilarating place to tell the story, emotionally and creatively.

6. What was the best piece of acting advice you’ve ever received?

Listen…listen…listen, and listen.  Acting is the ability to ‘do’, under imaginary circumstances.  Listen to what your partner is telling you, and respond truthfully, from an emotional place or point of view.

7. Where is the next generation of theatre audiences going to come from?

They are in the streets, in Safeway, on the sky-train, waiting to see their lives represented on stage. We are the story-tellers, and we have a tradition to maintain…we writers and actors.

8. How should the Canadian independent arts be dealing with the persistent funding cuts from our government?

I believe that it behooves those with imaginations to dare to live and dream and act outside the box: write….create….share, and don’t depend on government bodies to help us. I have been the recipient of government help, and I am grateful for that, but I also have been a self-starter, and it is a place of power from which to share.

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

I know…there are a few of them out there, but have they earned their battle scars yet? There is an old Jamaican adage: You live, you learn. Experience, is one of the biggest teachers, and style is attractive, but substance is seductive, and will keep you  engaged for the long haul.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

My old acting teacher (William Esper) has written a book. It is refreshing my soul. Reading books that stimulate my imagination….the story grips me, and inspires me to dare to write….books like Laurence Hill’s The Book Of Negroes. Reading friend’s new works is also a thrill….to see how people express themselves inspires me too.

11.What’s next?

I have written a play (STRUCK!), and am going back to the drawing board to finish up my James Baldwin script. I will be in a production of staged readings of The Trial Of Judas Iscariot, at Pacific Theatre in October, and then in the Gateway production of Thoroughly Modern Millie, and then the re-mount of The Full Monty, in Saskatoon in spring.

This One Goes to Eleven: Greg Bishop

Greg Bishop is a hustler, in the best sense of the word. His company, Eye Heart Productions continues to roll with new and provocative work, and through it he is bound and determined to establish a new model for independent theatre funding, one that relies on business stratagems over the time-honoured grant-driven engine. And in light of the new direction our government is intent on steering us – away from being a province that financially supports and fosters its artistic community – this might not be such a bad idea.

Eye Heart’s latest offering, the Canadian premiere of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s Good Boys and True stars none other than Greg himself, and is being directed by Canadian theatre icon Jeff Hyslop. It opens at the Firehall on September 9th.

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1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Stoked!

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

I come from small town Ontario, so for me at least, Vancouver is the Big City!  I see opportunity everywhere I turn. A myriad or venues to choose from, actors… lots of actors… (what with the television and film industries here)… and artists of all genres… How lucky we are!

3. Of all the storytelling mediums out there, why theatre and why theatre in Vancouver?

There is a place where the ordinary meets the imagination…where the visual combines with the emotional…where words from a text get up and walk, sing, dance and fly…and at the confluence of all these elements, they meet the energy of an audience.  It is a magical, ever-changing place… a place we experience but for fleeting moments… Once you’ve been there, you never want to leave and always long to return. It is the theatre.

Why Vancouver?  Simple… It’s where I am. Theatre happens wherever you are. It’s no different in Campbell River or Thunder Bay, or Greenwich Village. Wherever there is imagination, there is theatre.

4. What is the biggest challenge facing our indie stage right now, and how do we tackle it?

Our biggest challenge is ourselves.  The only thing that limits us is our “little voices” telling us what we can and cannot achieve. I stopped listening to mine… That’s when things really started to take off.

5. What are you imperatives when choosing material for Eye Heart?

At the core of our mandate, is the idea that we want to produce intelligent, thought provoking and emotionally challenging works of theatre. That’s where we start… Taking those qualities as a given, we are looking for new material. There’s nothing more exciting and fulfilling than seeing an audience who are experiencing a playwright’s text for the first time.

