2008: A tough act to follow

van

Well, that was a hell of a year.

I spent more time over the last twelve months submerged in independent theatre than in all of my previous years combined. Through this blog, and through explorations with my own company, I’ve been diving straight towards the heart of this form in an effort to come to terms with exactly why theatre affects me so profoundly, to determine why, for me, it speaks louder than music, than prose, than film – any amount of disciplines that I could just as easily have devoted my time and passion to. With the help of many generous and talented and very smart people I think I’ve found a few answers. But I also now have way more questions than I did this time last year. And so The Next Stage continues.

How are we going to top last year, Vancouver? I will always remember 2008 as the year we took a big step out of our quiet little closet and kick-started the movement. We should acknowledge that it is a very important time historically to be a member of the theatre community here. Ground is being broken. We certainly have a long way to climb until we sit in our rightful place in the hearts and minds of the city at large, but we’re marching. Momentum is building.

In 2008 we: hosted the city’s first Devoted and Disgruntled Open Space forum at PuSh. We finally put together a much-needed critical Fringe guide, and saw the highest attendance at our Fringe ever . We showed how well we take care of one of our own when they need it the most. We played host to Magnetic North, the country’s largest festival and forum for independent theatre, and knocked it out of the park. At Mag North, Hive 2 made Vancouver the envy of every attendant city in Canada, and heaved indie theatre that much closer to the mainstream. The York lives. The Wrecking Ball polarized our industry and proved beyond the shadow of a doubt the awesome power we wield when we come together as a community. And in amongst all of that I bore witness to contemporary independent productions in small spaces that blew my friggin’ mind: Dishpig. Rachel Corrie. Red Light Winter. Where’s My Money. Fortunate Son. The talent in this city is shocking. The potential here is staggering.

My goal for this site in 2009 is to continue to build it as Vancouver’s online indie theatre coffee shop. The Next Stage exists as a forum for promotion, discussion and debate. As always, please feel free to jump into the comments section to speak your mind, and if there’s anything at all that you feel deserves discussion, never hesitate to email me at vanstage(at)gmail(dot)com with your topical topic suggestions.

Oh, and The Next Stage is always open to solicitations for guest posts. If there’s something you need to say to the community and need a soap box, I would be honoured to discuss hosting your piece.

So, Vancouver. What’s next?

Downtown Vancouver skyline courtesy of Flickr user Penmachine

Dishpig and Mr. Fox: The Final Four Farewell

by guest blogger Rebecca Coleman.

Okay, first off, apologies for the liberal use of alliteration. But that stuff has been proven to get people’s attention. Except when it pisses them off. Okay!

I have good news and bad news. The bad news is, we are losing Greg Landucci to Toronto. For those of you who may not be familiar with the guy that Simon and I now affectionately call “The Dooch” (he doesn’t really like it, we’re just trying desperately to be cool), Greg is responsible for two of the best frickin’ Fringe shows in the last two years: Dishpig (2007) and Mr. Fox (2008). He wisely teamed up with TJ Dawe, who helped him write and edit both scripts, and directed them as well.

Now for the good news: Greg is doing a final, Farewell-to-the-Wet-Coast remount of both shows. Starting tomorrow, and running in rep for the next two weeks, it may well be your last chance to see Dishpig and Mr. Fox. So, if you haven’t already seen them, or you want to enjoy them one last time, now’s your chance.

Read on below for information about the shows and tickets and stuff, but the first two people who email me (rebeccacoleman@shaw.ca) can have a pair of tickets to see Dishpig for FREE tomorrow (Wednesday) night. I won’t even make you answer some random question about where Greg went to High School or something lame like that. You just have to be available to go see the show tomorrow night. Because that’s the kind of person I am.

Now for the nitty-gritty details: (Click here to see a video of Greg talking about why you should see these shows)

Landucci as the Dishpig
Landucci as the Dishpig

Dishpig is the story of one guy’s journey to discover himself in a stinky, wet, disgusting hell filled with cooking grease and soggy bread, otherwise known as a restaurant dishpit. Landucci plays 15 roles, changing characters at lighting speed, and creating some pretty fast an furious comedy.

