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: 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.