Disposable Theatre

This essay first appeared on the Feb 15, 2021 episode of Stageworthy.

Honest question. What is with the disposable nature of plays in the Canadian theatre? Yeah, I can only think of a couple of plays – one in recent memory – that have had a life outside of their initial performance. On average, we produce a play once on one of our major stages, say for example, in Toronto, Theatre Passe Muraille, Tarragon, The Factory.

And then for the most part that play is then disposed of and forgotten and never really heard from again. And we’ve been doing that, pretty much since the 1960s, when the Canadian theatre scene really began in earnest. Every so often a play like Kim’s Convenience comes along that is so undeniably good that it gets a life after its production.

But for the most part, it seems that in Canada, we produce a play, it runs for a few weeks, and then when it’s over, it’s gone and we never hear from it. But for American and British plays, those will often tour or get a Canadian production or be performed by community theatre groups. But aside from Kim’s or the drowsy chaperone or come from away, when was the last time a Canadian play has gotten a production outside of Canada.

I remember a number of years ago, Howard Sherman, who was then the head of the American theatre wing, posted that he found it curious that he knew plays from Britain and of course plays from America, but he could not name any shows from Canada. Of course, a lot of Canadians helped out and named their favourites, but at the time, even he found it odd that he couldn’t name a single Canadian play.

Why do you think this is? What is it that prevents the plays that we create here from going on to be performed in the US or Britain or elsewhere, but what’s even more concerning to me is the fact that we rarely see them produced at home. So often a play is produced, and like I said, it runs a few weeks and it closes.

And it doesn’t get to breathe to grow. And it certainly doesn’t get to become a hit the way shows from elsewhere get to. And I do understand that part of that is logistics. In Toronto, we have only so many theatres dedicated to producing new work, and there’s only so much time that could be dedicated to a given play in each season. And because of that, a production can only run a few weeks.

But that keeps us from having a show that gets to be a big hit. Because if a show does well, there’s really no mechanism in place that lets a show go on to another life. Nothing that lets a show get picked up to continue on under another theatre’s umbrella and run for longer or anything like that. I guess for me, the sad thing is that Canadian theatre will never be able to get worldwide acclaim or even respect unless we find a way to give a play life after its first production.

Not that a play has to travel to Britain or the US to be successful, but at the very least, should we not have some path to further productions in Canada to give our shows the same shot at being remembered that shows in Britain in the U S. Why don’t we value the theater we make here enough to give more of our plays, a future?

Don’t our homegrown playwrights and actors and directors deserve that? Don’t they deserve better than just being disposable?

Truth and Honesty in the Theatre

This essay first appeared on the Feb. 8 episode of Stageworthy.

We have an honesty problem in theatre, and I’m not talking about on stage, we talk a lot about truth on the stage. We want where we portray to be as truthful as possible. We pursue on the stage for a scene a moment to be as honest and truthful as possible. offstage, there may be many times when we feel like we can’t be truthful and honest. Think about a time when you were unhappy with the way that the audiences were reacting to a show or even you were unhappy with the turnout of audiences to the show, you felt like the show could have been getting more audiences but wasn’t getting the audience’s it deserved.

But could you say that? Could you post on social media about how disappointed you are? It’s pretty much understood that you don’t, at least not in a place where anyone but your closest friends might see it. You have to publicly remain positive. And if you’re frustrated about things happening behind the scenes, or if there’s something toxic happening in the rehearsal hall, whether it’s from the director or producer, or even another actor, can we call it out? Do we call it out? Do we talk about it, regardless of whether or not we should we often don’t.

We don’t talk about these things. And often, it was our theatre school experience that laid the groundwork for that silence. When I was in theatre school, I did not have a great experience. I wouldn’t say that my experience was toxic. I just wasn’t very happy. And part of the problem was that to be completely honest, I was one of those students that rode the edge of being cut from the programme. Back when that was a regular occurrence. I’m told we don’t cut people from programmes anymore, which is good. But it was something that hung over my head for the entirety of the three years I was at school. And I wasn’t the only one. All of us knew that we could be cut from the programme and that they wouldn’t have to give any reason. And their reasoning if they gave one wouldn’t be questioned. We went through our days in fear. And so if we saw problematic or toxic behaviour, we didn’t say anything. We learned not to rock the boat.

I’ve been doing this podcast for about six years now. But occasionally I’ll find out that somebody I’m interviewing went to the same theatre school that I did. And I would ask them as somebody who went to that school and really curious, I’d ask how their experience was, and they would get this frozen smile on their face. And they would say, Oh, it was great. But I could tell there was something not quite right there. And so we just gloss over it and move on.

And then afterwards, when the recording was over, I’d asked them again, about their experience. And I would hear stories about how their experience was toxic, but they didn’t feel like they could say that out loud, that they couldn’t call it out.

And so they just didn’t. And they tried to put their theatre school experiences behind them all while it taught them that the most important thing for them to do was keep their mouths shut.

How are we supposed to change things when we can’t talk about them?

It’s hard enough to be an artist without having to bottle up the truth without having to bottle up what you’re feeling like things are not going your way or when you’re being treated unfairly or where you just want to be able to admit that you’re disappointed in something like the turnout for a show, as I mentioned before, or a bad review. It’s hard enough to get a bad review for a show. And again, we don’t complain about that we take our lumps and we try to let it slide. Even though we want to respond. We don’t because that’s not how it’s done. That’s not professional. And so we shrug and pretend that it doesn’t bother us. But of course it does. But we can’t see that it does we have to remain positive.

