Name Vancouver’s new independent theatre festival

A brand spankin’ new indie theatre festival is in the works here in Vancouver – it’s the new project of the boys at Upintheairtheatre (the Walking Fish Festival) and the heads of Left Right Minds and Machine Fair (Plank Magazine). The inaugural fest is scheduled for this July, with no venues or specific performance dates yet announced. The break-down is thus:

Based on Toronto’s successful, SummerWorks, the Festival will provide a platform for theatre artists to showcase and try out new and experimental work. The objective is to feature work that takes risks, is creative and has a clear artistic vision. At the same time, the work should be accessible and engaging for an anticipated audience of 20-40 year olds.

The working title for the festival is Evolution, but the organizers are looking to give the community a bit of ownership with the branding out of the gate and have announced a name-the-festival competition. The author of the winning moniker will receive two free passes to the festival, and bragging rights. Here’s some concept tags the organizers have been playing with, by way of guidelines:

Excitement, Summer, Performance, Innovation, Experimental, East Vancouver, Fresh, Inclusion, Quality, Neighbourhood, West Coast

Send your idea, name, email address and contact phone number to: summerfestival@upintheairtheatre.com

The deadline for submission of ideas is January 31st.

A new indie theatre festival? Here in no-fun city? This is incredibly exciting news, and they’re smart to model it after Summerworks, now an institution in Toronto that was started as a Fringe-like lottery fest by five buddies in 1991 and went fully juried in 2004. A similar festival here could go a long way towards increasing the quality and quantity of new works. And more notice in the media!

Great stuff, can’t wait to hear more.


Blog this, Canada! A theatrospherical State of the Union – Round 3

This is the continuation of a conversation on the Canadian theatrosphere started by Michael Wheeler from Praxis Theatre in Toronto. Read Round 1 here, Round 2 here, and Round 2.5: a Kris Joseph Intermezzo here.

It always amazes me that the people who should be pioneers in this new media landscape are the ones bashing it.

Each tool should be thought of as an extension of the work. Not a replacement for it. It’s a chance to extend the story and allow people an entry point.

Each of these tools offers the opportunity to put control in the hands of the artists. Maybe that’s the scary part.

Then if it fails, who’s to blame?

It’s easier to complain about the way the things are.

Perhaps harder to forge new ground. But I seem to remember the best moments onstage coming from embracing the fear.

If the storytellers don’t take advantage of this now. I fear they’ll get left behind wondering where it all went wrong.

That’s not good.

Posts like this are uplifting. It boils down to sharing the work.

Then people get excited about it. They share it.

That’s good.

Indie Artist Marketing Strategist Dave Charest, from the comments section of Round 2.5

I now know an enormous amount about theatre and what it means to be a theatre artist that I owe directly to my time spent out on the theatrosphere. It has provided an education that could fill a book (hmm…), never mind a blog post or two. I have a head full of practical theory that I am quite sure is taught in no academic theatre program in North America. Effective marketing. Resource management. Inclusive audience building. Critical perspective and perspective on the critics. Fundamental responsibility to the community. Diversity consideration. Creative fundraising. Nightly audience care. Cost vs. component. Realism vs. theatricality. (I could go on. And on.) Chapters all, and the book is continuously being written, post by post by comment by response. The blogosphere is nothing short of a revolution in resource accessibility, all that is required to navigate it is an open mind and the ability to parse opinion. I am incredulous as to why its growth here in Canada continues at a snail’s pace.

Does our theatre not want to evolve? Is it so bound up in the traditions and forms of the past that it feels its future has already been bought and guaranteed? Or worse, unconsidered? And in the face of evaporating funding and audiences? If there is an art form with a more blinkered sense of entitlement I can’t imagine what it could be. We need to unite as a progressive industry and nurture the neophytes or remain hobbyists, largely ignored by our communities. We need to ask each other for help. We need to make our proudly held opinions available to each other. We’re too quiet, we need to get loud. The internet is a mighty big megaphone.

I make such a pointed sales pitch for the theatrosphere here for a specific reason; to address the number one, all time, top reason I keep hearing from my peers for not becoming part of the conversation on-line. It isn’t that most theatreists don’t get it, or that they’re timid, or they think those of us that do it are weird. The top reason for the industry’s reluctance to blog is that they’re concerned about the time factor. That they don’t even have time to deal with the myriad of tasks that already sit on their plate. So the biggest roadblock standing in the way of a true ongoing national forum on theatre is the one thing that everyone on the planet – especially those running businesses – can get better at: time management. All I can say to that is this: as the forces aligning against us continue to strengthen, as funding diminishes and entertainment options grow, the everyone-for-themselves school of theatre business is no longer viable. Being a part of the discussion is no longer optional. You can do it. You need to do it. Theatre needs you to do it, it’s vital that we have a bigger virtual room in which we can strategize, disagree and share stuff, a space that we can ask for and offer assistance in. I say this from the perspective of a guy who has been immersed in it long enough to be able to report back on the power and effectiveness of the theatrosphere, someone who has no other agenda but to live to see nothing less than a rebirth of the particular brand of storytelling that he loves, and profit for its practitioners.