6. What is your philosophy on a sustainable financial model for indie theatre?

Oh Boy!  (This question goes to Eleven!)  I’m probably going to ruffle some feathers here… but you asked! There is a financial model that many of us cling to which is not market-driven but relies on grants and public funding to sustain itself. Time and again, I hear (and read) people in the theatre world bemoaning the loss of funding to the arts as if it were their birthright. In case someone who is reading this has been away from the world for few years, I’ll state the obvious; given the new reality of the economy, that model is unsustainable. We need to partner with the private sector and find ways to create mutually rewarding relationships with business. We need to market ourselves. We need to stop whining, roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty. We need to stop asking the question “what do we have to do to fix theatre?” and realize that theatre isn’t broken… our perception of it is. And finally, we need to value the work that we do, and charge accordingly for it.  (Priced out Canucks tickets lately? )

7. What’s the last thing that you saw on stage that blew the back of your head off?

Bug by Tracy Letts at The Barrow Street Theatre in New York 5 years ago. New York ruined me for several years. Nothing was good enough after that. That’s not to say I haven’t seen good theatre here, (I saw a beautiful production of Angels in America on Granville Island a year or two back and last season’s Doubt at The Stanley was terrific) but the bar is pretty high if you want to blow the back of my head off. There is some exciting work being done in the Lower Mainland though, in particular, a production of Lee Blessing’s Eleemosynary last season by a new group in South Delta called Get Real Theatre was nothing less than triumphant.

8. If you could tell all first time theatre directors one thing, what would it be?

It’s all about the casting and casting starts with the audition.  Have your applicants prepare an audition piece and then after they’ve performed it, ask them to do it some other way… it doesn’t even have to be in context to the piece they are performing… just so that you can see if they will make a choice and commit to it. Give them direction and see what they do with it. The process of having actors parade in, cold read from a script and leave is ridiculous. I don’t want to know if an actor can read, I want to see what decisions he/she makes when thrown a curve ball.

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

Teach your children well, get a publicist and get rid of that mullet!

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

My all time favourites? Lion in the Streets by Judith Thompson,  Fool For Love by Sam Shepard and Three Tall Women by Edward Albee. What plays do I have on my bedside table right now? Red Light Winter by Adam Rapp, Beautiful Lake Winnipeg by Maureen Hunter and Purple Heart by Bruce Norris.

11. What’s next?

The Canadian Premiere of Good Boys and True by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa which opens 09/09/09 at The Firehall.  I am very excited to be acting again after 3 years of directing, and thrilled to be working under the direction of Canadian Theatre Icon (and all-around nice guy) Jeff Hyslop.  Perhaps the most rewarding part will be sharing the stage with my son (and business partner) Taylor.  After that, we hope to bring the World Premiere of a brand new musical conceived by Jeff Hyslop and written by Canadian legend David Warrack to Vancouver audiences in the Spring.

This One Goes to Eleven: Janet Munsil

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.

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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.

Smoking with Lulu with Thelma Barlow and Peter Eyre at West Yorkshire Playhouse
Smoking with Lulu with Thelma Barlow and Peter Eyre at West Yorkshire Playhouse

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.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

Act One, by Moss Hart. The Life of Kenneth Tynan, by Kathleen Tynan. Fat Chance, by Simon Gray.

11. What’s next?

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.

That Elusive Spark at UVic (Trevor Hinton as Phineas Gage, Photo Tim Matheson)
That Elusive Spark at UVic (Trevor Hinton as Phineas Gage, Photo Tim Matheson)

This One Goes to Eleven: Darien Edgeler

Out in the wild, far reaches of Deep Cove (an epic 8 minute drive from downtown, an invisible accessibility discussed previously on TOGtE) there thrives a burgeoning theatre community grinding away tirelessly throughout the year. It was there that we first met Darien, preparing to be seen in his own work Seasons, directed by Wendy Van Riesen.

Darien is an award-winning producer, playwright, actor, MC, voiceover artist, and stage combat choreographer. He is the Writer-in-Residence for The Half-Stratford Players, and now a The Next Stage Interviewee…

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1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Blessed.

2. In several more words, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

I would argue that, compared to most cities, Vancouver is a theatrical Shangri-La.  All the important ingredients for successful stagings are, in my opinion, available.  Suppose you want to put on a show.  There are virtually no restrictions on the content; no limitations, in other words, resulting from ethnic or religious or political considerations.  There are also a variety of venues that you can rent, and an abundance of talented technicians and performers, many of whom will participate in your project for the love of it.  If you market your mounting effectively, there will be decent audiences, and, if your show is good, the response will be enthusiastic.  What more can anyone ask for?

