Galatea Returns to Derry

The Irish version of Galatea had its roots in Derry and the Sole Purpose production was welcomed home with gusto.

As was the case last year, the performance at the Derry Playhouse was part of Foyle Pride, and the audience was in a warmly embracing mood, cheering the actors – all from Derry themselves – with as much pride and affection as they could muster. This provided a wonderfully warm and satisfying close to this year’s tour.

Once again, I had the chance to speak with audience members and get a sense of what this play has meant to them. There was a formal Q&A talkback after one performance, with questions for both myself and the actors, but I also spoke with people during the interval, after the show, and even in encounters on the street – and was again struck by how much this was a Derry story now, not (only) a Canadian one.

The Foyle Pride parade, now in its third year, is rapidly becoming a “normal” event in the city’s calendar, with the mayor and other politicians marching, face painting for kids, music and speeches, a tiny band of protestors waving their placards from across the street, and a rainbow flag that stretches as far as the eye can see. This year’s theme was “Exploring Identity,” and it was so clear to me from the comments I heard that “Galatea” was very much a part of the festival’s theme. I’m delighted to have been able to join the tour (thank you, Canada Council!) and grateful to have been made so welcome by my Derry friends.

As I’ve mentioned before, I hope that this production of Galatea will encourage Sole Purpose, its financial supporters and the community at large to ensure that something theatrical continues to be an integral part of Foyle Pride in the years to come – and that henceforth it will be Derry’s own playwrights who get to share their work with their friends and neighbors.

Thoughts from the Galatea tour

I`m back in Derry again as the Galatea tour winds up this week and have savored the feeling of being “home” again. It was while living here in 2010 that I first met Pat Byrne of Sole Purpose Productions, and it’s felt like putting on a favorite pair of old shoes again as I wander along familiar roads, revisit the landmarks of my time here, and reunite with old friends I haven’t seen for a long time.

It’s also been a chance to reflect on what may be the most interesting part of the tour, which has been the visits to a couple of smaller towns in Northern Ireland – Newtownabbey, a largely Protestant community of some 80,000 just north of Belfast, and Strabane, a Catholic border town of 20,000 a short drive south of Derry.

The towns themselves are studies in contrasts that were reflected in the tour. One of the sponsors of the tour is the Rainbow Project, a Northern Ireland organization that provides a variety of services to local gay and lesbian communities. From the start the group has been a strong supporter of the production and tour. I suspect that this is both because the story presents its story of two gay couples in a healthy and positive light – which perhaps is not as commonly available here as one might wish – and also because the project has provided an opportunity for community building over the last year.

Perhaps because of its proximity to Belfast or perhaps because of a fairly conservative hue to its population, Newtownabbey doesn’t seem to have a well organized local gay and lesbian community, and this was reflected in the modest size of the audience that turned out for the show. In contrast, Strabane has a well established local group who were out in force, as was the vice-chairman of the Strabane District Council, all of whom went out of their way to offer me a very warm welcome to their community.

Damian Friel and Alex Wilson in the Sole Purpose production of Galatea

For me, the most profound realization about this production has been the degree to which it has helped to galvanize the community here. One might not have expected this; while I think the play does provide a positive portrayal of gay life to its audiences, it’s hardly an overt political piece. But the community has adopted the show with gusto and I think the production has made a modest contribution to its evolution in return – whether by its simple presence in a town like Newtownabbey or in how it’s inspired some of the audience members I spoke with in Strabane.

I am hopeful for a lasting effect as well. The play itself wraps up at the end of this week here in Derry, but I suspect the community will continue to enrich itself theatrically. Sole Purpose held a writing workshop for the gay and lesbian community, and I can imagine organizers in the future arranging to present the work of local playwrights in the towns we’ve toured. I look forward to being in the audience when that happens!

An Arts Court Update from the City of Ottawa

I know there’s no causal link between my post yesterday on Arts Court and this document – heck, I’m writing this from Ireland so am definitely just a distant observer – but there is clearly a hunger for information about what’s going on at Arts Court. Those involved with the issue at the city appear to understand this and have issued the following document, which I saw after Lynn Cox posted it on the Facebook group I mentioned yesterday.

Arts Court Update

The document certainly goes some way to answering the kinds of questions that are out there, although some of the answers are very plainly of the “Stay tuned – we’ll let you know” variety.

Of note, as Riley Stewart observed in a comment yesterday, is that the City plans to issue a “Request for Proposal from the local not for profit arts sector” in September to run the facility, and there is a nod to the need for consultation with the arts community going forward.

