This one goes to eleven: Bob Frazer

Meet Vancouver’s Bob Frazer. (There, we lay claim to him. It’s official now because it’s on the internet.) Born in Ontario but raised in the Okanagan, Bob has become a bit of a Golden Boy of our stages here. I love his simple bio from the program for his current production of Skydive, onstage now at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage as part of the PuSh Festival:

He is a regular contributor at Bard on the Beach and has helped develop over 50 new plays. He has written three plays, graduated from Studio 58, and created life twice. He is a lucky, lucky man.

In fact, his version of Hamlet during Bard’s 2005 season was a smash critical and commercial success, I still hear it referenced in reverent tones during theatre coffee shop talk. And together with theatre school buddy James Sanders he is once again causing a buzz with the high-flying Skydive.

We’re grateful this week’s 11 questions didn’t go too heavily with his disposition…

frazer-bob

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Tiredsoreexhilarated.

2. Describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene in as many words as you need.

For some reason we can’t seem to get enough audience out to see the work. I think we need to be bolder, better and prouder. Vancouver theatre is truly some of the best in the world and just think how great it would be if we all took that next step to be better. We may then break up some of the infatuation we have on the film and tv industry in Vancouver. It’s funny, but I think theatre may be messed up by the film industry. Other cities that don’t have as thriving a film and TV industry as we do concentrate all their efforts on theatre. They put every effort into making sure the shows are great. We strive to do good theatre but we are always thinking about that film and that TV show. We lose great designers and actors and technicians daily to the film industry and a lot of our media is about what is filming in town and what celebrity was seen on Robson. Other cities do interviews with theatre artists instead of filling up columns with the latest news about a street shut down for a stunt on a big budget movie. But I should take my own advice and instead of bitching about it, I should do something about it.

3. How does the reality of theatre work compare to what you imagined it would be when you started in it?

It really doesn’t differ from what I dreamed it would be. I am in love with theatre and have been excited by it all my life. And now after 15 years of professional work I still think a theatre is one of the greatest places to be at any time of the day. Whether I’m watching or acting in a show.

4. Describe the ideal relationship with your director.

Hard, honest work. A daily laugh or two, and a lot of trust. Then a cold beer at the end of the day.

5. What do you know about the craft of acting that you didn’t before starting work on Skydive?

It seems that every show I do I realize there is a new lesson I need to learn. Skydive has not been an exception, but I’d rather keep my ego somewhat intact by not divulging the simple lessons Skydive has taught me about acting that I should have figured out years ago.

skydive_2569

6. Do you see any trends developing within the theatre movement in Vancouver?

Having just returned from seeing shows in Montreal, Calgary, Toronto and New York, it’s clear to me that site-specific theatre doesn’t really happen in other cities like it does in Vancouver. We have cornered the market and continue to develop what site-specific theatre is.

7. What’s your best advice for young actors trying to break into the theatre scene here?

It’s tough but you can do it. Anyone can do it.

I truly believe to be successful in theatre anywhere, you have to have more than a surface desire to succeed. I mean that celebrity should not even take up one second of your thoughts. Being the best you can be at your chosen profession should be at the forefront of your thoughts. And as long as you have a strong desire to succeed and be great it doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you do it. So crash auditions if you want to work in the big theatres and can’t get an audition. But don’t crash the audition and do something shitty. Be prepared. And I mean totally prepared, not just off book (because most are off book) but three levels past that. Create your own stuff if you want. But don’t create shit, create greatness. And don’t let shit be shown until you are satisfied that it is great shit. Go and see as many different artistic things as you can. Inspiration comes from many different places.

But first and foremost do your absolute best. Put the effort in to make it better than anyone else could do. If you don’t know what that is or how to do it then ask.

8. What’s your career highlight thus far?

I have two. Hamlet and Skydive.

9. Given a time machine, what would you say to a young Bob Frazer in his high school drama class?

Keep going and trust everything that is going to happen to you. Some of it will hurt but you’ll be okay.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

The year of the king, by Antony Sher; any Arden Shakespeare edition; True and False, by David Mamet. (Half his crap is false but half of it is true. And I love his audacity.)

11. What’s next?

A new western in Kamloops; Iago at Bard on the Beach; and Realwheels‘ next project (as yet un-named but really exciting!!!!).

Using Video to Promote your Show

businessyRebecca is a contributing columnist and founder of Rebecca Coleman Marketing and Media Relations, a Vancouver PR company. She blogs at artofthebiz.com and twitters under @rebeccacoleman.

Over the last few months, I’ve been doing guest posts on the topic of visuals to accompany your publicity campaign. We talked about the two photo shoots you need for your show, the publicity shot, and the production photo.

