Some Specifics of Site-Specific Theatre (Part 2): LOGISTICS

(Music) Since this video seems like we are supposed to be talking about what it means to be a
site-specific theatre company and all the considerations you have to make. I don’t think we intended to be a site-specific
theatre company. We kind of started with this idea, with a
shed and we just wanted to try something and when we kind of lucked or stumbled into that
process, we were fascinated by it and wanted to keep pushing in that direction, so we continued
to seek out spaces that excite us, spaces that have their own stories within them, but
being labelled as site-specific theatre company is kind of an interesting thing. There’s lots of different ideas of what site-specific
means and we kind of learned this after the fact, because we didn’t really know much about
those labels before hand. So there’s lots of different versions. There’s environmental theatre, which is like,
you do Midsummer Night’s Dream in a forest, or Treasure Island on an island and there’s
found theatre, which is essentially just using a space that is not traditionally a theatre. There’s promenade theatre which can be anything
from a passion play to, I think, Sleep No More even qualifies under promenade, it’s
just the audience moves. So there’s all these like, intellectual categories
for site-specific theatre, but we don’t particularly care or need to subscribe to any one of them
or look at it from any kind of academic standpoint, we just are really inspired by space and we
like the space to be a character in the story and we don’t think there is any benefit in
really kind of boxing ourselves in in any one of those things, we just get a lot of
creative input from the space and we like to honour that when we’re creating a project. To add too, I guess, I know a lot of people
who are watching this video are like, you know, an emerging company or maybe you’re
just thinking about starting a company, but we really didn’t settle on a mandate or mission
or what the heck we were doing until… well we kind of figured it out after we did our
first show, and then… So that was like one point in the space. And then we had the Birth of Frankenstein
show, where we had another and we’re like okay, we just did two kind of classic stories
and we were never in a real traditional theatre venue with neither one. So what we’re doing has been refined now with
our new production coming up this fall, Brave New World we’re like okay, now we have three
points of space and we’re defining it as we go along So, you’re starting a new theatre company,
you just do a show that you want to do, in a space that you want to do it in and then,
you know, as for us, it emerged to what our mandate was, what excited us about this particular
style of theatre. Yeah, I think that one thing I wanted to bring up is that when we started, we didn’t know it at the time, but starting in the shed was
a real gift. I think a lot of times, you come out, you want
to work at the festivals, like Fringe or Summerworks, or you want to rent a backspace at Tarragon
or Factory or Theatre Passe Muraille because those seem affordable and they seem like they
would be professional, you’d be under the roof of a professional theatre, but often
you’re stretching your budget in a way that doesn’t necessarily suit you. Like, we wanted space that was ours, that
we could rehearse in, that we could have control over and even if it meant working obviously
working in this ridiculous backyard shed, but it was ours and we could control, we really
learned to make it ours, instead of at the last minute throwing a show that we had been
rehearsing somewhere into a professional venue and I think that served us well. We didn’t do it deliberately, but in hindsight,
it’s having unique access to a space has become a priority for the company and I think it’s
been one of the factors that has been serving us the best. (Off screen): Question: so when you guys are
like just going around your regular life and you stumble upon a space, do you suddenly
like oh, what show could we do here? Or do you walk into a space, you’re like,
oh, this is where this show would live. Or is it like, you have this show in your
brain and you’re just kind of like wandering around and you’re like, Oh maybe it could
fit here, maybe it could fit there? So is it the space or the play, or both? Like, we have a long list of… we kind of
keep a long list of stories that we have encountered at multiple points in our life and they kind
of hang in the back of our heads. I like to think of it as the stories that
inform your understanding of the world and you come back to them. And then we just look for spaces all the time,
we love space so, for whatever reason. Like Open Doors Toronto is like a great playground
for us, we can just go roam around things. You’re always looking at stuff. Yeah, like sometimes we’ll just email each
other or like text each other, like uh, I just stumbled upon.. around this space, you
should really check it out. We send each other photos of them and do try
to keep like a list of all the different locations and list of where and we think about what
could happen. So, one thing we started to talk about was
the idea of working space for us as kind of being backwards to the traditional process,
I mean traditional process is either a playwright is commissioned to write, they start with
a blank page and they build, they create stuff, they generate Then designers start with the blank set, they
build, they generate, they build a world upon that based on the ideas of the playwright. And what we kind of stumbled into with our
shed experiment was the idea of, it’s almost like it’s backwards because you have a full
story, Macbeth we started with, and they had a full space like a full set design and what
it actually ended up being was we were pulling things out, so it was almost a stripping away,
it was a sculpting, it was… So the shed, we looked at all the junk in
it and we went that’s not in the world, that’s not in the world and then we kept some things
that probably shouldn’t have been in the world, there was this amazing stove that Adriano
