Two interesting a pieces from around the theatrosphere about how to fix theatre in North America last week:
1 How to Expand Our Arts Communities In a fast changing culture, seven ideas for connecting with new audiences.
In the second of three articles drawn from Diane Ragsdale’s recent address to the Vancouver Arts Summit, she lays out some impressive challenges for modern theatre artists and how to face them. Most interesting theory cited: that the “long tail” of the creative economy requires 1000 “true fans” to sustain a career as a creator.
2 Collective Arts Think Tank First Letter to the Field: What’s working, what’s not working, recommendations
A NYC-based blog/manifesto/letter about the systemic problems facing the field of contemporary live performance. This letter is split into three parts: The state of the field; possible actions for artists; and possible actions for grant-makers.
I caught Simon Lee Philips and Roanna Cochrane having a celebratory snog at the opening night premiere of Michael Healey’s Generous outside the Finborough Theatre in London (UK not ON).
Simon has a lot to celebrate – having just been cast in Trevor Nunn’s production of Inherit the Wind. Looks like he’s made the move from small fringe theatre to the West End. Simon’s star meter is definitely on the rise.
Christine Horne is currently performing in Praxis Theatre’s production of Underneath at Summerworks.
She is also Artistic Producer of Kick Theatre and Artistic Co-Director of The Thistle Project with whom she is producing and co-creating Peer Gynt, adapted for two actors at the Church of the Holy Trinity opening in January 2010.
“The new fall production “will be expanded and reworked to include new songs, more characters, a larger cast and a bigger band. Like the original, it will be directed by Andrew Lamb, and will star Shaw and Stratford festival veteran Lisa Horner as David’s mom.”
Congrats to everyone involved. The Mirvish people seem to have incorporated the talking point: “Drowsy Chaperone” heavily in their PR strategy about the surprise pick up. Let’s hope they’re right.
With Studio 180′s production of David Hare’s Stuff Happens already in the Mirvish season, is there starting to be a genuine path from indie to commercial success in this town?
This is the first Town Hall since the historic 96-1 vote at the CAEA 2009 AGM to better represent the needs of member/creators.
This Town Hall is being held during the SummerWorks Festival at The Theatre Centre to reach as many independent theatre creators as possible with the latest exciting developments in how professional associations are adapting to modern creation practices.
This Town Hall will present:
The names of the two indie caucus candidates who will be running for CAEA Council and the two candidates who will be running for CAEA Ontario CPAG in this fall’s CAEA election. Some of them will also be present at the meeting to announce their platforms.
What the heck a CPAG is.
Important information regarding why the ITA agreement has just been extended for a single year.
Equally important information about a new Fringe/SummerWorks Contract that is currently being drafted by CAEA.
An update on what steps CAEA has made to fulfill the mandate set forth in the 96-1 vote for reform at the previous AGM.
This is a key moment in how the agreements we use to make art together will develop over the next decade. Come learn more this week and save yourself ten years of banging your head on the wall!
Soulpepper is number one in Toronto theatre in private fundraising as a percentage of revenue (blue).*
by Lindsay Schwietz
Artists have always had issues with finding ways to finance their projects and support themselves. With the Toronto Arts Council reporting the average earnings of Canadian artists to be $23,500* (the lowest 25th percentile of average earnings and hardly an amount to live comfortably by in Toronto), theatres and theatre artists are continually seeking funding through the government, trying to increase their ticket sales and find private donors to support their art.
Soulpepper theatre has created a unique way of dealing with this – the Soul Circle Mentor program. For a donation of over $20,000, a donor can become a “philanthropic mentor” to one of the artists in the Soulpepper Academy. “We wanted to find a way for donors to have more of a one-on-one connection,” says Juniper Locilento, the Government Relations and Foundations Manager of Soulpepper. “So the Soul Circle Mentor program came into existence when the Academy started in 2006. We really saw it as an opportunity, on a bunch of different levels, for some of the donors who are closest to us, to give them an opportunity to connect more closely with these artists who were coming in. And we wanted to give these artists an opportunity to interface and network and just talk to donors so they would become a little more comfortable with that idea.”
