How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Friends of mine who are teachers are either busily preparing for the new school year or, in some cases, already well into it. (The idea of going back to school while it’s still August puzzles and depresses me.) For myself, I actually cannot recall writing an essay about how I spent my summer vacation away back in my own school days, but I suppose this might just be a suppressed memory.

Now, observant readers may have noticed a dearth of postings lately. (The crowds of those who didn’t notice I try not to think about.) This was a conscious choice, coming after a busy season with plays both old and new, and in anticipation of what promises to be another busy year ahead. On the one hand, I needed to focus my attention on a number of things that are not related to theatre or writing; on the other, my principal activity that was related to theatre and writing over the summer has been, well, writing. Writing new work (chiefly my new play at Thousand Islands Playhouse), and writing proposals for some new projects.

Writing about this kind of writing is probably not very interesting to read, but as my teacher friends prepare their lesson plans I’m realizing there are a few choice bits to share from the summer, and I’ll be posting these over the next little while as a way of ramping up to the new season ahead.

World Theatre Day 2013

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The Gladstone Theatre team with the Rubber Chicken Award

Yesterday was World Theatre Day, and Ottawa’s Company of Fools once again organized the Ottawa Theatre Challenge to mark the occasion. I was approached by Nicholas Amott, a young actor of my acquaintance, to join him as a competitor in the challenge.

The way it works is this: each team is given 48 hours to prepare a five-minute play using three “objects of inspiration” that have been randomly assigned among the theatre companies involved. This year’s objects comprised a song, an object from someone’s house (not necessarily a household object), and a proverb. Nick and I were assigned the song “Seasons of Love” from Rent, a lucky penny, and the Russian proverb “Hope Dies Last.”

The Challenge, hosted by Teri Loretto, who has just finished directing my play False Assumptions, is great fun and gives Ottawa’s theatre community a welcome excuse to come together and celebrate our common passion to create. It’s also generally a very silly evening – which is what you might expect when it’s run by the Fools, bribes for judges Natalie Joy Quesnel, Patrick Gauthier and Eric Coates are heartily encouraged, and the prize for the winner is the coveted Rubber Chicken Award. All proceeds go to a charity chosen by the previous year’s winner – in this case, the ALS Society of Canada.

Part of the fun for me was the delight in being on stage for a change – usually I’m tucked safely away backstage somewhere – and I thought I detected a few gasps of astonishment from the audience at the National Arts Centre’s Fourth Stage when I made my way into the spotlight. But it was also a joy to see what the other 14 companies were inspired to bring to the stage, and it was a real delight to see the Gladstone Theatre team win the rubber chicken for their inspiring Finnish homage to Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. (Their version, which I hope someone captured on video, is a truly profound complement – and compliment – to the version I saw in Ireland last year.)

So kudos to the Fools for making this happen, and congratulations to the Gladstone for their well-earned victory!

(And for those who might be wondering: Nick and I did walk away with the “Worst Presentation of Bribe” award, an achievement we are both happy to wear with pride.)

A theatre commons at Arts Court

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Natalie Joy Quesnel and Kevin Waghorn in the Arts Court Theatre

For venue rental information, click here.

I had the chance to sit down recently with Natalie Joy Quesnel and Kevin Waghorn of ithe Ottawa Fringe Festival in their new-ish offices down the hall from the theatre at Arts Court. They took over as managers of the space on January 1 and were eager to share their plans for the facility. As readers will recall, the demise last year of the Ottawa Arts Court Foundation raised concerns in the theatre community about the future of the facility. Happily, the new system seems to be working smoothly so far and theatre bookings for the year are off to a very strong start – which serves as a reminder to how much demand there is for performance space in Ottawa.

