This One Goes to Eleven: Carole Higgins

Carole is the Artistic and Managing Director for one of the city’s most vital companies: Carousel Theatre for Young People, which has been turning kids onto the magic of performing arts for 35 seasons. She started her career with a BFA in acting from SFU, and performed across British Columbia before taking the Carousel reins.

Carole took the time away from getting A Year With Frog and Toad ready for opening this week to answer 11 Questions for us…

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Exhausted and exhilarated. I am rehearsing two shows- one during the day and the other at night. I come in to the office at 8:00 am every morning to do admin before heading into the rehearsal hall…. AHHHH!!!!!

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

Exciting, challenging and invigorating. Exciting in that there is so much interesting work being done here in Vancouver, and so much variety for audiences and theatre lovers. I love the concept of Hive, and all the site-specific work being done… the new emerging theatre companies that are forming and I love that the Arts Club is staging August: Osage County (an absolutely brilliant script) next season. At the same time, it’s very challenging given the cuts to the Arts here in BC.

3. What’s your favourite thing an audience member has ever said to you about one of your shows?

Hmmmm….tough to choose just one. I think it would be an email we had from a grandparent thanking us for the tender way that we staged the story Love You Forever. For me, staging that moment was a tribute to my dear mom, who left us twelve years ago after a long battle with cancer. My mom loved that story so much.

4. What part do you see Carousel playing in the theatre ecology of Vancouver?

We are Vancouver’s mainstage theatre for young audiences company. I love that so many young people experience theatre for the first time through Carousel Theatre, and hopefully we are encouraging our young patrons to be live-long theatre goers.

5. Jessie talked about the recent government funding setbacks. How are they affecting you as Artistic Director?

It’s scary. We have so many dreams, and now more than ever we are being forced to rely on earned revenue. We have put our touring program on hiatus, but we are going ahead with all other programming.

6. What would be your ultimate dream for Carousel if we could remove all obstacles?

To stage a year-round season of Mainstage theatre for young people, and to have our own theatre venue where we could stage not only our own productions, but bring in outstanding theatre for young audiences productions from across Canada, and around the world.

7. How does a piece get chosen for inclusion in one of your seasons?

I do a lot of research on what other TYA companies in Canada and the US are staging, and I think about different stories I loved as a child, and stories that children today are reading. I also consider suggestions from educators and subscribers. I visit bookstores, especially Kidsbooks. I look for stories that young people can enjoy with their families.

8. What’s your ‘how I fell in love with theatre’ story?

At age three I saw a family friend play a fairy princess in a Christmas pantomime. I was hooked for life.

9. What is your proudest theatrical moment to date?

Our production of Seussical the Musical.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

I wish I had more time to read! All the classics.

11. What’s next?

Frog and Toad opens April 17th! Then it’s on to our fundraiser the Lawyer Show and then on to our Teen Shakespeare Program this summer.

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This One Goes to Eleven: Jessie van Rijn

I am convinced that to nurture a future audience for theatre – all theatre – we need to get ’em while they’re young. In Vancouver, this is where Carousel Theatre comes in. General Manager Jessie came to Carousel via the Chemainus Theatre Festival on Vancouver Island with a BFA in Dramatic Arts from the U of Lethbridge, finding her niche in Administration. She also sits on the Board of Directors of the Jessie Richardson Theatre Award Society.

Jessie is an inspiration.

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Wild. I just drank a huge coffee and my heart’s beating faster than it probably should.

2. In your own choice of word count, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

So many thoughts come to mind… I think many are hurting from the apparent lack of support from some funders, but most are gathering strength from the gads of encouragement being provided by audience members and others in the community. I’m concerned at the amount of artists, administrators, designers, technicians, et al that may be part of a mass exodus to higher ground (or cities/provinces/ areas) during this funding crisis. I’m excited by national and international works that are coming to town in the coming months. And I am constantly blown away by the amount of passion and drive that this community has.

3. Please describe the mandate and vision of Carousel.

The official blurb is thus:

Carousel Theatre is dedicated to inspiring, enlightening and entertaining young people and their families through accessible theatrical experiences that develop audiences and artists. Our work is playful, relevant and vibrant. We are committed to artistic excellence and the support of emerging talent in all areas of the theatre discipline; we believe that youth audiences deserve the very best. Our programming offers a wide choice of exciting theatrical experiences for young audiences and families, and aims to enrich the hearts and minds of today’s youth.

