My Christmas Wish

I am looking forward to 2009 for a plethora of different reasons, and as President Obama is inaugurated in the United States, I am hopeful for the dawn of a bright future of potential for all of us. At the same time, here in the Halifax theatre scene, change is also afoot as George Pothitos takes the reins as Neptune Theatre’s new Artistic Director. I must stress that I am deeply grateful to Ron Ulrich, who became AD in 2000, as I owe some of my favourite theatrical experiences to him. His production of Cabaret starring Pamela Gordon and Christian Goutsis still haunts and awes me eight years later. That said, I think Artistic Directors are like Presidents (or Prime Ministers), it’s [usually] good to appoint new ones to keep things dynamic, fresh and exciting. In the spirit of the holiday season, I would like to share with you my dream wish list for the future of Neptune Theatre. I hope that the future Artistic Director will work toward these goals so that Neptune can thrive in exciting new ways with unyielding support from its community.

1. I would like Neptune to employ more local actors. I think this is absolutely essential for our theatre community. First of all, our most talented actors and artists are fleeing by the busload toward Toronto in search of job opportunities. This is absurd. There is no reason why there should be jobs for Haligonian actors in the largest city and theatre community in the country, but no jobs for them in Halifax. We need to support the talented people who call Nova Scotia home, and to appreciate them. Nova Scotians have strong hometown pride, and if Neptune’s audience were encouraged to ‘get to know’ the actors in their community, by having interviews and articles about them in The Chronicle Herald, they would feel a sense of connection to them, which I know would persuade them to follow their careers by attending every show that they were in. I think that shows should be cast primarily from the best talent available in Nova Scotia, and then, if there are roles left over, the Director should be encouraged to hold auditions elsewhere. Young theatre artists learn by doing, by ‘acting,’ they need to be given every opportunity to learn, to act, to try, and to work with other artists who will inspire and teach them. In the end, this is how we build a strong, happy, vibrant, positive theatre community that produces shows that rival those in the rest of the country.

