Theatre

Five Random Thoughts on Stage Managing

Cue the SM Duckie overseeing tech rehearsals

Cue the SM Duckie overseeing tech rehearsals

Tomorrow I’m heading out to my alma mater to speak with an intro to theatre and a directing class about what it is that stage managers do and the director/stage manager relationship and it has had me thinking a lot about what stories I want to tell and what I want to highlight for the students.  But as I’ve been thinking there have been a few random thoughts that I wanted to share.

1. I keep hearing about people in the industry who say they wish they’d known about the wide range of jobs available for non-performer/directors when they were younger. As professionals we need to be a part of inspiring the next generation to take up behind the scenes roles as stage managers, technicians, producers, publicists, TDs, and craftspeople. While I know directors & actors who like to comment that “all you need for theatre is a performer, a story, and someone to watch it” the reality is that most of the time you need a whole team of people to create the best possible circumstances for that story to be told in.  One of my favourite first day of rehearsal photos is from a one-man show I stage managed: at first read there were 27 people around the table. Young artists: If you are not a performer there are still (at a minimum) 26 other ways to be a part of making magic for audiences!

2. Critical success is not a part of what judges stage management success: it is possible to call a perfect show and be wonderful to work with and still work on a show that is a critical failure, just as it is possible to be a great actor in a bad show or to write a good show that’s given a terrible production or to be a great director faced with impossible circumstances or to design the one element of a show that worked. Critical & audience response should not be the basis of any artists self worth, and yet for performers, directors, designers, and playwrights there is a level of public scrutiny and putting yourself out there that a stage manager does not have to consider.  It is necessary to be sensitive to the ebb and flow of the critical tide while ensuring that the audience gets the show the director left you with night after night – just because something gets a laugh does not mean it needs to be bigger and just because it didn’t get a laugh doesn’t mean the moment needs to be smaller.

3. Relationships are the life-blood of this industry. While that is probably true of any industry, it seems especially pronounced to me in theatre.  People ask me sometimes how it is I find my work and while part of the answer is that I send out resumes to companies I’m interested in working with, it is also true that sometimes it is just about being in the right place at the right time. More than one gig has come up because I found myself next to a director at an opening night  after party and got to chatting. The other jobs tend to come because two people were talking and one of them asked for recommendations. The flip side, of course, is that whenever I turn down a job I am asked for recommendations too and I have an ongoing list of people that I recommend. We cannot see each other as competition – it doesn’t serve anyone to work that way.

4. I am an anti-specialist. While some people will specialize in one type of show (musicals, small casts, new plays) or one type of contract (Indie, ITA, CTA, tangerine, benefits, collective, Guest Artist, festival) I am a big believer that variety keeps life interesting.  I have worked under every theatre contract Equity offers and worked on almost every type of show. My favourite years are the ones where I jump from working on a large cast show in an impressive venue to doing an outdoor site specific show to doing a one man fringe show to doing a new play at The Cultch. It keeps me on my toes, forces me to keep stretching myself, and requires that I never sit comfortably where I am because there is always something more to learn.

5. Never stop seeing theatre. We learn about what’s possible by seeing what other people create and also get inspired to try new things. Sometimes the shows that are most inspiring are off the beaten track and other times they are giant spectacles. But also, know your burn out level and be prepared to say no sometimes. It isn’t possible to see everything – or even everything that your friends are in. And when you have to say no, be honest – your friends understand because they have to make those choices too. Right now I get really excited about seeing shows where I know nobody because it is always inspiring to see fresh talent – it is much easier to be positively surprised by people you have no expectations of.

Upcoming: Solo Collective presents Small Parts

 

Photo of Jeff Gl

Photo of Jeff Gladstone & Eileen Barrett by Johnny Liu

I’m back in the rehearsal hall with Solo Collective (after a year away from this fantastic company) and we’re getting ready to open Small Parts next week.  What is Small Parts?

SMALL PARTS is inspired by the author’s real life experience directing his mother’s first play about her talking and singing diseased body parts, while learning that she was dying of ovarian cancer. Funny, heartfelt and musical, David Hudgins has taken this very personal story and created a theatrical memory play rich in little truths and big questions. At its heart, Small Parts is about the courage to face our mortality by living through our most basic of human connections.

Small Parts runs Nov. 12 – 23 at Performance Works on Granville Island.

Directed by Marisa Smith
Written by David Hudgins
Starring: Jeff Gladstone, Andrew McNee, Eileen Barrett, Lauren Jackson, Meaghan Chenosky, & Christine Reinfort

Happy International Stage Managers Day (#StageMgrs14)

Today is the 2nd annual International Stage Managers Day. Some theatre companies are handing their twitter accounts over to their SMs for the day, others brought in baked goods, swept up, or got the stars to make the places call.

