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
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!