3. Describe for us the Deep Cove theatre scene, and its relationship to the downtown theatre scene.

There are four clubs that do shows in Deep Cove:  Deep Cove Stage, First Impressions Theatre, Seycove Drama, and – my own company – The Half-Stratford Players.  All four troupes do good work.  I don’t know that the Deep Cove theatre scene has any connection to the downtown theatre scene except in the sense that the former is a microcosm of the latter:  the relative conservatism evident in the programming choices of the Deep Cove companies, for instance, is evident on a larger scale in a city-wide reluctance to embrace new and locally-written work.

4. Does contemporary theatre have a responsibility to leave us with a sense of hope?

Well, David Mamet would suggest that theatre’s only obligation is to delight and I, to a certain extent, would agree.  Playwrights are members of society that have, because they have a talent for entertaining others, been temporarily excused from fetching wood and carrying water.  That said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with theatre being uplifting.  Marsha Norman once remarked that she had reached a point in her career where all she wanted to do, really, was write about acts of courage and, most of the time, that’s what interests me also.

5. Who are you main influences, and why?

Shakespeare, of course; his dramatic legacy is ubiquitous.  But really, it varies from play to play.  I mean, I once borrowed a device from Journey’s End, but that was because it was the perfect tool for the job, not because I seek to follow in the creative footsteps of R. C. Sherriff.  I think it’s true that you learn to write all over again each time you pen a new play and so I think it’s fair to say that you’re going to draw on different sources and traditions each time you undertake a new project.  I mainly just try to adhere to what I have come to think of as The Golden Rule of Playwrighting:  write the sorts of plays that you yourself would most love to watch.

6. What are your long-term theatrical career goals?

I used to be a real theatre slut:  I’d do any show that came along.  As an actor, I mean.  Then one day a director called me and said:  “Darien, I’ve got the perfect part for you – you’ll be playing a slow-witted, socially-awkward veterinarian!”  I was about to say yes, when I realized that a slow-witted, socially-awkward veterinarian really wasn’t the perfect part for me.  And that was something of an epiphany; I realized that, if I wanted to tackle roles that I found intriguing and personally meaningful, I was going to have to create them myself.  All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I started writing plays for entirely selfish reasons.  And, as it happens, I continue to write plays for entirely selfish reasons.  My primary goal is have fun.  Writing plays is a lark, in other words, and all I really set out to do is offer audiences something they’ve never seen before and to make sure that each theatrical experience is better than the last.

7. What is our biggest enemy in our fight to wrangle new audiences?

Outmoded thinking.  Not many people under thirty are going to be excited about going to see Agatha Christie.  If theatre is going to survive as a medium, then production companies need to commit to helping playwrights create exciting new works relevant to contemporary Canadian audiences.

8. What do you consider to be your greatest strengths as a playwright? Your weaknesses?

I like to think that all the arrows in my quiver – structure, character, plot, dialogue – are getting incrementally sharper through use.  My Achilles heel {from a commercial standpoint, anyway} is probably that, once a show has opened, I immediately lose interest in it and start thinking about the next one.

9. What was your last truly inspiring experience in a piece of theatre?

Blackbird at The Cultch a few months back and, before that, Robert Lepage’s Far Side of The Moon.

10. What are your top three theatre reads?

The volumes I continue to revisit are David Mamet’s True And False, Stuart Spencer’s The Playwright’s Guidebook, and Jeffrey Hatcher’s The Art & Craft of Playwriting.

11. What’s next?

I’m doing As You Like It with Neil Freeman this summer {acting and fight choreography} and then I’ll probably start work on a script to be produced next April.  I can’t tell you about it, unfortunately, because I’ve found that talking about a work in progress diminishes the impetus to actually write it.  And it’s important to protect that impetus because I, like Dorothy Parker, hate writing, but love having written.

