Fringe Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

Luckily for us, Red Light Winter held over until March 22.

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This is not a review. We’re not doing those right now (although we might start down the road a bit). This is a gush. This is a love letter to playwright Adam Rapp, and a fan letter to the cast and production team that make up the Speckled Bird Equity Co-op. This is one of those plays that makes you want to call all your friends and tell them to see it come hell or high water or, if you happen to have a blog, to go straight home and gush about it.

Simply put, this is the kind of play that should be being mounted here, the kind of work that utterly convinces you that theatre is still vital. For non-theatregoers, it’s a preconception killer. It is contemporary, it’s raw, it’s heartbreaking, it’s freaking hilarious, and it’s not afraid to be smart. Actually, it proves that you can write a smart play that can still pierce your audience to its emotional centre. And most importantly, it’s identifiable. Either you recognize aspects of yourself onstage, or you recognize aspects of people in your life. It will give you pause. That’s good theatre.

Technically, the play is superb. If you’re an actor, you really want to see this cast work. Unselfconscious, simple acting between people listening to each other. God, I love watching actors listen to each other. Their timing was splendid, and every pause was earned. I was drawn in. This is great direction married to open acting.

Two acts, cast of three, lights up and lights down. With songs by Tom Waits. Red Light Winter is being held over until this Saturday at the Havana, you will love me for recommending this play to you. Click here for more info.

This One Goes to Eleven: Katrina Dunn

If you want an example of absolute commitment to our theatre, look no further than Katrina Dunn, who has been on the front lines of the fight to bring great Canadian theatre to Vancouverites for many years. She’s been the Artistic Director of Touchstone Theatre and its all-Canadian mandate since 1997, and was one of the architects of the envelope-expanding PuSh Festival, where she remains as Associate Curator. All this while working consistently as a Director-for-hire. Meet one of the stalwarts of our industry…

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1.) In one word, describe your present condition.

If by “condition” you mean the condition of the show, I would say “poised” meaning poised to take off and meet it’s audience.

2.) Describe the condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

Smokin’.

3.) Please describe Touchstone’s criteria for choosing its material.

Our mandate is Canadian work. We pick the the most provocative and exciting new voices creating Canadian work.

4.) Can you tell us a bit about the working process of your Playwright-in-Residence program?

We work with playwrights over a long period – usually 2 to 3 years. The development process includes a series of workshops and hands on dramaturgy with myself and a dramaturg. We carefully usher a show to production and make a significant investment in its premiere.

5.) What advice could you give young companies with regards to structuring themselves towards long-term sustainability?

Diversify your audience and your revenue sources. Plan for things to change, especially when it comes to funding.

6.) How healthy do you feel Vancouver theatre is as a mutually supportive community?

It’s excellent. I think we work together more than any major centre in Canada. Because in the West we’ve been forced to work with less resources, we partner more and share more.

7.) So far, what has been your proudest PuSh Festival moment?

I think it must have been the 07 Festival, when I realize the thing had grown so big that it was impossible for me to take it all in.

8.) If you could offer only one piece of advice to our new directors, what would it be?

Believe in your vision and pursue it despite the nay sayers.

9.) Given a time machine, what one piece of advice would you give yourself as you start out on your career?

Try not to work so hard.

10.) What are your top three theatre reads?

Joseph Chaiken’s The Presence of the Actor

David Mamet’s True and False

John Lahr’s The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan

Tony Kushner’s Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness

Four – I know but I couldn’t choose.

11.) What’s next?

Janet Munsil’s new play “Influence” about John Keats, the Elgin Marbles and the nature of artistic inspiration. Touchstone is producing it in November.

This One Goes to Eleven: Susan Stevenson

A lot of time is spent on this site and its interview series discussing the many potential ways that the theatre business in Vancouver may be improved. Lest this offer the impression that our theatre has a foot in the grave we present a conversation with Susan Stevenson. Susan is the Executive Director of the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance, a position which affords her a uniquely comprehensive perspective on the our community as a whole. Read on for a good, solid shot of theatrical positivism…

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1.) In one word, describe your present condition.

Optimistic.