However you chose to celebrate, may your blacks be dark as midnight, your actors well behaved, and your theatre ghosts friendly!

 

SMday

 

Me? I’m sending emails, scheduling meetings, and planning things – just like every day.

No Smoking in Vancouver – Not Even E-cigs

Local actress Lucia Frangione smoking an e-cig in Pacific Theatre's Espresso, producer prior to the bylaw amendment.

Local actress Lucia Frangione smoking an e-cig in Pacific Theatre’s Espresso, produced prior to the bylaw amendment.

On Tuesday, September 30th, Vancouver City Council (acting on a recommendation from staff), amended the Vancouver smoking bylaw in a unanimous vote, to read:

Health Bylaw 9535 (with amendment 11076)

2.2 A person must not smoke or vapourize:
(a) in a building, except in:
(i) a dwelling unit or sleeping unit defined under the Zoning and Development By-law including a dwelling unit in which an owner or occupier also carries on a business,
(ii) a hotel or motel room or suite designated for smoking by a responsible person, or
(iii) enclosed premises:
(A) that are not open to the public,
(B) that are not private clubs or smoking clubs, a purpose of which is to allow patrons, customers, or other persons to smoke, and
(C) where the only occupants are the owner or owners of the business carried on in the premises;
(b) in a vehicle for hire;
(c) on public transit including a school bus, passenger bus, ferry, or rapid transit;
(d) in an enclosed or partially enclosed shelter where people wait to board a vehicle for hire or public transit;
(e) within six metres measured on the ground from a point directly below any point of any opening into any building including any door or window that opens or any air intake;
(f) in a customer service area; or
(g) within six metres of the perimeter of a customer service area.

You can read the whole city report here or read the Vancouver Sun article here.

The new bylaw came into effect immediately.

This means it’s time to find a new alternative way to portray smoking on stage. The options were already pretty limited as this same  bylaw;s definitions mean that “smoking includes burning a cigarette or cigar, or burning any substance
using a pipe, hookah pipe, lighted smoking device or electronic smoking device” – and that definition includes herbal cigarettes (which, let’s be honest, smell worse than regular cigarettes).

The only options I have seen used are real cigarettes that are never lit and “puff-puff” cigarettes from joke shops.

I reached out to Actsafe on twitter and they said:

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 10.00.30 AM

 

While Vancouver is the first large city in Canada to regulate e-cigs in this way (and only the fourth municipality following Red Deer, Alberta;  Innisfil, Ontario; and, Hantsport, Nova Scotia) it is likely that other large Canadian centres won’t be far behind. it’s time to find some better alternatives for smoking on-stage. Have you tried anything that has worked well? Share it in the comments below.

Update #1: When I posted this blog on twitter, the wonderful Matt Frankish (local TD, PM & LD) had a great response that he said was alright to share here:

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 10.37.13 AMAnd he’s right – we would never actually require an actor to stick a needle into themselves – we spend time engineering retractable needles and using sleight of hand to hide what we are doing. There must be options like that for smoking too.

Update #2 – Matt also reminded me that among the violations of the bylaw, a person who ” allows any other person to do any act or thing which violates any provision of this By-law” is also seen  as a violation and can be fined anywhere from $250-$10,000. So SMs & TDs & PMs & Directors risk being fined themselves if they allow smoking or vapourizing to occur.  (section 3.3/3.4)

Note: I also have an email in to one of the city councillors asking if they have any clarifications in regard to live performances, and have received a response saying that she’s looking into it and will get back to me.

If it’s Factory Theatre vs. the Toronto theatre critics, we are all going to lose

It started this morning with a tweet from Globe and Mail theatre critic Kelly Nestruck:

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 3.22.23 PM

If you click on that image it will take you to the majority of the online, public, conversation (though there have been a number of side conversations about it on twitter throughout the day and I’m sure many more conversations held in private). The gist of the issue is thus: For the upcoming show at Factory, The Art of Building a Bunker, the producers are hosting an opening night five days (three performances) in advance of the date that the media are invited to.

Aislinn Rose, one of the producers of the show and the general manager of The Theatre Centre, is supportive of this new experiment around openings & when critics are invited because it is artist and audience driven – a mantra she repeated multiple times over the course of the day.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 4.00.07 PM

In one tweet she wrote, “Full disclosure: I’m on the team, and I support this message” and later in the day she commented that she has been contacted by a handful of people who do not feel comfortable joining the twitter conversation.