found lots of fun use for in the play, so we had to keep it. There’s lots of, what else was there? Milk crates. You have the milk crates, the… uh, it was
a garage, right, so the door itself into it was one of those creaky, metal ones that (squeek)
when you opened it and we used that to create effect for big entrances. So, I mean, this is kind of an extension of
the space, but it was also for that particular show the things that we found in that particular
room so that we decided to keep in there, which added, I think, to the whole character
of both the play and the space. And so it also applied to the script. We have Macbeth, which is probably, I think
it’s one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays, but it still probably lands at about two and
a half, three hours if you did it all. And so, working with four actors and this
tiny space, a lot of the play just no longer made sense. So I talked about it as being, the shed, acting
as a wood chipper to the script, and you’re just like pushing it through and seeing what’s
still remained and so, the space really told me how we were going to tell this with the
three actors. I mean the three actors played the witches
and one played Macbeth, the witches played all the other characters so it really came from the
space. And so that was something we didn’t go in
to do intentionally, but we learned from that first experiment and we have been applying
that to our process kind of going forward and I love working that way, the sense of
like sculpting away rather than having to… I find blank pages and blank blackbox
spaces really kind of intimidating cause the opportunities are endless. Whereas if you work with a quirky space it
tells you a lot, it just, it gives you a lot of gifts. It gives you a lot of challenges, but it gives
you a lot of gifts too. And that’s one of the things, I think, working
with constraints, so I mean if you were working in like the blackbox theatre, you know the
designers might, or the team, the design team might put in the constraint of we’re gonna,
you know do this during early 19th Century or something like that and we put that on. But with us, you know we enter a space, okay
what does this space tell us about the era, what does this tell us about a supernatural
element, does it feel supernatural to us? Do we feel like we are above ground, below
ground? What is the natural lighting coming in telling
us about that? So we let those types of things kind of naturally
inform our minds and we make decisions based on that. One of the things you need is a park permit. So there are all of these different requirements
that you have to comply with to get this permit. It includes a waste plan if you’re planing
to sell food or beverages, how are you going to get rid of all the garbage. We don’t really do that so it’s not an issue
for us, but it does involve bathrooms, which is one that we’ve really struggled with because
there are washrooms in Withrow park, but they close before our show ends. So that’s a tricky one we’ve had to deal with
and this year we’re actually renting a porta potty for the first time because at the end
of the night, some of our audience members maybe don’t feel like they can make it all
the way to the Tim Horton’s at Logan and Danforth and it just feels like if we are inviting
people into a space, we should offer them at least the very basic amenities, even if
the park can’t offer that which unfortunately, I guess due to just cut, funding cuts, they
can’t. So, you know, there are all of these logistical
things to think about. The other thing is that we have a set and
props and lighting. We don’t use audio equipment, but we do use
lighting because it gets dark by the end of the night. So performing in a park is unlike any other
space I have ever performed in. It is full of variables that you can’t control
and that are incredibly unpredictable and that require you to be really present to deal
with and, you know, the uncertainty of nature kind of provides that uncertainty that I think a lot of us strive for in the theatre. We go to the theatre to see something real,
to see something that we can’t necessarily pin point and, so there’s a beautiful meshing
of those concepts with nature and with this art form of theatre. The things that we contend with in this park
start with weather, which would be the same as any outdoor space, but it gets much more
specific. For example, this week, which is our tech
week, there’s another company putting on a show in the park, they’re doing a dance show,
but that means that logistically we are having to share the park with them and thankfully
we have a good relationship with this company and we’ve been sharing the park for years,
but it makes for a very unconventional and sort of unusual tech schedule. Apart from that there are animals. The other night we were putting things away
and suddenly we looked into the tree and there were two racoons, a mummy racoon and a little
baby raccoon sort of staring at us, wondering when we were going to get out of their park. There are dogs, there’s a huge dog park there
so we see dogs and their owners all the time. Our first season we had a dog in the show,
we did the two gentleman of Verona, and so we had doggie auditions done through the Withrow Park dog society. So, you know, as much as those uncertain elements
can be hard to contend with sometimes, the flip side of that is that you get to be in
nature, right in the heart of the city. You know, you get to spend a summer surrounded
by trees and getting to know your neighbours and seeing, you know the other day Joan and
Chocolate walked by, Joan is the owner, Chocolate is the dog, Chocolate was in our show in 2012
and it was a joyful reunion, I hadn’t seen them in a year since last summer. And so, you have all of these added benefits. We have park kids we like to call them, it’s
a group of four kids, they’re all under 5 and they come to the park every day with their
caretakers and they come and watch rehearsals and we know their names and they know our
names and they sometimes weigh in on what they’re seeing. Our director this year Megan has asked them
at times, what they think is happening to kind of assess the clarity of a moment. And so, you know, we have all of these things