Today, I want to talk about moving pictures. While it’s true that theatre does not translate well on video, many companies are taking advantage of new, and more accessable technology to help get the word out about their shows.

If you haven’t taken advantage of Simon’s video listing services yet, you should. It’s free, easy, and fast. He will meet with you, and then he shoots you, speaking directly to camera, about why the  audience should come see your show. Within the day, it’s up on The Next Stage Video Listings page, and available to you through YouTube. You can embed it to your Facebook event page. This kind of video works because people are very passionate about their shows, and your passion while speaking about it can be very contagious.

If you want to try to get your play featured on the evening news, you need b-roll. B-roll is, essentially, footage of your show that you supply to TV news stations, in hopes that they will do a story on it. Because the quality of your footage needs to be high, this is not something you can just do yourself, unless you are a professional cameraman or director. You need to hire a professional.

The key to B-roll is to keep it short–I recommend under 3 minutes. Chances are, if you are lucky enough to actually get your footage on the air, only about 10-30 seconds will air. You may want to supplement your footage with short interview segments by directors or stars.

Here are some examples of how you can use video to promote your show:

Bard on the Beach
Stuff 2 Do
The Ash Girl
(this is a show I worked on last year–we shot a couple of video trailers for it)
If you are doing a lot of videos online, you can set up your own ‘channel’. Check out this example from the National Arts Centre.


This One Goes to Eleven: David Mackay

Well, the tents are back up in Vanier Park, which means summer and Shakespeare are on their way. Has anyone noticed how good Bard on the Beach has gotten in the last few years? Not that it wasn’t good before but seriously, they’ve really hit their stride. Thanks in no small part to this week’s interviewee, Mr. Mackay directs his second Bard play this year with Twelfth Night, and has been strutting and fretting about the boards on the beach for many years. (He rocked Timon of Athens last year.) His vision of Twelfth Night is an homage to the Hollywood movies of yesteryear. Wicked.

David is also a well-received playwright and a founding member of Yorick Theatre. So, without much further ado about nothing…

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Panicked-joy.

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

Some really good exciting stuff (with a little Theatre du Wank.) There’s a lot of talent in this city. An amazing calibre of actors, some very strong directors, but we need more playwrights. I recently worked with some students up at Studio 58 and UBC, there’s more talent on the way. Leah Cordson wrote one of the best first plays I’ve read/seen in a long time. Kevin Stark will graduate from UBC next year, a very talented actor.

3. Why has theatre in Vancouver fallen behind as a popular entertainment choice amongst our younger demographic?

Some of it has to do with theatre media coverage in this city, it’s always been a little lacklustre. I blame the editors not the critics. Jerry Wasserman’s website is an active choice with reviews and bulletins. But ultimately, the responsibility lies with theatre producers. The Arts Club has a nice mix of old, new, crowd pleasers. Bill Millerd is an incredible theatre person in this city. He actively listens to new playwrights, directors and actors. If you have a pitch, he’ll give you his ear. Christopher Gaze is also excellent in nurturing new talent and directors (even though he only sticks with one playwright.) I think the See Seven pass and programming is probably the best innovative going after a young adult crowd. Personally, if I see another Canadian play set in rural anywhere with farm boys getting ready to go to war, I’ll barf.

4. How is your method of storytelling bolstered by placing a historical context on the modern world?

A good play can get moved around in time, place and atmosphere. If the playwright has captured our honest nature, warts and all, you can move a play around. Shakespeare’s so good, he let’s you get away with a lot. He wrote for the ear. He, like Pinter, understands how we actually receive words and process them in our heads into thoughts and feelings. If you respect that you can have a lot of fun.

5. Describe your approach to creating a play in a group setting.

You have to respect everyone as an individual. The best plays are when everyone is working together to tell the same story as an ensemble. That includes the production team as well and designers. I’m new to directing, so I like to over prepare and have a million answers. But if someone has a better idea than me, then that’s what has to go in the show. During any period of creativity everyone becomes extremely neurotic, fuses get shorter, people are more sensitive, but in order to keep a creative environment, you have to keep people open and be vulnerable, (but you have to watch how much you cater to ‘needy’ moments). I love neurosis in people. As an actor and a playwright, I strive to capture honest neurotic-nature.

6. Why is colour and gender-blind casting a beneficial production decision?

Ideally, the best actor should get whatever part they busted their hump to get. Of course that doesn’t always happen. But as a forty something white guy, who’s gonna believe me talking about colour and gender-blind casting. I know, woman on the whole work two to three times harder than men. The leading women in this community are not only talented, but their work ethic is stellar.

7. What is your best piece of practical advice to new directors learning on the job?
I’m relatively new to directing, so I’m still learning. But I try to practice “Be precise in your story-telling”. As a director, you have to monitor the ‘flow of information’. The director has to be the audience member who watches the information go from A to B to C and the audience has to watch the ball passed along that journey. Tom Stoppard talks beautifully about this in an essay called “Pragmatic Theatre.”

