Friday, October 30, 2009

Our Audiences

This morning I received notification of a comment on my last post. Wow, that was quite the comment and one that should be addressed.

First of all I haven’t seen ”The Miracle Worker” at The Playhouse so I am not about to comment on the production itself. And, while I think that saying that they deserve to lose their funding because of the play, is a little harsh (ok, maybe way harsh, especially at a time when the words “arts funding” is such a contentious issue), it is his opinion and he is entitled to it.

However, the point that he raises, and one that obviously has made him so angry, is what I want to address. Obviously, he did not enjoy this play choice. The major reviewers in this town, Peter, Jerry, Jo & Colin, all seemed to either at least like it, if not full out, love it. But critical praise does not necessarily equate into audience praise or vice versa. What we have to remember is audience members, for the most part, are just Average Joe’s. They didn’t spend years in school studying theatre or reading plays. They haven’t written plays themselves or seen everything playing in town for the last 30 years. Plus since most of these critics (I don’t know for sure, I am just guessing here and I mean no offence) are at least 50 years old they certainly don’t represent a young audience members opinion.

Furthermore, if what he says is correct and the house count for the evening was approximately 25%, then that certainly says even more than the comment itself. For one of the largest companies in this city, who has a lot more exposure and reaches a lot more people than most of the theatre's in this town, to be selling shows at one-quarter of the House then there is definitely something terribly wrong and broken with our system for sure.

I don’t have all the answers but I do have a question: if audiences aren’t coming, plus they leave the theatre feeling the way this man did, then why are they doing it?

Theatre is about the audience. If I have to keep screaming it from the rooftops until someone hears me I will. Without the audience you might as well being doing sculpture or painting or something. If all you are interested in doing is creating theatre that is going to get you good reviews or win you a Jessie then you are missing the point. Theatre exists because of its relationship to the audience. Read Kris Joseph’s and Simon Ogden’s blogs for more on this discussion.

We write letters and get all worked up because the funding to arts is being cut but what if we created theatre that was so popular that we didn’t need funding from the government.

STOP. Before I continue I am going to make a statement because I can already see the hate emails piling into my inbox:

Yes, of course, I believe arts should receive funding from the government.

Ok, now that I’ve made that statement everyone can stop hating on me. Thank you. And continue…

What if we started listening to our audiences and we started having full houses instead of 25% houses. Then maybe someday, down the road, maybe after I’m dead, we won’t need to rage against the government because we won’t be relying on them to fund us. We would rely on our audiences. Wow, now that is an amazing dream and one that I want to be a part of. It could happen. I believe it could happen but we have to start investing in that dream today.

How do we do that, Mrs. Soapbox? Well, thank you for asking Mr. or Mrs. Reader.

We could start by the taking the same energy we put into writing letters to the government and put that same energy into writing letters to our theatre’s. If you want them to listen, to you the audience, then you need to start taking action. So, my advice to Doug is, if you felt so strongly about your experience at The Playhouse then you should write them a letter and tell them. It could all begin with one letter. Then one letter turns into 50 and so on and so forth. And, maybe the next time a theatre goes to choose their season they might just think twice about the material they choose to produce.

But that’s just me. And my two cents.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Amen, Hallelujah, so on and so forth...

I've discovered a new blog to follow (not new to anyone else probably but new to me as I am a little slow on the uptake). One of the most recent posts on this blog is about getting young audiences into the theatre so you can see why it sparked my curiosity. If you have been reading my blog this will be obvious and if you haven't I won't take it personally (although I may secretly be shedding a single tear right at this very moment). The title of the post is "No-Brainer Secrets Revealed" and here's what he has to say:

"Went to a panel yesterday about theatre.

Want to guess what the discussion eventually focused on at length?

I'll give you a hint... it's the thing that all public conversations about theatre eventually gravitate to.

Still don't know?

Why, it's how to attract younger audiences, of course! With the sub-conversation how do we use the twitters and the facebooks and the internets to do it?

So I'm going to reveal, right now, the secret to getting young people to come to your theatre and see shows. Because it's a no-brainer and I'm tired of having this conversation (For reasons that should become obvious in a second). Here's the secret:

(1) Do work they want to see.

