Meredith Elliott: A place for live theatre in Canada

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      In May, leaders from Canada’s professional theatre companies gathered in Fredericton, New Brunswick, to explore and reflect on the place of live theatres in towns and cities across the country.

      It’s an important question, at a time when so many of us carry virtually unlimited entertainment options literally at our fingertips.

      Our tablets, smartphones, and computers connect us to a vast virtual network, but often at the cost of human connection. How many times do we see a group of people texting, reading, or playing on their handheld devices, instead of enjoying a personal conversation?

      In its recent study, 2010 Vital Signs, the Vancouver Foundation discovered that the number one issue for Vancouver residents is the degree to which we feel connected to one another. “A strong sense of belonging — really feeling that there is a place for us in our community — and a bond of trust with our neighbours have the greatest influence on how we rate the quality of life in our community.”

      And that is the place for live theatre in our community. Theatre is a place of human connection, where people gather for a shared experience. The interplay between artists and audiences is what distinguishes live theatre from static forms of entertainment. Each performance is unique and immediate, provoking discussion, thought, and emotional connections.

      Whether it’s work like Kim’s Convenience playing at the Arts Club Theatre, Boca del Lupo’s The Voyage, or Ruby Slippers Theatre’s French-Canadian plays in English translation, theatre plays an increasingly important role in celebrating Canada’s cultural and ethnic diversity, while fostering increased understanding among us. More than 90 percent of Canadians believe that arts experiences are a valuable way of bringing together people from different languages and cultural traditions.

      A recent study by Nanos Research shows that eight out of 10 Canadians believe live theatre is important to making Canadian communities vibrant and more attractive to visitors. Furthermore, at a time when Canada looking to grow its economy, 67 percent of Canadians believe that live theatre plays important role in attracting business to communities.

      In Vancouver, it’s now the start of festival season, a time when residents and visitors gather in the thousands to celebrate and enjoy music, theatre, cultural exchanges, and our glorious surroundings. The tents are up at Bard on the Beach, the rEvolver theatre festival is presenting adventurous, high energy, and sophisticated new work by emerging companies and artists, and the Vancouver International Children’s Festival takes over Granville Island at the end of May.

      The nominations for the annual Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards for Metro Vancouver are announced the day after Victoria Day, a reminder of the extraordinary depth and talent of our theatre community and of the wonderful plays and musicals we enjoy year-round from companies of all sizes.

      Vancouver truly is a vibrant city, and one made immeasurably richer by the contributions of live theatre.

      Meredith Elliott is the general manager of Ruby Slippers Theatre.

      This commentary is endorsed by the board of directors of Ruby Slippers Theatre.


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      May 16, 2014 at 2:55pm

      Go to any theatre in Vancouver - empty seats, grey hair, and bald heads. You've lost the younger generation. They truly don't care about theatre.


      May 17, 2014 at 9:18am

      "theatre plays an increasingly important role in celebrating Canada’s cultural and ethnic diversity"

      I call BS. Theatre in Canada is homogenous. Whole seasons pass where companies never hire an actor of colour.
      Theatre is not a place to make connection. It can be a place of shared live experience but it is a one way street. The artists don't care enough for the audience and so the audiences have mostly abandoned live theatre and migrated to other forms where they feel better respected.


      May 17, 2014 at 12:26pm

      Gregg - I heartily disagree. If by "any theatre" you mean exclusively certain shows by established theatre companies with subscription bases targeted at mature audiences, then sure. But if you really mean "any theatre in Vancouver," including independent theatre companies, I think you'll find yourself proven absolutely wrong. I certainly don't disagree that theatres must rise to the challenge of appealing to younger audiences, but such a sweeping statement speaks to a limited scope of understanding of what is really happening in Vancouver.

      Save Vancouver

      May 17, 2014 at 5:10pm

      Kind of sad that the Straight doesn't have an interior shot of a Vancouver theatre, and has to show one in God-Knows-Where from Shutterstock.


      May 18, 2014 at 6:35am

      While I disagree with Gregg as well, my concern is that theatre companies--seeking those younger audiences-- will try to make theatre "cool," "hip," and worst of all "relevant." Audiences want great stories, interesting characters, and superb acting, not dumbed down drama. And yes, as a general rule ALL attempts at being relevant, cool, and hip are a way of stupidifying great theatre.

      I for one would run to see theatre from a company that had made its mission to make its production as irrelevant as possible. I cannot imagine how this would not be theatre of the highest order.


      May 18, 2014 at 7:46pm

      does anyone know the name of the theatre pictured here?

      @matilda, @Gregg, @ everyone!

      May 22, 2014 at 11:05am

      That pic looks like Lyric Hammersmith in London (England). not exact tho, small differences like the pillars and I'm not some theatre interior nerd, I just saw a play there once. It was shite, as they say. but actually it was good to see a bad show in London....I was like, "I've seen WAY better in Vancouver!' (*I also saw 9 other shows (niner!), and they totally bowled me over*). Anyhoo I'm young and I love theatre, whatever or wherever it is!!! ')~

      Martin Dunphy

      May 22, 2014 at 12:20pm

      I can tell you that it was taken by a London photographer, but I can't confirm the theatre.