Okay so you know you want to make theatre and you know it will be cool and awesome like nothing anyone's ever seen. Now what?
by Michael Wheeler
Theatre Centre Managing Director Cathy Gordon and I are speaking at University of Toronto tomorrow. There is an official post about it on the University College website (note the not-so-subtle use of ivy in their web identity), and a facebook event page as well.
Ostensibly we are talking about how to approach public funding for theatre projects and companies. We have some handouts and concrete ideas about that part. What arts councils, what granting programs, what deadlines, etc.
The real story – as most Canadian arts practitioners will tell you – is not one of knowing how to fill out the right form, at the right time, with the right words. It’s my theory (having never been on a granting jury) that the single biggest factor in the success of a grant application is whether or not the applicant had demonstrated a history of excellence. Are you someone who has a history of making compelling art?
So the most immediate question for all of these soon-to-be-graduates is how to approach these sorts of questions: How can you establish a track record and a good one? Should you start a theatre company? How do you pay for things without grants in the beginning? What sorts of projects should you pursue? Are you doing it to leverage your identity as a performer or to create a cohesive ensemble? Why?!?
I’m pretty sure coming up with good answers to these sorts of questions is what leads to grant applications eventually being successful. There aren’t any singular right answers to any of them, but they all require conscious and considered answers.
What do you think readership? What other questions should fresh graduates be asking themselves as they prepare to embark on a theatre career in 2010? Also, please tell me if you think I’m wrong about the excellence thing. What else is important to consider?
Once upon a time, Thistle Project founders Christine Horne and Matthew Romantini were workshopping an original adaptation of Peer Gynt with themselves in the lead roles. Then one day everyone was like, “Wait a second. Christine is simply not old enough to play this part. It doesn’t work.”
So Christine was replaced by Susan Coyne. Burn on her. That’s what she gets for starting her own theatre company: the opportunity to be a producer for other more widely known actors in a role she helped to create. But she’s not bitter. See their conversation below. mw
You’re Susan Coyne! What the fuck are you doing working for us??
Oh my goodness! Did you think you’d hired someone else? Martha Burns, maybe. We’re often mistaken for each other. I could give her a call, explain the situation, maybe she could- oh, no. Wait. She’s doing a George F. Walker play at Factory. Sorry. I’m so sorry… I think you might be stuck with me.
How do you imagine your dressing room at the Holy Trinity will compare to that at, say, the Stratford Festival of Canada?
I imagine it will be similar: a spacious room, with a view of the swanboats on the river. My own beer fridge stocked with my favourite beverage, Gimli Goose. A security guard at the door to stave off creditors.
What’s your feeling about established, well-respected actresses stealing roles away from their younger, struggling, unemployed counterparts?
I assume you’re referring to the unfortunate situation in which the producer (Christine Horne) fired the original actor (Christine Horne) and cast me instead. It’s not often that I hear I’ve been hired because someone was looking for a Christine Horne type- but wrinklier. I think I like it.
What’s the deal with you and Chekhov? Ibsen wants to know.
I’m a boy, I’m a girl, I’m a seagull…. No that’s not it.
If you were stranded on a desert island and could only bring one Artistic Co-Director with you, who would you choose: Matthew Romantini or me?
You for your intelligence, grace, compassion and sensitivity of course. But in the end I’d have to go with Matthew because he’s so damn sexy. Also I’m completely at his mercy since he knows the lines better than I. What has been your least favourite thing about playing Peer Gynt?
Having to forgo wearing my pushup bra and lipstick. I tried, but the director wouldn’t let me.
And last but not least… Why should anybody come see this thing?
Because it’s a great play, though you might not be able to tell that on the page. Because it’s completely modern in its mixing of styles and genres. It’s fantastical and bawdy and biting and surreal and yet, at it’s heart, deeply spiritual. I think Erika Batdorf has directed a thoroughly entertaining production, unlike anything else you are likely to see this year. I kind of wish I could see it. Hey- you know the lines. Maybe you could step in?