Carousel Theatre plays a unique role in the theatre ecology of our community, and is the only theatre company in BC that produces a fully professional season of mainstage programming especially for young people. Each season more than 60 000 young people and their families benefit from Carousel Theatre’s unique programming. Under the vision of Artistic Director Carole Higgins, Carousel Theatre stages a mainstage season of Literary Classics at the Waterfront Theatre, an Elementary School Touring Program that brings theatre directly to students, a Teen Shakespeare Program each summer and a year-round Theatre School for young people ages 3 to 17 years. Carousel Theatre also runs a mentorship program for fledgling theatre for young audiences companies and a new play development program.

Our mandate is:

– To create theatre especially designed to encourage youth and family audiences to enjoy the benefits of live theatre.

– To provide a means whereby actors, directors and others engaged in the creation of live theatre may develop their skills through experience and training.

– To cooperate with other persons and organizations engaged in theatrical ventures and thereby provide an outlet for their work.

– To welcome and encourage artists who mirror our culturally diverse community.

– To assist & promote the production of Canadian Theatre and Canadian Theatre Artist.

THE MERRY ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD. LAWRENCE HAEGERT (Robin Hood) and JOSHUA REYNOLDS (Little John). Photo by Tim Matheson. Carousel Theatre, 2009

4. How has Carousel been (or potentially will be ) affected by the Liberal’s budget cuts to the Arts?

Confirmed:

– We have had to put our Elementary School Touring program on hiatus. We had been touring within the Lower Mainland, BC and throughout Canada. Our touring program has served just over 39,000 students, teachers, and families in the past year. We’re saddened by this, as our touring program has been gaining quite a bit of momentum as of late.

Looming possibilities that fill us with nail-biting dread:

– Less tickets available for donation to inner city schools and community groups.

– Productions with smaller casts   (It will be difficult for Carousel Theatre to produce a show the size of Robin Hood in the next few years, though we will continue to strive towards artistic excellence in our productions)

– Our accessible ticket prices may need to be increased.

– Less support for infrastructure  (Carousel Theatre only has 3 full-time staff members)

5. How can we attract more artists to the administrative side of the industry?

Current administrators in the community can snap up young, driven emerging artists who are wanting to learn more about the administrative side of theatre to gain skills for producing. These artists who have a talent for the admin side are in desperate need as the theatre community grows and maintains itself.

I think the important distinction is for an artist to know if they have artist-brain or admin-brain, or the healthy balance of both. So many artists feel hindered by ‘the desk’ and think of administrator as a bad word. (I beg of you- don’t take on admin work if you know you’ll hate it- just because you need a joe job. )

I would recommend any artist to pick up some admin skills- you’ll put those tools to use every day. Even actors- you are a business just by being you! Pick up accounting skills to help yourself at tax time, learn how to send an email (with proper punctuation and grammar), think about marketing yourself or your co-op with a website/blog/etc.

6. Who or what are your great influences?

My friends are an amazing source of inspiration every day- as hokey as that sounds. They are willing to put themselves on the line as actors/producers/designers/musicians- and do what they love, regardless of the risk – as long as they can create. It makes my heart burst, but not in a sticky gross kind of way.

I am also influenced by a great friend- Jeremy Tow. He is the first Artistic Director I have ever worked with as an administrator (while an arts admin intern at Chemainus Theatre Festival), and I will always be in awe of his work, his grace and his passion.

I would also like to mention a particular professor from university who once said about me “She’ll never be a director, but she’d be an amazing administrator.” I hated him with a passion for about 3 years before realizing he was right. I found my home within this community, and it brings me great joy to know that the cogs on this great machine of creation keep turning because of the work administrators do. We help facilitate the artists – which can be an art unto itself.

7. What type of theatre would you like to see more of on our stages?

I love small-scale musicals like Edges, The World Goes ‘Round, etc. I would love to see more new musicals done in Vancouver by smaller companies. More companies taking risks with unusual venues (site-specific, or alternative spaces). Though extremely unlikely, I would also like to request a monthly version of HIVE.