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

Growing. We have over 100 companies and new members joining the GVPTA all the time, and we publish 50% more listings in the Vancouver Theatre Guide than we did when I first started this job four years ago. Bard on the Beach reports they sold out every seat of every show for its entire run in 2007! That, and the recent success of the PuSh festival and the thriving independent theatre scene here tells me there is an audience for all types of theatre in Vancouver. We are in need of more facilities (production, rehearsal, storage, performance) to accommodate all this growth.

3.) Please tell us a bit about the role of the GVPTA today.

We produce two major events each year: The Making a Scene Conference in November and a Celebration of World Theatre Day in March. We also offer artistic and administrative workshops, publish the Vancouver Theatre Guide three times a year, issue daily information to members via e-mail, and send weekly updates to the general public on what’s playing in our “Casting the Net” bulletins. Membership is open to companies of all sorts and to individual artists and friends (see www.gvpta.ca for further details).

4.) What is the most essential resource for young theatre companies that they probably don’t know about?

The GVPTA has a mentorship program and can help find a match for emerging companies/artists with our more established companies. You volunteer some time to the mentor in exchange for your mentorship.

5.) The GVPTA started as an activist group. Is that still an accurate description of its agenda?

Our mandate is to promote live theatre and foster a thriving environment for the continued growth and development of theatre. At times that does involve advocacy work. For example, we just submitted a brief to the City of Vancouver on the acute need for performance, rehearsal, production and storage space for theatre companies. But activism or advocacy to government is only one part of what we do. Like most service organizations, we also offer joint marketing, networking and professional development opportunities to members.

6.) Where should we be focusing our marketing towards developing a future audience for theatre here?

Joint marketing efforts.

I know people pick up the Vancouver Theatre Guide because it offers a quick reference to the diversity of choices in live theatre that exists throughout all the venues/companies in the region. Theatre-goers also have responded favourably to our “Casting the Net” weekly e-mail reminders on what’s opening/closing each week. Obviously, the younger generation in particular can be found on Facebook, so our members are starting to have a presence there, too.

An annual, coordinated Free Night of Theatre program that has taken off in the United States is something that could be worth our while to explore here to help build new audiences.

7.) How healthy is the Vancouver theatre community as a mutually supportive family?

One of the main purposes of creating the Making the Scene conference nine years ago was to build community, and people frequently come away from the conference saying they realize they aren’t alone in their profession after all.

I can think of several good examples of theatre companies and artists coming together to be mutually supportive: the GVPTA Discount Card program helps make shows more affordable for individual artist members; The Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards (founded by the GVPTA but run by a separate society); The See Seven initiative; and Progress Lab/HIVE. The Performing Arts Lodge has also created a new family-like living environment for individuals.

But there’s always room for more community building and more support and services. If you have ideas about how we can work together, the GVPTA’s committees are a grass-roots forum for exploring them. Consider joining one of the following committees: Marketing, Membership, Making a Scene Conference, World Theatre Day or Advocacy.

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

I enjoy seeing work that combines dance or movement with theatre. The GVPTA brought out Paula de Vasconcelos of Pigeons International (Montreal) to give a workshop Feb 16-20 on dance-theatre and it has been fascinating to see a mixed group of dancers and actors learning together. Pigeons International does both dance and theatre equally, but it’s not easy to do and it takes a fairly mature artist to be able to tackle both. As Paula commented, when she sees work that is just one or the other, she feels like she’s using just one half of her brain, but dance-theatre work has the capacity to speak to both halves.

9.) What did you think of the Open Space?

It’s a great way to get people talking and networking and I think possibly the best way to undertake a public consultation process if you really want to be thorough and democratic, rather than setting the agenda in advance.

10.) What are your top three arts administration reads?

The Art of Governance: Boards in the Performing Arts, published by Theatre Communication Group, NYC, 2005.

Hills Strategies Research Inc. e-bulletins

Art News Canada e-bulletins. Subscribe here.

11.) What’s next?

We are gearing up for a celebration of World Theatre Day at the end of March. Check out our web site at www.gvpta.ca and watch for the brochure on all the free, pay-what-you-can or discounted events. Hope to see you at our benefit performance My First Time – The Love Scene March 25 at the Waterfront Theatre! The silent auction this year features an exhibition of Art by Actors on display at the Vancouver Central Library March 1-24.

