Breaking up is hard to do

Local Director/Playwright/Performer Amiel Gladstone (check out his TNS interview here) has made the tough decision to start moving on with his life, and split up with an old benefactor. He would like to share the painful decision with us here.

It’s being posted across the country, on the blogs of Toronto’s Crow Theatre, and Calgary’s Verb Theatre.

Getting Over It: Amiel Gladstone breaks up with the BC government

It’s over. No warning.

I was not in favour of this break up. I knew that things weren’t perfect but I felt like they still could be fixed. We’d worked through some hard times. I thought I had good arguments of why we should stay together. I felt like I was understood and appreciated. My achievements were trumpeted. International visitors were invited from around the world and my art was part of the incentive to come. I thought we would all be able to celebrate together. Now all our international visitors are coming, but it can feel a bit strained to plaster on the smile and pretend I’m happy to be at the party since The Government of British Columbia no longer wants to continue our relationship.

Some nights it’s hard to leave the house. Everywhere I go I am reminded of how things were. Just around the corner from me, the Vancouver East Cultural Centre has a brand new huge renovation. Downtown the Queen Elizabeth Theatre received a facelift. There are openings all over town filled with people. Memories of how we were in synch. And now? I feel like a failure because I couldn’t make this work.

I think about moving away. The Globe and Mail has an article about how Chicago must be the third largest theatre town in North America and not Toronto. I don’t know anyone in Chicago. Perhaps this is a good thing. So much of being a theatre artist is making relationships with like-minded artists. This takes time. I’m 37 years old. Do I want to go out there and start all over again in another community?

Fellow director Kim and I talk about doing other things. All of these really, really smart people, are we wasting our time? We talk about other business ventures. We talk about opening a great restaurant.

I do my best to survive. I don’t always know exactly what I’m doing. But am I not worthy of support? Of love? Why have I been left? What did I do that has caused me to be treated so coldly? With what feels an awful lot like contempt.

The provincial minister who has been assigned arts as his portfolio, Kevin Krueger, is the type of man who, when in public, talks about how he loves culture so much because he saw a great Rita MacNeil concert however many years ago. Our premier Gordon Campbell seems like he shares the same love for reading and playing the piano as Stephen Harper. But this is just my anger bubbling over. It happens sometimes. I need these guys.

I want to go over to Krueger’s front lawn with a boom box playing Rita MacNeil songs.

I realize I’m not to be trusted. I’m going through a bit of mental illness. My thought processes aren’t right. My filter is wrong. I think about going back into therapy.

I take my friend Matt to a Canucks game at GM Place. Matt’s feeling down too, broken hearted, so I’m splurging to try and cheer us up. We drink a lot of $9 beers at the game. Henrik Sedin is having an excellent season. It’s an exciting game, but the home team loses by one.

The government announces a $458 million dollar project – building a new roof for BC Place: our other downtown stadium. I wonder how the government can start seeing other people so soon. I wonder why the government likes stadiums more than theatre. Then I think about Henrik Sedin. Even I paid a lot of money to see him.

I think about how I work so much from the unknown. Often grant applications are made up or some sort of weird guess, when really they are attempts to get into the place of the unknown. What happens when there is even less money for funding? Will the unknown be even less likely to get funding? How do I shift my process so I know more, earlier?

I am directing a play at a college that trains actors. I am enjoying the work. I allow myself to fall in love with them a little bit, but my heart feels vulnerable. I feel afraid for what will happen to these young actors, as they attempt to follow a career path – especially when our political leaders are suggesting that what they are doing is worthless. I think of how we are teaching and learning to tell stories, but not teaching and learning the real skills they need. They need to be able to survive financially and be able to drop everything to take gigs. The ones that figure it out will survive.

Amiel is an award-winning playwright, director and performer based out of Vancouver. You can find his blog – theatre for people who don’t like theatre – on his website.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user JavaJan1

This one goes to eleven: Amiel Gladstone

Amiel Gladstone: Playwright, Director, Blogger (he has one of the best titles for a blog ever), he works all over BC from Victoria (a co-founder of Theatre SKAM) to Vancouver to the Okanagan. His numerous plays include Hippies and Bolsheviks and My Three Sisters, a Chekhov adaptation.

Amiel is truly tireless in his efforts to carve out a theatrical legacy for BC, and we’re grateful he took the time to be interviewed. Read on for his thoughts on the business here, and some truly innovative ideas towards lifting us to the next stage…


1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Bucharest! (I’m here for the Romanian premiere of my play ‘Hippies and Bolsheviks’.)

2. In any number of words, describe the present condition of the North-West theatre scene.

The North-West theatre scene? I’m not exactly sure what the boundaries are of this scene. I have vague ideas of what happens in Whitehorse, Kamloops, Nelson, Victoria and Vancouver, so it’s hard to paint this all with the same brush, but I would say that in the places outside Vancouver I see theatre that is finding ways to survive and the audiences are responding to it, possibly because there is a deep human need to hear stories presented live in front of them.