2. I would like Neptune to lower their prices. I know that the cost of running a theatre is high, but I think the prices at Neptune are a little ridiculous. It is the biggest obstacle in getting audiences in to see the show. I have seen dozens of shows at Neptune since 1994 and I very rarely have seen the theatre at maximum capacity. There are very few shows that sell-out. I bet if the theatre lowered its prices, attendance would rise substantially and the costs would even out. I think it’s important to break the socio-economic trends that are tied to the theatre currently. Neptune is our regional theatre. It is for the people of Halifax. It needs to be accessible to all people. I bet if Neptune’s prices were similar to a movie ticket, hundreds of people who have never set foot in there before, would come in to see their first show. There are also creative ways to make tickets more accessible. The Canadian Stage Company, for example, offers a pass to people under the age of 30, where they pay $15.00 for a membership card and then they get tickets to all the shows that season for $5.00 each. The first two rows in the house are also always $20.00, so people know that they have the opportunity to see any show at that theatre for 20 bucks. Theatre Passe Muraille has Pay What You Cans every Sunday. It would also reduce Neptune’s costs to employ local actors, as the director wouldn’t have to fly them in or pay to house them.
3. I would like Neptune to adjust its choice of plays slightly. While it is great that some new plays have been performed in the Studio, there are not enough new Canadian plays being staged at Neptune. Some of the shows, like Pinter’s Betrayl (1978) or Shakespeare’s Hamlet could possibly be staged in Fountain Hall if the Artistic Director got rid of some of the airy, light, comedies (maybe offer one, and maybe in the summer), Neptune could produce some really riveting, contemporary, exciting, new works in the Studio. There could be collaborations, and collective creations, and works by local playwrights, and intense plays like The Pillowman or Festen. I think there is an audience in Halifax for these types of works as well. I would also like to see some Stephen Sondheim musicals in Fountain Hall, maybe starting with Into the Woods. I know Neptune has to please its sponsors, but I think if other Canadian regional theatres are brave enough to produce edgier material than that which was considered racy in the 1970s, Halifax’s audiences are ready for it too.
4. I would like Neptune to produce more Canadian plays. We tend to grow up thinking that Canadian literature is boring. The playwrights that we have in this country are unbelievable. Canadian plays are my favourite of all the plays I have read, and they are plenty. Neptune needs to produce them. It is integral for our audiences to be aware of people like Daniel MacIvor and Stewart Lemoine and even Judith Thompson and Sharon Pollock (who I wouldn’t have known about if I hadn’t done a BA in theatre). I would like Neptune to develop a dramaturgy program within the theatre to foster indigenous Nova Scotian plays. Neptune should have resident playwrights. Why isn’t Josh MacDonald’s work being done at the Studio? I recently heard Daniel MacIvor speak in Toronto and he said that he wanted to come home and work in Nova Scotia, and he tried, but he had to move back to Toronto because Halifax was utterly not conducive to playwriting. Daniel MacIvor is from Sydney, Cape Breton. He was just awarded the $100,000.00 dollar Siminovitch Prize for excellence in playwriting. Why are we driving him away? We should be trying to do everything in our power to make Halifax the most advantageous place for him to work and play!!!
5. I would like Neptune to give programmes to students attending Student Matinees with their schools. I support an eco-friendly world, and I think that encouraging students who don’t want to keep their programmes to return them to be recycled is wonderful, but I think that students should have the option of getting a programme. Almost everything I learned about Canadian theatre, I learned from the programmes that I have acquired. They can be so beneficial, as you develop a knowledge of who the actors are who are working in your community, where they have studied, what other opportunities they’ve had to perform in various places, and a list of other shows that you might be interested in, and other theatres where you might like to go. I saw Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt perform in Two Pianos, Four Hands when I was twelve at a student matinee, but we didn’t get programmes, so I didn’t realize that I saw Dykstra and Greenblatt until this year (when people said: “wow! You saw theatre history and didn’t even know it!”) And that’s the point. If children get these programmes the same as everyone else, they will be able to look back someday and know when they saw something really important.
6. I would like Neptune to have a summer season. I was in Halifax last summer and the theatre scene was dismal. You had to go to Antigonish, Parsboro, or Chester in order to see any theatre until the Fringe Festival came in September. Summer is when Halifax is the prettiest, there are tourists coming to see the Tall Ships, they’re coming on Cruise Liners, they’re coming to see the Busker Festival, I think Neptune could capitalize on these things- and have at least one show running in July and August, or rent the space (at a reasonable affordable rate) to one of the other theatre companies in the city. Maybe even bring in a touring show… there is no reason for that theatre to sit dark all summer collecting dust. There is no reason for Halifax to be utterly devoid of theatre for an entire season.
7. I would like to see Neptune working with the smaller theatre companies in Halifax to help them develop our theatre community. I know that Neptune has done this in the past, with producing 2b’s show and this year, there is a show being produced by Zuppa Circus. This is wonderful, and I think there needs to be more of it. I think Neptune should offer affordable rehearsal space, and that the powerful members of Neptune’s artistic and business staff should lend their voice to the needs of the smaller companies and the issues they encounter. There should be another theatre space downtown where independent theatre companies can produce their shows, so that Neptune doesn’t have to sacrifice its studio season because another company has borrowed its space. There needs to be more funding, and more advertising for the smaller shows, and I think Neptune is a prime position to help the other companies out. They may seem like competition, but by lending a helping hand, Neptune will secure loyalty from all the artists whose lives it touches. I also wish there were mentorship programs and internship programs set up within Neptune so that emerging artists could learn from those more established than themselves, and that young people could help shape the future of Neptune as a company and as a theatre. If young people feel connected to Neptune, they will always support it. Neptune needs to become as rooted in the community as possible, so that the thought of Halifax without it seems utterly unbearable.
8. I would like to see Neptune bringing in more world-class theatre artists from across the country and around the world to work with the local actors in collaborations. This way, everyone gets a chance to learn from one another, and Halifax audiences get the opportunity to see the great giants of Canadian and world theatre here at home. There is such a notion that audiences here seem to have that they need to go elsewhere to see something really spectacular. And that shouldn’t be true. We should feel proud in our regional theatre to know that our local actors are just as good as the local actors elsewhere, that they would be in high demand elsewhere if they chose to leave, and that Neptune is legitimate enough to be able to bring in the same stars that come to Toronto.
9. I would like to see Neptune collaborating with other theatres across Canada. The Arts Club in Vancouver and the Canadian Stage Company in Toronto, for example, have two joint shows this season, Frost/Nixon and Miss Jule: Freedom Summer. I think it would be great for Neptune to establish strong ties with other theatres, so that we could bring in some stuff from elsewhere, and also bring some of our shows to other provinces. Ron Jenkins’ new play Extinction Song is opening at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton in March, and there are rumours that it may tour “across the country.” The country that is spoken of, however, goes no farther East than Ontario. We can’t wait to be invited to join the rest of the country; we have to be assertive and ask to be considered. We have to act interested in what is going on outside Nova Scotia, in hopes that the rest of Canada will take an interest in us. If we invite Extinction Song to play a stint at Neptune for a month in the summer, perhaps Neptune could take one of its shows to the Citadel for a month next year. Think of all the network connections that could be made if the Artistic Directors spoke to one another and shared and built bridges. We’d have double the opportunities and experiences to draw from!
10. I would like to see Neptune grow to be such a gem in Halifax that it is the pride of everyone who walks by it. I would like the Nova Scotians who have left to seek opportunities elsewhere to hasten to come home because there is so much exciting work for them, and all sorts of fantastic opportunities to learn from incredible artists and to be a part of something vital and vibrant and beloved.
That is my Christmas wish. And I am filled with faith and hope and dreams.

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