“I think many of us need a place of devotion,” director Anita Rochon says as she pours glasses of cold, lemon-infused water in her West End apartment.
In an era dominated by technology, Rochon uses theatre to create collective human experiences in real time and space, events that bring people together to consider our relationships to one another as well as questions of belief and morality. It almost sounds like church and Rochon is quick to point out that she grew up Catholic, although she’s no longer one of the faithful.
In practice, Rochon’s perspective quickly turns into secular pleasure for the audience, and that pleasure has resulted in career recognition for her. The 32-year-old artist took home the Ray Michal Prize for work by an emerging director at this year’s Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards, and Kim Collier named Rochon as her protégé when she won the Siminovitch Prize for directing last year—an honour that came with a $25,000 cheque for Rochon.But what about collective experience? Well, in Community Dinner, a project that Rochon guided for Rumble Productions this spring, teams of artists from various cultural backgrounds told stories while preparing food. Then they fed those dishes to the waiting audience. You could think of it as communion. And morality? In The Chop’s KISMET one to one hundred, which premiered last year and which Presentation House is remounting from October 14 to 22, company members interviewed 100 people about their relationships to fate. “With KISMET,” Rochon offers, “the show really came from the core question of how you live as a creature of will in a world of chance. Beyond being happy, how do you be good?”
Rochon takes the role of the artist seriously in all of this. Her newest project, Traces, which she’s cowriting with Craig Holzschuh for Théâtre la Seizième, will run at Studio 16 from January 31 to February 11. It looks at the ways that narcissism can disrupt the artistic experience. Actors Joey Lespérance and Jessica Heafey play gallery owners who make a new exhibit by interviewing patrons about their reactions to paintings they’ve seen. At the same time, Lespérance and Heafey wax, at length, about themselves and their craft. “It’s basically a play about talking too much and shlepping your own personal shit,” Rochon explains.
Rochon wants answers to the questions of how to be a good artist and a good person. Until she gets them, she’s enjoying the deepening inquiry. And she has faith that the theatre is a good place to do the asking.
Director Kevin Bennett has a quick explanation for why he’s so confident at 23: he got his career crisis over when he was 14.
Bennett directed an innovative Hamlet at the Havana Theatre last season. This fall, he’ll be helming a new adaptation of Treasure Island for Studio 58’s Risky Night series (October 11 to 17), as well as the Canadian premiere of British playwright Michael Wynne’s 2009 hit The Priory for United Players (November 11 to December 4). For good measure, he’ll direct King Lear at the Havana for the Honest Fishmongers Equity Co-op, the same group that mounted Hamlet, in February of 2012. “Lear”, he says, “makes Hamlet look straightforward.”
Where the hell did he get the cojones to take on such ambitious projects? “Growing up as a gay boy in the suburbs can make you mature pretty quickly,” the North Delta native offers as he chats with the Straight in the East Van basement suite he shares with his partner, actor Scott Button. “The other thing is that I had this weird obsession when I was 14 about figuring out what I wanted to do.” He had already tried, and loved, making theatre, but his commitment to the field hadn’t quite jelled. “So I spent that year—Grade 9, I think it was—trying on a new thing every month,” he remembers. “‘I want to be a pilot! No, I want to be a lawyer!’ And I actively pursued learning about those jobs. Like, I wanted to be a captain on the B.C. Ferries at one point, so I went up to the bridge and talked to the captain. And I spent a day in a lawyer’s office. Oh, and I wanted to be a symphony conductor, so I hung out with Bramwell Tovey [music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra] for a day, which was so cool. I pursued all of those things, then I discovered, ‘No, I’m not into that,’ and I went back to theatre.” He adds: “I discovered very quickly that it was directing I was most interested in—partly because I was a bit of a control freak as a kid.”
Love of theatre got the young Bennett out of the suburbs and into downtown Vancouver every week to see a show, and it eventually got him out of his high school, which he remembers as jock-dominated: “I heard that Templeton [secondary] had a really good [theatre] program, so I called up the principal and told him I wanted to switch schools.” He graduated from Studio 58 in 2009.
Bennett’s goal for The Priory, a slightly creepy farce set in an old monastery that has been turned into a retreat, speaks to his goal for his entire career: “I want to entertain people in a smart way.”