I think the Vancouver scene has experienced a well documented rise by the latest generation of companies, and we are currently in a plateau phase, which may not be able to last long. I think we need to start taking big immediate steps forward as we risk losing momentum.

3. What is it about the nature of theatre that has kept your attention for so long?

This question makes me feel old. I think part of it is because I still haven’t been able to get it right – there’s always something to be working on to make it better.  Plays are never finished. There’s always structure to be strengthened, moments to clarify, things that I’d like to make stronger, clearer, funnier. The creation of theatre is always changing, always a puzzle, but with no box top to help guide you. It is an emotional elusive compelling thing. And there is no better drug than the deep belly laugh of an audience enthralled. It takes collaboration and trust to make that it all happen. Trust and collaboration amongst fellow addicts.

4. Is playwrighting a solo or collaborative exercise for you? Why?

Initially very solo. This is changing a bit because I’m trying to adapt to the way most theatres work – that is they take a ‘completed’ script and rehearse it. I have started rehearsals with actors with 12 measly pages of script and written furiously as  we went along. It can be a particular kind of hell for actors. But as I said I’m trying to get better and have more on paper before bringing in actors.

5. How are we evolving as a theatre community?

There is more sharing of resources. There is more awareness of how we all fit in the ecology of our community, in fact it appears we actually have an ecology. We are reflecting the diversity of our population more.

6. If you were given one million dollars towards improving the health of independent theatre here, how would you spend it?

I would like to try a grand experiment. In Europe, this idea of running a show for 10 days and then closing is absurd. Equally crazy to them: the subscriber model in which each play runs for 4 weeks whether is is successful or not. The European community does performances once a week, or twice a month say, and is able to run them for months. Audiences are built for successful shows, actors have months to develop roles in performance, Plays can have a longer life and greater impact.

I’d love to be able to try this. Perhaps this is the next step we need.

ATP in Calgary tried a season in rep a few years back and it didn’t seem to work at all, so there is obviously risk involved.

We have many obstacles over here to prevent this, including how the actors’ association contracts, how we schedule our companies, and how the venues are shares. So with my one million dollars I would like a building in which we can try to run shows in rep. Various companies can bring in shows, throughout the season.

This building ideally would have a lot of much needed rehearsal space, and a theatre bar which actually caters to the theatre community, as a gathering place, an idea sharing place, a place to party.

7. What should our new theatre artists know about the legacy of the scene that has come before them?

I think that we are all trying our best.

8. What should they change about it?

I think good work is the best argument for everything.

9. What has been your proudest theatrical moment to date?

Standing in the lunch line up at the Banff Centre cafeteria as part of the PlayRites Colony for the first time.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

Tips: Ideas for Directors by Jon Jory. The most useful book that I have found on directing in today’s world.

Obedience, Struggle and Revolt- A collection of lectures by David Hare. Lucid, provocative, inspiring ideas.

The Stage Lighting Handbook – 4th Edition by Francis Reid.

11. What’s next?

20 Minute Musicals – Theatre Replacement at PuSh. I’m directing short works by Veda Hille and Bill Richardson and Geoff Burner. Jan 29 / 30.

Jack Pine – a new children’s opera by Veda Hille. Directing this world premiere for Vancouver Opera which will tour schools and go to BC Scene in Ottawa. Public premiere February 15 at Centennial Theatre in North Van.

The Ends of the Earth. Directing Morris Panych’s Governor General Award winning 1992 play at the Belfry Theatre in Victoria, opens March 15.

E-stage for the Vancouver Playhouse. Guiding high school playwrights through some script development workshops during Spring Break.

At last: Craig’s List and Steve Fonyo set to music

push-logo_2009Seriously, sometimes theatre marketing is all in the titles. Tonight’s line up at Club PuSh (the temporary entertainer’s lounge set up on Granville Island for the duration of the festival that I wish was a real bar in Vancouver all year round) jumps right off the page.

Two Twenty-Minute Musicals begin the entertainment tonight, followed by the “atmospheric, wry and jazzy” group The Beige. (Click for samples of a few of their tracks.) Both musicals are directed by prolific BC playwright and director – and co-founder of Victoria’s Theatre SKAM – Amiel Gladstone (check back tomorrow for a great This one goes to eleven with Amiel).

The first one caught my eye because my wife has a bona-fide addiction to Craig’s List, and she plays the thing like a harp. Do You Want What I Have Got: A Craig’s List Contata is a musical piece about the ubiquitous stuff-shuffling site, with music by Veda Hille and book by Bill Richardson. Yep, he of the CBC. Veda has a splendid blog, check it out to hear her performing one of the songs from the play; Decapitated Dolls, at home accompanied by her crying newborn. Awesome.

Next up is something called Distant Second: The Steve Fonyo Story by Geoff Berner. If you’ll scan Geoff’s Wikipedia page, you’ll get a good indication of what you may be in for with this on.

Both shows play tonight (Thursday, January 29) and tomorrow night.

Club PuSh is located at Performance Works on Granville Island – $20 at the door, free after 11:00 pm.