This One Goes to Eleven: Darien Edgeler

Out in the wild, far reaches of Deep Cove (an epic 8 minute drive from downtown, an invisible accessibility discussed previously on TOGtE) there thrives a burgeoning theatre community grinding away tirelessly throughout the year. It was there that we first met Darien, preparing to be seen in his own work Seasons, directed by Wendy Van Riesen.

Darien is an award-winning producer, playwright, actor, MC, voiceover artist, and stage combat choreographer. He is the Writer-in-Residence for The Half-Stratford Players, and now a The Next Stage Interviewee…

EDGELERHS

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Blessed.

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

I would argue that, compared to most cities, Vancouver is a theatrical Shangri-La.  All the important ingredients for successful stagings are, in my opinion, available.  Suppose you want to put on a show.  There are virtually no restrictions on the content; no limitations, in other words, resulting from ethnic or religious or political considerations.  There are also a variety of venues that you can rent, and an abundance of talented technicians and performers, many of whom will participate in your project for the love of it.  If you market your mounting effectively, there will be decent audiences, and, if your show is good, the response will be enthusiastic.  What more can anyone ask for?

3. Describe for us the Deep Cove theatre scene, and its relationship to the downtown theatre scene.

There are four clubs that do shows in Deep Cove:  Deep Cove Stage, First Impressions Theatre, Seycove Drama, and – my own company – The Half-Stratford Players.  All four troupes do good work.  I don’t know that the Deep Cove theatre scene has any connection to the downtown theatre scene except in the sense that the former is a microcosm of the latter:  the relative conservatism evident in the programming choices of the Deep Cove companies, for instance, is evident on a larger scale in a city-wide reluctance to embrace new and locally-written work.

4. Does contemporary theatre have a responsibility to leave us with a sense of hope?

Well, David Mamet would suggest that theatre’s only obligation is to delight and I, to a certain extent, would agree.  Playwrights are members of society that have, because they have a talent for entertaining others, been temporarily excused from fetching wood and carrying water.  That said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with theatre being uplifting.  Marsha Norman once remarked that she had reached a point in her career where all she wanted to do, really, was write about acts of courage and, most of the time, that’s what interests me also.

5. Who are you main influences, and why?

Shakespeare, of course; his dramatic legacy is ubiquitous.  But really, it varies from play to play.  I mean, I once borrowed a device from Journey’s End, but that was because it was the perfect tool for the job, not because I seek to follow in the creative footsteps of R. C. Sherriff.  I think it’s true that you learn to write all over again each time you pen a new play and so I think it’s fair to say that you’re going to draw on different sources and traditions each time you undertake a new project.  I mainly just try to adhere to what I have come to think of as The Golden Rule of Playwrighting:  write the sorts of plays that you yourself would most love to watch.

6. What are your long-term theatrical career goals?

I used to be a real theatre slut:  I’d do any show that came along.  As an actor, I mean.  Then one day a director called me and said:  “Darien, I’ve got the perfect part for you – you’ll be playing a slow-witted, socially-awkward veterinarian!”  I was about to say yes, when I realized that a slow-witted, socially-awkward veterinarian really wasn’t the perfect part for me.  And that was something of an epiphany; I realized that, if I wanted to tackle roles that I found intriguing and personally meaningful, I was going to have to create them myself.  All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I started writing plays for entirely selfish reasons.  And, as it happens, I continue to write plays for entirely selfish reasons.  My primary goal is have fun.  Writing plays is a lark, in other words, and all I really set out to do is offer audiences something they’ve never seen before and to make sure that each theatrical experience is better than the last.

7. What is our biggest enemy in our fight to wrangle new audiences?

Outmoded thinking.  Not many people under thirty are going to be excited about going to see Agatha Christie.  If theatre is going to survive as a medium, then production companies need to commit to helping playwrights create exciting new works relevant to contemporary Canadian audiences.

8. What do you consider to be your greatest strengths as a playwright? Your weaknesses?

I like to think that all the arrows in my quiver – structure, character, plot, dialogue – are getting incrementally sharper through use.  My Achilles heel {from a commercial standpoint, anyway} is probably that, once a show has opened, I immediately lose interest in it and start thinking about the next one.