For me, James Fagan Tait is an excellent model example for a director. He’s prepared, he’s courteous, he commands a room with a fair authority, and he’s patient. (I’m still working on that). His final speech when he hands over the show to the stage manager, is the most humble and gracious offer I’ve seen in the theatre. Not only is he a brilliant director, he does it with class.

8. How do you keep Shakespeare relevant for the uninitiated?

Let the language be heard. In rehearsal, trust that the funniest guy in the room is Shakespeare. Shakespeare covers so much of the human condition and experience. The thought process he gives his characters to arrive at their perspective follows the minutiae of our thinking and feeling. He includes every doubt, every synapse, every ounce of vanity and fear that goes into our actions. And he did it with poetry! Again, Tom Stoppard in Pragmatic Theatre states: “Shakespeare, did the thing that makes Shakespeare breathtaking and defines poetry—the simultaneous compression of language and expansion of meaning.”

9. Given a time machine, what would you tell a young David Mackay just starting a career in the theatre?
Don’t read reviews, good or bad, you’re wasting time either gloating or seething, read more plays. You have to be your own judge. Be honest and brutal with yourself if you have to be, and respectful and gracious if you trust you did something well. And young David, invest in Apple.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

Every Pinter play (most economical use of the English language by any playwright)

Theatre of the Absurd by Martin Esslin (inspires me to read and write plays)

The Pragmatic Theatre by Tom Stoppard

11. What’s next?

I received a BC Arts Council Grant to write a play about two terrorists who arrive in Vancouver for the Olympics to blow up two BC ferries. Allan Zinyk and I will be the terrorists.

And this fall I will play the lead role in Cyrano de Bergerac at the Arts Club directed by James Fagan Tait. I first listened to this play at the Wilson Recording Library at UBC twenty-five years ago. There is not another role in theatre I can think of that I have wanted to play more than Cyrano.

This One Goes to Eleven: Torrance Coombs

I first caught Torrance onstage last year in Bard on the Beach’s production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead which, being one of my all-time favourite plays, I was nervously hoping they weren’t going to screw up. They didn’t, not by a long shot. They took a difficult play and made it look easy, top to tail showing a sound understanding of its intricacies and finding all the funny there was to be found. Torrance’s work was exemplary, displaying a talent that has found a home on both the local stages and TV shoots. He is a series regular on the soon-to-be-aired CBC series jPod, based on the novel by local writer/artist/actor/playwright/blogger/legend Douglas Coupland. According to sources close to this reporter, it’s going to be awesome.

Torrance Coombs

1.) In one word, describe your present condition.

Charged.

2.) In the amount of words of your choice, describe the condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

Let me preface this by saying that I’m a relative newcomer to the scene. That being said, here’s what I’ve noticed…

There seems to be three main types of theatre happening in the city right now: 1) the theatre desperately clinging to an aging, conservative audience, 2) the theatre desperately trying to reach a new, avant-garde audience, and 3) vanity pieces, mounted not necessarily with the purpose of entertaining or enlightening, but simply as vehicles for actors to show off.

It is very rare that I see an awful play in Vancouver. It is also very rare that I see a truly amazing play. I think the main reason for this is often the script. Plays aimed at the older crowd are a little too “Aw, shucks!” while plays reaching for a new, young audience try too hard to be relevant and end up preachy. Whatever happened to just telling a good story?

Take a boring or incomprehensible script and throw a lot of talent at it, and you end up with something decidedly mediocre. I think we get a lot of that in Vancouver. Having not seen a lot of theatre in other places, I’m not sure that it’s much different anywhere else.

All this being said, I think there are some really exciting things happening in the city. I really love the Electric Company’s work. I also love that James Fagan Tait and Joelysa Pankanea’s work is trickling into the big theatres like the Playhouse and Bard. I also think that the attendance at Bard’s studio stage is very encouraging, getting mostly full houses out to plays like Troilus and Cressida and Timon of Athens.

Slight tangent here. Wouldn’t it be interesting to test the limits of the audience that Bard has nurtured? People have proven that they’ll come to see weird Shakespeare, and even a little Stoppard. But what would happen if they were to mount a new Canadian play? Would they still pack the house every night? I have a feeling they would. There’s something about the event that is Bard on the Beach that gets people excited about the show.

I do wonder sometimes if the quality of the plays has any effect on attendance? People go see the shittiest-movies-that-ever-shitted in droves. That seems mostly to be a product of marketing, and an abundance of people with no taste whatsoever. Is it simply a lack of marketing keeping these people away from plays? Or is it that people want to disengage, and a play requires active participation?