8. What do you know about theatre that you didn’t before working with Carousel?

How amazing it is to introduce children to live theatre. That children make the best critics. That having diverse revenue sources are so important (use what you got!). That you can get tired of the colour purple. That communication is everything.

9. What’s the best way to build our future audience in Vancouver?

Provide them with the best theatre experiences possible, no matter of their age, background, income. Keep theatre accessible to all. Encourage all theatre companies to have one pay-what-you-can performance. Create relationships with your audience members outside of the venue. Garner the support of local print media to continue providing coverage for productions that may be considered ‘small’, ‘indie’ or ‘not big enough’.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

American Theatre, Canadian Theatre Review, The Next Stage

11. What’s next?

10 minutes: Building a contact sheet for A Year with Frog and Toad (spring musical awesomeness starring Allan Zinyk- who is my favourite Vancouver actor);

10 days: I’ll be in Alberta with my family and friends – full on food, wine and merriment;

10 years: Queen of the World!

Child’s artwork created for the first run of Seussical. It is Jessie’s favourite because it has a shark. She likes to think that Eric, the 5-year-old artist, thought “Yes, I’ll draw the hat that I’m supposed to draw… but I think it needs a man-eating shark on it to complete my vision”.

This One Goes to Eleven: Stephen Park

If you want to be a good actor you need to be continuously acting. This is the lesson I’ve learned over the past 4 years from watching Steve Park; as an actor in my ensemble, as a TV/film actor, and as an acting instructor at the Lyric Studios and the Vancouver Film School.

Steve is also one of the most frank and opinionated artists I know. I’m grateful he brought that to TOGtE…


1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Charged.

2. In your own time and number of words, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

I think that our theatre scene is on the brink. Of many things. Evolution, extinction, revolution, transformation. It feels to me that a great shift is possible. I believe that it is inevitable and necessary. The old models both business and artistic are no longer relevant or viable. The way in which the newer generations get their information, their stories, their entertainment is vastly different then how I did as a kid and as a young man. The internet and the digital age has changed the playing field. There are some companies who have seen this and embraced it. They are the ones that will continue. The companies that continue to experiment with and search for new ways to tell stories are going to prosper. I don’t think that the stories themselves change it is the story telling that must.

I also believe that this change is going to clean out the gene pool, so to speak. The business of theatre making has changed. Permanently. The funding sources, the marketing, the potential audience. We as an industry have to get off the Government tit.  As the population grows so does the opportunity for different funding sources. I can hear it now, “If I don’t get government funding, if I don’t get community assistance, I won’t survive.” Well, maybe you shouldn’t. If you provide something that the community wants, even – dare I say it – something that it needs, you will survive. You will flourish. I am not saying that we should do away with Government support of the Arts. The funding levels and infrastructure levels are below ridiculous. I am saying that even if they were exceptional, it is a stupid idea to be reliant on one food source. More resource sharing between companies, and we are seeing that now, more private sector investment. Make what you are selling profitable and the funding will come.

3. What is the relationship between our theatre scene and the local TV/film industry, from an actor’s point of view?

Well, before all the work dried up, not too much. But now, everyone wants to do a play.

I mean, I still hear it all the time, television and film Actor. Theatre Actor. Not often just Actor. There is this notion that you are one or the other and (almost) never the twain shall meet. A shame really. There are lots of Actors in town who do both. But I think that most are identified as one or the other. I think that the relationship should be one of symbiosis. I think that all actors should work in all possible fields. It just makes you a better Actor.

4. Once we’ve got a new audience into our theatre, what’s the surest way to get them to return?

Turn them on. Get them off. Emotionally, Spiritually, Sexually. Make them fully half the equation of the experience. I mean, what makes you go back to something again? Not Pretty clothes and sleek programs. Not shamelessly self indulgent and neutered acting. Not half-assed stories. Not, “I did a scene from this play in acting class and I fucking rocked, so now I want to do the whole play so I can really jerk my ego off.” I go back to companies and plays that shake me, shift me. Things that make me wonder if the actors are really acting. Stories that force me to confront and embrace parts of me that I hadn’t before. Stories that are True and celebrate all of the Human condition.

We have to get our audience to work for us. We have to get them to tell other people, “You have to see this show.” We have to get them to bring other people through the doors. We do that by embracing just how smart our audience is. How much they are dying to go into the unknown with us. They want to jump and not pull the cord. If the product is good enough, it makes you as an audience member feel like you just shared something special and unique. Something “Cool and Sexy and New”. You do that and the audience will then become your marketing arm.