9. What was your last truly inspiring experience in a piece of theatre?

Blackbird at The Cultch a few months back and, before that, Robert Lepage’s Far Side of The Moon.

10. What are your top three theatre reads?

The volumes I continue to revisit are David Mamet’s True And False, Stuart Spencer’s The Playwright’s Guidebook, and Jeffrey Hatcher’s The Art & Craft of Playwriting.

11. What’s next?

I’m doing As You Like It with Neil Freeman this summer {acting and fight choreography} and then I’ll probably start work on a script to be produced next April.  I can’t tell you about it, unfortunately, because I’ve found that talking about a work in progress diminishes the impetus to actually write it.  And it’s important to protect that impetus because I, like Dorothy Parker, hate writing, but love having written.

This One Goes to Eleven: Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg

Tara is a theatrical force of nature, busy hammering out a viable niche for dance-theatre in Vancouver. She’s been dancing since the age of 3, went to ballet school and theatre school, and earned a degree in dance from Simon Fraser University. She worked with Green Thumb Theatre as a dance/actor. She is now the Artistic Director of Tara Cheyenne Performance, where she develops her own dance-theatre creations along with director Sophie Yendole and composer Marc Stewart. Tara has been nominated for several Jessie Richardson Awards and an Ovation Award for her choreography in theatre.

Click here to see Tara talk about her upcoming work Goggles on a promo I shot for her recently. It was a one-take wonder she came up with on the spot after finding a piece of chalk on the ground. Like I said, a force of nature.

Juanitacrinolin

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Excited…tired…nervous…repeat…

2. In as many words as tickles your fancy, describe the present condition of the Vancouver stage arts scene.

The scene is one I am proud to be involved in. I’d say that we are just now getting some of the notice I think we deserve. The fact that we are hanging out here on the West Coast and have been partly dismissed for a while has actually been beneficial in that we’re just doing what we feel like without the pressure of being Toronto or Montreal. Our challenges are stuff like “sorry man I can’t make it to your show, I’m climbing the Chief in the morning”.

3. What is the relationship between our theatrical stage community and our dance stage community? Is there a middle ground?

Not enough yet… but I think with so many progressive theatre artists and companies doing interdisciplinary work with strong movement elements, and dance artists and companies doing work with text or using dramaturges etc. we are seeing each other in closer creative proximity. I’d like to see more audience cross pollination. We are all doing the same thing on a basic level making the west coast performing arts landscape a rich one. I love the fact that there isn’t a definable type of Vancouver dance or theatre.

4. Would you categorize our stage industry as ‘risk-taking’? Why or why not?

I’d say definitely yes and definitely no, and every point in between. Because we might not have had the infrastructure/$ other centres have, but we’ve made inventive choices that we may not have made with more resources. It is good on the other hand that we have some bigger establishments doing maybe less risky projects and getting lots of bums in seats. This is important because I believe some of those folks will choose to go alternative once they feel comfortable as a ‘theatre patron’.

bangerbackbendcolour

5. What is your niche’s biggest marketing challenge?

Dance is always tricky because people read the word ‘dance’ and assume they won’t understand it, or they’ll be bored without words and story. But I know that once people come to Dances for a Small Stage or The Edge just once they almost always come back. I think we are still relying on outdated or less effective marketing tools and need to expand into groups of people that never get further than So You Think You Can Dance. Most people can imagine themselves acting but few can imagine themselves dancing. The more we get people moving in schools and everywhere the more they’ll feel comfortable coming to see professional dance…well that’s my theory.

6. If I gave you a million dollars to improve the industry of dance theatre here, how would you spend it?

I’d get people dancing and making dances. Community outreach style. And I’d try to make the dance artist more of a celeb/ “star” like  musicians or actors are. We have a few but most people don’t know who Pina Bausch was.

7. What questions do you wish people would ask about your work?

That’s a hard question. I’m happy answering any questions people might have. If the work doesn’t say what I’m intending and people have to ask then I need to work on that aspect.

8. Who are your great influences?

Steve Martin, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Denise Clarke, Pina Bausch, Robert LePage, Harold Lloyd.

9. Given a time machine, what would you tell a young Tara just starting out on her career?

There is no one way to do things. Trust your seemingly crazy instincts even if you think they are obvious, too silly, too easy, done before, undefinable.