Kevin has primary responsibility for looking after the theatre, as well as related Arts Court spaces (the studio next door, as well as the multi-use Library and the Courtroom), which includes taking care of bookings as well as whatever maintenance and upgrades the facilities need. Funding for operations comes from the City as part of its contract with Fringe, but Kevin says that for any major capital upgrades Fringe will have to seek funding in the same manner as any other venue operator. That said, the City was able to provide Fringe with a one-time grant of $11,000, and after an assessment of current deficiencies Fringe decided to invest principally in new sound equipment for the theatre. According to Kevin, this was the best way to make a noticeable improvement for users of the space with the funds available. (Upgrades to lighting equipment, while also necessary, will need significantly greater funding. This is one of the things Fringe is looking at for the future.)

One thing explicitly excluded from the contract between Fringe and the city is the proposed addition to the Arts Court building to be constructed on the Waller Street side of the property. It looks like the new space will be devoted primarily to the Ottawa Art Gallery, with performance, rehearsal and studio space attached to the University of Ottawa theatre department.

From the client’s perspective, using the venue should be a seamless experience. Fringe does not have responsibility for other facilities within the Arts Court building, however, so there could be a few problems that the city managers involved with the venue would have to solve. A current example is the elevator leading to the theatre, which hasn’t been working recently – it’s a city responsibility, but it’s still unavailable to anyone who’s booked the theatre and needs to move large items. It does look like Fringe and the city are working well to fix these kinds of issues as they arise. Similarly, box office services are provided directly by the city, though users are not obliged to use them.

The Festival is about to announce three new full-time hires (general manager, technical director, and marketing and communications coordinator), all of whom will be spending much of their time on Arts Court business as well as the festival. In particular, the marketing coordinator will be tasked with making Arts Court a go-to destination and with helping clients booking the theatre in their own efforts at marketing and media attention. These activities will be directed at both the anglophone and francophone theatre communities.

The contract between Fringe and the city runs for the current calendar year with an option to renew for two years. This will give Fringe the time both to manage the venues on a day-to-day basis and to use their experience to plan for the longer term health of the theatre and its associated spaces. The Festival and the city are also committed to working together to ensure that the venue management and festival management functions run smoothly together.

Over the longer term, Fringe wants to develop Arts Court as a kind of theatre commons – not just a venue to be rented for performances but a place where theatre artists can regularly run into each other, trade “water-cooler chat,” and develop a genuine sense of community. GCTC offers a bit of this in the west end of town, especially during a festival like undercurrents, but the gap downtown is palpable. One way to make this happen that’s under consideration could be a revival of the concept of resident theatre companies. As Kevin pointed out, when the opportunity to manage the Arts Court facilities came up last year, the Fringe realized how well it would mesh with their own strategic vision to help theatre artists with year-round mentorship and support.

Both Kevin and Natalie Joy acknowledge that there’s been a bit of an information gap about Arts Court in recent months. For their part, they wanted to make sure they had everything in order before speaking publicly about their activities, so with the hiring process now almost complete they’re looking forward to making their official announcements by the end of the month and holding a launch event in March. Something to look forward to!

Meanwhile at Arts Court…

It’s been quiet lately on the Arts Court front, but I did want to note that the City of Ottawa has now released its Request for Proposals for managing and operating the theatre space “within the current conditions, appropriate funding levels and mandate.” The term of the contract would be for the calendar year 2013 with an option to renew.

The city’s document notes that in 2011 the Arts Court Theatre was used for a total of 151 days (3,683 hours), hosting 22 productions and 5 festivals and serving audiences “in excess of 10,172.” (I’m not quite sure what that means, exactly. 10,173?)

The deadline for submitting a proposal is 3 pm on Monday, November 19.

Meanwhile, the city is continuing with its plans for the $39-million Arts Court expansion, which is expected to focus largely on new space for the Ottawa Art Gallery. As reported recently in the Ottawa Citizen, there’s talk of new theatre facilities being built by the University of Ottawa for its theatre department as part of the new complex. However, this would presumably be a U of O space to complement its Academic Hall and Léonard Beaulne Studio theatres and as such would not be run by Arts Court, the city, or the future Arts Court Theatre operator.