And then later this spring, we’ll be bringing out Richard Rose from Tarragon Theatre (Toronto) to lead a two-day directing workshop May 6 and 7.

This One Goes to Eleven: Kirsten Kilburn

I know that there are those of you out there with concerns for the future of our theatre. Rest assured, if it lies in the hands of young artists like Kirsten you have absolutely nothing to worry about.

Ms. Kilburn is a Vancouver stage and screen actor. She opens Twenty-Something Theatre’s one-woman show The Fever by Wallace Shawn at the newly refurbished Beaumont tomorrow (Tuesday, January 29). Tickets are available at the door or at boxoffice@twentysomethingtheatre.com.

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1.) In one word, describe your present condition.

Growing.

2.) Use as many words as you’d like to describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

I feel as though we are having a subtle shift in the Vancouver theatre scene. There are more independent companies coming out with either original or lesser known productions that are different from what we usually see from the larger playhouses. Hopefully, we can continue to diversify and create further on what’s happening. As of right now, I feel as though the theatre community can be quite scattered.

3.) What is the major obstacle we have in getting Vancouver’s bums in the seats?

This is a tough one. I’m not sure I could define one thing as the major obstacle. There are many people who don’t consider theatre worthy of an evening out. It’s artsy, fake, not as entertaining as a movie. Living in this city for eight years, I’m always shocked by the number of people I meet who have never seen a play. I feel as though the mentality of the theatre community is more competitive than supportive. (I’m sure there are those who disagree with that statement!) If we could create a more collective feel, perhaps we would be able to open up and make theatre more accessible for everyone. Being willing to create something new and continuously grow, not just create the same type of productions, could draw more people into the seats. Really getting the word out that there is very valid, and worthy entertainment out there on our stages. Maybe by creating a blog?

4.) What do we need more of on Vancouver stages?

Productions that are willing to take a risk; to try something innovative and different. Continuing to produce the same kind of shows isn’t going to draw more people to the theatres, it just perpetuates the assumptions they have already made.

5.) What do you need above all else from your director?

An open mind. Moving through a creative process requires everyone involved to be open to new ideas and possibilities. Working with a director who has a vision of what they would like to see happen on stage, but feels confident enough to allow the piece to evolve and change is a gift. As an actor, I feel infinitely more comfortable and able when working with someone who takes the time to listen and process with you; guiding you in a certain direction without diminishing your creative process.

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6.) What’s the best advice on acting that you’ve ever received?

Always be open to change. A good one for acting and life, I think!

7.) Which three actors, living or dead, would you like to have drinks with, and why?

River Phoenix, because he was so brilliant and real. And I have been in love with him as long as I can remember. Is that a bad reason? Kate Winslet, because she has managed to have an incredible career and a seemingly balanced life. She is someone who is always so interesting to watch. Judy Garland. Such a complicated life, yet so beautiful.

8.) How do you first approach creating a role?

It depends on the role. I was trained in the traditional theatre sense, which is to approach a role by doing a very thorough script analysis. Create a background for your character, their likes, dislikes, quirks, habits, and so forth. And to write it all down. Also, to break down a script and find the different beats; sections where there’s a shift in emotion or topic. As I’ve grown and experienced different techniques, I’ve learned to use personalization as a great tool in building emotion and life in a character. Following one’s instinct and trusting the emotional journey is what allows me to really be present in my work. Creating the background of a character is extremely important, but thinking about what you’ve written down doesn’t work when you’re on stage. Knowing all those things, then letting them go and taking the plunge into the story. That’s what’s working for me right now.

9.) What’s your fondest theatrical memory?

Moving to a new school in grade two and auditioning for the musical “Danny the Dark Green Dinosaur”. I got the lead (yes, I was a boy dinosaur)! I didn’t make any friends very quickly, but it was so worth it. Ahhh, my first taste of getting the lead. Sweet, sweet victory!

10.) What are your top 3 reads for the aspiring actor?

True and False by David Mamet. This book should be read by everyone involved in theatre and film. Sanford Meisner’s On Acting. Some great exercises in this book. The Intent to Live by Larry Moss. Very inspirational. Also, if you can find it, Free to Act by Warren Robertson, one of the most unique and wonderful acting coaches I have worked with.