10. What are your top 3 inspirational reads?

A New Earth – Ekhart Tolle, The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp, Excuses Be Gone – Dr. Wayne Dyer

11. What’s next?

I’m going into the final phase of creation to finish my latest solo, Goggles, which will premiere at the Cultch Nov. 17-21. Then I’m going to continue working on a group piece (working title Highgate) dealing with Victoria funerary obsessions. I’m excited to work on other artists. I’m also excited about getting into this gothic creepiness. Its so compelling. I’m looking forward to seeing where my work will lead me, creatively and globally. I never thought making a piece about a teenage headbanger boy would lead me to perform bANGER at the South Bank Centre London last summer, so ya never know what’s gonna happen or “who” might show up…

Tara_Goggles_2

This One Goes to Eleven: Max Reimer

A native Vancouverite, Max returns to the West Coast from a 12-year stint as the Artistic Director of Hamilton’s Theatre Aquarius to take on the newly created role of the Playhouse’s Artistic Managing Director, a hybrid of two previous administrative tent poles. He will rely on his varied history as a theatre artist – as actor, choreographer, director – and his academic training in sociology and economics – which includes an honours degree from SFU – to oversee operations and to move the Playhouse forward.

I can’t imagine how busy this man must be right now, and we thank him for taking the time to answer 11 questions…

reimer_max400x300x72

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Huh?

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

Vibrant, diverse, smart. Much of it atomic but some of it atomized – powerful work, but in some cases, the activity is dispersed across the spectrum of practice and geography to its credit and sometimes detriment. Exciting theatre, especially when produced and presented in combination with other artists and groups, or when able to carve an audience out of the landscape. Audience-building when one doesn’t have a building is still the biggest challenge for many.

3. What do you see as the great strengths of your hybrid position of both managing and artistic director? What do you see as the biggest challenge of such a position?

I see the mission with two eyes. Metaphorically, depth perception is created in the parallax of two eyes reconciling two views into a single image. I do this in my own brain. At large theatres, the two views are normally provided by at least two people and reconciled in conversation. The advantage of a hybrid is speed and resolve. The advantage of two or more heads, is wider perspective and “bounce”. I have to go find people to bounce with. The bounce in the two-headed model is built in.

4. What criteria do you look at when considering a play from outside of Vancouver for Playhouse production?

The Playhouse, when at its best, is a portal to the world of theatre, providing voice to our playwrights on a bigger playing platform, and providing a window to the world for Vancouver to see what’s going on across our country and around the world. This second part is as important as the first and is part of our founding purpose. Since I have the whole world to pull from, I must find the very best from the classic and contemporary world on which our theatre artists can chew and our audiences find engaging.

5. What can we be doing better to cultivate the next generation of theatre-goers?

Early life experiences are key to patronage. And we are social beings wired to especially seek and enjoy shared experiences. Young people like classics too. The material has to be good and crisp.

6. What was your impetus in removing the Playhouse restriction of only producing plays from 1950 on?

The Playhouse has to also provide graduate opportunities for actors and the ancient and 20th century classics often provide those opportunities. The Playhouse has also historically developed an audience with an appetite for those plays and themes.

7. What do you see as the relationship between the regional theatres and the independent theatre companies of Vancouver?

We’re part of an ecology. Just imagine only one of those types. We feed each other whether we co-produce or not.

8. What is your proudest career moment to date?

The Drowsy Chaperone being of such high interest to Vancouver.

9. What would it take to get you to crack the boards again in a Playhouse production?

Hmmm… I’d have to be right for it. I’m too good at casting to put myself in things.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

I can’t tell you!!! I’m thinking of doing them in my next seasons.

11. What’s next?

Look for a new physical impression downtown in the facility. Star power in the next season soon to be announced. I’m working on the 2010-2011 season already with the National Arts Centre already interested! More activity in a more animated Playhouse. See you there.

Photo courtesy of The Playhouse and photographer David Cooper.

This One Goes to Eleven: Anna Cummer

Anna is the very model of the modern Vancouver working actress. Born in Singapore and raised between Southeast Asia and Saskatoon, she graduated high school in Hong Kong and went on to earn two theatre degrees in England. She now lives and works tirelessly here in Vancouver in TV, film and theatre.