3.) What is the place of theatre in our bustling TV/film town?

I’m not sure that the TV/film industry really affects the place of theatre. Firstly, Vancouver audiences tend not to even watch locally made TV/film. Secondly, local TV/film tends not to tell local stories. So really, the only place to turn for our own stories is the theatre. Think of it in terms of satellite radio versus local radio: sure, satellite gives you great stations from all over the world, but sometimes you want your Vancouver radio personalities and your Vancouver traffic report and all your other Vancouver shit. In the end, they serve different functions and both are relevant. The same can be said for film and theatre.

4.) How does the fact that most actors here target a TV/film career affect the quality of stage acting in Vancouver?

Having recently gone from doing theatre for several years to doing TV, I can say that it’s a bit of a tricky gear-switch. It might be even harder to switch back. In my recent theatre auditions, I’ve had to struggle to project and be a little bigger with things. So I can understand the criticism that Vancouver stage acting can be a little too subdued at times. Maybe film and TV have something to do with that.

That being said, maybe it’s just the generation gap or different tastes or whatever, but I think some theatre acting can get a little hammy. Sometimes I’ll be watching a show and I wish things were a little more grounded and stand-and-deliver, you know?

5.) How well did your BFA in acting prepare you for the working theatre?

The training I got at UBC was pretty superb for the most part. I was lucky enough to be in a class that went through the program during a number of staff leavings and hirings. In the end, we got the best of both worlds in that we had the support and nurturing of the full-time profs coupled with the industry expertise of some great sessionals. They’re also really good about bringing in outside directors to work on the shows with the students, and doing co-productions with local companies. I can directly attribute my career at this point to a single play I did at UBC that started a chain reaction.

6.) What’s the single greatest piece of acting advice you’ve ever received?

Be passionate about what you do. If you don’t give a fuck about what you’re doing, nobody else does either. Actually, now that I read that out loud, it extends beyond acting too.

7.) Christopher Gaze has called his Bard on the Beach the “quintessential Vancouver theatre experience”. Please defend.

Well, judging by their attendance, I don’t think I really need to come to their defense, but here goes!

Starting with the obvious, it’s outdoors, in tents. This actually facilitates something much more interesting than a view of the Vancouver skyline. Without the controlled environment of an indoor theatre, the performance is subject to rain, torrential winds, party boats, airplanes, birds flying into the tent, etc. This adds an element of unpredictability not only for the actors, but for the audience as well. Vancouver never really lets you forget that it’s right outside the tents, happening all around you.

Secondly, the shows are filled to capacity every single night. And while the reasons for this can be argued, what it means is that you’re sharing an experience with hundreds of other people on any given night. Bard seems to attract a crazy cross-section of the population, from Bardophiles reading along in their scripts to ESL schoolchildren looking really bored. There is definitely some kind of uniting force about the whole event.

And the last point I’ll touch on is the diversity of the shows presented. The mainstage rakes in the people who want to see the big plays, particularly the broader, bawdier comedies. The studio stage is actually an amazing place to see lesser-known plays. The mainstage goes big, while the studio stage keeps it deliberately small, creating a more intimate experience. So if you want to see something a little more “for-the-masses”, they’ve got you covered. But if you want to see something more weird and experimental, they’ve also got you covered.

8.) Why, to you, is the bard still relevant?

There’s something about his plots and characters that are incredibly universal. Someone watching a Shakespeare play for the first time would probably feel like they’ve seen the same story a million times before. So the stories feel very modern. But the language is what sets them apart. We all wish we could express ourselves as eloquently as he can. There’s something about the language that elevates a simple story to epic proportions.

9.) Given a time machine, what would you tell a young Torrance Coombs just starting out in the biz?

Shut up and listen. But when you really believe something, stand up for your idea. Wishy-washy is boring. Don’t be afraid to fail.

10.) What are your top 3 reads for the aspiring actor?

A Practical Handbook for the Actor by Melissa Bruder – the process it describes is a little more mechanical than I like, but the principles are essential to the way I work.

Acting in Film by Michael Caine – really helped me out in the conversion from theatre to film/TV.

The Applause First Folio of Shakespeare – not so much for the aspiring actor as for the actor looking to dig a little deeper into Shakespeare. A fantastic text that can provide some really helpful clues in deciphering some of the trickier scenes in a play.

11.) What’s next?

At this point I am unemployed indefinitely. Fingers crossed for a second season of jPod. But the cool thing I’ve discovered about TV is that even when my work is done, the show isn’t over. I haven’t even had an audience yet! I get to look forward to watching jPod on TV at the same time as everyone else. Which, by the way, will be airing Tuesdays at 9pm on CBC, beginning January 8th, 2008