11.) What’s next?

A break! To Cuba. Then I’m looking at doing another play in May. And finishing my voice-over animation component! So much fun to stand in a booth and be fifty-two different people!

Controversy in Canadian Theatre. No, Seriously.

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Near the beginning of last year a big ol’ Toronto theatre organization, The Canadian Stage Company (billed as Canada’s largest not-for-profit contemporary theatre co.) gave a “political” play called My Name is Rachel Corrie some no-such-thing-as-bad publicity by canceling its planned production in their 07/08 season. Artistic Producer Martin Bragg dropped it from the line-up for one of two possible reasons: a.) members of CanStage’s board indicated that they thought the play may offend people, specifically Jewish people, or b.) Mr. Bragg attended an off-Broadway staging of it that was so bad that he declared that he didn’t like it any more. “It didn’t seem as powerful on the stage as it did on the page” declared Mr. Bragg. Really? Charges of antisemitism have dogged the play, in addition to CanStage the original New York company and a Miami company canceled planned mountings. Meanwhile, Canadian theatre had a bona-fide controversy on its hands.

As if that in itself isn’t awesome enough, a Vancouver grassroots theatre company is mounting MNiRC at the Havana starting tonight and running to Feb. 9. Neworld Theatre, in a co-production with Montreal’s Teesri Duniya Theatre, isn’t shrinking from any potential backlash to this play here, neither is the Havana itself, despite negative reaction which included an email that read: “Too bad Havana restaurant and theatre has decided to get involved in a political play that has no artistic interests but the fact that it serves to expose pro-Palestinian propaganda.” The emailer further promised to boycott the theatre and the restaurant that it resides in. Oh, snap.

No artistic interests? It’s a play, weirdo. Yeesh. Rachel Corrie was a young American peace activist and writer who went to the Gaza Strip to support Palestinians whose homes were being demolished, and in 2003 at the age of 23 was crushed beneath an Israeli bulldozer that was advancing on the home of a Palestinian doctor. The play is a one-woman show adapted from her own writing in journals and emails home from Rafah by Alan Rickman (cooler they do not come) and Guardian journalist Katherine Viner. It is selections from the personal writings of this woman on her experience, so how can it be judged propagandist? Do these people really believe theatre-goers to be unable to anatomize art and formulate our own opinions? Isn’t that the very definition of art? Try and keep me from seeing this play.

Meanwhile, back over in the T-dot, Theatre Panik mounts the Toronto premier of My Name is Rachel Corrie in May. Some of those shows are already sold out.

This One Goes to Eleven: TJ Dawe

TJ is probably the hardest working man in Vancouver independent theatre, and undoubtedly one of its most talented. His one-man shows are consistently sold out at the Fringe, both here and internationally. An acclaimed performer, writer, and director (One Man Star Wars Trilogy, among others), he was given the Jessie Richardson award for Best New Play or Musical in 1998, which is just one of his many theatre and comedy related awards. He shows no sign of slowing down.

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1.) In one word, describe your present condition.

Recharging.

2.) In any amount of words, describe the present condition of Vancouver theatre.

Small. Underfunded. Struggling. Gutted by the everpresent need to stay available for an audition for a mustard commercial. Gasping for an audience. With the notable exceptions of the PUSH festival and the Fringe. So there’s hope…

3.) How does the health of the independent theatre here compare to other cities across Canada?

A little feeble. But everyone says that, across the country. I’ve never heard a theatre person in Canada (independent or otherwise) say “the scene here is thriving! There’s work and funding and audience enough for everyone! And there are so many excellent plays being put on!” Canada’s generally not a nation where people go to plays. Why is it so absurd to imagine two roommates sitting on the couch after a hard day’s work, saying: “Man, I’m exhausted.” “Me too.” “I need to blow off some steam.” “Yeah.” “I know! Let’s go to the THEATRE!!”? Answer: because so much theatre is irrelevant. Or dull. Or both. Theatre’s doing fine in francophone Quebec, though. They have their own hugely well known actors. And directors. And writers. And comedians. And people actually go see them. Regular, normal people. They genuinely want to, and look forward to it. They have their own popular TV shows and movies, too. So it’s possible! It’s happening within our own country!

