Thursday, March 26, 2009

Umbrella Talk with Jacob Zimmer

We have an unusual Umbrella Talk this week. Jacob Zimmer works with collective creation so when he asked to participate we weren't sure how to deal with it. Jacob's about to open Dedicated to the Revolutions, which has been a multi-year project examining the impact of scientific revolutions (Gutenberg, Copernican, Newtonian, Industrial, Darwinian, Nuclear) in our lives. I have seen a couple of the revolutions and the unique mix of lecture, play, song, audience participation and theatre is something that I really want to support.

But how to reconcile this work within the Umbrella Talk format? When I mentioned the problem, Jacob said, "we are collaborative creation - it's open and everyone brings a lot, but I'm the one to get the blame if it goes wrong, and the one to try and answer for the show... so it's not quite collective." He wanted a go at the same questions and to explain his process through them. Let us know what you think.

A little more about Jacob Zimmer

Jacob Zimmer is a dramaturge, director, writer and performer and Artistic Director of Small Wooden Shoe. Jacob also works extensively in dance as the Resident Dramaturge and Animateur at Dancemakers in Toronto and in an on-going dramaturgical collaboration with choreographer Ame Henderson/ Public Recordings. His writing has been published in Canadian Theatre Review and C Magazine and various online places. Jacob received the 2008 Ken McDougall Award for emerging directors and studied at Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts.

What do you drink on opening night?
Beer - just because it takes a while per unit. And given nerves and all it’s good to have a systems to slow down. For Dedicated though I’m going to have to wait until after since I’m actually in it.

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
I’ve always directed the work I make. I came back to “making plays” (“writing” isn’t quite the word) in university because I wanted to direct a version of Medea that didn’t exist.

And for the past 8 years or so, the plays are not literary documents, but performances created with the performers and other collaborators, so it’s impossible to separate the play from the production.

There is usually someone other than me on the outside too. It’s a nebulas but desperately important role for the work. We have yet to find an appropriate title for the role, and it’s still working out what it is, but I know that it is vital and I’d be lost without them.

For Dedicated I’ve been blessed to work with my two favorite performance directors - Brendan Healy in the development process and Ame Henderson in this final stages. They are both angels and have brought everything to the work.

What scares you? What can't you write about?

My work has never been directly personal - I tend to think about things in the social and historical fields, believing that there will be connections there. I don’t know if that’s a fear. Or maybe it’s a fear about self indulgence. Or having nothing that interesting to stay.

I’m also shy away from sexuality on stage. Curious about that.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
Maps. I’ve want to make a show about maps and cities for a long time. That might be next.

And radio - but that not an “about” - I just want to make a live-to-tape radio show that doesn’t sound like it’s live. But is. And is really good to watch live.

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)
Durational performance.

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?
Of course depends on from where it comes. Criticism usually seems valid. Except for the “That’s not theatre” variety which is just frustrating – we can have a better discussion than that. Of course it destroys me in tiny bits, but that destruction and rebuilding is one of way things are going to get better.

Praise just makes me awkward and I usually talk about the people I work with - since it’s true that they are very very good.

Where would you like your work to be produced?
I’d like to tour. I like the idea of shows having a longer life then the first run.
In Toronto, I love being at Buddies and Theatre Passe Muraille and Theatre Centre are both great to Small Wooden Shoe and the type of work we’re making.

In a geeky way I’d love to do something at the Berliner Ensemble.

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?
In terms of what goes on stage, it gets written in the room. A process improvisation followed by notes, and then sometimes I write a version of what gets said that then gets improvised on again. Some time after the show is closed (usually when required for a grant) I’ll transcribe the documentation video and call that the script.

In terms of other writing - I should leave my computer more often, since it’s turned into a giant procrastination machine. I like writing out of the house and with a black pen. And just need to keep reminding myself to do it.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
I’m trying to stop thinking of such things and be closer to the moment. But I will admit to wanting them to be writing about the work in 50 years.