The Soulpepper Academy is a group of ten artists (directors, playwrights, designers and performers) chosen from across the country to develop their skills in a two-year fulltime paid residency program at Soulpepper. The first year of the program focuses on training and teaching, with the second year focusing on performance and production. The artists not only get a chance to work with the Soulpepper Company on the mainstage, they also develop a collective creation, which is performed at the end of their two years.
For Mike Ross, being paired with the Youngs meant Raptors tickets, dinners in Rosedale, performing at a birthday party for their parents, and finding backers for his one man show. Photo by Sandy Nicholson
As a major part of their training they are each paired with one artistic member (usually a Soulpepper founding member) and a philanthropic mentor (in most cases a wealthy business couple) by Albert Schultz, the Artistic Director of Soulpepper. The Academy members are required to forge a relationship with the philanthropic mentors they are paired with. This includes talking to them at functions, wine and cheese at pre-openings, dinners together, and sitting with them on opening night –at least once a month, but potentially three or four times a month.
“It was our responsibility to forge a relationship with these people, as it was theirs as well,” says Mike Ross, a graduate of the Soulpepper Academy and a current Associate Artist at Soulpepper. “We were expected to spend time with them. It was actually something that was a little intimidating at first because, although everybody’s there for the same reason, it’s different kinds of people – the artists and often time business-world people. It’s not easy to walk up to someone like that cold and start getting to know them.”
After two years, though, they get over this awkwardness. For Mike Ross, he became friends with his mentors – David and Robin Young of the Young Centre. “We’ve developed enough of a relationship that Soulpepper this season is producing a one man show of mine that they’re the private sponsors for specifically,” he says. “It became a surprisingly casual relationship.”
“I would be very nervous, if it wasn’t for my experience here, going up to what, at that point, I would have deemed just a rich person and asking them for money. I don’t feel that’s the case anymore – I’m asking them to create a relationship, which is a different thing. That’s for them something we can share in. It’s not just handing your chequebook over and maybe giving a shout out on opening night. We’re going to be part of something all together and all get something out of it.”
Soulpepper is thriving. With only 10% of their over 8 million dollar a year revenue coming from government funding, they have obviously found a way to create a sustainable theatre company through their network of private donors – without using tax dollars. They have made relationships with these people who have money to donate and made them part of theatre –made them invested in the arts on a monetary, personal and emotional level. They are teaching developing artists the skills to be able to schmooze and develop relationships with donors and learn the art of theatre as a business.
With Soulpepper it works. They produce classical plays that are generally audience-friendly, with well-known Canadian actors and theatre artists. With plays by Tom Stoppard, David Mamet and Edward Albee, starring actors like Eric Peterson straight from his success on Corner Gas, it’s an easier sell to people outside the theatre community than other companies producing new creations.
But can this model work elsewhere? What about those artists who don’t want to produce classical audience-friendly theatre? Would a business-minded couple be interested in supporting political or experimental theatre?
Mike Ross had a great opportunity to be paired with David and Robin Young, who are devoted and involved with the company. But this method of fundraising raises new questions about creative support: What about those Academy members who are paired with less enthusiastic mentors? What if they don’t get along? What would happen to a student who offended a donor? Or does Soulpepper already ensure that won’t happen by choosing artists that certainly wouldn’t offend donors?
Theatre is created when there is the capital available to create it. There is constantly a struggle to reconcile the need to create art that artists believe in, with the need to finance that art. This isn’t a new problem. Finding money for theatre projects and adapting the product to get that funding is a problem that has been around a very long time. Moliere, Stanislavsky and Shakespeare all forged personal relationships with wealthy elites to facilitate their art.
So this certainly isn’t a black and white issue. One one hand it begs the question, “Has Soulpepper taken the model too far for 21st Century sensibilities? Are they influencing young artists to focus on the sell-ability of their creations over developing new riskier works? It would be simplistic to stop there however, considering the other two major resources for creating theatre: grants and ticket sales. The sad state of arts funding for independent artists in Canada combined with recession-era entertainment budgets leaves few alternatives. Perhaps creating art is living with a series of compromises.
* Data courtesy of theatres and/or the charitable section of the CRA website.
1 Last year the Festival got a lot of press with some controversial YouTube videos you produced. Is that the strategy this time round?