4.) What effect do you see the Fringe having on indie theatre throughout the rest of the year?

Not much. How many fringe shows get remounted? How many companies that produce a fringe show do anything the rest of the year? The fringe lets you do it cheap and easy. And brings in an audience. Proving there is an audience. And there are people capable of doing good work. Why can’t we do that the rest of the year? Hard to get funding. Hard to find spaces. Hard to bring in an audience. And why aren’t people from the bigger theatres recruiting people from the better fringe shows? Are they? Maybe they are. The Back Kitchen Release Party made the Arts Club mainstage season. Lazy Susan had a remount in the Here Be Monsters festival. The Drowsy Chaperone is still running on Broadway. The One Man Star Wars Trilogy is still touring the world. It can happen. But I rarely hear whispers of there being artistic directors and agents and producers going to see fringe shows. There are pretty sharp lines dividing levels of the theatre world’s hierarchy. Maybe that’ll get better. How? Same answer as the answer to the next question.

5.) What does indie theatre here need to be doing to popularize itself with Vancouverites?

Knock people’s socks off. Produce work so powerful, so good, that people can’t help but grab their friends by the lapels and demand they go see it. I’m still naive and idealistic enough to believe talent and quality can break through the thickest walls.

6.) Can you quantify your approach to playwriting?

I try to be interesting. Do something that hasn’t been done. Something that would keep me engaged if I were just some guy walking in off the street. Something you don’t have to be a theatre insider to get. Keep it simple. Tell the truth.

To answer the question from another direction, I harvest thoughts and conversations. I find regular experience and the things that naturally come out of people’s mouths much more interesting than guns, vampires and political conspiracies.

7.) More gifted comedy writers and actors are produced by Canada than any other nation. Why is that?

We’re a nation of outsiders. We grow up in the shadow of the most influential culture in the history of human civilization up to this point. We’re raised on American movies and TV, showing us aspects of life that often don’t apply to us, advertising products we often can’t buy, wowing us with contests we often can’t enter. We’re wooed with a dream that doesn’t necessarily apply to us. Makes us outsiders. Artists are outsiders. Comedians are outsiders. Comedians in the states very often come from minorities for the same reason.

8.) Any pearls of wisdom for someone trying to make a living through stage work?

Be in it for the long haul. Do what you can on your own, without waiting for someone to let you work. Find like-minded people. Put up some kind of regular gig. Get in front of audiences, even small ones, as often as possible. Explore your ideas. Come up with your own stuff. Do something unique. Self-produce. Tour the fringe. The more you do the better you’ll get. The more you see the more you’ll learn. Examine why you’re in this in the first place. Is it to make money or to create art? If you had to choose between the two, which would you take?

9.) Given a time-traveling DeLorean, what would you tell a young TJ Dawe just setting out on his career?

Find artists whose work means something to you – writers, directors, actors, musicians, composers, painters. Then get your hands on everything they ever did. Even the bad stuff. Look for patterns. Get a sense of how their brains worked. Read biographies of them. Look for interviews online. Find out who their influences are. Do the same with them. Keep this up for the rest of your life.

10.) Besides The Power of Ignorance, what are your top 3 reads for the aspiring theatreist?

Anything that inspires you as an artist. And that’s a highly personal thing. Three books that have inspired me are The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, John Barleycorn by Jack London and The Diviners by Margaret Laurence. Another huge one: The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Riso and Hudson. It’s about personality types. Brilliant. Changed the way I look at life.

11.) What’s next?

My new solo show is called Totem Figures – it’s about personal mythology – which faces, which stories, which ideas, which physical details would be on your own personal Mt. Rushmore, your own Sgt Pepper’s album cover (or in this case, mine). I’m touring the fringe circuit with that, Orlando to Vancouver. I’m also involved with four other touring fringe shows. It’s gonna be a motherfucker summer. And I’m trying to write something full-length, with an actual cast. Busy days.

Dishpig, a Pick of the Fringe play from last year that was co-written and directed by TJ, is running at the Havana until  January 19. See the Listings section for more details.