5. How are we as a community rising to meet the government’s recent treatment of us?

We are not. We are standing around in silent grey squares jerking off and looking like a bunch of flaky artists.

This will change exactly nothing. The powers that be will do nothing until their jobs are in jeopardy or there is a real profit to be made from doing something other then what they are currently doing.

Politicians are affected by lobby groups, yes? The B.C. film commission isn’t demanding that our tax incentives match what the rest of the country is doing because they are in the Liberals back pockets. U.B.C.P. would rather argue amongst themselves then stand up to the provincial government on behalf of their membership.  ACTRA is seemingly in the business of preventing small and independent theatre to exist, for our own protection they tell us. It is almost enough to make want to throw in the towel. We need to form a strong lobby group. We need to find Patrons, wealthy, connected patrons, who are passionate about Arts and Culture.

This Fight isn’t limited to our provincial government either. The biggest spotlight in our country’s history is about to be shone on Vancouver. If our community had some balls we would leverage that fact and deny our services to The Olympics until the government gave us what we want. I went to this year’s Wrecking Ball. It was an embarrassment, if you ask me. It is supposed to be an event that ignites our political will as a community. It was milquetoast at its worst. We had to have an Artist from Toronto come and give us shit for not standing up for ourselves. This is Crap. Get mad, get smart and get vocal. Challenge businesses that you patron to write their MLA. We need to march, we need to protest we need to define exactly what we want. We need to make the general public understand what has been done to them by the government’s slashing of funding. Nobody will give a good goddamn about something they don’t feel affects them directly. They sure as shit won’t give a fuck about silent grey squares. I don’t. Why should they?

6. Finish this sentence: “Dear Premier Campbell…”

You’re doin’ a heck of a job, Brownie!

7. What’s been your greatest revelation about theatre since being involved with your own company?

How important the audience is to the whole event. It is a communion on every level and it takes putting yourself completely at the service of the audience. Check your Ego at the door. When that is accomplished the transformative power of the live theatrical experience is unlike anything else. It can have the power of a great rock concert and the intimacy of making love all at once.

8. Define the term “Good Acting”.

The fearless and creative expression of the reveal of your true humanity.

9. What is your career highlight to date?

The 21st Floor, Ashes, Gift of Screws and The Englishman’s Boy.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

4:48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane
Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad
And whatever the next thing is that Bill Marchant is writing.

11. What’s next?

Putting my money where my mouth is.

This One Goes to Eleven: Dave Deveau

It’s always a pleasure to feature young and determined local playwrights on TOGtE. With a BFA from York and an MFA from UBC, Dave’s not just sitting around waiting for someone to stage his work. He created Zee Zee Theatre together with partner Cameron Mackenzie, and they just finished a successful run of his new work Nelly Boy.

Dave is also an actor, librettist, screenwriter, dramaturg, and songwriter. And interviewee…

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Alight.

2. In your very own word count, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

Brimming with possibility.

3. What’s your “how I fell in love with the theatre” story?

The same old “as a kid I was always in the school play” etc etc story except what really engrained it as something that I would do for the rest of my life was Michel Tremblay. I saw a production of Les Belles Soeurs at the GCTC in Ottawa in, I think, grade nine which transformed me. I subsequently read all of his works, both plays and novels and fell absolutely in love with the world of his work. It really turned me on to Quebecois theatre as a whole, and just made me more determined.

4. What are your great strengths as a playwright? Weaknesses?

It will sound so trite, but I truly have no idea how to write a play. Even some of the greats have described that feeling – of approaching a page and still having no idea how to begin. And I’m very much still in that place. I’m my own worst enemy in many ways. And I procrastinate. But when I see that deadline on the horizon, the play will get written, no question. I’ve never missed a deadline in my life. I may doubt every word I’m churning out in the moment, but by an hour before deadline, I breathe belief into it somehow.

5. Who are your big influences?

Tremblay (see above), Brad Fraser, Michel Marc Bouchard, Daniel MacIvor, but mostly the biggest influences in my writing stem from seeing everything I possibly can. During my undergrad in Toronto I made a point of seeing 2-3 shows a week. Nowadays it’s not as frequent, but I still see at least 2-3 shows a month. Even the worst shows teach me something about my own practice, so I can’t begrudge them being painful experiences as an audience member.