On stage she has worked for a multitude of outstanding local companies, from Bard to Rumble to the Arts Club, and most recently The Secret World of Og for Carousel. She received a Jessie in 2005 for her work in Goodnight Desdomona (Good Morning Juliet).

And as is apparent from her interview here, Anna has no problem being candid, a trait we appreciate very much.

anna

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Hungry.

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

I have to admit I’m a bit disillusioned with Vancouver theatre right now.  I know there is so much talent in this community and yet I find our theatre run-of-the-mill.  I would love to go see some good local fare and be bold over by the performances and innovation but typically I see the same faces doing the usual.  So I suppose I would describe our theatre scene as not fulfilling its potential.

3. As a working Vancouver actor, where do you feel your greatest opportunities lie?

With more and more shows being cast outside the audition room, it feels as if there are fewer opportunities to compete.  Most of my serious prospects are discussed over coffee or a beer with a friend who has the gumption to self-produce: “If only there was money to mount the production”.  I appreciate both methods of casting but there’s nothing like acing an audition and getting that much anticipated call.  Truthfully, it’s beginning to feel like there aren’t any real opportunities out there.  It just comes down to whom you know and who likes you enough to work with you.

4. What is your personal measure of success as an artist?

This is a tough question.  I’d love to say it’s the work itself.  Not having to hold down another job to make ends meet but more often than not that success isn’t celebrated.  Critical acclaim and peer recognition are the measure sticks most actors use.  And I hate to admit that I do to.  Ideally, artist achievement should be measured by work satisfaction and that the artist is active. Any outside confirmation of a job well done should just be gravy.  Oh, if only I could remember that on those dark nights of artistic self-doubt and loathing!

5. What is our surest method of developing the next generation of theatre-goers?

Well, I think it starts at home.  If parents are theatre-goers, their children will be too.  The sooner someone is exposed to the theatrical experience, the longer they will be a consumer of this experience.  At least that’s my theory since my parents nurtured a great love of the arts in my siblings and me.

Ticket prices and programming affect early accessibility too.  Maybe family ticket packages or youth price incentives (that rival the cinemas) could help encourage parents and the next generation to venture out. From a programming point of view, I’m not suggesting everything needs to be TYA, but relevant, discussion-starting shows that entertain a generation that has the latest diversion downloaded to their i-phone.  Because nowhere in the modern wasteland of media, can they experience that visceral response of having the performer in the same room as them.  We just need to get them in that room any way we can.

6. What is your fondest theatrical memory?

A production of King Lear I saw in London in the late 90’s.  I don’t remember at which theatre or who the actor was but he broke my heart. Lear appears in his long underwear, back flap agape, dragging Cordelia’s corpse by the hair.  The sound that came out of this man was unlike anything I had ever heard – it gives me goose bumps just summoning the memory.  He threw her around like she was a rag-doll (I assume she must have been).  And then would be so tender with her the whole audience pined with him.  When the curtain fell on the curtain call, I had to sit in the audience for ten minutes before I could compose myself and rejoin the world.  What a performance!  It made me not only want to be a better actor but a better person.

7. What’s your #1 all-time industry pet peeve?

I hate the opening night party.  I never know what to do with myself.  I’m most anxious when it’s my opening.  I understand the point of the post-show celebration but I have yet to master the intricacies of the evening.

8. What style of theatre would you like to see more of on our stages?

I’m a big fan of mask and puppetry work.  I’d love to see more mask/movement-based storytelling with an emphasis on the dramatic.  Masked characters and puppets seem relegated to children’s theatre or the comedic.  Companies like Improbably Theatre or Théâtre de Complicité have been doing some fascinating work in London in this vein for well over a decade.  I’d love for some local companies to explore this avenue of highlighting a compellingly told story with mask and puppetry elements.

9. What’s your best piece of advice for new actors just starting to work here?

Don’t be put off by how closed the community seems to be.  Create your own opportunities.  Self-produce.  Audition your ass off.  Eventually you will be noticed and doors will open.  And remember, even if an audition doesn’t win you a part, it may just get you another audition that does.  That’s right from The Big Book of Anna.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

– Something Shakespearean

Standing Naked in the Wings (a compilation of actors’ experiences in Canadian theatre)

True and False (David Mamet)

11. What’s next?

A marriage this summer to Craig Hall of Rumble Productions and some auditions that may or may not yield contracts.