Factory’s goal with this new delayed media date seems to be to make the opening about the community – reducing the stress of judgement and engaging with celebration. This idea is the basis of the press night model where media are invited a day or two prior to the gala opening and then embargoed from posting reviews until the official opening date. I know Obsidian is using that model for their production of The Mountaintop later this year and it is common in Broadway.

The main argument I’m seeing from Kelly Nestruck is that until a company believes that a show is ready to be seen by the media it should be considered to be in previews and tickets should be at a reduced rate, while Steve Fisher is arguing that, “You’re attempting to silence (for the v. important 1st week) the ppl who are best qualified to publicly evaluate your show.”

But I think there is a larger concern at play here that I would like to voice. I think that the company is doing itself a disservice. Companies across Canada are fighting desperately to reach a “non-theatre” audience and to expand their brands outside of their existing circles (which I believe is a laudable goal). Steve Fisher goes as far as saying that indie companies are BEGGING him to attend their openings. When companies eliminate mainstream critical discourse (ie The Globe & other reviewers), the initial conversations about the show will be had by a limited group of people, which sounds like the intended purpose of this experiment.  My concern is that those people having the initial conversation will be mostly theatre insiders who know about the show already. The likelihood of that conversation reaching beyond the inner circle seems small.

I took a look at the dates on the Factory Theatre website. From the time that the show begins previews on Oct 11, there will be 8 public performances before the media are invited to see the show (4 previews and 4 full price performances).  After the media are invited there will be another 11 performances. As an independent producer, a sometimes publicist, and a stage manager who works for independent companies, I frequently feel like I AM begging for media to attend openings. Why? Because even a review panning the show in a mainstream newspaper will garner more attention than a rave facebook comment by someone in the community. Maybe we are giving the critics more power than we should, but I have not yet seen a better idea and inviting the media to attend halfway through the public performances does not seem like a solution.

But that said, I wonder if there aren’t additional ways that Factory is planning to encourage critical discourse amongst their patrons at those first three performances in lieu of media criticism? If so, how? An online message board, a newsletter or survey, talkbacks, a social media scheme, or some other engagement policy?

I don’t have the answers. I do understand that the current model isn’t ideal for anyone but I fear that Factory’s new policy is more likely to further divide artists and critics than it is to forge a new system that is mutually beneficial. And ultimately, we will all be the losers if the divide grows.

Edited to add: If you’re looking for some other perspectives, check out what Mike Anderson had to say at http://www.mikehatedit.ca/2014/09/24/bunfights-factorys-bunker/ or Holger Syme’s take at http://www.dispositio.net/archives/1987 or Jacob Zimmer at http://minorexpletives.ca/a/on-the-outrage-over-who-gets-comped-when/ or Amanda Campbell at http://www.twisitheatreblog.com/archives/2381 or Theatre Ontario at http://theatreontario.blogspot.ca/2014/09/ontario-off-stage_26.html or Phil Rickaby at http://www.philrickaby.com/2014/09/27/factory-theatres-opening-night-kerfuffle/.

For some official critic opinions: Kelly Nestruck in The Globe & Mail and Glenn Sumi in Now Toronto  and Toronto Star.

Five Shows to See in the Final Fringe Weekend

The final weekend of the Vancouver Fringe Festival is very nearly upon us! With 91 shows in the festival this year, I know it can be overwhelming to try to decide what to pick – especially in the final weekend when sellouts abound. Here are five shows I recommend snapping up advance tickets to before you head down to Granville Island for the weekend. In no particular order:

Nancy Kenny in Roller Derby Saved my Soul

Nancy Kenny in Roller Derby Saved my Soul

1. Roller Derby Saved My Soul – A coming-of-age story, but not in the high school sense. As Amy enters her 30’s she discovers what it means to be her own woman through Roller Derby. The shows nerds out a bit with Buffy references in the best way (the night I was there I was wishing I was with a friend who also loved Buffy so they would laugh with me), and writer/performer Nancy Kenny is charming. Oh yeah, and she does 2/3 of the show on roller skates. The show has been selling out, so I’d recommend either getting there early or buying in advance online.

2. Aiden Flynn Looses His Brother so he Makes Another – A simple, wordless retelling of the Frankenstein story that makes use of shadow puppets in addition to other movement. The show is touching, sweet, and the kind of show that you will only find at the Fringe.