6. Are we as a community doing enough in response to the government’s recent treatment of us?

I had a recent conversation with a theatre colleague here in town who moved here from Quebec. He’d mentioned that if these cuts happened in Quebec people would simply burn down the government offices. It would be an unthinkable act. I think we’re doing what we can, but it all seems rather polite. But, especially when juxtaposed with a crackdown on policy in the wake of the Olympics, I don’t know what other choices we have.

7. In a perfect world, through what process would a script of yours be developed into a finished piece?

My experience developing my play Nelly Boy was pretty much as good as it gets. I was commissioned to create a short piece for a Theatre Direct in Toronto in 2004 and they stayed on board its development into a full length until the workshop production in 2007 at which point my partner’s company Zee Zee Theatre took over. There’s something really amazing about having that kind of enormous timeline to really sink into a piece. But ultimately if a company gave me a reading, that would be opportunity enough to show that the plays I’m working on have possibility. So listen up, Artistic Directors, I have a million and one plays in the works and one reading is all it will take to get the ball really rolling. (If only this business were that simple!)

8. From your experience with Zee Zee, what have you found to be the largest roadblock to starting a successful independent theatre company?

Funding is always a gamble. We were lucky that with Nelly Boy we received over half our budget from Canada Council, but that’s unusual for young upstarts like us. It’s really a matter of doing everything in your power to publicize your show, and being prepared not to make anything for your own work. That becomes your investment in the company. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and then down the road, once you’ve developed a following, which we’re really starting to, things get easier.

9. What do you know about theatre now that you didn’t when you finished school?

I’m starting to get a real sense of the business. At least from a producer point of view. I still have very little idea of how, as a playwright, one gets produced in this country. You can submit all you want, but it’s a matter of proving yourself as an artist first. And the best way we’ve been able to do that is by risking our own finances (with my previous company Thirty Below Theatre and with Zee Zee) to get the work out there. The next thing I need to start figuring out is how literary agents work.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

As a playwright I think the best book about process is Stephen King’s “On Writing”. It’s such a down-to-Earth read, no pretention, and just something that anyone who’s ever attempted to put the pen to the page can relate to. I often use it when I teach.

Though I’ve already managed to get him in there twice, I’d have to say the work of Michel Tremblay. Not all of it is brilliant, but 90% of it is. And those are better odds than we see coming out of a lot of playwrights.

And then probably CTR (Canadian Theatre Review). The best way we can create work is by being part of the greater community. Pick up the new issue, it’s well worth it.

11. What’s next?

I just finished the Playwrights Theatre Centre Colony working on my solo show My Funny Valentine which we’d workshopped at the SummerWorks Festival in Toronto last August. The show has completely transformed to the point that very little of it remains from that workshop – new characters, new structure, new thrust. I’m going to spend some time working on that piece with the incredible actor Kyle Cameron (who you might know from Greenthumb’s Cranked). And of course I have about another 5 plays on the go simultaneously: a musical about bigamy, a summer stock play about senior citizen swingers, my epic thesis play which has been picking up accolades across the country, but still has no production in sight, and a whole bunch of juicy roles for women (finally – my female actor friends have been harassing me for years!).

But I also have a day job now. You can find me at The Cultch.

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Alight.

2. In your very own word count, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

Brimming with possibility.

3. What’s your “how I fell in love with the theatre” story?

The same old “as a kid I was always in the school play” etc etc story except what really engrained it as something that I would do for the rest of my life was Michel Tremblay. I saw a production of Les Belles Soeurs at the GCTC in Ottawa in, I think, grade nine which transformed me. I subsequently read all of his works, both plays and novels and fell absolutely in love with the world of his work. It really turned me on to Quebecois theatre as a whole, and just made me more determined.

4. What are your great strengths as a playwright? Weaknesses?

It will sound so trite, but I truly have no idea how to write a play. Even some of the greats have described that feeling – of approaching a page and still having no idea how to begin. And I’m very much still in that place. I’m my own worst enemy in many ways. And I procrastinate. But when I see that deadline on the horizon, the play will get written, no question. I’ve never missed a deadline in my life. I may doubt every word I’m churning out in the moment, but by an hour before deadline, I breathe belief into it somehow.

