The Fringe has always been a prime spot for artists to find their wings; now the “new bees” project helps theatre grads take flight
Graduation can be both liberating and terrifying. There’s the welcome escape from the tyranny of schedules and assignments”¦ But now what? Leaving theatre school comes with its own special set of anxieties. The work is inherently collaborative, but given the number of training programs in the city, newly minted artists may find themselves collaborating with people they’ve never even met.
That’s a challenge recent Simon Fraser University grad Caroline Sniatynski decided to tackle pre-emptively with HIVE—the new bees, which will buzz through East Vancouver’s Russian Hall from next Thursday (September 17) to September 20, as part of the Vancouver International Fringe Festival. The Fringe has always been a great place for emerging artists to cut their teeth, as well as to collaborate with new artistic partners. For this project, Sniatynski is bringing together about 30 senior students and recent graduates of three of the city’s largest theatre programs: SFU, Langara’s Studio 58, and UBC.
“We were interested in working with people from other training programs, because none of the schools really have anything to do with each other,” explains Sniatynski, interviewed with one of her producing partners, Aliya Griffin, in Sniatynski’s colourful East Vancouver living room. “There’s all kinds of good reasons for that, in terms of workload and scheduling, but it’s also unfortunate, because then everybody graduates into this big community, and in addition to going, ”˜Oh my God, how does this all work?’ you’re also going, ”˜And who are you?’ So we were interested in ways that we could get to know those people beforehand.”
They’ll also be getting to know a number of professionals in the community: artistic directors and associates from six of the Progress Lab companies who collaborated on the first two incarnations of HIVE (in November 2006 at the Chapel and in June 2008 as part of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival) will be acting as mentors.
“I think the big thing that we’re hoping for from our mentors is to be our street cred, to spread the word to their contacts,” says Griffin. “We are fresh in the community, and so to have their backing is a big deal.”
One of the advisers is David Bloom, coartistic director of Felix Culpa, and he applauds the project’s interschool initiative. “Having gone to Studio 58 and then worked with a lot of SFU graduates when I was older, and directed at UBC, it felt like there has been kind of a Balkanization,” he says. “One of the things that excites me most about the project is just breaking down the self-imposed barriers between these three schools and getting people exposed to different ways of working earlier.”
Participants first got that exposure in June, when representatives from each school took turns running workshops for the whole group. “It was a really great way to start,” recalls Sniatynski. The artists were later divided into six groups—in most cases, a mix of students from different schools—to create a short piece for a particular location in the venue.
Griffin says it’s been working beautifully in her group: “We came in a little tentative. We work differently, but everyone seems really open, and we’re getting along fine.”
The model of HIVE—in which audiences can see a number of short plays in a row, all being performed simultaneously in nooks and crannies of an unconventional performance space—allows for a spirit of experimentation. “The short length of the shows takes away a lot of the pressure of trying to create and produce a new piece,” Sniatynski explains. Bloom concurs: “The great thing always about HIVE is that audiences can get exposed to a lot of different stuff and they can think, ”˜Well, if this is not my kind of thing, it’s only 10 minutes of my life.’ ”
And what about after the Fringe? “I feel like now there is such an incredible range and variety of things that are already going on,” says Sniatynski. “There’s sort of a sense of joining something that’s already in progress and has a lot of momentum.”
“We have a lot of shoulders to stand on,” adds Griffin. “When you come into the theatre world, it’s a little bit scary, the thought of having to prove yourself every project, and you’re not really going to have a career that you’re safe in. But everyone we’ve encountered has been so supportive.”