I am done bitching in bars. I am pushing my stakes on the table publicly, here and now, and I encourage my colleagues in theatre to do the same. Our stock-in-trade is dialogue. Let’s employ its power to discover the way forward towards a world class theatre in Seattle.

Paul Mullin’s introduction to his brand new blog Just Wrought

So here’s what I’m suggesting: open yourself a blog account. Choose a cool template. Start your first post by answering the question “what is the current state of my theatre industry?”. You’ll be amazed at what that will make you want to write about later. Then start a feed reader account and subscribe to some great theatre blogs to read over your morning coffee. (The sidebar on the right is a good place to start exploring.) And when you read something that resonates, comment on it, or even better, write about it and link to it. And keep writing about the stuff that moves you, that frustrates the hell out of you, that makes you crazy, people will find you and respond to you when you talk to them, I guarantee it. Reorganize your schedule so you have about 2 hours a week to spend on your blog and give it a shot, and start meeting other theatre types. You might be surprised at how thrilling connecting with people with like minds and problems can be. If you hate it, stop, by all means. But please go into the party with an open mind and carve out your own corner with your own voice.

I’m confident that once it’s proven its worth to you and your organization you’ll want to increase your social media presence. You can expand your reach and influence literally as far as you can imagine. In an ideal world, as Mike suggests in the last round of comments, our companies will have someone on staff to handle the social media/marketing of our brand and vision (Some of us already do), so that the directors can direct and the actors can act. We must move our process out of its little dark rooms and into the world where it can be seen, felt and explored. There is no time left for individualism in the selling of theatre art, we simply have too much work ahead of us. So please, open up and let us in.

Blog this, Canada: a theatrospherical State of the Union

Guest Post by Michael Wheeler of Toronto’s Praxis Theatrefirst in a series…

Simon Ogden and I are thoroughly 21st Century collaborators: I have directed one of Simon’s plays (twice), submitted another of his plays to SummerWorks (unsuccessfully), and we run parallel blogs in Toronto and Vancouver that have collaborated from early in their inception.

Simon and I have never met each other.

When Michael Rubenfeld asked me to write something for Works about “the internet, blogs and everything that’s going on in Canadian theatre” I was psyched, but immediately had misgivings: Why would a printed static document that contained my thoughts and observations be a good way to explore something that people are so interested in because of its ability to be dynamic, interactive and immediate? The solution comes in the form of a new collaboration between two people who have never met each other.

We’re going to have a conversation and we don’t know exactly where it’s going to go. The comments on this post will become a post on Praxis Theatre and the comments on that post will become a post on The Next Stage. In general we’re going to talk about what we’ve seen so far in the Canadian theatrosphere, where we think it’s going to go, and probably most importantly, what people haven’t figured out it can do. We’d like our readers to chime in too if you feel so inspired. Just be aware we reserve the right to print (or not print) your comments in the real world version of this online experiment in stocktaking.

Enough with the preamble!

This week in Toronto, NOW Magazine published its decade in review. Here’s what Jon Kaplan and Glenn Sumi had to say about performing arts and the interweb:

While the digital revolution hasn’t changed theatre much – sure, we can buy tickets online – it’s revolutionized comedy. Brampton’s Russell Peters increased his fan base exponentially thanks largely to social media sites, eventually becoming the first comic ever to sell out the Air Canada Centre. Today’s comics need a viral YouTube video.

What do you think? Have comics harnessed web technologies better than theatre artists? Is the fact that I am using “theatre artist” to describe ourselves part of the problem? Even if comics have used it better, I don’t agree that being able to buy tickets online is the only effect social media has had on theatre.

As blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media gain popularity they’re giving emerging artists a louder voice in terms of promoting both their work and the ideas that they represent. A $3000 publicist is not THE ONLY way to get your message out anymore. People often mistakenly refer to this as “free” marketing, which rests on the assumption that your own time is worth nothing, but it is certainly a new opportunity.

The other thing I think it has done is increase the sense of community that revolves around these tools. It’s easier to feel more of a part of things now: I can go to Daniel MacIvor’s website and see what he’s up to, I can go to the Event Page for a play I’m going to and see who else is going, I can debate the merits of Stephen Harper’s piano playing performance on the Tarragon Theatre Facebook Fan Page, and in general I can put more faces and personalities to names. The notorious “impossible to break into unless you went to NTS” inclusive theatre scene seems to be breaking down in the wake of all this unregulated interactivity

Over to you S.O.

