To be clear we didn’t win a trophy. We didn’t stand a chance because we didn’t enter a production in the festival. So why did VOS THEATRE send representatives to an awards brunch that could not possibly result in a shiny token as evidence of merit?
VOS Theatre has never attended the EODL Awards Brunch even though we’ve been members for as long as we can remember. It might make for a more interesting blog post if we could allude to a politically driven boycott or a competition in days gone by that saw us shut out through backroom conspiracy. But the boring truth is every year we’re getting ready for a matinee for our spring musical when they’re serving up the Eggs Benny.
This year, having decided to take a break in the spring to focus on our work with the Ruth Harcort Memorial Scholarship, we were free to send some representatives to show our support for the work the competing groups have done this past season.
The truth is, we’ve NEVER entered a play in the competition. We’ve always been more about the adjudication than the trophy (though we must admit they have some pretty cool trophies) and we’ve had a hard time wrapping our heads around how the winner finds the energy to remount their show at a new location months after it has closed. (We’ll talk to Pat Maitland and her team from Peterborough Theatre Guild, Winners of Best Production Born Yesterday after they perform at the Theatre Ontario Festival in Oshawa in May. Our congratulations by the way!)
In keeping with this philosophy, it’s not surprising that we found the most valuable part of the awards experience to be the Adjudicator’s Opening Remarks. Sure, it was great to be free of nerves, as we had nothing on the line, so we could sit back and really observe and listen but we were surprised at the importance of what we took away. This year’s festival Adjudicator Bea Quarrie’s Opening Remarks motivated us, filled us with energy and made us participants in the event instead of merely observers.
Anytime you have the opportunity to discuss art and theatre with Bea you are auditing a Master Class. The truly impressive thing is she teaches through example; she walks the walk. While her resume should intimidate even the most experienced pros, you seldom hear about her accomplishments. They are rather, selective pieces of a puzzle you pick up in casual conversation.
She is about the team, about “breaking barriers,” an inclusive and open creative conversation that makes you brave. Even the most egocentric community theatre naval gazers (and every group has ’em) are awarded a gracious way out in that she offers alternatives that are so rich in reward they just have to stop looking at their own bellies and lift their heads to, as Bea says, “focus outward”. Then the work of moving from “small theatre” to “great theatre” can begin.
We can’t share the eggs and bacon from the buffet brunch and you’ll have to take our word for the fun we had watching the smiles of accomplishment on the faces of the winners, but we can share with you Bea’s Opening Remarks. They’re important.
The more we are self involved and focused on ourselves, the less interesting we become. Actors, directors, designers and yes, producing companies need to be generous- and courageous not just with funding but in spirit. Attention must be focused outwardly not so much on what one is feeling but on what one is trying to accomplish.
Read all of Bea’s remarks at this link:
EODL Spring Festival 2015 – Opening Remarks from Bea Quarrie
Oh! One more thing. In a conversation with Brandon Moore, Communications Co-ordinator for Theatre Ontario, we have learned that should groups choose not to enter the festival they can still reap the benefits of an adjudication to facilitate growth in future productions. You can be connected with a professional in the Theatre Ontario Talent Bank. Good to know moving forward.
Since November, I have been riding around the province looking at productions from Brockville, Cobourg, Prince Edward County, Belleville, Kingston, Peterborough and Ottawa. These have been very diverse plays, from Christmas regulars to Canadian classics.
And now we are here, in Cobourg, our work done and time to kick up our heels. And we should celebrate with this slow coming Spring, because it is finally time. Time to ask ourselves why do we do Community Theatre? Lots of hard work, people bicker, actors get sick, sets are not ready, tickets are not selling…. and we have worked sooooooo hard, we made difficult choices, sacrificed family time and money, bribed others to come on board, rejoiced in our successes and reflected on missed opportunities. We have communed together in the secular churches of our theatre space because we love this ephemeral art called live theatre. We have aspired to create meaningful experiences for participants on both sides of the stage.
Theatre, professional or amateur, is really about aspirations, about longing and the desire to find answers. Small theatre concerns itself with small questions while great theatre with the big Universals.
Small theatre is not the size of the company but the size of its aspirations. Small theatre asks so little of actors and directors, perhaps because we have little expectation of ourselves in this age of anxiety and multiple distractions. We are obsessed with our iPhones, our selfies, our tweets… and have created whole industries devoted to our “happiness,” our well being, our need to fill the VOID with instant gratification. And all that makes for weak acting and weak theatre.
The more we are self involved and focused on ourselves, the less interesting we become. Actors, directors. designers and yes, producing companies need to be generous- and courageous not just with funding but in spirit. Attention must be focused outwardly not so much on what one is feeling but on what one is trying to accomplish.
Effective, organic actors upon whom the burden falls of making plays come to life, these actors must have abundant generosity and courage- two rare attributes which our current national hypochondria render in miniscule supply and rate in even lower esteem. WE should not be concerned with niceties, we need not be concerned with giving offence. We are on a mission and we demand that audiences pay attention. If we can connect with them through our courage and gusto, then they will not stay home and watch Netflix but will choose to have an exciting experience with us, maybe even participate on or backstage!
For all that to work, YOU, the participating actors/directors sitting here today, are charged with bringing desire rather than completion, will rather than emotion to the stage. In the end your productions will be compared not to ART but to LIFE; and when the audiences leave after the show, they will speak of their lives, hopefully, rather than your technique or your staging. They will not go home humming the set! The difference then between what you bring to the passionate delivery of each play and what some others might bring to less meaningful fluff is the difference between a rousing fire and one LED bulb. Let us not sink to low level ennertainment with no T for theatre!!
And really folks, lets face it. Current audiences sometimes demand very little of their actors, directors, playwrights: a continual portrayal and repetition of the idea that nothing very much is happening around us, that we need not worry even in the current climate of fear and suspicion. Audiences have asked of the actors that they repeat to us constantly that it is OK to laugh when not amused, to cry when not moved, to beam gratitude upon the unacceptably dumb and vapid-sometimes salacious TV shows, to condone the unforgivable, to express delight in the banal. Most performances then are false and mechanical, but this is by no means a coincidence, it is a sign that our society is demanding that its creative people repeat the catechism essential to our tenuous mental health- that nothing is happening, that nothing very bad will befall us and that we are SAFE.
Look at all the disclaimers we now have to post!!
Perhaps once actors, directors,designers are not feeling the great fear of censure or misunderstanding that the bums in seats mentality dictates, and they feel supported by their group 100%, then there is some hope that the tide of our unhappy inward turning time has turned and we are once again prepared to take a good hard look at ourselves.
For me, these last few months have been filled with discoveries about the groups working away in pockets all over Eastern Ontario. I rejoice in the courage they have shown when they cast aside concerns for comfort on stage and try new and challenging things. I am encouraged when I see the joy that comes from their finding the power rather than the fear when faced with the necessity of artistic choice. I am heartened when they find the life-giving pleasure this involvement means to them, no matter what on stage or backstage role they take on whether it is a splendidly silly farce or a deeply moving tragedy.
For all this we need courage in abundance, both personal and collective. I know it exists in EODL because I have seen it in each company.
I want to thank each group for your hospitality, for returning Community to Community Theatre, for trusting that the gift of your performances will be gratefully received no matter how complex the material.
If theatre is the coming together of all the arts, then I thank each and every company for returning all those arts to life!