5. Who are your big influences?

Tremblay (see above), Brad Fraser, Michel Marc Bouchard, Daniel MacIvor, but mostly the biggest influences in my writing stem from seeing everything I possibly can. During my undergrad in Toronto I made a point of seeing 2-3 shows a week. Nowadays it’s not as frequent, but I still see at least 2-3 shows a month. Even the worst shows teach me something about my own practice, so I can’t begrudge them being painful experiences as an audience member.

6. Are we as a community doing enough in response to the government’s recent treatment of us?

I had a recent conversation with a theatre colleague here in town who moved here from Quebec. He’d mentioned that if these cuts happened in Quebec people would simply burn down the government offices. It would be an unthinkable act. I think we’re doing what we can, but it all seems rather polite. But, especially when juxtaposed with a crackdown on policy in the wake of the Olympics, I don’t know what other choices we have.

7. In a perfect world, through what process would a script of yours be developed into a finished piece?

My experience developing my play Nelly Boy was pretty much as good as it gets. I was commissioned to create a short piece for a Theatre Direct in Toronto in 2004 and they stayed on board its development into a full length until the workshop production in 2007 at which point my partner’s company Zee Zee Theatre took over. There’s something really amazing about having that kind of enormous timeline to really sink into a piece. But ultimately if a company gave me a reading, that would be opportunity enough to show that the plays I’m working on have possibility. So listen up, Artistic Directors, I have a million and one plays in the works and one reading is all it will take to get the ball really rolling. (If only this business were that simple!)

8. From your experience with Zee Zee, what have you found to be the largest roadblock to starting a successful independent theatre company?

Funding is always a gamble. We were lucky that with Nelly Boy we received over half our budget from Canada Council, but that’s unusual for young upstarts like us. It’s really a matter of doing everything in your power to publicize your show, and being prepared not to make anything for your own work. That becomes your investment in the company. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and then down the road, once you’ve developed a following, which we’re really starting to, things get easier.

9. What do you know about theatre now that you didn’t when you finished school?

I’m starting to get a real sense of the business. At least from a producer point of view. I still have very little idea of how, as a playwright, one gets produced in this country. You can submit all you want, but it’s a matter of proving yourself as an artist first. And the best way we’ve been able to do that is by risking our own finances (with my previous company Thirty Below Theatre and with Zee Zee) to get the work out there. The next thing I need to start figuring out is how literary agents work.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

As a playwright I think the best book about process is Stephen King’s “On Writing”. It’s such a down-to-Earth read, no pretention, and just something that anyone who’s ever attempted to put the pen to the page can relate to. I often use it when I teach.

Though I’ve already managed to get him in there twice, I’d have to say the work of Michel Tremblay. Not all of it is brilliant, but 90% of it is. And those are better odds than we see coming out of a lot of playwrights.

And then probably CTR (Canadian Theatre Review). The best way we can create work is by being part of the greater community. Pick up the new issue, it’s well worth it.

11. What’s next?

I just finished the Playwrights Theatre Centre Colony working on my solo show My Funny Valentine which we’d workshopped at the SummerWorks Festival in Toronto last August. The show has completely transformed to the point that very little of it remains from that workshop – new characters, new structure, new thrust. I’m going to spend some time working on that piece with the incredible actor Kyle Cameron (who you might know from Greenthumb’s Cranked). And of course I have about another 5 plays on the go simultaneously: a musical about bigamy, a summer stock play about senior citizen swingers, my epic thesis play which has been picking up accolades across the country, but still has no production in sight, and a whole bunch of juicy roles for women (finally – my female actor friends have been harassing me for years!).

But I also have a day job now. You can find me at The Cultch.

This One Goes to Eleven: Emma Luna Davis

Emma is the true picture of Arts Administrator as Rock Star. With a MA in Arts and Media Management in a European Context from the Utrecht School of the Arts and a Theatre BFA from UBC, together with years of Stage Management and Logistics Coordination under her belt, she exemplifies the passion required on the other side of the stage.

She is currently the General Manager of the quarter-century-old pi theatre. Their current production, After the Quake, is up until December 5, and it is very hard to get a ticket for.