Praise for Dishpig:

“Wow! Dishpig is an absolutely assured piece of one-man theatre, so strong a show that it immediately establishes local talent Greg Landucci as an actor worth following…. Together, Dawe and Landucci have crafted a must-see piece about life in hell.”
-Peter Birnie, The Vancouver Sun.

“Greg Landucci is Dishpig and all the other characters in this fabulous hour-long take on life at the very bottom of the service-industry ladder. Graphic, vulgar, hilarious and surprisingly moving, Dishpig has emerged from the Fringe as a stand-alone evening that you’ll wish lasted much longer.”
-Jerry Wasserman, The Province/Vancouver Plays.com

Landucci sweats it out at Mr. Fox
Landucci sweats it out at Mr. Fox

Mr. Fox tells the story of Landucci’s tenure as the infamous “Mr. Fox,” the mascot for Vancouver’s very popular radio station, CFOX. Mr. Fox’s experience runs the gamut-from women coming on to him, to being kicked, abused, and nearly drowned, all while wearing a very heavy, drenched-in-sweat (not always his own) fox suit.

Praise for Mr: Fox:

“Greg Landucci does it again. Last year we were introduced to this human dynamo in Dishpig, his intensely observed study of life in the “dishpit” at a local restaurant. Its success led Landucci to dig deeper into his own life, and out pops the latest loopy chapter…Not to be missed.”
-Peter Birnie, The Vancouver Sun

“The remarkable Greg Landucci performs his solo script directed by Fringe stand-up fave TJ Dawe, the team behind last year’s knockout, Dishpig…. His charming, ingenuous storytelling and hugely energetic acting make Landucci an absolute crowd-pleaser.”
-Jerry Wasserman, The Vancouver Province

Both Mr. Fox and Dishpig enjoyed stunning success on the Fringe circuit, playing to sold-out houses, gaining critical acclaim, and multiple Best of Fests. Dishpig runs Sept. 24, 26, Oct 2 ,and 4 (9 pm). Mr Fox runs Sept 25, 27, Oct 1 and 3 (7 pm). All shows are at 8 pm, except where noted. Tickets are $15, and are available through Tickets Tonight: 604 684 2787, or online at www.ticketstonight.ca. Cash-only tickets may be available at the door. All shows are at Havana, 1212 Commercial Dr.

Rebecca Coleman is a publicist whose company, Titania Productions, specializes in marketing and media relations for theatre.

Loving the hate: seeing the benefit in backlash

While we’re on the topic of backlash, there’s a play that has made the ‘best of fest‘ at the just-wrapped Winnipeg Fringe (click here for reviews) that’s got people talking about how we as artists handle negative response to our work.

Keir Cutler is a seasoned Fringe writer and performer, whose last work Teaching As You Like It was met with almost universal praise. Almost. One persnickity audience member objected to the show’s subject matter: the distasteful practice of teachers who seduce their teenage students. The play featured Cutler portraying one such teacher as he addresses his class while waiting for the police to arrive to pick him up for his most recent offense. One long-term Fringe-goer apparently didn’t quite get the inherent satire of the piece, and in response wrote a scathingly accusatory 3-page letter to both the Winnipeg Fringe administration and Child Find Manitoba, an organization that notifies community members about high-risk sexual offenders. The letter asserted that the play “could be used as a textbook for the luring and seduction of young girls” and that it “promotes the idea that sexual predation of underage girls is acceptable.”

Well, what’s an artist to do? Cutler responded by creating an entirely new work entitled Teaching the Fringe (directed by home-town hero TJ Dawe) which contains excerpts from the letter and is marketed with this copy: “In his first autobiographical show, Keir Cutler takes a comic look at the menace of rogue audience members and the wacky encounters that can happen at the Fringe, including being reported to the authorities for one of his plays.” The new play was a smash hit and received resounding critical acclaim, but there has been some question as to whether or not such a reactive statement to an obviously misconstrued reception was even necessary. From the CBC review:

There’s no denying the quality of the craft: the writing, direction, and performance are of the highest quality. But watching, I couldn’t help but feel saddened Cutler felt it necessary to bring to bear the full weight of his considerable wit and intellect to demolish an argument so asinine it needn’t have been dignified with a response.

It’s the best show that didn’t need to be made you’ll see.