This One Goes to Eleven: Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg

Tara is a theatrical force of nature, busy hammering out a viable niche for dance-theatre in Vancouver. She’s been dancing since the age of 3, went to ballet school and theatre school, and earned a degree in dance from Simon Fraser University. She worked with Green Thumb Theatre as a dance/actor. She is now the Artistic Director of Tara Cheyenne Performance, where she develops her own dance-theatre creations along with director Sophie Yendole and composer Marc Stewart. Tara has been nominated for several Jessie Richardson Awards and an Ovation Award for her choreography in theatre.

Click here to see Tara talk about her upcoming work Goggles on a promo I shot for her recently. It was a one-take wonder she came up with on the spot after finding a piece of chalk on the ground. Like I said, a force of nature.

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1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Excited…tired…nervous…repeat…

2. In as many words as tickles your fancy, describe the present condition of the Vancouver stage arts scene.

The scene is one I am proud to be involved in. I’d say that we are just now getting some of the notice I think we deserve. The fact that we are hanging out here on the West Coast and have been partly dismissed for a while has actually been beneficial in that we’re just doing what we feel like without the pressure of being Toronto or Montreal. Our challenges are stuff like “sorry man I can’t make it to your show, I’m climbing the Chief in the morning”.

3. What is the relationship between our theatrical stage community and our dance stage community? Is there a middle ground?

Not enough yet… but I think with so many progressive theatre artists and companies doing interdisciplinary work with strong movement elements, and dance artists and companies doing work with text or using dramaturges etc. we are seeing each other in closer creative proximity. I’d like to see more audience cross pollination. We are all doing the same thing on a basic level making the west coast performing arts landscape a rich one. I love the fact that there isn’t a definable type of Vancouver dance or theatre.

4. Would you categorize our stage industry as ‘risk-taking’? Why or why not?

I’d say definitely yes and definitely no, and every point in between. Because we might not have had the infrastructure/$ other centres have, but we’ve made inventive choices that we may not have made with more resources. It is good on the other hand that we have some bigger establishments doing maybe less risky projects and getting lots of bums in seats. This is important because I believe some of those folks will choose to go alternative once they feel comfortable as a ‘theatre patron’.

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5. What is your niche’s biggest marketing challenge?

Dance is always tricky because people read the word ‘dance’ and assume they won’t understand it, or they’ll be bored without words and story. But I know that once people come to Dances for a Small Stage or The Edge just once they almost always come back. I think we are still relying on outdated or less effective marketing tools and need to expand into groups of people that never get further than So You Think You Can Dance. Most people can imagine themselves acting but few can imagine themselves dancing. The more we get people moving in schools and everywhere the more they’ll feel comfortable coming to see professional dance…well that’s my theory.

6. If I gave you a million dollars to improve the industry of dance theatre here, how would you spend it?

I’d get people dancing and making dances. Community outreach style. And I’d try to make the dance artist more of a celeb/ “star” like  musicians or actors are. We have a few but most people don’t know who Pina Bausch was.

7. What questions do you wish people would ask about your work?

That’s a hard question. I’m happy answering any questions people might have. If the work doesn’t say what I’m intending and people have to ask then I need to work on that aspect.

8. Who are your great influences?

Steve Martin, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Denise Clarke, Pina Bausch, Robert LePage, Harold Lloyd.

9. Given a time machine, what would you tell a young Tara just starting out on her career?

There is no one way to do things. Trust your seemingly crazy instincts even if you think they are obvious, too silly, too easy, done before, undefinable.

10. What are your top 3 inspirational reads?

A New Earth – Ekhart Tolle, The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp, Excuses Be Gone – Dr. Wayne Dyer

11. What’s next?

I’m going into the final phase of creation to finish my latest solo, Goggles, which will premiere at the Cultch Nov. 17-21. Then I’m going to continue working on a group piece (working title Highgate) dealing with Victoria funerary obsessions. I’m excited to work on other artists. I’m also excited about getting into this gothic creepiness. Its so compelling. I’m looking forward to seeing where my work will lead me, creatively and globally. I never thought making a piece about a teenage headbanger boy would lead me to perform bANGER at the South Bank Centre London last summer, so ya never know what’s gonna happen or “who” might show up…

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