(2) Endeavor to do it well

(3) Offer it at a price point they will find reasonable
"

Amen! Hallelujah! And any and all other exaltations that would describe my enthusiastic agreement! From there he goes on to say why theatre companies talk but don't seem to act:

"Theater companies and producers for the most part do not want to do the above three things. What they want to do is do the same work and use marketing to trick younger audiences into thinking it's what they want to see.

So the next time we have this conversation... can we please have it honestly and start asking some more interesting questions, some more difficult questions? Questions like: Do you actually want younger audiences, or do you just want their money? or Would your theater company be able to sustain itself on a younger audience base? And if not, are you just fucked? Are you just riding it out for as long as possible knowing it's not going to work out in the long run?

Now let's say for a moment that you are a theater producer or larger theater and you want to do the above three things. You just don't know how. That's fine! Here's the secret to solving that problem:

There is probably a theater company in your area that is succeeding at doing those three things. Produce their next show in your space.

You know where this happens with some regularity? Chicago and D.C. Both quite healthy theatre towns with interesting, vibrant scenes with quite a bit of interplay between more established theaters and young up-and-comers. This is not a coincidence.

I'm sick of this shit. The answers aren't that hard, they're only hard because the answers are things that people don't really want to do, so they're trying to find ways to cheat. Well, I'm sorry, you can't cheat. It doesn't work that way.

And if you don't want to do that, that's okay. If you don't want to do that kind of work, that's okay. Just stop claiming you want younger audiences. You don't want them. You feel entitled to them. There's a difference. Be proud of the audience you have and keep making work for them. Do the work you actually believe in. That's okay, for the most part.

Just stop asking about twitter already.
"

All I have to add to that very honest and truthful statement is that the facts speak for themselves. Every year Twenty-Something Theatre grows it's audience. This year, as I already stated in an earlier post, we had an 88% audience attendance and 6 sold out shows. In the summer! A time that is traditionally not thought of as a good time to do theatre unless you are Bard on the Beach or some kind of outdoor roving show. Young people showed up in droves. Why? Because we do items 1-3 on the list above.

It's a No-Brainer.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Playwright

New plays frighten me. As a writer, I have all the requisite anxieties to put me in a state of terror if trapped in a dark room as part of an audience, watching a cast of actors do The Robot in time to experimental whale music and multi-coloured strobe lights. I’ve since discovered that not all plays are like this, thank god. Only the ones I erroneously think look “fun”.

There’s something about the immediacy and inescapable act of theatre that has kept me from jumping into playwriting. A lot of credit is given to the author here. To a Canadian screenwriter, that can either be ruinous or an extremely empowering experience.

I started writing “Prodigals” as a way to avoid completing other projects. Initially, I sent 10-15 pages of this play to the Cold Reading Series in 2006. They were holding a special night for students from Vancouver Film School’s Writing for Film & Television program (where I was studying at the time). Despite the fact that these few scenes went over surprisingly well, I quickly abandoned them to return to my mounting screenwriting demands.

Flash forward to 2008. After seeing Twenty-Something Theatre’s call for submissions (a phrase that’s like a bat signal for writers), I immediately recalled that play I flirted with two years before and quickly-yet-artfully dumped another 20 pages onto the previous 10 and hoped that amounted to something.

I’m extremely grateful Sabrina Evertt found a glimmer of a story worth telling in that mashed-up Frankenstein of a play I sent to her. With her help, alongside the talents of some amazing young local actors and the ever-patient dramaturgy of Peter Boychuk, we turned “Prodigals” into a story I now desperately want to bring to the world.

After expanding the play’s depth and scope, we kneaded each role into shape through table reads, one-on-one story sessions, and most recently, an intimate staged reading that proved the kind of straightforward drama and comedy I want to write isn’t interesting just to those directly involved in “Prodigals”. I think there’s a lot of potential here to appeal to a broad, young audience who – like me – might skittishly avoid more experimental theatre or the same handful of rehashed productions from other companies.

Rewriting this project has helped unearth new creative ground for me: I don’t believe my writing has ever been more personal. And because of that, I think this is a very truthful “dramedy” about a group of young adults marred by small town life, each trying to make the transition from irresponsible youth to contributing members of society.

I can’t give enough thanks to Twenty-Something Theatre. Without the Spotlight Series initiative to find new plays from emerging writers, I wouldn’t have finished “Prodigals”. The hardest part now is waiting until the spring when we get the play on its feet in front of audiences. It’s going to be great.