3. Industry: The Food Must Go Out – A Laugh-out-loud riot examining the behind the scenes of the restaurant industry. Set in the restaurant where the three lead performers work, find out why you should never order hot water with lemon, experience a hangover on the job, and be prepared to get involved – you might even get some dessert or some wine out of it. And they are serving drinks during their late night shows. Tonight’s show is sold out and tomorrow’s is very limited, but there’s still some room for Sunday’s show. Again, I recommend you buy these online.

4. Magic Unicorn Island – Jayson McDonald (fringe god) returns to Vancouver with his new piece that is a commentary on the current state of the world. Beginning with creation, we see how we got here and explore one possible outcome. The evolution sequence alone is worth the price of admission. One of the most political fringe shows I’ve ever seen and McDonald is at his best when he’s playing kids.

5. The Greatest Monkey Show on Earth – Let me say upfront that I am not a big fan of buffoon so when I heard that one of the guys from last year’s You Killed Hamlet! was back with a new show I walked far away. But the combination of the Fringe-for-all and flyering intrigued me so I figured I could go as long as I sat near the middle with multiple people on either side of me. And I was okay and had a great time. Charles the monkey performs a series of feats of acrobatics, clowning, and comedy, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a good show for kids – things get dark at the end but in a way that had me thinking as I left the theatre.

Alison with QuoteBonus: The Chariot Cities still has a pair of shows left (Friday at 6:45pm and Sunday 1:00pm). Come see the show that critics have called “a hit show in the making” (Vancity Buzz) and “one of those rare but fabulous shows where the ensemble cast is so damn good” (Plank Magazine).

Seen something else that was excellent? Shout it out in the comments below.

 

 

The Chariot Cities at the Vancouver Fringe

Group QuoteIt’s one of my favourite times of the year – Vancouver Fringe Festival season!

I love seeing shows at the Fringe – one year I think I saw 45 or 50 of them – it’s crazy! Tonight I’m doing a five show night. ON A MONDAY. This is the amazing thing about Fringe season.

I’ve worked for the festival on and off for the past four years – most recently as the off-season marketing assistant this winter/spring – but this year I’m the most actively involved as an artist that I’ve ever been. Yes, I’ve had shows in the festival before, but I’ve never actually stage managed for the festival and I haven’t produced at the level that I have this year.

The show I’m stage managing/producing is called The Chariot Cities. It’s a new play with original music about a family (two generations) of musicians who are much better at being a band than they are at being a family. They know how to handle the public sphere, but their private lives – especially as they related to each other – are a mess. Reviews have been really great so far – they all agree that the show has a lot of successful moments but wants to be a longer show. That’s okay by me – we want it to be a longer show too. Eventually it would be great to see a two act version of the play and after chatting with the playwright yesterday I found out that at least one more song already exists that was written for the show, but cut to make it fit into the 75 minute fringe time slot.
Jeff with Quote

Folks have been very supportive – our first two performances were attended by over 100 patrons each and the buzz at the festival is good. I was in line for a show yesterday afternoon and talking to a friend of mine about the response when the man in front of us turned around to tell me he’d seen the show the night before and had already bought tickets to come back this coming weekend.

We still have four performances left, so if you’re in the Vancouver area I’d love to have you join us.

The shows are:

Tuesday, Sept 9 @ 5:00pm
Thursday, Sept 11 @ 10:40pm
Friday, Sept 12 @ 6:45pm
Sunday, Sept 14 @ 1:00pm

Tickets are $14 plus a $5 one-time fringe membership and can be purchased online at http://www.vancouverfringe.com/show/14PMR7/, in person at the box office on Granville Island up to 4 hours before the show, or in person at the door 45 minutes before the show.

Shantini with Quote

As a special thank you to everyone who has been so supportive of the show and in response to all of the requests for a cast recording (we hear you, I promise!) here is a live recording of the opening song, Little Lights.

Bright Spots: PTC’s Test Kitchen

I’ve previously blogged about PL1422 and how much I love rehearsing in that space. This past year a number of my rehearsals have been in the newest space in town – Playwrights Theatre Centre (PTC)’s Test Kitchen and I have also fallen in love with that space for some of the same reasons I love PL1422. I sat down with PTC’s Artistic Director Heidi Taylor to talk about their new space and what they see happening with it in the future.

The Test Kitchen

The Test Kitchen

When PTC was trying to come up with a name for their new rehearsal space last fall, inspiration wasn’t far away. “Prior to our tenancy, the space was a commercial pork roastery and warehouse. It had been planned to be turned into a restaurant a number of years prior, but those plans weren’t completed,” Heidi told me. “So the shell of the interior walls existed, and there were four huge commercial coolers, and a whole lot of grease.”