The strategy is to be provocative and playful. The controversy last year was great, as it attracted a lot of people to the blog, and started a really compelling debate. The intent, however, was not to be controversial, but to be playful and provocative. I’m a big believer in provocation… I like taking questions I have and turning them on their ass a bit. This theatre community needs to be braver. We’re all much too precious, in my opinon. We take ourselves VERY seriously, and attach a certain preciousness to what we are doing that is often standing in the way of creating an HONEST dialogue about real things. There is too much bullshit, if you ask me. Too much talking AROUND issues. If we want people to actually give a shit about theatre, we have to start making work that people actually give a shit about. That doesn’t happen often enough. We spend too much time trying to please each other, than ask each other to have legitimate thoughts and feelings about things. We’re too afraid of being disliked–as if being LIKED should ever be the goal. How about making something INTERESTING?
2 This year your first video about a “Typical Canadian Play” pokes fun in particular at art councils for supporting queer and First Nations oriented material. Was there any intention to tie this message to the critique you made of the Dora jury system on the Globe and Mail website the day after Agokwe swept the Doras?
The intent was not to poke fun at art councils, but to poke fun at Canada. Its no secret that we, in Canada, put a lot of effort into supporting ideas of diversity. You may have interpreted the video as poking fun at Arts Councils, but really, the joke was about a white man trying to appropriate as many cultures as possible to try and get some money from an arts council. Personally, I happen to think its very important that there is support and continued development of voices from as many cultures as possible. I don’t happen to think we do a very good job at it, mostly because we’re too afraid of NOT supporting diverse cultures, that we often throw money to anything resembling diversity. And so, I happen to think the idea of using diversity as a ploy to get arts council money is very funny. I’m not blaming anyone in particular… I’m just interested in trying to get conversations that we’re not having, going. Anand Rajaram has written a really great piece about this in our upcoming issue of WORKS.
My critique of the Dora Jury system had nothing to do with First Nations culture, and everything to do with mediocrity. Kelly Nestruck questioned why Agokwe got as many nominations as it had despite his belief that it was mediocre. And so I explained how, often, mediocre work will get a lot of attention at the Doras because of the specific points sytem the doras use. I think it is flawed, and I also think there should be more than 10 jurors, and I think there should be criteria for the jurors. If we ever want to take the Doras seriously, there should be a lot more thought put into how decisions are being made. I understand, though, that this is difficult given that Jurors are donating their time.
Also, my critique was prior to Agokwe sweeping the doras, not the day after.
Alon Nashman, NOW Magazine’s top theatre artist of 2008, stars in the first video promoting this year’s SummerWorks Festival.
3 What’s up with the small animal theme to the SummerWorks brand?
They are Toronto’s downtown animals — squirrels, racoons, pigeons and skunks. They are often given a bad rap, and so we thought it would be nice to throw some love their way. We’ve also given them sashes, turning them into a sort of beauty pageant contestants. The irony makes me happy. The design is also pretty. I think they’re all kind of cute. A re-contextualization of “pests”.
4 Canadian Actors’ Equity Association is working on a new agreement they say will be more responsive to membership taking place in festival like SummerWorks. Have they contacted you for any feedback or input? Have you heard about them asking anyone for input? What would you like to see in it?
No, CAEA only gets in touch with us when they want to make sure we are not breaking any rules. I would love it if they asked for our input. I would also love to see CAEA having a universal agreement that would let people produce their work under any name, despite their history, at the festival, without having to jump through hoops. To be honest, though, I’ve never really had a problem with equity when I was producing at SummerWorks in the past … when writing to Equity they didn’t really offer me any answers except for that individual companies should be contacting equity themselves.
5 Going into your second full year as Artistic Producer of SummerWorks, what is the one thing you wish wasn’t part of your job description?
Having to be both the Artistic Director and General Manager, with not enough money for myself or my staff.
The SummerWorks Festival runs August 6 -16th.
It has a great website here. And a cool blog here.
“After the years and years of weaker and waterier imitations, we now find ourselves rejecting the very notion of a holy stage. It is not the fault of the holy that it has become a middle-class weapon to keep the children good.”