(I have no idea if anyone ever calls you that.)

Attention theatre makers: SummerWorks Performance Gallery call for submissions

hear-yeOur good friends at the Toronto SummerWorks Festival are preparing for round 2 of their Performance Gallery (Inside the Box) initiative, opening August 6th at the Gladstone Hotel on Queen Street out in the Smoke. If you’re a theatre maker interested in brief, site-specific work, this is something to look at…

What would you do in a completely empty hotel room or the hallway in between? What is the importance of the audience to this piece? Does the risk and imagination stretch beyond the physical confinements?

Launched in 2008, The Performance Gallery (Inside the Box) was one of SummerWorks many new initiatives. In its inaugural year, the gallery, which took place on the 2nd floor of the Gladstone hotel, featured an eclectic group of artist offering everything from short plays to dance to performance art to improvised concerts. This year we return to the Gladstone (Aug 6-9 & Aug 13-16th) and are seeking site-specific but not necessarily site-themed pieces (7-10 minutes) in all performance mediums.

Please follow the guidelines below when putting together your proposal for the Performance Gallery. All applications should include:

1. Letter of Intent: Maximum 2 pages, giving an overview of your work, this project, where it is at in its development, what you plan to do, and how you plan to do it. What excites you about it? Please specify whether you are looking to perform for one night or the duration of the gallery.

2. Support Materials: (Optional) We will accept up to three pages of support material for you and your project. These can include resumes, short bios of key members in your team or letters of support from professional artists if the jury may be unfamiliar with your work. Please do not exceed the maximum of three pages.

RULES & REGULATIONS after the jump:Read More »

The passion of the theatre blogs

thepassion

A look back on a good year in the theatrosphere

By Ian Mackenzie and Simon Ogden

Time to put 2008 to bed? Good idea. But not before we take one last look at the year that was in theatre blogging. And what a year it was! From epic online dust-ups to Internet-wide collaborations, here’s our list of last year’s greatest moments in theatre blogging:

The Empty Spaces’ Or, How Theatre Failed America.
The American monologuist Mike Daisey’s scathing editorial for the Seattle-based The Stranger newspaper argues that American theatre has been irreversibly damaged at the hands of corporate commodification. It quickly becomes the most widely discussed theatre essay of February.

The Great ‘Value of theatre’ Debate.
For one day in March, the Ohio-based blogger Matt Slaybaugh of TheatreForté organized a theatrosphere-wide discussion to answer one simple question: ‘What is the value of theatre?‘ More than 32 different blogs from around the world weighed in on the topic that day, and yet surprisingly few common themes emerged. That theatre’s online diarists could not reduce the craft to tidy soundbites is welcome evidence of the art form’s complexity.

The SummerWorks ‘Expression’ video controversy.
The Toronto-based SummerWorks Theatre Festival promo video depicts some of the city’s most highly regarded women playwrights acting like bimbo valley girls, up-talking and saying ‘like’ a lot. ‘Expression‘ sparked an all-out brawl among Toronto’s theatrical intelligentsia. Some called it demeaning, some called it transgressive, others called it smart marketing. But no one called it late for dinner.

Professor Scott Walters ‘retires’ from theatre blogging.
After a lengthy monologue explaining his Tribes model of running a theatre company, and some highly personal bare-knuckle scrapping in his comments section, the resident professor of the theatrosphere calls it quits again in May. He’s back posting within a couple of days; posts sporadically for a few months; and then officially reboots his blog again earlier this week.

The proliferation of the Canadian theatre blogs.
Although theatre blogging exploded in the U.S. a couple of years earlier, 2008 was the year theatre blogging officially took flight in Canada. Here’s a quick, incomplete survey of the current landscape:

And the list keeps growing. Thankfully.

Canadian artists rally online over $45 million goverments arts cuts.
The Canadian arts community unites against Stephen Harper’s Conservative government following its controversial $45 million cuts to Canadian arts programs; sets the national theatrosphere ablaze, including dozens of reprints of playwright Wadji Mouawad’s scathing response to Harper and the birth of the arts advocacy group Department of Culture.

Content is king for a day.
Well, several days actually, after Tony Adams drops a post called ‘Content‘ in which he wonders aloud why no one on the Internet ever discusses the content of their shows. The topic has legs.

