Theatre takes centre stage at the Jessie awards
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For evidence that supports Millerd’s argument, you just have to take a look at the number of new small companies up for Jessie awards this year. The list includes groups you might not have heard of—Temporary Thing Theatre, Delinquent Theatre, Pound of Flesh Theatre, the Honest Fishmongers Equity Co-op—but shows you probably heard some buzz about.
One of those productions is the cult hit Flop!, Anton Lipovetsky’s one-man musical about a theatre pro who ends up in a high-school show. The story of Delinquent, the company that produced the show, is like that of so many other young theatre troupes in the city: a group of young acting grads decided to stop waiting for work and form their own company. Co–artistic director Christine Quintana says going the DIY route makes sense for people coming out of our theatre schools.
“There are only so many contracts. That’s the thing about being out of school—you can’t wait for someone’s permission to do something,” the young artist says on a visit to the Straight.
She points out that Flop!’s fellow Jessie nominee and underground hit The Bomb-itty of Errors was mounted by Temporary Thing, which includes members of her graduating class at UBC.
“There is incredibly exciting stuff coming out of here,” she says of the different schools in town. “We’re all cross-pollinating. It’s a very exciting time.”
So what does it take for a young company—and an artist like Quintana, who’s done everything from playwriting to acting and directing—to make it in a scene where even a big player like the Playhouse can’t survive? To start with, you have to be willing to forget about being paid for your first few performances. She says that she and co–artistic director Laura McLean wagered a year’s theatre-school tuition on Delinquent’s first show, Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead. It saw a sold-out run at the Havana Theatre in the summer of 2009 and, fortunately, they were able to continue their studies.
Reflecting Patrick Street’s concerns, albeit on a smaller scale, Quintana explains: “Space is a big challenge. For indie theatre, all of your budget goes to renting a space, and then it’s gone. Finding an affordable space that’s not a hole—well, that’s the whole reason why site-specific work is such a thing now.” She laughs remembering the scene at Flop!, staged at Granville Island’s tiny, tucked-away Studio 1398. Having read rave reviews, people headed out to see the show but had trouble finding it on the second floor of the building.
“We were, like, calling to them, ‘Come up here!’ and we’d run down to the street and wave at them,” Quintana recalls. “But that was the inspiring part too—that they read arts journalism and they want to see the next thing. Knowing there’s those people out there gives me tremendous hope.”
There’s also big excitement about an opportunity that has come up for Delinquent this summer: it’s been invited to stage a new work called STATIONARY: a recession-era musical (with lyrics and script by Quintana) at the second Neanderthal Arts Festival in mid July at the Cultch. “To get to perform on the Cultch Historic Stage—that would normally be out of our reach,” Quintana says.
The other key to survival for Quintana, and other emerging artists like her, has been multitasking—to the extreme. That means not only wearing many artistic hats in her company (actor, writer, producer, and more) but putting in full-time hours working the box office at Bard on the Beach and the Arts Club Theatre.
“So I’ll be in my gumboots doing box office for eight hours at Bard—it can get muddy down there!—and then do press releases [for Delinquent] for four hours at night,” Quintana says. “It’s a tremendous amount of work, and there’s a lot of learning as you go.…People have no idea how much effort it takes to mount a show.”
Well, at least it is safe to say those 70 registered theatre groups in Vancouver have a pretty good idea. And while their scene suffered a blow this year with the loss of the Playhouse, they seem to be focusing on how to carefully move forward rather than fixating on what’s been left behind.
At the same time, long-term companies are holding steady—or growing, as Bard has, with its larger new main-stage tent. “You’ve got the Arts Club thriving and Bard is thriving, so some large organizations are doing well here, and then of course we have this enormous small-theatre-based community,” Dunn sums up. “So there’s so much to be proud of.”
As Wright and Millerd point out, Bard on the Beach and the Arts Club themselves began with a group of upstart artists who had an idea about what this city needed. Today’s younger, more nomadic troupes still have to find more stable, affordable venues, even beyond the pending York opening. But the old institutional model of the Playhouse, in which the building came first and then a single company was named for it, probably won’t be the way things work as Vancouver heads into its next three decades on-stage.
For now, the challenges don’t seem to be stopping theatre groups from finding their place on the scene—even if they have to call out to audience members from a second-floor window and chase them down the street. As Quintana puts it optimistically, before pulling on her gumboots and heading down to Vanier Park to sell tickets at Bard: “We’re basically just kids making work together, and who knows where we’re going to be in 20 years?”