Monday, July 26, 2010

The Five Year Cycle

Five years ago, I was given the advice, not to do theatre in the summer because apparently no one in Vancouver was going to go see theatre when they could go to the beach instead. Well, am I ever glad that I trusted my instincts and did it anyways, because Twenty-Something Theatre’s success has shown that, shocker, people actually do like to go see theatre all year ‘round. And, in the five years since we put up our first production in 2006 what used to be a pretty quiet indie summer theatre scene is now starting to be a much more happening one. And, this makes me very happy.

In 2007, a year after Twenty-Something put up it’s first summer production, Itsazoo migrated to Vancouver from Victoria bringing with them their roving summer productions of fairy-tales-turned-upside-down. And they weren’t the only the ones. That year a few other young companies started to pop up with summer plays and musicals.

Now, fast forward in time to the present, and we’ve now got a brand new indie summer theatre festival formatted after Toronto’s Summerworks: Neanderthal Arts. On Friday night I went to see another young company called Thirty Below Theatre and their production of Tiny Replicas. The writing by Dave Deveau was funny and poignant and the performances moving. He’s a young playwright to watch. I don’t say that lightly and I look forward to seeing more of his stuff. Plus it was geared right at young audiences. My theatre-going companions and I talked about it long after it was over while we sipped our wine in The Cultch’s fabulous new Wine Bar and CafĂ©. If this is the kind of stuff that is going to come out of the new Neanderthal Arts Festival, I look forward to seeing many more shows in the years to come. And, from the sound of things, that certainly looks possible. Speaking to Daniel Martin after the show (Co-Artistic Director of Upintheair Theatre and Co-Producer of the festival) it sounds like they are having a great turn out so far. From the packed Wine Bar and the amount of people I saw buzzing around the building, I would say that he’s not lying. And maybe, just maybe, part of that happy-go-lucky atmosphere of the crowd, was due in part to the fact that it is summer. Hmmmm….who would’ve thought?! Theatre in the summer a good thing?!

But it’s not just in the summer, something is in the air and seems to be translating from summer through to the rest of the traditional, September - May, theatre season. Twenty-Something Theatre’s got a 3-show season coming up next year. Young new companies seem to be popping up all over the place. We’ve got Glass City doing it’s first Fringe show and then moving on to a production of “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” in March. Or, Relephant Theatre, who is producing its first production of Stewart Lemoine’s “The Exquisite Hour” during the Vancouver Fringe. And, these are just two examples that come to mind but there are many more. Times they are a-changin’.

And it seems to me that maybe in the next five years, Vancouver’s indie theatre scene might look very different than it does today. What do you think?

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer


  1. I don't really know the Vancouver theater community, but I can speak to a similar climate in Minneapolis, MN. We have a very strong aversion to "wasting" a good summer evening (we get about three or four months of amazing weather, the rest of the year is hit or miss), so the theatre community generally is quieter in Midsummer than the rest of the year. Combining the awesome weather with a great show (whether that's outdoor theatre or offering a reception outside before or after) has been a recipe for success in Minneapolis - I imagine the same can be said for Vancouver. Also, companies that do buck the trend of scaling back in the summer get to take advantage of less competition . . . I was in your town in February (unfortunately, the Olympics kept me from seeing any local production), the arts scene I was able to see looked vibrant and growing. I'll definitely be back.

  2. I think there is a very good chance that the Vancouver Indie theatre scene will evolve, but my hope is that as a part of that evolution you & others like you will be able to share your valuable wisdom from five years of doing this with those of us who are striking out on this adventure for the first time. I think the thing that scares off most would-be producers is that there really is no training for doing this - you just have to do it and see what happens, which is terrifying. But I see what is developing in Vancouver & I am really excited about it.

  3. Thanks for your comments, guys!

    Brian - That's interesting with the comparison to Minneapolis. Glad to know we aren't the only ones. I'll have to get out there sometime and hope to see you back out this way soon!

    Lois - I hear ya. I definitely think there needs to be more of a spirit of communication and co-operation amongst the younger companies in town. Producing theatre is terrifying but it can also be extremely gratifying. And, I agree, I think a better support system for new companies would definitely help that process a lot more. This way more young theatre companies companies starting out would find success rather than burning out.

    I also think that it needs to become a bigger part of the training programs that are offered. Most of them seem to focus on the "art" and forget about the "business" which, I believe, is doing a major disservice to the artist. Because even if you are a single artist, you, as that artist, is still a mini business because you are "selling" yourself. In many ways it's no different than "selling" your theatre company. But I digress....that's a whole other blog topic for another day.

  4. I look forward to reading that other blog post - because I think you're right - we aren't taught how to sell ourselves or our work.

    But the question is, how do the established companies share their knowledge with those that are just beginning? How is the information spread? Are companies willing to share information or does it appear a threat to their bottom line/resources that had previously been theirs alone?

    Because you're right - lots of new companies produce one, maybe two shows, and then burn out because they've spent all their money & used up all their time, and they're exhausted. Can we prevent that? Can we find a way to help them through that?

  5. I think one of the big obstacles, in my humble opinion, has been exactly what you are saying. I think, in the past, many companies have been a closed shop when it comes to sharing ideas, resources and experience. I'm not sure why that is. Is it because it appears to possibly be a threat to their bottom line? I don't know. What I do know, is that there has definitely been a lack of sharing. And, I'm personally, of the belief that what benefits one, benefits us all.

    So, yes, the question is how do we do this? Well for starters, doing what we're doing...blogging. And not just to promote our shows but to share our experiences so that we can all learn from them.

    Other ways: give workshops? start a monthly support group for young theatre companies (like they do for small businesses)? have an open forum?

    Thoughts from anyone else?

  6. Let me put forward a question then:

    If I organized a round-table discussion with some of the independent theatre companies in Vancouver - invited people like those you've mentioned in your post as well as some of the more established companies - what would you get out of it? I know what the new companies would get, but why would the established companies want to come?

  7. Good Question. Personally I think there are 2 main reasons:

    1) To Pay It Forward - so to speak. We have all been new at something in our lives and we've all had people who have mentored us or helped us out or made a connection for us that helped to move our careers or companies forward. I think it is our responsibility to continue on in that same tradition.

    2) Because while "young" and "new" can equal inexperience it can also equal a new way of thinking and fresh ideas. And, maybe, for more established companies who might have gotten stuck in one method of doing things, they can the opportunity to learn how they themselves can evolve. Bottom line, we can all learn from each other.