And I wonder sometimes if the public, the people who aren’t artists see this and wonder if we’re being disingenuous. Do we seem artificial to them? Because we put on that brave positive face all the time? Does it make it difficult for the non artists to relate to us? Is that why muggles have this idea that so often portrayed in the media that we’re really fake people? I believe that people can sense when we’re not being honest. And when there’s something we’re not saying. And we know it too. It eats at us. I know what eats me when I do it. And I wish I could just say what I’m thinking. But I don’t because that’s just not what we do. And why isn’t it something we do? Why is that kind of honesty frowned on.

Why is it that if I get an unfair review, I can’t say anything? Why is it if if I had a bad experience in the rehearsal hall, I can’t say anything?

I wish I had an answer to the whole thing. I wish I knew how to fix it. But maybe if we talk about it, we can take a few steps towards fixing the toxic aspects of the industry, and also be a little bit better to ourselves. 

Confessions of a terrible Halo player

I love playing Halo. I have played Halo on and off with each iteration since Halo 4. The single player games are good, but the issue comes down to the multiplayer games, which is what Halo has survived on for ages. And I enjoy playing it (for the most part). The problem is, that I’m not very good. I’ve never been very good at it. Whenever I play it (or any multiplayer first person shooter), I die a lot. Like a lot. Because I’m not very good. And in the past, I have eventually abandoned the game because it’s hard to enjoy a game where you just die over and over.

The latest version, Halo Infinite seems to do a better job of matchmaking than previous versions have. I have a better chance to find myself playing with people who are closer to my level of terribleness than I used to, so its only slightly less frustrating. For me that is. Its probably just as frustrating for the people I end up playing with.

Because I’m not very good.

It Sees You When You’re Sleeping is Almost Here

In just a few days, my holiday horror audio drama, It Sees You When You’re Sleeping launches, and I am super excited for you to hear it!

It Sees You When You’re Sleeping follows a Christmas-loving single dad who gives in to his daughter’s request for a certain elf toy and finds himself face to face with an evil he could never have imagined.

Inspired by the idea of the Elf on the Shelf doll and its accompanying traditions, this audio drama imagines what might happen if there was more to the toy than felt and plastic. Something more…sinister.

It Sees You When You’re Sleeping is the second part of a trilogy of audio dramas for the holidays that started with last year’s “Saint” Nick and the Big F*ck Up, and will conclude next year. The first episode arrives on November 17, and each of the six remaining 10-15 minute episodes will weekly until the final episode on December 22.

Elves are in the zeitgeist.

Myths and legends about elves were part of the inspiration for It Sees You When You’re Sleeping, and play into the story as it unfolds. But apparently, I am not the only one who has been thinking about elves, as just this week, I saw a trailer for a Danish film called Elves on Netflix. The trailer is just…amazing. Give it a watch.

It reminds me a little of the film Rare Exports, which offers an alternative Santa Claus. Have you seen it?

Don’t Forget to Subscribe!

Make sure you are subscribed to It Sees You When You’re Sleeping on your favourite podcast platform so that you don’t miss any of the episodes. You can find on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, and all the usual podcast services. 

Digital Theatre in the Physical Theatre

I’ve been thinking for a bit about digital theatre, and how for the last two years the productions that theatre creators have been producing have been the most accessible they have ever been. Since the pandemic started and theatre moved online, plays have been available to people who normally couldn’t access them, either because of physical barriers, or even financial ones. They have allowed people who might not go to the theatre because getting there is too much trouble, or because the venue isn’t accessible. Or it has allowed people for whom the cost of a ticket has been prohibitive to be able to see theatre, possibly for the first time.

We’ve been able to enjoy productions from all over Canada and the world, which is something that we’ve never been able to do before, without travelling to attend in person, which is great! For most of our theatrical history, the Toronto theatre scene has been separated from the Edmonton scene, which is separated from the Saint John theatre scene, and so on. We haven’t been able to experience the amazing theatre taking place around the country, let alone the world. So digital productions have been a wonderful addition to our theatrical experiences, expanding our theatrical horizons.

As we move back into in-person theatre, I worry that we will lose this. I know that there are issues where Equity and ACTRA are concerned, and that’s something for them to work out, but in the indie world, it’s something that can be done, and I would argue should be done.

That means asking venues if they have a high-speed, dedicated internet connection that can be used to live stream. It means asking if they have a single-camera setup, or do they have a multi-camera option, and if they do, is there a live switcher and do they provide an operator? And it’s possible that the theatre you are looking at doesn’t have any of this, or maybe they don’t even know what you’re talking about! But these are important questions to be asking. If enough people ask about it, the venues will have to provide it.

If live-streaming isn’t an option, there’s still a way to broadcast your show using a simulated live option, where you record a performance, and then provide that recording as a scheduled live stream. Let’s say for example that you recorded your opening night performance. You could then use a service like Onstream.live or Streamyard, upload your video and schedule it to broadcast to youtube (for example). In this way, you could have a live re-broadcast of your selected performance streamed one or more times for an audience that can’t make to the venue. And using this method means that you can also have closed captioning available as well!

We have gained so much from sharing our productions, that it would be a shame to lose this connection and this newfound accessibility.’

I’d love to hear about your experiences with digital theatre, and what you think of the possibility of keeping this going as we return to in-person theatre. Tell me all about it in the comments.