In particular, the City will be hosting “an informal information session” on Friday, September 7 at 10 am in the Arts Court Library.  I expect quite a few people will want to attend, though I imagine some who would like to go may be unable to get off work to do so. I plan to go – what questions would people like to have addressed?

What’s New at Arts Court?

What’s new at Arts Court?

No one seems to know.

It’s been some months since the serious challenges facing the facility became known, as I’ve discussed in an earlier post, and it’s been a month since staff were let go and the Ottawa Arts Court Foundation officially announced its demise.

So now what’s happening?

Um.

It’s been awfully quiet, with no real news about how the facility might be managed in the future or what’s going to happen to the proposed new addition to the facility. Which leads many people to assume that no news is bad news.

The theatre has been meeting its existing commitments through the summer – “My Name is Asher Lev” opens tonight for a run through August 25th – and the City of Ottawa proclaims that it’s available for rental after September 1, though there’s no information about who’s actually managing the place and there’s certainly no news about what’s happening to the capital project.

The arts community continues to ask questions – there’s a Facebook group called the Phoenix Project, for example – and there’s a petition calling on the city to ensure that the facility remain accessible to users.

And there are various rumors with varying degrees of credibility as to potential white knights who might step in to save the day.

So what’s really going on?

Anyone?

Hello?

Galatea in Belfast

Galatea (Northern Ireland)The Sole Purpose tour of Galatea opened in Belfast on Friday, and – biased as I am – I thoroughly enjoyed the production. Patricia Byrne first presented the play in Derry last summer as part of Foyle Pride, where it sold out the Derry Playhouse, and decided to take it on tour this year.

To kick off the tour, Pat decided to open in Belfast, and to do so in conjunction with Belfast Pride at a wonderful new venue, Upstairs at the MAC. The production has evolved a bit since last year. One of the four actors was unavailable, and the new fellow did very well indeed. Pat introduced a couple of interesting new touches, including some fun musical references to “My Fair Lady” and some bits of business that fleshed out the characters a bit more.

As for the actors, the veterans all seemed more comfortable with their roles – they really seem to have become better acquainted with the characters – while the new guy brought an entirely new spin to the character of Harry. This is one of the bits about theatre I always enjoy: different productions see new and varied things in the scripts. But in this case, Glen Tilley’s interpretation of Harry was a bit harder and sharper. (Last year, Frank Rafferty’s interpretation was of a sadder, more hesitant and “older” man.) I think both versions work perfectly well and highlight different aspects of the character.

Of course, when there’s a new actor and a new version of the character, then the relationships have to adjust as well. And the other three actors (two, really, as Alex Wilson’s Freddie never really crosses paths with Harry) step up and adjust accordingly.

Pride is a big-deal good time in Belfast – over 20,000 at the parade and festival in a city of half a million – with mothers giving their young kids rainbow flags to wave and little old ladies smiling and dancing to the music. (The very few people protesting Pride – no more than a dozen – were confined to a small fenced-in area in front of City Hall and surrounded by police officers.) So in a city like this, it’s no surprise that the audience at the MAC was very warmly supportive of the production. The tour now moves to a couple of smaller – and presumably more conservative – towns in Northern Ireland, so I will be interested to see how the show is received there.

Postscript: a friend in Belfast has passed on a local review of the production.

Upstairs at the MAC

I’m in Belfast for the opening of the Northern Ireland tour of Galatea. The tour has been put together by Sole Purpose Productions from Derry and will be playing in a number of venues across Northern Ireland during August, and thanks to support from the Canada Council I have the opportunity to spend some time with the company and observe the performances.

As I’ve been looking forward to the tour, one question on my mind has been: what would the Belfast venue be like? In a word: fantastic.

The MAC – it stands for Metropolitan Arts Centre, but no one calls it that – is a brand new facility in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter just north of the city centre. The MAC, with its motto of “selecting, creating and mixing up music, theatre, dance and art,” has instantly become an anchor in the neighborhood, which is clearly among the most vibrant in the city. It’s a thoroughly modern six-story building looking out on a little square with two theatre spaces (Downstairs, seating about 350, and Upstairs, seating about 100), as well as three galleries, a dance studio, modern rehearsal rooms, meeting spaces, offices for resident companies and artists, and a café in the lobby that seemed to be throbbing with people throughout the day during my visit.

I couldn’t help but think of Arts Court in Ottawa, of course, which aims to fill a similar function. The facility has lately been a source of some concern in the community and the foundation that ran it has been dissolved by the city, leaving the future management of the building in limbo. If and when the parties concerned solve their issues, I hope that they’ll take a look at what the MAC has done – it’s an inspiring model.

