Yesterday I read a very insightful and lovely piece by Theatre 20’s Artistic Director Adam Brazier on lessons that he has learned so far about being the AD of a young, ambitious, Canadian theatre company and one dedicated to fostering Canada’s own musical theatre. Many of the reflections that Adam wrote about I ardently related to, some I also find difficult, some made me laugh, and some lessons I don’t think I have learned yet.
I have been writing reviews for the Canadian Theatre for five and a half years. I often say I have been so lucky to have made the best theatre school in the country for myself and to surround myself with the country’s greatest teachers. Every time I enter the theatre I learn something. I become a better actor, a better playwright, a better theatre critic and audience member and, I think, a more ardently human being. I am so often humbled and overwhelmed by the talent in my midst. I do love my job.
I would like to take some inspiration from Adam Brazier and to offer to you some of the lessons I have learned about the theatre in the last five years.
- We are all in this together! A theatre community that is built on cliques, animosity, insecurity and jealousy is toxic to the theatre created there. We are all on the same side. We all want the theatre in our communities to succeed. Recreating Junior High power dynamics in the theatre is a disservice and an insult to everyone.
- Play Together! Cross-Pollination between multidisciplinary artists is amazing and exciting! Not only does it create incredible, new, imaginative work, but it helps to bridge the gaps between audiences for different art forms in the city. Bring the music lovers to the theatre, bring the dancers to the Comedy club! Bring the musicians to the magic show! See what happens!
- My Target Audience Isn’t the Theatre Community and Neither is Yours. If you take away the other theatre artists and your family and friends and you are left with an empty house, it means your theatre company hasn’t found its audience yet. Building a unique and loyal audience made up of theatregoers from the general public and continually finding ways of engaging with them and getting them excited about your shows and the theatre in general is massively important to the success of your company. It’s crucial. If you’re doing theatre just because you want to impress someone else in the theatre community, invite them over and perform it for them in your living room for free!
- Politics are IMPORTANT and Not Just For Funding. Is the neighborhood where your local theatre is thriving or dying? This makes a huge impact on who comes to see your shows. Does your target audience have more or less disposable income than they did last year? On every level, the people in charge of running your community have the potential to help make the theatre there thrive. Vote smart!
- Say Yes. Stay Optimistic. Always Try. I am continually so inspired by what happens when bright, engaged, passionate members of the theatre community rally together for change and make the theatre in their city better or easier or more accessible. Don’t wait for someone else to do it or you will be waiting forever!
- More Previews!!! More Previews!!
- Diversity is Beautiful. The theatre community should reflect the demographics of its city and the more stories that are being told from different experiences and perspectives the more vibrant and interesting the theatre in the city will be. This is another reason why being exclusive or cliquey in the theatre is counterproductive: inclusiveness is where new things grow.
- GO TO THE THEATRE. ALL OF IT. And not because you want to “support your friends.” I borrowed this from Tony Nappo. “I don’t go to the theater (film or live) solely to be entertained or supportive- I go because it is a part of my job to see what people are doing- to know what is happening- to see THE WORK.” And go to the shows that come in from out of town FOR SURE, because it is SMART to know what people are doing in the rest of the country (and the world) and it’s VERY likely that you will leave INSPIRED.
- GET INSPIRED. DON’T GET JEALOUS. GET INSPIRED INSTEAD. JEALOUS IS BORING AND KILLS CREATIVITY, WHICH IS TOXIC TO THE THEATRE.
- Most people are a little shy and a little awkward and insecure and most people don’t love schmoozing, but being friendly and smiling at people at Opening Night and introducing yourself is not just about networking, it’s about being nice and it’s about welcoming visiting artists into your city and it’s about making friends, which makes the theatre community stronger and better.
- In most cities in this country Fringe is the most magical time of the year.
- Know your theatre history. That new idea you had, I’m pretty sure Paul Thompson thought of it first. (Seriously though, learn from your theatre history so we can move forward instead of in circles and have some respect for those who came before you, they helped to pave the road that brought you here). Know your theatre geography. Just because it didn’t happen in Toronto doesn’t mean it’s not awesome.
- An atmosphere where critical thought and conversation, dialogue and debate are welcome and open honesty is appreciated is a thousand times healthier than an atmosphere where everyone is fed the lie that everything and everyone is perfect so nothing ever grows. Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re not finished getting better yet (as soon as you are, you are toast).
- MORE PREVIEWS! MORE REHEARSALS! MORE PREVIEWS AND REHEARSALS AND MORE TIME AND REHERSALS AND PREVIEWS BEFORE OPENING. LET THE THEATRE BAKE. DON’T RUSH. IT’S OKAY.
- The most inspiring and brilliant people live and work in this country and I am helplessly in love with the Canadian theatre.