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Cautiously optimistic. (Sometimes, the right answer just doesn’t fit the word limit. As someone who writes grants for a living, cut me some slack?)

2. With no directives on word count, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

Poised. (Sometimes, one word is enough.)

I feel Vancouver’s theatre scene is like an tiger ready to pounce. We’re organized, united, and  our message is clear: the proposed cuts to cultural funding in this province are not the answer.  Our community has been threatened and we’re on the defense. There is fear, for sure, but I also think we’re ready and able to defend our cause.  We know what we’re fighting for is worthwhile, and we believe the average British Columbian does too.

3. How and why did you end up on the administrative end of the arts?

I grew up in the arts — My dad’s a filmmaker, my mum a painter, my sister a graphic designer, my cousins musicians…I don’t know if it was because they saw something in my personality or simply boredom with the lack of variety in the family vocations, but ever since I was little, the message was clear that I should not be an artist. ‘Perhaps a lawyer?’

The problem with this message is that the only way you can truly define yourself as ‘not an artist’ is if you are constantly surrounded by artists, and that’s where I felt at home. But performing was clearly not my calling.  When at university someone asked me to ASM for a project, I discovered UBC’s theatre program and the idea that I could get paid to work behind the scenes was an incredible epiphany for me. I trained as an SM and although I really miss stage management these days, I also found myself dissatisfied with project-based work — there seemed to me to be so many interesting things going on in organizations themselves that I wanted to participate in.  I did an MA in Arts Management and have been slogging away behind a desk ever since.

4. What do you see as the single greatest issue challenging the growth of independent theatre?

The role of the artist in society. To me, almost all of our issues boil down to how we prioritize, and therefore fund, arts and culture and the people who create.

5. Please expand on the ideals inherent in Pi’s wonderful motto “global thinking, local acting”.

Pi’s plays share voices from around the world.  This means that we’re producing work, often in translation, from playwrights near and far.  But we see ourselves as an inherent part of the local community — Vancouver’s talent base, our audiences here, and our colleagues in See Seven and Progress Lab are integral to the work we do.  After the Quake is a great example of this — the script is based on stories by well-known Japanese author Haruki Murakami, but our production team is Vancouver through and through, and so is the impact the show has in this community. It would be a completely different show in somewhere else.

6. How has the Social Media aspect of your marketing program impacted your position in the community?

I see our social marketing as one slice of our communications pi (cough. sorry…).  With all of our communications tools (our shows, print, online and social media, and the relationships we have with our supporters, artists and audiences), we are trying to tell people about the work we’re doing and why they might want to be part of it. Social media gives us a great tool to make that message a 2-way conversation, so that we can hear the response to our work loud and clear. That’s important to me.

7. What type of theatre should we as an industry be pushing for towards bringing in a new, uninitiated audience?

I’ve been really inspired by how much of the response to After the Quake has been people saying that this show makes them want to see more theatre in this town. I strongly encourage them to do so — there is so much incredible work happening and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

I’ve been thinking lately that one of the biggest challenges we face is that the most powerful thing we have to offer — a potentially-transformative, definitely-live experience — is something that people rave about when they’ve had it, but are actually apprehensive of beforehand.  No one thinks they want to be transformed, but they are usually glad they were. I think communicating the value of live theatre is a communications debacle and cracking that nut is definitely something I think about a lot.

8. What’s your number one, all-time theatre pet peeve?

Not being allowed to take my drink and munchies into the theatre.

9. Any words of advice for someone considering the leap into arts administration here?

Sigh. Marry rich? But remember, if and when you get a full-time job, no matter how badly it pays, it’s endlessly more stable than the tenuous existence of the artists you work with. That should make you humble, and grateful. I know I am.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

Architecture critic Peter Reyner Banham ‘learned to drive so that he could read Los Angeles in the original.’  Taking a page from his book, the most important way to “read” theatre for me is to watch it. I’d say my 3 favourite productions have been:
– Oerol (2005) (I know, it’s more than one production. But the whole experience was pure magic.)
– Far Side of the Moon
– Quidam

11. What’s next?

Actually, I’ll be on maternity leave as of April, so that’s definitely a new chapter for me. Pi on the other hand is looking very forward to building on the success of After the Quake. Stay tuned!

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.