In a way, such a vitriolic outburst in response to this kind of play is a huge compliment, if you can muster up that sort of perspective on it. I would much rather have an audience member come up to me mad as hell after one of my shows because it pushed some buttons for them (this has actually happened to me, more than once), than for them to be utterly indifferent to the work. It strikes me as unrealistic to think that everyone is going to luv your piece and come away from it all happiness and sunshine, and instantly improved. The possibility of backlash permeates any work that addresses the unseemly or provocative. We invite any member of the public with the price of admission to be affected by our work, there’s no way that we can affect them all in the same way.

When it comes to subject matter, is any passionate reaction, whether gushy or seething, a worthy objective? How do you measure success in your work?

Well, that was fun. What’s next?

And so the (finally) sunny West Coast bids a fond adieu to Mag North (or ‘Canada’s National Festival of Contemporary Canadian Theatre in English’ for long. Canafestconcanatheng? Seriously guys, nothing snappier jumps to mind?). Traditionally with me the close of a run portends a short bout of postpartum, so I suppose I’ll be dealing with something similar now that I’m no longer submerged in the daily tub of theatrical exploration that was these last two weeks. *Sigh.* And so we must turn our gaze back to the future of our stage, both local and national, and start to think ahead.

What do we take from this year’s festival? In what way is its success measured? Perhaps this would be better phrased by asking what it was that you were hoping to take away from it, and did it deliver? Were you entertained? I sure as hell was. Mostly. Did it create new connections between practitioners? Undoubtedly. Did it raise the profile of new theatre here in Vancouver? Somewhat. Nationally? Probably. But for me the big consideration is, and always will be: did our audience grow? And more directly: did we as an emerging theatre city take full advantage of Ottawa’s big, noisy, contemporary theatre road-show while we had it here to seed new ticket buyers?

I wish there was some way of quantifying this. Some kind of Mag North exit poll along the lines of “was this your first play, and did it make you want to see another one?”. I would love to be able to chart the growth of Vancouver as a theatre town as we move forward. But left to conjecture, I would say yeah, a few people here stuck their toe in, from the hype generated by HIVE if nothing else. And isn’t that the great hope from a project that consolidates 11 small companies into one super-company: to promote the component brands and build the bigger buzz? To be able to say hey, if you liked that 15 minutes, you need to see our next full-length? And does this marketing agenda extend to the festival as a whole?

Festivals like this one, the Fringe, Summerworks etc. have an function inherent in their existence to be a giant marketing tool, a sampling plate that convinces newcomers to make theatre a part of their monthly entertainment diet. I see this overshadowed a lot of the time, here in Van anyway, by the convenience of getting some theatre in a conveniently packaged form – because hey, everybody’s doing it right now – only to see it disappear back into the broader unconsciousness when the tent poles come down. The same problem plagues the Jazz Festival here too. You can’t get into the buzzy shows during those two weeks, but how many rooms in the city of Vancouver can you go to see consistent live jazz the rest of the year? Two? Three?

I’m not putting the onus on the Festival organizing committees. God knows they’ve got enough on their plates just keeping the wheels on the tracks. As we move from Mag North towards the Fringe in September it’s us, the artists, that need to be asking ourselves and our companies whether we are using the high profile and marketing muscle of these events to their full advantage for the future of the game, and talking it up enough out there in the outfield. And not just participating theatreists either, but anyone with a vested interest in promoting a sustainable theatre. I’ll lay down a challenge right now. Come September, make it a mission to take two non-theatre people from your social circle, work, the gym etc. to a Fringe play. I’ll pledge to do the same, and I’ll print their impressions on it right here on The Next Stage as ‘civilian reviews’. And I’ll do the same for any of your theatre guests if you’ll send me their reactions.

Sound like a plan?

Fringe Marketing

With Mag North behind us, our festival thoughts turn towards the country’s un-juried festival circuit: the Fringe is on its way. We’ll be taking a look at Canada’s other Fringes in anticipation of our own on in September, and looking for some advance on shows to watch out for.

The Montreal Fringe is in full swing right now, here’s some great little promo video drops grabbed from their website. The first two are cute little animations that do a nice job of encapsulating the Fringe experience, and the third is an ad with a punk aesthetic that I could never imagine seeing here in Vancouver.

What being on stage in a new piece can feel like…

A great take on ‘the show must go on’…

How do you think this would fly in the British Properties?