Adam Paolozza is artistic director of TheatreRUN. He will be singing a selection of classic 1960’s Italian love songs at La Dolce Vita, a fundraiser for The Pasolini Project, on January 28 at Bar Italia.
He is the director and, along with Coleen MacPherson, co-translator of The Pasolini Project, a new adaptation of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s tragedy about democracy and social change, Pylade.
Click here for more info on La Dolce Vita and The Pasolini Project.
Part I: Theatre School Up Ahead, No Thinking Allowed.
When I graduated from theatre school, I knew how to crash a general audition, how to write a grant proposal, how to apply for internships on workinculture, how to analyze Shakespeare… I even knew something about how to create my own work.
I had a whole lot of skills ready to put into practice and very few ideas about what I would use them for. In fact, I didn’t even have a way to approach thinking about how I might want to use these newfound skills (outside of getting hired by someone else with a vision). No one ever sat me down and got me thinking about what type of theatre I might want to make and why. The more I look around at artists emerging from institutions like the one I attended, the more I feel we as a generation of artists were never asked to think about this.
It seems that conservatory programs value doing over reading and talking. I wonder: isn’t there a time and a place for thinking as well? Isn’t it a problem that my only non-studio classes were “The Business of Acting” (addressing questions around producing, funding, taxes, and marketing) and an undervalued set of Theatre History classes, taught by a fantastically overqualified instructor who barely had time to bring us up to Fronteras Americanas before he ran out of time? There was certainly very little space for discussions around aesthetics, contemporary Canadian and international theatre, cross-disciplinary work, and criticism.
Scott Walters explains that his desire to examine ideas motivated him to move from the professional world to academics: “Most theatre artists don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to graze in all kinds of books, and write, and ponder. They’re just trying to keep their heads above water!” He suggests the academic world could cultivate radical ideas and then disseminate them to the professional artistic community in digestible chunks via the internet.
I would rather imagine a way for artists to be both fully involved in their creative practices and still engaged in thinking about it at an “idea” level. Shouldn’t it be part of every performer’s development to consider the how and why of his or her artistic practices?
Part 2: Why the Internet Can’t Do It All.
If theatre schools aren’t going to start this discussion around artistic practice, it is lucky for an emerging type like me that the internet can provide some help. I can start to get a feel for the art being made, why it’s being made that way, what other people think about it, what I think of it, I can engage in discussion with more established artists, and so on. What this means, though, is that if I spend time considering my own practice, I generally don’t do it in a group, but alone with a coffee, maybe a notebook, likely my laptop. I get to physically come together with other artists to actually create, but a shared space to think critically is mostly limited to the internet. Is this kind of contact sufficient? Is there not a difference in the nature of the exchange when our ideas co-exist in live-space instead of in cyberspace? I find that something magical happens in that terrifying moment of trying to find my thought in front of a group of people. Those moments seem to transform my thinking in a different way than when I read someone’s blog.
This is not to say the internet can’t be a central player in discussions around practice, just that comments like this on the Next Stage blog start to worry me: “We’re not snobby, we’re just busy. And we’d all like to meet regularly to socialize and network, but who has the time?”
It makes me nervous when we start to discuss expanding and evolving our theatre community in terms of efficiency and time-management. What I appreciate about study group is that we are not interested in finding economic solutions. Instead, we prioritize finding the time and space to sit with the questions, so we can give them room to breathe. It might look unproductive, sound winding, feel clumsy – but the overall movement forward has a depth and breadth to it, that I’m not convinced is there when we aspire towards thinking with efficiency, or in isolation. Indeed, it is generally when I find myself staring at the wall, patiently allowing for new thoughts among new people, that I find they actually begin to bubble and rise.
Part III: Where Thinking Out Loud Fits In.
At Dancemakers, we structure our practice with the values of “3C’s” (contemporary, collaborative, and cross-disciplinary) and yet, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what those words mean. Thinking Out Loud comes out of a simple desire to let our brains and bodies physically share a space while we all contemplate our practices. We are a small, generous, fluctuating group of dancers, actors, directors, academics, producers, artistic directors, and anyone else interested in filling the gap in the performance world between theory and practice (we often talk about dance but are interested in a broader discussion about the performing arts). We read texts and discuss them in order to identify our opinions, test our theories, refine our arguments, and contemplate new ideas.
A sampling of the questions tossed around:
How do we respond to our artistic lineage?
If we had postmodernism, why do I need to think about modernism?
How do I dedicate myself to thinking critically and artistically about my world and still participate in it?
Is it valuable to impose old work on new performers?
Is amateur participation in the arts making professional art redundant?
For me, it’s an act of stretching myself into unfamiliar territory around people who relate to the same basic structures that I do, so I can think daringly without feeling alone at sea. It’s about conjuring the kind of curiosity and imagination that can lead to entirely new ways of working. I always leave feeling “activated”. For months the ideas and questions raised sit poised at the front of my mind, ready when I see a show and wonder “what is this show doing – and how do I feel about it?” or “how does this show fit into the arts ecology of Toronto/Canada/the world?”
We meet next Tuesday February 2nd and welcome new faces. We’ll be talking about audience as community and beauty (among other things). You can read the details of all our past and future goings-on here.
More than 5000 people greeted him upon arrival at Union Station. Men shouted his name, women swooned, and some even reached out to touch the hem of his coat as he walked past. Later he greeted a capacity audience at Maple Leaf Gardens (after 3000 others were turned away at the gate). Who are we talking about? Why, Tim Buck of course… Canada’s most celebrated Communist! (And avowed Stalinist.)
This past summer, Praxis Theatre presented the first phase of its current project (Section 98) at the Toronto Fringe Festival with a work-in-progress called Tim Buck 2. So I now present to you a little ditty we affectionately called “Tim Buck, The Musical”. Unfortunately it hasn’t made the cut for this 2nd phase of development in the lead up to HATCH as the work has veered away from the story of Tim Buck, but it was certainly useful to us in imparting a lot of important information about our subject in a relatively short period of time. Without further ado…
Tim Buck, The Musical!
Oh, the year was 1932,
EIGHT MEN WERE GAOLED IN KINGSTONPEN!
Among them was a man named Buck,
A commie leader short on luck
God damn the law!
I was told, we’d a right to a trial and ideas to hold
We used no force- committed no crime, Section 98 had us all confined
Locked in the PEN and doing time.
Tim Buck was a leader in his day,
EIGHT MEN WERE GAOLED IN KINGSTON PEN!
He organized the poor, and the workers relief,
In a time of Depression, hunger and grief.
The government wasn’t so keen on Buck,
EIGHT MEN WERE GAOLED IN KINGSTON PEN!
They fixed the law, terms rearranged
So we couldn’t belong to a group for change
Volume 1 of The Progressive Arts Club’s Journal, Masses
Oh, Democracy is a funny thing,
EIGHT MEN WERE GAOLED IN KINGSTON PEN! Dissent was viewed as mighty grim
So off to the slammer for little Red Tim
But the Government still wasn’t satisfied,
EIGHT MEN WERE GAOLED IN KINGSTON PEN!
So a riot was staged by the prison chief
To frame Tim Buck for his beliefs
On a final note, Praxis Theatre is taking part in the launch of the HATCH Season at Harbourfront Centre tonight. Click here for the Facebook event page, and here for further information on the Harbourfront website. We hope to see you there, where we’ll be demonstrating our Open Source Theatre Project, and answering questions! (There is also a cash bar and a whole bunch of Harbourfront visual art stuff.
Regular readers of praxistheatre.com will already be familiar with The Africa Trilogy. The production being created by Volcano Theatre for a Luminato World Premiere in June 2010 contains three distinct plays that examine the relationship between Africa and the West. Over the past year, there have been monthly posts about the project that even have their own listing in our sidebar.