~Sean Minogue
Playwright, "Prodigals"

Friday, October 16, 2009

Spotlight Series

In 2008 I added a second show to our annual summer production called the Spotlight Series. The idea for this addition actually came from my final year at the University of Victoria and their Phoenix Season of shows. The previous year, while I took the year off to gallivant around the world, the Phoenix changed their season structure to include something called the Spotlight on Alumni. The year I was away TJ Dawe performed his one-man show “The Slipknot” and the year I came back Meg Roe performed “The Fever” by Wallace Shawn.

It blew me away. Maybe because I had just been travelling and consequently felt or experienced some of what the narrator of “The Fever” expresses. Maybe because Meg Roe is a brilliant actress who captivated me and made me feel what she was feeling. Maybe a little of both. Regardless it was a play that would (and will) always stay with me. So when I had the opportunity to produce it with another young actress I jumped on the chance because it would be both a great challenge and opportunity for her to shine; thus, the Twenty-Something Spotlight Series was born.

The idea behind the series is that we feature one local emerging artist and give them the opportunity to shine. The first year Kirsten Kilburn (who just recently performed the role of Candy in “Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love”) performed the role of the Narrator in “The Fever”. This past year Fay Nass, a young director who just graduated from the University of Victoria and who was the Assistant Director on our production of “SubUrbia”, directed “Anne Frank Is In My Dreams” for our second Spotlight production.

And, now we arrive at our upcoming season of shows. While I was trying to figure out what to do for this year I thought to myself: the 1st Year we put an actor in the spotlight and the 2nd year a director so what about if this year we put a playwright in the spotlight?! So I put out a posting, received a lot of submissions and through a selection process that included me and other theatre professionals we chose “Prodigals”, a new play by Sean Minogue.

There are many reasons I decided to go with a playwright, and a brand new play, but mostly because I believe it is so important to support the growth of Canadian, and more specifically Vancouver-based, playwrights who will give us plays that reflect the way we, the "twenty-something" demographic, experience our city, country and world.

At this point we have done two table readings as well as multiple meetings between myself, the playwright and the director/dramaturge. The play has come leaps and bounds from it’s original 30 pages (now at 66) and this weekend we head into a 3-day workshop where we are all excited to see it go to yet another level.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Maybe I’ll even get Sean or Peter Boychuk (director/dramaturge) to guest post about it…

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Monday, October 12, 2009

Being Thankful

What am I thankful for? A lot of things but today I am going to focus in on one thing in particular: my parents. I have great parents who not only exposed me to the arts but who also fostered and encouraged my love and participation in the arts. A lot of it probably comes from dad who when he was young sang with the San Diego Opera and when I was kid went to Japan with a touring production of Aida. He used to wake me and my friends up after a sleepover party playing Jerry Lee Lewis on the piano. My mother, god love her, couldn’t sing a note to save her life. My parents enrolled me in everything from ballet to figure skating to softball. Most of it I ended up quitting at one point of another. I had a very short attention span; however, the one thing I was required to do and not quit was piano. Back then I hated it. I hated practicing. I hated playing at recitals. I was very shy and got extremely nervous so much so that my hands would shake. Not so great for playing the piano in front of an audience. But then later in life I started taking voice lessons and, boy, was I grateful to have learned to sight-read music.



On a whim my dad took me to audition for the role of Cosette in the Vancouver touring production of Les Miserables when it first rolled into Vancouver. I think I was maybe 10. I can’t quite remember. All I do remember is that it was pretty much against my free will and I nearly peed my pants but he thought it would be a good experience. Obviously I didn’t get the part and as you can tell my dad believes in “tough love”. My mother was the one who gave me a giant hug when I came home bawling. Good cop, Bad cop. It must work.

When I was 12 my parents added me to their season subscription to the Vancouver Opera and I have been going ever since. They took me to see my first musicals: Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables (yes, the very same one I auditioned for). In high school when I joined the drama club they came to see every show I was in. When I wanted to go see a new rock musical based on the opera La Boheme who took me to see it? My parents.

Then I went to University and when I told them I wanted to do Theatre they didn’t once question it or say ‘are you sure?!’ or anything. They said ‘cool’ and that was that. So, there I was ASM’ing my first main stage production and my parents hopped on a ferry to come see it. I wasn’t even in the bloody thing. I was only 1 of 2 ASM’s. I lifted the sun prop into the sky in Act II. That was my contribution yet they still got on a ferry and stayed overnight to support me.