that happen that you have to roll with it and the more you can allow those things to
affect and inform the work, in a productive way, the more you’re being site-specific,
you know that’s what that means. I mean we perform here, there’s a beautiful
path right behind us that every kid learns to bike on. The amount of kids we have seen wipe out on
this path is enough to kind of make you want to put training wheels on every bicycle in
the world, but we also get to see these kids have these amazing moments of taking a big
risk in their lives and that kind of inspires us as actors and as creators to do the same. So… (laughs) So, um, you know, the site-specific
nature of Withrow Park is also what makes us who we are because this is where we perform. And so, you know, we have learned to embrace
it, it doesn’t mean there aren’t moments when I want to just build a ceiling and walls and
be inside and not have all of these variables, but the more we embrace them, the more everything
is lifted, so we try to do that. And I think that that exists on two levels. The first one is that the story really gets
you, so for us we always start with the story and then through the story we find the location,
the casting and everything like that. But it always starts, it’s story-based. And I guess like specifically story and more
specifically, the script, I mean maybe that’s obvious, but like, up until Vitals, the work
that we did was all… American. American playwrights. Stuff that has already been published. So Passion Play, Mr. Marmalade, Terminus and
all non – not Canadian. So, Vitals, was our first original Canadian
production. That was huge and scary and it was written
by Rosamund Small, who’s, I think at that time was twenty-one. A twenty-one year old playwright, which was
so cool. So I think that, the first thing was finding
the story and having everything else shoot out from there. And then the second thing is a hook. Now for us the hook is something that’s like
a challenge that continuously, kinda, you know, tickles our fancy, so… But also from the producers side, something
that will sell tickets. And it’s like hard to do, you know what I
mean. (laughs)
I keep doing this. So for instance, with Mr. Burns, A post electric
play, we did the show without any electricity from the grid, but, as anybody knows when
you have restrictions on you, it creates creativity, right. As the saying goes. Frustration prolonged begets invention. So, yes. That was a little quote there for ya. So, with Vitals, I think the hook was two-fold. First it was… How is it two-fold? First it was, okay, we’re going to edit some
of this. I think it was two fold because it was … (sighs)
You want me to jump in? No, not yet. Well, I don’t know if this was a hook, but
it was our first new work. That’s a hook! It was also a one-woman show, which I go…
an immersive play that’s a one-woman show. I think that was a bit of a hook as well. Yeah, I totally agree. And we wanted to take people on a 911 call. That’s not quite… well, it is a hook. Take people on, like through the day of like
a paramedic through like one house call of a Toronto Paramedic. How can we make a tasteful, creative, interesting
911 call that’s safe for people… well, tasteful, you know like artistically tasteful. Yes, absolutely. And like that’s a huge huge challenge because
you know, we’ve all watched, you know dramas and procedural TV that’s that kind of makes
it seem really unreal, but we knew we were having real paramedics coming to see this show. We did. And there was kind of a responsibility on
the whole team to deliver an artistic, exciting project that was also true to, you know a
lot of the horrors and a lot of the challenges that these people face on a daily basis. So because we always start with our story,
we then have to go about finding a location and the process has been different for every
show. Vitals was maybe the most crazy. That’s maybe a… They all rival each other in different…
different ways Vitals had its own challenges. So, you know for instance, Mr. Marmalade,
I guess the challenge of that one was the fact that we did it in a kindergarten room
and um… In a catholic school. In a catholic, from part of the catholic school
board, so you know, if you know Mr. Marmalade, you know it’s got some pretty adult content
in it, yeah and like just really dirty talk and stuff and so we had this sort of code so while we
were rehearsing the show, if one of the board members or teachers, or custodians ever walk
by, we would this code where we’d go ehhh they’re here and we would switch to a scene
that was… Like a nice scene… the tea party scene. more family friendly because we really didn’t
want them to shut down the production. Really didn’t want them. Yeah. So with Vitals, and I guess we said like our
thought process was so, it’s a one-woman show and our thought is what do we want our audience
experience to be. Right? Yeah yeah. And in Vitals, we said, we want to take them
on the journey of one specific paramedic house call. So we said, okay we need a house. Yeah, and I mean like always there’s like
fifty other possibilities that always come up with any of these shows, so like it was
also the idea to take people around the city and go to different places, but we realized
that if we did it in one house then we could transform each of the rooms into a different
memory of this woman. And just keep it more localized. Yes, right simplify but still creative and
true to the script and the story. So we started off going, okay how do we get
a house. We started looking at rent, things for rent,
we went, we had a crazy idea where we said let’s everyone in the company move in together. Actually, like get a house and let’s have
the six of us live in a house, like make it kind of artists commune, co-op and then like… Kibbuts. (laughs)
Kibbuts, cause Mitchell is Jewish. And turn it into like, and then turn it into
the show and we can all live there in our bedrooms like with the sets and it would be
fun, and even Sebastien’s mom, who’s a real estate agent. was looking for us. Was looking into it and we were really thinking about it. (Music)

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