More on Galatea in my next post…

Galatea Rehearsals – The Irish Version

Galatea (Northern Ireland)Last year, Sole Purpose Productions put on a production of my play Galatea at the Playhouse in Derry, Northern Ireland. I’d had the opportunity to live in Derry while working on the script for The Lavender Railroad in 2010 and met Pat Byrne, the artistic director of Sole Purpose. She took a fancy to the script and her production in Derry was a great success – so much so that she managed to find funding and support to take the show on tour across Northern Ireland in August 2012.

Thanks to support from the Canada Council, I’m looking forward to seeing the show during its tour next month. I wish I could also join the company for its rehearsals, which recently started in Derry, but have to make do with reports from Pat and the actors involved. Sole Purpose has posted some photos from their rehearsals on Facebook. Here are two…

Micheál Kerrigan (Georgie) and Glen Tilley (Harry) in rehearsal

Damian Friel (Eli) and Alex Wilson (Freddie) in rehearsal

One of the things about the Irish production that I found fascinating was how the company made it “local.” I was able to sit in on some late rehearsals last year, which is when I first met the actors involved. None of them sounded like the people where I live, the people whose voices I might have first imagined as the characters in the play. But as I watched and listened, the Canadian tones of the play melted away and it was plain to me that this was as Irish a play as it was Canadian.

The enthusiastic response of the audience to the performance confirmed this. One individual noted that “we could sense resonance between the play and the ‘lived lives’ of the people acting in it.” I was grateful to hear this observation, because Galatea is a play about relationships, and the joys and sorrows of our loves and our relationships are a universal thing, whether in Canada or Ireland or Iran or Cambodia.

This year’s tour starts Upstairs at the MAC in Belfast on August 3, and I hope that those of you living in the vicinity have the opportunity to see the show. I’ll be posting some more of my musings and some backstage observations once I join the tour next month.

Arts Court News

Anyone involved in the Ottawa theatre scene knows how important Arts Court is – its theatre is a key performance venue and it serves as a home for many members of the community.

In recent weeks it’s been clear that the facility’s health is not at all well. There have been some faint murmurings in the media about this, including a report about a possible merger between the Arts Court Foundation and the Council for the Arts in Ottawa. But very little has been communicated to the community that uses the facility.

The best source of information that I’m aware of at the moment is a Facebook group, where there’s been some discussion and where various documents related to Arts Court have been made available. Yesterday, the following was posted to that group; in the absence of any other information, it seems to be a curious development.

This job posting went live on the City of Ottawa INTERNAL staffing site today. This means that the job is ONLY open to City employees. If you can’t find it on the City site, that is why. Anyway, it has been confirmed. Hope that clears up any confusion.