I talk a lot about fostering young audiences and a new generation of theatregoers but if every child could have my parents we probably wouldn’t even need to talk about getting young people out to the theatre. They would already be going to the theatre because their parents started exposing them to the arts when they were kids.

So, today, I am thankful to my parents who still come to see all my shows and support me and love me. Without them I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Happy Thanksgiving!


~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Inspiration

In my last few blog posts before I left for Toronto I talked a bit about inspiration or a lack thereof. I went to Toronto seeking something inspired. Little did I know that come October inspiration would be a 10-minute drive away from where I live.

That inspiration lives at The Cultch with DualMinds and their play Any Night. Written and performed by Daniel Arnold and Medina Hahn this play is something extraordinary. And, I do not say that often. As a play it is witty and dark. It is complex, challenging AND entertaining. As actors performing this piece they are both brilliant. I will try not to spoil it for all those who haven’t seen it yet (and who should. Yes now. Go buy your tickets before it is sold-out. You DO NOT want to miss this) but Daniel Arnold does an incredible job of making the audience both love and hate him. Not an easy feat. Medina Hahn is equally as wonderful. Is she just paranoid? Or, is there in fact something strange happening in the building where she resides? I’m not going to tell you you’ll just have to go see it to find out. Directed by Ron Jenkins (of Black Rider fame), he does an incredible job of bringing all the design elements and story together to create a unified, beautiful production.

Back in 2007, both Twenty-Something (with our production of The Shape of Things) and DualMinds were part of the now defunct Summer at the Waterfront series. They were presenting their first creation Tuesdays & Sundays. I didn’t have the chance to see it then and after seeing Any Night today do I ever regret that now. Don’t you regret not going to check out their newest venture. Any Night plays at The Cultch from now until October 17.

I strongly believe that when one of us succeeds we all succeed so go check it out and support your local theatre community.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Friday, October 2, 2009

That's A Wrap

So three weeks in Toronto and what have I accomplished &/or come away with?

I had one opportunity fall through and an interview for another opportunity that I also didn’t get.

I saw 8 films (2 Canadian, 1 Polish, 1 French, 1 British, 3 American), 3 comedy shows (1 stand-up, 1 sketch, 1 improv), 3 plays (1 in someone’s living room [don’t ask], 1 small independent and 1 large regional) and 2 musicals (1 local independent and 1 large commercial).

I discovered something fabulous called either “Goin Steady” or “Shake a Tail” depending on where you go. It is a 50’s & 60’s dance party that they have at two pubs/bars here in Toronto. It is all music from that time and people don’t go to be cool or be seen. They go to dance. And dance we did. Just ask my friend, who is a professional dancer, and who woke up the next morning with a sore neck. It is so much fun. It was more fun than I have had any night going out dancing in Vancouver because, sorry to say it, but Vancouver takes itself way to seriously. Lighten up a bit, put on some clothes and just dance. This is one of the things I will definitely miss about TO so I am currently thinking of ways I can bring this back to Vancouver with me.

And, generally I found that people are more active in their lives as “artists”. What do I mean by more active? I’ll give you two examples:

1) A group of actors that I met formed something they call “Actor’s Fight Club”. It takes place once a week on a Monday night. It isn’t a mandatory thing. It is drop-in so every week the people could be different. Actors bring in scenes or songs to present to the rest of the group for feedback. You can bring in something you are working on in a class or preparing for an audition or just because you want to continue developing your skills as an actor.

2) A group of friends, of the friend that I am staying with, formed something they call the “House of Waps” (don’t ask, don’t know, don’t even know if I am spelling it right). It is a night of the arts. It is artists from all walks of life from musicians to filmmakers to arts managers getting together to share what they do. First a couple of musicians played some of their songs then they did a film screening. They painted a white square on the brick wall of their outdoor patio and set up a projection system. The next week (I couldn’t go) they did another film screening.

This is wonderfully refreshing. It is artists getting together, being active with their art, and sharing it with other people rather than sitting around complaining. Since I have been here I haven’t heard one person complain. Interesting. Maybe it is because I haven’t been here long enough. But somehow I doubt it. I think people here are too busy “doing” to have time to complain.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer