This One Goes to Eleven: Marci T House

Please meet the unstoppable force that is Actor Marci T House. Marci relentlessly works on her craft all over Vancouver stage, TV and film, seemingly popping up in something everywhere I turn. And she finances her habit by doing a little architecture on the side. She is onstage right now as Viney in the Playhouse production of The Miracle Worker.

You can tell her country of origin by her spelling of theatre and colour in the following conversation…

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1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Hungry!!!!

2. In as many words as you damn well choose, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

Hmmm…tired but trying for a rebirth? I love theater. It is my favorite medium as an actor. However, as an actor of color, it’s very tiring to stay optimistic, encouraged to audition for, or even attend theater in Vancouver. I’m not going to apologize for my desire to see people that look like me on the stage, especially when I always see the words, “color blind casting”. Rarely is this evident once I’ve paid my money to see the show, unless the role is specifically written for a character of color. This city claims to be very liberal when it is the most conservative place that I’ve ever lived…and this is number seven for me; so I’ve been around. I travel every opportunity that I get in order to see as much theater as I can, (i.e. New York, LA, Ashland, Oregon, Chicago, and soon Toronto) but when I come home to Vancouver I’m usually disappointed. Though, I do believe that the changing of the guard is coming to pass. You can’t hold the talented, stop-at-nothing, resilient people down for long.

3. What are the great strengths of the theatre scene here? Its weaknesses?

I like the ambition of the independent theater companies and small houses. I find that quite a few of them are trying new things, so that is a positive, for sure. I had the pleasure of working with Secretly Women Productions earlier this year at the Havana Theater on Commercial Drive. We did a short run of the play, Stop Kiss. It was a good show and a great cast. Our two leads were also the producers, I reiterate, talented, stop-at-nothing, resilient people. They are the ones who are getting things done and not waiting for permission to work. Currently, I’m working under the direction of the wonderful Meg Roe with The Miracle Worker at the Vancouver Playhouse. What an opportunity for a person so young and to be so damn good at what she does. I feel very honored to be working with her and the Playhouse Theater. They understand that in order to stay fresh and current you must revitalize, which means keeping new ideas, people, and artists in the mix.

I find its greatest weakness is that the theater scene is quite closed to newcomers.  I often see the same actors on the stage. I’ve also spoken to many local actors who have tried to audition for various companies in town and have not been given the opportunity. Last, but definitely not least, is the lack of diversification in both the plays chosen and actors cast. This is quite a contradiction considering how diverse this beautiful city of Vancouver is. It is simply not apparent in its theater production. However, that’s just my opinion.

4. What do you consider the great triumph of your career thus far?

Wow! I’ve been blessed, to be very honest with you. I think I’ve had quite a few triumphs. Before I moved to Vancouver, I was living in LA and I decided to produce my own original play. It was a two-hander with the ridiculously talented Victoria Platt Tilford. We created the stories, hired the writers and directors, as well as raised the monies all on our own. Sixteen shows later… three NAACP Theater nominations for best ensemble, best original playwright(s), and best set design. We didn’t win, but as the cliché goes, it really is great just to be nominated.

My move to Vancouver has also been a great triumph to my career as well. After seven very hard years in LA, I almost left the business all together. So, I prayed on it and then Vancouver opened up for me. As an American you’re socialized to believe that the US is the center of the world, and that there is never any reason to leave it. Meanwhile, three years later in Vancouver, I’m simply living a life that enforces what I knew to be wrong about the so-called land of opportunity. I’ve found so much beauty and peace here in this gorgeous place. Not to mention…I’m a working actor. I booked more work in my first year here in Vancouver, than in the entire seven years that I lived in LA. Yeah, Vancouver was the best move I could’ve made.