Galatea Coda

Although my reason for being in Ireland this month was to join the tour of “Galatea,” I was hoping I might also have the opportunity to see a bit of someone else’s theatre as well. So after my show closed in Derry, I made my way to the town of Enniskillen, not too far from Sligo, home to the new “Happy Days” Samuel Beckett festival. (The playwright went to school in the town.) There I saw Robert Wilson‘s production of Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape,” which he has been touring for the last few years; this was his only Irish appearance.

Idiosyncratic and brilliant, it draws its audience in with a stupendously loud crash of thunder and an extended rainstorm on a monochromatic set that tells you this performance will not be a brief one. Krapp appears in whiteface. He moves about the stage slowly. He eats a banana, and then another one. And then, after an eternity of moments has passed, he speaks.

This is theatre that is unabashedly theatrical, and it is remarkable to watch Wilson, who is now 70 years old – about Krapp’s age, come to think of it – carry it with such aplomb. The enthusiastic applause from the audience suggests that he hit his mark perfectly, and on emerging from his black and white world into the wildly green Irish countryside all I could do was try and process what I’d seen.

Wilson’s website offers additional images from the production. Of course, they don’t do justice to the show, but they do give a small sense of what it’s like. If it should be playing somewhere nearby, go see it!

From Enniskillen I made my way to Dublin, where I paid a visit to the Smock Alley Theatre, tucked in a tiny road on the edge of Temple Bar off the river Liffey. The Smock Alley prides itself on being one of the oldest theatres  in the English-speaking world, having been established in 1662 after the restoration of Charles II,like the Drury Lane in London.

I had seen shows there in years past, but this was my first chance to see what the place looked like since a major refurbishment that was completed earlier this year. As it happens, a young new company called Ramblinman was offering a production of Sam Shepard’s “True West,” which I thought would be fun to see. (Last year, I saw a production of “The Curse of the Starving Class” at the Abbey.)  It seems that in Dublin as in Ottawa recent graduates from acting programs find that the most opportune way to get on stage is to produce. In this instance the actors brought great enthusiasm, talent and energy to the play, and though one could quibble about certain choices they or the director made I found myself excited that they were having a go, and if I were living in Dublin I’d be very interested to see what they come up with next.

Finally, a friend suggested that I indulge in a midday excursion to the National Concert Hall – largely because the first item on the program was The Beautiful Galathea by Suppé.  The concert was delightful – a fitting coda for the tour.

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?

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…

Hate Radio

Chilling.

Mesmerizing.

A play about Rwanda and the radio station RTLM that incited its listeners to genocide. It is a quiet play for the most part: survivors who bear witness to what happened and an hour of otherwise banal radio, except for the subject matter from the soothingly conversational chatter of the radio voices.

It’s a powerful production, a stellar example of what theatre can do. All the more so whilst in Berlin after visiting the Holocaust memorial, itself a brilliant monument down the street from the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag.

More on the production here (English PDF).

At the Theatertreffen in Berlin

I’m in Berlin at the annual Theatertreffen theatre festival, where I’ve had the opportunity to see a wide variety of shows – different companies offering different kinds of performances, tackling different kinds of subjects, offering different kinds of styles … and yet I’ve observed a few features that seem to be there consistently across all these productions. Herewith a few of them:

  • People shout a lot. Not just project their voices, not just raise them in a heightened emotional state. They shout. They rant. They rave. And they wander around the stage while they do it. (Okay, sometimes, they sit in one place.)
  • It rains. I don’t know how expensive it is to handle all that plumbing, but it sure rains a lot in these shows. Global warming?
  • Someone is going to make a point of eating something to express some deep emotional meaning. It might be dirt. It might be a raw potato.
  • Someone, male or female, is going to be wearing a stunning pair of stilettos.
  • Someone is going to get something smeared across his or her chest, face, or other body parts. It might be food, it might be blood, it might be excrement.
  • Someone, usually a man, is going to be reduced to his underwear. And as often as not it’s going to be girlie underwear, too.
  • Someone, usually a man, is going to be subjected to (simulated!) involuntary coitus with another man.
  • The curtain call is going to take a very, very long time.