As the production kicks into high gear, The Africa Trilogy is getting its own blog and online media centre. Complete with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flikr tools, it begins with material culled from this website and the blog Volcano Artistic Director Ross Manson kept during the research trip the creative team made to Africa before the playwrights began their first drafts.
Here at Praxis we’ll continue to post some of the key content that will be posted on the Africa Trilogy Blog, but much of the content will be exclusive to this new site. Editors: adjust your blog rolls, readers: adjust your bookmarks, The Africa Trilogy is going solo:
“I have this game I like to call ‘let’s find out how ignorant we are.‘” And with those words from Melissa we set out to complete the task she had prepared for us.
If you read our first Open Source Theatre entry, you’ll remember that our mapping exercise left us with a lot of questions that we felt needed answers for the next stage of our research. In effect, we chose the elements of greatest interest to us and doled out the homework assignments to our collaborators. There was one stipulation: the research presentations to be delivered the following week should be interactive and/or performative in some way.
Since the mapping exercise, we’ve had presentations on The FLQ Manifesto, public opinion and media coverage of the Progressive Arts Club and the FLQ, the connection between culture and politics, and many others. However, the prize for “most interactive” went to Melissa for her presentation on the FLQ and the October Crisis. Well, if there had been a prize it would have gone to Melissa.
Enter The Peeps the Perps, the Parties and the Mugshots.
That’s one hell of a comb over. Can you name this man?
Showing great form with the scissors and glue, Melissa handed us a stack of colour-coordinated photos, names, political parties, and pertinent paragraphs detailing the events surrounding the October Crisis of 1970. To begin, we had to lay out the names according to groups: the politicians in one group, the “perps” in another grouping and so on. As a true test to our ignorance, we were to complete these tasks using our own knowledge of the events in questions. No Wikipedia for iPhone allowed.
From there we had to try to match the “mugshots” to the names, the bios to the mugshots, and the descriptions to the appropriate political party and/or organization. The interactive nature of the presentation certainly led to spirited discussion, and a greater urge to get to know these people and understand their involvement. Once the items were laid out on the floor (and Melissa had corrected our mistakes), we took turns covering the various sections and presenting the material to the whole group. It represented a fairly significant amount of information.
A commenter on my first post, Margaret, asked the excellent questions, “what will you do to communicate these messages to an audience who today may be as ignorant as you were when your process began? Will we need to know as much as you in order to live this play’s story?” As I responded, this is absolutely an issue we are concerned about, and have been considering since the first iteration of this project.
We used a variation on chalk drawings (an aesthetic of the period we were exploring in Tim Buck 2) to explain the history of Section 98 of the Canadian Criminal Code “in 2 minutes or less”. Is there a similar aesthetic of the 1970’s that we can use to quickly fill in the blanks? What might we use for the modern era? The success of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show certainly makes a strong argument for there being no need to talk down to our audiences.
On this topic of aesthetics, we’ve been looking into the the artistic responses to the events of these eras, and I want to share with you a song that Melissa remembers singing while traveling with a couple of French Canadians in BC.
The song is Réjean Pesant by Paul Piché. Researching it more recently, Melissa was surprised to find that she had been singing a separatist line: “We are not masters in our own home, because you are here”. You can find the lyrics in both French and English here.
The more we have come to understand the human side of the FLQ and the events surrounding the October Crisis, the harder it has become for us to define “what is a terrorist?”. I guess we shouldn’t feel too badly about this, as the UN doesn’t yet have an agreed upon definition either. As the aphorism goes, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Even the United States Government used to refer to the Taliban as “Freedom Fighters“. Further discussions on the role and ethics of using violence to bring about political change has certainly forced us to abandon any clear-cut distinctions on the topic.
Things seem to be hotter than ever between Lorna Wright and Nicholas Hune-Brown. The two were caught canoodling in the beer tent at the Next Stage Festival. There’s nothing like a hit show to bring a couple closer together. Sources tell us that Just East of Broadwayis almost sold out.
“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.”