5. What is your best advice to our new actors just starting out on their careers?

STUDY!!! Fall in love with this thing that we do. Truly get hungry enough to better understand what the hell it is that we do. Be inquisitive. No one should know more about what you do than you. You should be able to hold your own in any room with your vast knowledge of this business and its craft. You should know the what’s, when’s, who’s, and even the why’s. For instance, you need to know what’s being shot here, what’s coming to the stage and when, who’s being cast, who’s casting, directing, producing, and the list goes on. I find that people who obtain success without having any knowledge of how they got there…are really fucking miserable and insecure people. They are some of the worst “artists” that I’ve ever met. Develop other aspects of yourself …REALLY find out who you are. In the end, no matter who you are, this business will break your heart. It doesn’t love you, so you had better have beautiful people in your life that would still love you, even if you were delivering the mail.

I don’t have a theater degree, and in some ways it makes me feel a bit inadequate and/or insecure when I approach the work. I always feel like I don’t what the hell I’m doing. I decided to major in Architecture instead of Theater. Thus, I have a BA in Architecture and a MA in Urban Planning Policy and Design. Growing up in Chicago and doing theater, I was fortunate enough to work with some amazing actors, but they were all broke and struggling to pay their bills. I grew up poor, and didn’t want that for myself.  So, I decided to get my degree in something else that I enjoyed.  It was the best move I could’ve made. I continued to do plays and take acting classes as well. My architecture gives me financial freedom to study, travel, have a full life, and not go crazy when I’m not working. It even allowed me to finance more than 50% of the play that I produced while still in LA. Though it creates a lot of long hours of work for me, I’m still thankful for it.

6. How should we as a community be responding to the BC Liberals recent treatment of us?

Here’s a question, I must admit, that I’m not very knowledgeable of. I’ve kept a distance with the political arena, since my arrival, due to the fact that I am unable to vote. Also, since I’m still trying to understand all of the parties, majorities, minorities, additional elections, and the like, of the Canadian government system, I am not an authority to comment. Again, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a bit confusing to me. I’m also a borderline conspiracy theorist. I find it very hard to trust politicians and/or government. I don’t find them to be very honest. After all, I’m an American who is still suffering from the 9/11 propaganda that my own government is still pushing down the world’s throat, as well as the financial crisis …oh, and did I mention the bogus war that we are fighting too? I’m sorry, I digress.

I guess the only thing that I can say is that maybe this will encourage more funding from the private sectors. I also think it’ll make people work harder for their art. I think that maybe more freedom to create art that is not mandated, shaped, or controlled by the government would allow for a truer freedom of expression from this country’s artists. Why should American art(ists) be crammed down Canadian throats? Maybe it’s time to see what Canadians really think, instead of being dictated to by the government with the monies being funneled into the arts. Just my opinion, but I’m always for less government.

7. Who are your great influences, and why?

Honestly, anytime that I see great work, I’m influenced. It’s why I do this. When I was a kid, I lived in front of the TV. No matter how I felt, there was always a film, TV show, or something that could change how I felt about myself, the reality of my life, or whatever. When I was in kindergarten I said “I want to be a movie star”. I’ve been chasing that dream ever since. So, when I see actors like Meryl Streep, Jeffery Wright, Harry Lennix, or Shanesia Davis, I am in awe. I want to be that escape for my audience. So I am influenced by all of the great work that I see.

8. What type of theatre should Vancouver be producing more of, with an eye to future audience growth?

I hate to beat a dead horse, but MORE, MORE, MORE! We need more theater of color, new works, and shows that also cater to a younger audience. Let’s face it, we love the classics, but there are some really great new works out there too! (i.e. Intimate Apparel, RUINED, August: Osage County, Equivocation, Passing Strange, In the Heights…I could go on) I understand that you have to please those season ticket holders, but you’ve got to entice the new audiences too.

9. Fantasize your ideal career trajectory.

Broadway, followed by some great independent film roles… in between time. I wouldn’t be mad at a TV series (or 2) that lasted anywhere between 3-5 years…or longer.  I wouldn’t turn down a few Tonys, Emmys, Golden Globes, Grammys, nor Oscar Awards (yeah, I like awards.)

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

I seem to be gravitating toward Lynn Nottage at the present. Her works Intimate Apparel and Ruined are at the top of my list, respectively. I am also partial to August: Osage County by Tracey Letts.

11. What’s next?

EVERYTHING!!!

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.

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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’.

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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…

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