The “Theatre Community”

This essay first appeared in the Feb. 22, 2022 episode of Stageworthy.

Here’s a question that I’ve been thinking about for a while. Just what is the theatre community? We often talk about the quote unquote theatre community. What does the community think about this? What is the community doing about this?

And I love the idea of the theatre community, but often a moment after I talk about the theatre community, I find myself wondering what exactly is the community and how do I find it? Because a community is a social unit with a commonality, like a, an identity or a religion or values or, or passions. Or in the case of the theatre world of vocation, but a community needs to be a social unit.

Now I live in Toronto, which is a pretty big city for theatre, but there are small pockets of theatre all over this city. Lots of theatre cliques for want of a better word. There are some names that everyone knows, and a lot of names that might be known within a single clique, but might not be known in another.

The problem with these clique’s is that they are both the theatre community and not, they are the community because for the people involved in that group, that’s their community, but they are not the community because they’re a small group for the larger theatre community. That’s something that’s more complicated to describe.

When I think about the theatre community, when I’ve asked people to tell me what they think about when they think of the theatre community in Toronto, the only thing they seem to be able to think of is the fringe tent or the patio or whatever we’re calling it. Now, fringe seems to be the one time of year when the theatre world comes together and forms a community.

We gather, we have a few drinks, we have some conversation. We talk about the amazing theatre we’ve seen. We talk about the things that we’re working on. We hang out and just enjoy being with other theatre people. And for 10 ish days, we have this place that we go. And when it’s over, that’s pretty much the end of the community for the year, because it’s the only time we seem to gather as a group.

When I first came to Toronto, when I first started hanging out and being in the world of Toronto as an adult, I learned that there was a bar called the Green Room and I assumed that was the theatre bar. And I thought to myself how amazing it was that there was this place where all the performers and other theatre people in Toronto could go and hang out.

Well, imagine my surprise and disappointment when I discovered that it was just a bar. Occasionally you would find some theatre people there, but it was not a theatre bar. And I think about New York city, where there have been restaurants that were integral to the theatre world, like the Edison cafe, sadly, no longer with us and a cursory Google search assures me that there are other cafes and restaurants that are theatre centric where people go, we don’t have that here.

There are a few places that have become central to the theatre scenes in cities here and there. At least during the fringe season, someone will have to let me know if they’re theatre hubs all year long in Winnipeg. The Kings Head becomes the bar of choice for fringe casts and crews. And in Edmonton, the performers shunned the beer tents and instead head to Steel Wheels.

But to my knowledge, these places, these hubs of the theatre community are temporary and mostly related to the local fringe scene, but it would be great to have a place that could be more of a regular gathering place, where we could talk about things happening in the theatre world, where we could meet where we could have community instead of making Twitter, our theatre commons, because Twitter is no place for discourse, but when we have no place to gather on the regular, how can we be a theatre community, I guess in the end, I don’t have an answer because I still don’t know what the theatre community is.

It’s something we talk about as though it was a thing and every now and then we get a taste of what it could be and then it’s gone, but I long for it. And maybe you do too. The only question is what do we do about that?

From Solo Play to Audio Project: “Saint” Nick and the Big F*ck Up.

A long while back, I started writing a solo play for Christmas. I’ve been talking about this on and off since April of 2017. The play has gone through a lot of changes, it started out as a play about the Old Gods of Winter being set free and wreaking havoc  on the modern world, but it grew and started to be about too many things. Sometime late last year, I separated the two themes into two separate plays. The one that had the most meat to it, was about a mall Santa who has a very bad day. I started to call this play “Saint” Nick and the Big F*ck Up

As I looked at it, it felt like it was in good shape, and I had was planning on applying with it to the Fundy Fringe (I know, a Christmas play in the summer seems a bit odd, but I felt like it would work), and performing it this year at Christmas. 

The lottery didn’t go my way for Fundy Fringe (such is the way with Fringe). And then COVID happened, and theatres closed, and it soon became clear that they wouldn’t be re-opening any time soon.

But I had this play that was ready to be presented and I wanted to do something with it, so I started to look at options. Live streaming video was quickly looking like the way to go, but there was a lot to consider, a lot of new skills to master, and new equipment to purchase.

On the skills side, there would be learning how to do a live stream, how to light the stage area, how to ensure good sound quality, how to play sound cues in the stream. There’s also figuring out whether a single camera is enough, or if a dual camera setup would be better. And how to switch cameras on the fly.

Then there’s the equipment to think about. Is the webcam on my laptop good enough? Heck, is the laptop powerful enough to stream and not overheat? If I need a second camera, can I use my webcam and stream from there to the computer? Do I need to buy new lights? Do I need some other technology to switch between them? What about sound? Do I need a lav mic? Or can I use one of mic’s I already have? And how would I manage all of these tools if I’m the one doing the performing?

There was a lot. 

Ultimately, after a lot of consideration (and a little breathing into a paper bag), I decided against video streaming as a medium.

But since I have two podcasts (Stageworthy and The Introvert’s Guide To…), audio was a medium I knew I could work with. And I decided that podcasting might be a great way to distribute it.

So I started working on how to adapt this solo play designed for performance into an audio play, so that I could podcast it. So I recorded all the monologue (which seems a strange way to put it, but if it was dialogue, we’d use that phraseology, so I’m standing by it for now), and then found where the best points to break were. And fortunately for me, I was able to make each episode about 10 minutes long (give or take).

I have heard it said that audio is a visual medium (I’m paraphrasing. The original quote is that radio is a visual medium, but it works for podcasts too, so I’ll leave it as “audio”), so I didn’t feel it was enough just to record me reading, but there needed to be ambiance. I needed to be able to set the scene for the listener, so they could properly experience the story. I found Creative Commons music that I could use, and some royalty free sound effects, and built everything from a busy mall on Christmas Eve day, to a snowy Christmas Eve on a quiet street, to a playground full of kids at recess.

It was a lot of work, but I loved it. I started working on this in late July, and finished most of the work by the end of August, and since then, I’ve been tweaking, checking, recording intros and outros, and getting promo images ready to tell the story of Nick to the world.

Nick is a part-time mall Santa, who hates Christmas. It’s Christmas Eve. He shouldn’t even be working today, but he is. And he’s about to meet a most terrible child.

As I write this, I’m putting the last finishing touches on the project, and getting ready to release the trailer at the beginning of November, and the episodes will start releasing on November 17.

I hope you’ll listen. I’ll have links closer to the date.

Here’s the logo to tide you over.

"Saint" Nick and the Big F*ck Up - Title