Position: Coordinator, Arts Court
Competition Number: 2012-IN-EN-50293080-01
Competition posting date: 2012.06.27, closing date: 2012.07.12
City Operations Portfolio, Parks, Recreation & Cultural Srvc Dept., Cultural & Heritage Services Branch
Primary Location: Arts Court, 2 Daly Avenue
1 Continuous FT Position – 35.00 hours/week,
Affiliation: CIPP
Salary: $38.963 to $47.411 per hour
Salary: $70,912.66 to $86,288.02 annually (2011 rates of pay)
Job Summary
The Coordinator, Arts Court is responsible for leading, developing and managing business objectives of a multi-disciplinary
arts facility, overseeing the operational and fiscal management of the theatre’s facilities; leading, developing and managing
partner operated theatre and arts facilities; assisting the Portfolio Manager, Community Arts and Creative Arts Programs, with
programming strategy, artistic direction and theatre operations, including the presentation of local, national and international
artists, community relations and support of local performing arts organizations.
Responsible for the execution, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all legal agreements and contracts associated
with Arts Court key partner service delivery agreements (i.e. leases) and contracted services associated with the operation of
commercial spaces. Acts as the City’s representative and liaison on many concerns and matters related to the operations of
Arts Court.
The Coordinator, Arts Court acts as the spokesperson for Arts Court and liaises and builds relationships with community
partners, government officials, and the private sector and industry associations; develops opportunities for artistic creation,
expression and exhibition and presentation locally; seeks out and proposes possible financial support opportunities from
other levels of government and private sources to fund programs, endowment and capital projects; supports the
implementation of the Cultural Services division’s strategies in relation to Arts Court and the operations of the work unit and
management of financial and human resources.
Education & Experience
Honours Degree in Arts (Theatre, Music, Fine Arts), Arts Administration or a related discipline.
Minimum of four years arts facility management and supervisory experience.
* Experience and formal training combined with demonstrated performance and ability may substitute for stipulated
academic requirements.
Language, Certificates & Licenses
– The successful candidate will be required to complete a Criminal Record
Check to the City of Ottawa’s satisfaction.
– Designated – specific level of language proficiency:
– French oral, reading
– English oral, reading, writing.
– Candidates who do not meet language requirements will be required to
participate in training.
Knowledge, Competencies & Skills
– General management and supervisory principles and practices
– Curatorial principles of arts programming
– Human resources management including labour relations and volunteer
management
– Financial and Risk Management including contractual agreements
– Performing arts disciplines and the presenting industry
– Facility and event management
– Box Office management
– Marketing principles and practices
– Fundraising principles and methods
– Development of policies and procedures
– Theatrical production including technology, procedures and practices
– Laws and legislation pertaining to licensing, privacy, freedom of
information, copyrights and royalties
– Health and safety legislation and practices, including those for the
live performance industry
– Relevant government department, community agencies and associations
including the Department of Canadian Heritage, Canada Council, Ontario
Arts Council, Theatre Ontario, Canadian Arts Presenting Association,
Community Cultural Impresarios
– Program development and evaluation
– Working knowledge of working agreements for performers and technicians
including IATSE, ACTRA, Canadian Actors Equity Association and Musicians
Unions
– Knowledge of corporate, department and branch policies and procedures
– Must possess the training, experience and knowledge to organize the work
and its performance
– Must be familiar with all applicable health and safety legislation, have
knowledge of any potential or actual danger to health or safety in the
work place, and have knowledge of appropriate actions to be taken in
order to ensure the health and safety of staff in accordance with
applicable legislation and City policies and procedures
– Demonstrated ability to lead and inspire others into action
– A facilitator with excellent presentation skills including public
speaking
– Excellent oral, written and listening skills
– Sound judgment and decision-making skills
– Ethical with strong negotiation and mediation skills
– Skilled advocate
– Ability to build and maintain successful relationships and partnerships
– Ability to identify realistic goals and deliver outcomes
– Delegates effectively and appropriately, setting challenging but
realistic goals and deadlines
– Ability to handle multiple large projects simultaneously and effectively
– Demonstrated success designing and developing programs
– Ability to establish appropriate policies, guidelines and procedures

Thoughts and comments welcome…

Looking for a playwright

My friends at Jer’s Vision, who have been staging readings of my play Ex Cathedra for high school students, are looking for a playwright to work on an upcoming project. They’re hosting a four day forum, “Dare to Stand Out,” for youth aged 14-17 in December 2012 covering topics such as hepatitis C, sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections, and how discrimination can lead to the transmission of these conditions.

They’d like to include some dramatic readings as part of their programming – and in particular want pieces that can be read by the youth who are participating in the forum. So they’re looking for a playwright who would like to help. If you’re interested, send a proposal (no more than one page) describing your experience and your interest in the project to [email protected] by July 15, 2012. If you have any questions, please contact Loresa at the email listed above or at 613-400-1875.

An honorarium will be provided.

The Show Must Go On

Last night was my first opportunity to see a performance of Ex Cathedra at the Ottawa Fringe. While I’d had the chance to chat from time to time with the folks putting it on and did sit in on their tech rehearsal, this was going to be my first chance to see how they interpreted the play.

Alas, fate does sometimes intervene, and one of the two actors is unable to perform due to illness. I imagine no one is more troubled by this than she is – after all that work and time, to be stuck in a sickbed is surely the last place she wants to be, and I do hope she’s better soon.

But what do you do when half of your cast can’t perform? This is Fringe, after all, and no one has the resources for understudies. And yet, as the saying goes, the show must go on!

To their credit, Troupe de la Lune has found someone to step in as a kind of understudy, and although she’s had minimal time to prepare the company was able to offer a perfectly fine “dramatic reading” of the script – and honestly, it was easy to forget after about twenty seconds that anyone was reading from a script.

Were there certain subtle nuances missing? Of course – these come out of the rehearsal process and the luxury of time to digest the script and consider the meaning of the lines. But in my own rather unscientific sample of the audience who were present last night, it was clear that people got the point of the play and were perfectly forgiving of an unfortunate situation; it would take quite the curmudgeon to feel otherwise!

So kudos to the company for figuring out how to keep going – after all, the show must go on!

Did you see one of the dramatic readings? What did you think?