The age of the guest post.
Theatre is territory and its west coast sister blog The Next Stage host a series of guest posts that help inspire their writers to think outside the blog:

Don Hall gets divorced.
The usually irascible Don Hall blogs about the dissolution of his marriage, morphing the normally incendiary Angry White Guy in Chicago blog into a tender and affecting piece of Internet theatre.

The Globe and Mail gets its theatre blog on.
After showing all of England how to theatre blog (by founding the Guardian UK’s theatre blog roundup Noises off), J. Kelly Nestruck returns home to Canada to fill the prestigious national theatre critic slot at the Globe and Mail. He promptly starts a Globe theatre blog, Nestruck on theatre, and seals the deal on theatre blogging’s legitimacy in Canada.

Canadian theatre critics invite unprecedented dialogue with artists.
Notorious Vancouver theatre critic Colin Thomas challenges theatre artists to change their status quo and engage him directly about his opinions online – none do (yet). J. Kelly Nestruck does likewise.

How Mike Daisey failed American Theatre.
‘The Daisey’ goes head-to-head with American Theatre Magazine.

The theatroshpere unites to say goodbye to Harold Pinter.
Legendary American playwright shuffles off his mortal coil and goes on to join the choir invisible; the chorus of the theatrosphere sings his praises down here.


Well, it’s clear that our list could be twice as long and still wildly incomplete. Lest we forget Isaac Butler’s oddball Hair Blogging, George Hunka’s syllable-heavy Organum series, Matt Freeman’s awesome Star Wars fixation, Nick Keenan’s constant innovations, James Comtois’ horror film posts, Leonard Jacob’s prolific flamboyance, Paul Rekk’s island of insight, Adam Thurman’s paradoxical mission, those anonymous ponderings at 99Seats, Travis Bedard’s extreme connectedness, Alison Broverman’s fashionista quipping, Chris Wilkinson’s succinct reporting of the whole fine mess . . . oh theatrosphere, we hardly know you and yet we bleed for your love.

Suffice to say, 2008 was the year that many will remember as the year theatre finally made a successful transition to digital.

You can also find this here.

Crazy Kansas homophobe vs. Toronto theatre: and the winner is…

Photo by Roger Cullman

Do we even have to say it? Despite the fact that the actual Pastor Phelps was turned back at the Canadian border, Toronto anti-protesters turned out in magnificent force to show support for The Pastor Phelps Project, a play up in the Summerworks Festival right now. Blog TO has got the article and some capital-G Great pics of the good citizens that showed up to disparage the crazy redneck sect from St. Topeka, Kansas. And the real winner? The play itself, which sold out handily, turning people away from its opening night performance.

There ya go, conflict marketing at work. What lessons can we take from this?

H/T to the divine Ms. Mooney.

Is there really such a thing as “No publicity is bad publicity”?

By guest blogger Rebecca Coleman

Quite a little brou-ha-ha going on these days in T.O. The Summerworks Theatre Festival, which is an independent, juried Arts festival, is causing a big stir. Well, not the festival per se, but a show in it called The Pastor Phelps Project.

Here’s their media blurb:

Pastor Fred Phelps and the good people of the Westboro Baptist Church are here to explain why God hates fags and America is doomed. It’s homophobia versus burlesque in a musical cabaret showdown. Stare into the abyss of fundamentalism; sexy political satire with razor wire barbs.

Well, the fine people at Westboro Baptist Church heard about this, and felt, I imagine, attacked, so they are putting a group together and going up to Toronto to picket the show. They have a website: http://www.godhatesfags.com.

Well, all the picketing and media releases and backing-and-forthing has certainly translated into publicity for both parties. Witness today’s story in The Globe and Mail. The focus of the story and, seemingly, the moral of it, is that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

I’m not so sure. On one hand, I totally get how hard it is to produce a show, to do live theatre. There’s never enough money, you are competing with tons of other (bigger budget) productions for a limited amount of space – get people in through the door however you can. Resort to nudity and “sex” or “blowjobs” in the title of your play. But on the other hand, it makes me feel uncomfortable to do it.

In an ideal world, I would love it if people wanted to come to see our shows because of oh, say, the writing, the acting, the direction. But in a world where we are obsessed with what Pamela Anderson had for breakfast, that’s a tough one. We often feel like we have to resort to some more erm, shall we say, dramatic tactics to get people in through the door. That makes me sad.

Part of what also makes me sad is that there is no real winner in this situation. Yes, the folks at Summerworks will probably have overflowing houses. But equal attention is being paid to the guys at Westboro.

As a publicist, I was taught that if there is no conflict, there is no story. As a kid, I was taught to ignore bullies. Because if they don’t get a reaction, there’s no payoff.

Rebecca is a contributing columnist and founder of Titania Productions, a Vancouver Marketing and Public Relations Company.