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Hungry

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

I have to admit I’m a bit disillusioned with Vancouver theatre right now.  I know there is so much talent in this community and yet I find our theatre run-of-the-mill.  I would love to go see some good local fare and be bold over by the performances and innovation but typically I see the same faces doing the usual.  So I suppose I would describe our theatre scene as not fulfilling its potential.

3. As a working Vancouver actor, where do you feel your greatest opportunities lie?

With more and more shows being cast outside the audition room, it feels as if there are fewer opportunities to compete.  Most of my serious prospects are discussed over coffee or a beer with a friend who has the gumption to self-produce: “If only there was money to mount the production”.  I appreciate both methods of casting but there’s nothing like acing an audition and getting that much anticipated call.  Truthfully, it’s beginning to feel like there aren’t any real opportunities out there.  It just comes down to whom you know and who likes you enough to work with you.

4. What is your personal measure of success as an artist?

This is a tough question.  I’d love to say it’s the work itself.  Not having to hold down another job to make ends meet but more often than not that success isn’t celebrated.  Critical acclaim and peer recognition are the measure sticks most actors use.  And I hate to admit that I do to.  Ideally, artist achievement should be measure by work satisfaction and that the artist is active. Any outside confirmation of a job well done should just be gravy.  Oh, if only I could remember that on those dark nights of artistic self-doubt and loathing!

5. What is our surest method of developing the next generation of theatre-goers?

Well, I think it starts at home.  If parents are theatre-goers, their children will be too.  The sooner someone is expose to the theatrical experience, the longer they will be a consumer of this experience.  At least that’s my theory since my parents nurtured a great love of the arts in my siblings and me.

Ticket prices and programming affect early accessibility too.  Maybe family ticket packages or youth price incentives (that rival the cinemas) could help encourage parents and the next generation to venture out. From a programming point of view, I’m not suggesting everything needs to be TYA but relevant, discussion-starting shows that entertain a generation that has the latest diversion downloaded to their i-phone.  Because nowhere in the modern wasteland of media, can they experience that visceral response of having the performer in the same room as them.  We just need to get them in that room any way we can.

6. What is your fondest theatrical memory?

A production of King Lear I saw in London in the late 90’s.  I don’t remember at which theatre or who the actor was but he broke my heart. Lear appears in his long underwear, back flap agape, dragging Cordelia’s corpse by the hair.  The sound that came out of this man was unlike anything I had ever heard – it gives me goose bumps just summoning the memory.  He threw her around like she was a rag-doll (I assume she must have been).  And then would be so tender with her the whole audience pined with him.  When the curtain fell on the curtain call, I had to sit in the audience for ten minutes before I could compose myself and rejoin the world.  What a performance!  It made me not only want to be a better actor but a better person.

7. What’s your #1 all-time industry pet peeve?

I hate the opening night party.  I never know what to do with myself.  I’m most anxious when it’s my opening.  I understand the point of the post-show celebration but I have yet to master the intricacies of the evening.

8. What style of theatre would you like to see more of on our stages?

I’m a big fan of mask and puppetry work.  I’d love to see more mask/movement-based storytelling with an emphasis on the dramatic.  Masked characters and puppets seem relegated to children’s theatre or the comedic.  Companies like Improbably Theatre or Théâtre de Complicité have been doing some fascinating work in London in this vain for well over a decade.  I’d love for some local companies to explore this avenue of highlighting a compellingly told story with mask and puppetry elements.

9. What’s your best piece of advice for new actors just starting to work here?

Don’t be put off by how closed the community seems to be.  Create your own opportunities.  Self-produce.  Audition your ass off.  Eventually you will be noticed and doors will open.  And remember, even if an audition doesn’t win you a part, it may just get you another audition that does.  That’s right from The Big Book of Anna.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

– something Shakespearean

– Standing Naked in the Wings (a compilation of actors’ experiences in Canadian theatre)

– True and False (David Mamet)

11. What’s next?

A marriage this summer to Craig Hall of Rumble Productions and some auditions that may or may not yield contracts.