In its first nine months, The Test Kitchen has been home to over 35 projects and companies beginning with the workshop of The Concessions by Briana Brown and rehearsals for Except in the Unlikely Event of War by Sean Devine (which I stage managed and was my first exposure to the space). “You guys really helped us figure out the space, besides living through the cold snap before we got our additional heaters in,” Heidi joked as we laughed about days wearing multiple sweaters and blankets. But heaters were added and plans are in the works for new insulation before the next winter hits.

There are still big plans for the space. “We’re going to put a new floor in the studio that will make it movement-friendly,” Heidi told me, “and add a layer of insulation to keep us all warm this winter, and reduce the heat gain in the summer, and do some more improvements to the electrical for the studio.”

One thing I love about the space is the sense of community that is built by the neighbouring Hub – a shared office space for nine users. Heidi explains, “Rather than a hot desk set up, each renter gets their own desk that they share with one other HUBster – they work out their own schedules, and can leave their script charts up, decorate, and have a workspace that they don’t have to reset every time they come in.” Currently the space is about 50% writers and 50% theatre companies, but it means there is always some sort of creative activity happening in the building and familiar faces lurk around every corner. Add to that the PTC Associates & the Pi Theatre Staff whose office is already in the window and meal breaks become visits and collaborations all their own.

Photo of New Town Bakery taken by Josette Jorge during a break from rehearsal for Except in the Unlikely Event of War

Photo of New Town Bakery taken by Josette Jorge during a break from rehearsal for Except in the Unlikely Event of War

Another great thing about the space is its Chinatown location – close to lots of funky little restaurants that you can run out to on a meal break or swing over to New Town Bakery for sweet buns to bring back to rehearsal.

PTC has already begun experimenting with resident companies to make sure there is optimal space use (the current resident company Rice & Beans opened a show last week), but when I asked Heidi where she saw the space going in the next couple of years she said, “With more rehearsal spaces coming online in the next few years, I think we’ll find emerging companies and physical practice will be a higher proportion of our renters.”

For PTC the ability to rehearse and workshop their writers’ work on site was a huge benefit, but as a community we get to reap the benefits of it.

They are currently taking bookings of 2 weeks or longer and will open up shorter-term rentals on August 1st for fall availability. To submit a booking request or check the online calendar, visit www.playwrightstheatre.com/space.

Espresso – Final Week!

10247379_10152376814429113_5748058237409244516_n I did not see Espresso when it took to the Pacific Theatre stage 10 years ago. I was new to the lower mainland, having just begun my education at Trinity Western University and was not yet involved in theatre. When I joined the theatre program a year later, everyone was still talking about the show, and really liked to tell me what an amazing show I had missed.

We read the play during Canadian Drama in my final year and I’m pretty sure I failed the quiz on it. But I fell in love with the words.

With Lucia (Playwright & Actress), Sarah (Director) and Rob (Actor)

With Lucia (Playwright & Actress), Sarah (Director) and Rob (Actor) on opening night.

For the last six weeks I have had the great pleasure of living in that world with the team at Pacific Theatre. In a way it has been a bit of a return home after two and a half years working all over the world and it has been such a delight.

The other night at intermission, we were chatting in the green room about how lucky we are to be doing a great show with great people. Not every show is like this and I’m trying to savour every moment – every sold out crowd, every standing ovation, every show stopping bout of laughter or applause.

espresso3

Rob & Lucia in Espresso

We’re in our final week of the run now – there are just five performances left and this one will be hard to let go of at the end of the run. I hear there are still tickets left, although it has been booking up so if you’ve been thinking about coming and haven’t yet bought a ticket yet, you should do that quickly. Me? I’m going to be savouring these last five performances like a five course Italian meal.

 

Espresso by Lucia Frangione runs until June 16 at Pacific Theatre (1440 W. 12th Avenue).
Directed by Sarah Rodgers
Featuring Robert Salvador & Lucia Frangione
Set & Lights: Stancil Campbell, Costumes: Naomi Sider, Sound: Jeff Tymoschuk, Props: Phil Miguel

Tickets available online  or by phone at 604.731.5518.

Q2Q Comics

Q2Q Comics #15 – Ten of Twelves

 

I’m sure by now some of you have come across Q2Q comics, but for those of you who haven’t, you really should. Q2Q Comics is written and drawn by Steve Younkins. He’s a company member at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre where he works primarily as a sound designer. He posts new comics every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday that follow the technical team of the Cheeseborough Ensemble Theatre. He also has a web store where you can buy various merchandise including t-shirts and prints. I have a print of the comic above on its way to my house. So take a click and have a laugh.