This One Goes to Eleven: Jennifer Copping

Jennifer has been gracing stages and screens all over North America for years, and has recently found a passion for the director’s seat. Most recently she has crafted performances for Paige 18 and HeadKase Production’s In the Boom Boom Room, and before that she co-directed the Canadian premiere of Stiff Cuffs at the Beaumont and directed Shanley’s The Big Funk at the Havana. We’re very much looking forward to what’s next.

jen

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Amazed.

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

The thing I find interesting about the Theater scene in Vancouver is that the more involved in it you are the more interested you are. That feeling  is incredible when all your friends come out to support a project you are involved with. It makes you want to give that back to them and others who are creating work and art.

3. Please tell us your “how theatre found me” story.

My first theater experience was a production of Grease that my dance school asked us to play the chorus in. It was a high school production and all I kept thinking was maybe the Rizzo will drop out and they will put me in the role.

4. What have you found to be the greatest misconception about theatre among those outside of the scene?

Especially with musicals, I don’t think people have a true understanding of what it takes to put all those elements together. My favorite story of the possibilities of theater was when recently two friends of mine showed up at the play I was directing: In The Boom Boom Room. I had been so busy that I had forgotten to let some people know. They had randomly picked my play to see on their date night because they thought the content looked interesting and they liked to happen upon something instead go for the sure bet. If more of us would do this it would be very exciting.

5. What do you see as the greatest threat to the proliferation of a popular theatre here?

There really shouldn’t be any threat. The only thing that often gets in the way is a lack of support from the press and critics, who either don’t make the time to see new theater companies, or do and often fail to recognize the good as much as what they didn’t like.

6. Describe your ideal career trajectory.

I started out in theater and then spent many years doing primarily film and television.  The last five years my lust for theater has returned, and with it a new found love for directing. I hope to continue playing great roles onstage and help shape great performances from offstage.

7. What do you know about directing theatre now that you didn’t when you started out?

My first time directing was a co-direction with Stellina Rusich of a one act play called Stiff Cuffs. We had been telling each other for years that we should be directing. We realized that doing it together for the first time would be an exciting  hand-holding experience. Luckily our friendship survived and we created a fantastic show. I would say the next two experiences which were solo taught me more and more to trust my instincts and to trust my actors. And to give all of it time to come together. Often my idea of what a moment should be would change and grow as the elements came together.  Rigidity is the enemy of fluidity.

8. What effect, if any, do you see the current economic downturn having on indie theatre?

None. I think now more than ever people want the best bang for their buck. And where else but the theater can you get that experience? Producers need to be smart and get the bums in seats in creative ways. A good show and word of mouth will sell tickets…if you have to give some away to get that started, then do it!

9. Who or what are your greatest influences?

I know everyone says this but Larry Moss. I really feel that I have learned more from his teaching, and how it has grown within me through the years to become my own wisdom, than from anywhere else. So I guess now I would say that I am my biggest influence these days…huh.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

On Directing by William Ball.  The Goat by Edward Albee. The Intent to Live by Larry Moss

11. What’s next?

Onstage 8 shows a week in Toronto with Jersey Boys. After that…who knows?

This One Goes to Eleven: Ben Ratner

Local actor Ben Ratner also happens to be local writer/director/acting teacher Ben Ratner. His face is well known to Vancouverites from his co-starring role on DaVinci’s City Hall and from the many locally produced indie films he’s been involved with, notably his Leo Award-winning turn in Mount Pleasant and his own Moving Malcolm, which he wrote and directed.

He has appeared on stage in, among many others, his self-penned play Cherished and Forgotten, and received a Jessie nod for American Buffalo in 1995.

Ben’s latest directorial effort opens this week: Dying City by Christopher Shinn at Little Mountain Studios. He talks about the piece on camera here. And about our theatre in general here…

ben_ratner_headshot2

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Pudgy.

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

As a performer, I’m not part of the mainstream theatre scene, and only make occasional appearances on-stage in the indie theatre scene, so I am ot really entitled to spout off on this. I can only say my experiences as a participant have always been rewarding, and my experiences as an audience member have been hit and miss.

3. Lack of money is usually cited in these interviews as the most common road block for indie theatre. Is there a disconnect here where art and business should meet, and why?

Indie theatre is not a safe business bet, nor is indie film. The money is in the mainstream, and even there they struggle. You gotta do it ’cause you love it, period.

4. What is it about Dying City that our audiences really need to experience?

I have been emailing with the play’s author, Christopher Shinn. He told me that when he wrote Dying City, he “wanted to write a play that would kill the actors”. So…come see if our cast makes it through the run alive!

5. Does stage work have a responsibility to provide us with a sense of hope?

Everything is subjective. You can only do what you believe in and hope it reaches people.

ben-monitor1

6. Speaking as an instructor, what is the single most common problem neophyte acting students have to overcome?

Laziness. And it’s not just the neophytes

7. What is the best piece of acting advice you’ve ever received?

While working on a feature called Wrongfully Accused in ’98, I asked the late Richard Crenna, whose career spanned over 50 years, this same question. He told me “sit down whenever possible”. (He meant conserve your energy for when you need it.)

My acting teacher, Ivana Chubbuck, used to always tell us to “Play our scenes to win and make positive choices.” This has become the cornerstone of my teaching ideology and acting style.

8. Given one million dollars to improve our independent theatre scene, how would you spend it?

I’d put together the most talented and ambitious creative and business minds I could find, pay everyone a decent wage, and let them work their magic full-time in order to mount top-notch, well advertised shows in our own little hundred seat theatre, with live jazz in the adjoining bar. Don’t know how long the money would last, but we’d put on some damn fine shows.

9. Given a time machine, what would you like to say to a young Ben Ratner just starting out on his career?

Skip Los Angeles, spend those 3 years in New York instead.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

I’m a meat and potatoes man, play-wise. I’d say almost anything by John Patrick Shanley, A view from the bridge by Arthur Miller, American Buffalo by David Mamet, and now, of curse, Dying City by Christopher Shinn.

11. What’s next?

As a writer, currently developing a one-hour TV series for CTV. As an actor, currently shooting Carl Bessai’s latest film, Fathers and sons. As a director, my short film, Power Lunch, has just been invited to the 2009 Mexico International Film Festival. As a teacher, I continue to offer very demanding scene study classes to some of Vancouver’s least lazy actors. Interested thespians should contact Geoff at geoffgustafson@mac.com to get more info.

This one goes to eleven: Lois Dawson

Continuing our TOGtE Stage Manager series, we are proud to present you with Ms. Lois Dawson: professional SM, theatre buff and all around social media socialite. You can read about her consistently updated love for the stage at her own blog here, and have a #theatre conversation with her most times of the day here.

And right about now you can read her take on her city and its theatre scene…

headshots

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Motivated.

2. Choosing your own number of words, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

The Vancouver independent theatre scene is exploding with new companies.  Every time I open the newspaper and look at the theatre listings there are more companies, doing challenging plays from every genre.  There is certainly more theatre happening than I can create the time to see and that is a great problem to have.

3. Please complete this sentence: The Stage Manager is the most important person on the production because…

…the Stage Manager is the centre of morale for the show and is the conduit of information for all involved.  Of course, one of my keys to successful stage management is impartiality, so saying any one person is most important defies that.

4. How has your immersion in social media changed your world as a theatre professional?

There have been three main ways that my recent immersion in social media has changed my world as a theatre professional.  The first is the extent of dialogue that is happening in the theatre blogosphere about all facets of theatre.  Each morning when I check my RSS feed there are about 20 new blog posts to read, each with its own opinions and insights.  Of course, there is also a lot of noise, but I’m learning a lot about how other people create theatre, study theatre & believe theatre should be.

The second change has been the amazing community that I have found there.  Don’t get me wrong – there is a great theatre community in Vancouver and I love being a part of it, but the online community is at my fingertips 24 hours a day. Being involved with the World Theatre Day blog and having international conference calls has really expanded my theatrical world.  I now talk to theatre artists in Australia & across the USA on a daily basis and when I have a theatrical challenge, I have a whole community to approach for potential solutions.

The third thing that it has changed is the possibilities for collaboration.  In the midst of our planning for World Theatre Day ideas were brought forward to collaborate internationally on a radio play or some other theatrical venture.  I have no idea whether or not anything will come of that, but the potential for it has certainly piqued my interest.

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

I have been attending theatre since I was a child: community productions, school productions, church productions, and once in a while a professional production.  It seemed only natural to get involved when I was in high school.  My first production was Hot Line by Elaine May and I was the head of props – a job that quickly evolved into head of props, head of costumes & stage manager.  Despite the craziness of that experience, I was hooked and continued to work on the high school productions.  I grew up in the Okanagan where there is not a lot of professional theatre, but my high school had a program where once a year 45 students and four chaperons would visit Vancouver, Calgary, or Edmonton for five days.  We’d see as many plays as could fit, tour universities & academies, and get backstage tours.  I went to university not intending to do theatre, but I like to say that theatre pursued me, wooed me, and won me.

in-the-booth

6. Does theatre have an inherent function beyond telling a story?

This is a question that I could spend years discussing and discovering. In short, I believe that yes, theatre does have an inherent function beyond telling a story, in fact, multiple functions. One of these functions is that theatre serves as a lens through which we can better understand our society.  The stories that we choose to tell speak volumes to who we are as a culture.  Another function of theatre is creating a connection between the artists & the audience, as well as between the various audience members.

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

One thing I love about the Vancouver theatre community is the diversity of what is produced.  We have site specific work happening. We have shows by new playwrights happening alongside Canadian classics, Shakespeare, & musicals. We have companies devoted to plays by women, Native stories & mental health issues. The one thing I’d love to see happening is work that explores & utilizes social media in some ways.  I recently read an article about a show in Pittsburgh that used SMS to allow the audience to interact with the performers.  Audience members would send SMS messages to an assigned number and the stage manager would arrange for the messages to print from printers hidden in the trees.  Those sorts of ideas really excite me.

8. What do you see as our main roadblock to becoming a thriving and popular industry?

I think our main roadblock is actually a handful of perceptions that people hold about theatre.  The first problematic perception is that theatre is expensive.  Reality is that seeing a show at the Arts Club, Playhouse or Center for Performing Arts is more than most of us can afford on a regular basis, but the independent companies are doing shows that are $15 or $20 each, and often they have 2-for-1 nights. That makes it cheaper to see a play than to see a movie.

The second incorrect belief that people have is that the only theatre out there is at the Arts Club, Playhouse or Center for Performing Arts. Yes, there is theatre there, but there is also all of the independent theatre happening throughout the city, a lot of which I believe engages younger generations on a level they can better relate to.

Thirdly, a number of people see theatre as a cheap knock off of film.  When people attend theatre expecting to see a performance that is essentially film, they are inevitably disappointed, and they don’t need to be. Theatre is not film, and it works best when it doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is.  Some of my favourite moments in plays have consisted of very theatrical moments. When Blackbird Theatre Company did Peer Gynt a couple of years back and created the ocean out of waving fabric stands out as a beautiful example. These three incorrect beliefs are not the totality of the roadblocks that prevent us from being a thriving and popular industry, but I believe that addressing them would be a great place to start.

9. Where would you like to be career-wise in 10 years?

I have every intention of remaining in stage management and continuing to refine my skills. I intend to join CAEA in the next 10 years and be able to live comfortably off a stage managers income – no more wondering where the next month’s rent will come from. I would also love to do a tour with Cirque du Soliel.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

In the spirit of social media I’ve decided to pick my top 3 theatre blogs. It’s hard to choose as there are over 100 in my RSS feed, so these are the top 3 of the moment:

Irresistible Theatre – Angela Konrad

Theatre Ideas – Scott Walters

T.D. Tidbits – Jean Burch

11. What’s next?

My current show, Stop Kiss, opens at the Havana on Friday (preview tomorrow!) and runs until May 2nd.  Tickets are $20 and can be reserved by calling 604-630-9051. As well, I’m in rehearsals for You Still Can’t at Pacific Theatre which runs May 15 – June 13th.  You can find more info about that one at www.pacifictheatre.org.  And after that closes I’m heading up to Kamloops where I’ll be spending the summer emmersed in Shakespeare with the folks at Project X www.projectxtheatre.ca.