That there was an engagement in the world and society that moved past style. That curiosity and a deep concern for the coming together of people were ongoing values. That the personal, social and political connections were visible.

What inspires you?
The people I work and live with. The world around me. The interest and excitement of others. Moments of kindness.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sad days at OBU

Kent's mother passed away on Thursday after a short illness. Any messages for Kent can be left in the comments section.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Umbrella Talk with playwright Joan MacLeod

In this week's Umbrella Talk, Joan MacLeod talks about working with Richard Rose, her life being a movie-of-the-week, and curses Morris Panych for stealing her Urjo Kareda story.

A little more about Joan MacLeod

Joan MacLeod’s plays include Jewel, Toronto, Mississippi, Amigo’s Blue Guitar, The Hope Slide, Little Sister, 2000, The Shape of a Girl and Homechild. She is the recipient of two Chalmers Canadian Play Awards, the Governor General’s Award, the Betty Mitchell Award and the Jessie Richardson Award. For seven years she was a playwright-in-residence at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre. The Shape of a Girl has been produced continually since its premiere at Alberta Theatre Projects in 2001 including a sold out run on Broadway and a recent production at the Sydney Opera House. Joan also writes poetry, prose and for television.

Since 2004 she has worked at the University of Victoria as an Associate Professor in the Department ofWriting. Her work has been translated into eight languages. This spring Joan will be the Senior-Playwright-in-Residence at the Playwrights Colony at the Banff Centre. Joan lives in Oak Bay with her thirteen-year-old daughter Ana and her husband Bill.

What do you drink on opening night?
Well I was about to tell you all about drinking scotch with Urjo Kareda on opening night and listening to the play in his office – but Morris (damn him) Panych beat me to it. Urjo and scotch was how I handled my first four openings. Now it’s Irish whiskey– something I usually drink only in Banff at the Playwrights Colony where the plays are developed and sometimes begin. Now I watch the premieres instead of hiding out and listening. At ATP’s opening of ‘Another Home Invasion’ last month, just by fluke, I was sitting beside Sharon Pollock -- which was wonderful and meaningful and strange.

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
I am completely crazy about working with Richard Rose at the moment. I don’t know how to look beyond that (our TO opening is just two days away). I had heard all these scary things about him but we’ve just had a great experience on this last play. He’s smart, hard-working, always bringing it back to structure. When he would ask for a rewrite and I would try and fool him by patching something up with poetry he would tell me it didn’t make sense, that it wasn’t part of the character’s argument. He doesn’t let me get away with a thing and he almost never gives me a compliment – which (perversely?) I also like. (See dealing with praise below).

What scares you? What can't you write about?
The fear of not being able to write is constant and always building. Every play that I finish – or story or poem – seems miraculous. I write about family all the time but I can’t write about my husband or daughter in a direct way.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
For five years now I’ve been thinking that I am about to write about Bountiful – the Mormon-extremist child-abusing horror show up in the East Kootenay.

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)
It wouldn’t be a play. It would be a movie-of-the-week on Sunday night. It would start with the lowest point in my life (not there yet) and then work its way backwards. It would star my friend and actor-extraordinaire Leslie Jones from Vancouver. For twenty years now we have been creating movie-of-the-weeks that accompany our lives.

How do you deal with praise?

I keep thinking of the last scene in that movie Babe (sheep farmer and Babe-the-pig who thinks he’s a sheep dog – note before hand that the pig is a noble creature in that movie). At the end of the movie after Babe has wowed everyone herding sheep etc. the farmer turns to Babe and says ‘That’ll do pig.’ Babe looks up at the farmer, feeling proud and worthy. That’s exactly what getting a compliment from Richard Rose is like – a rare event but it means everything.

With criticism?
I keep announcing I’m not going to read reviews anymore. But I always cave in and it always feels awful awful when I get a bad one. And all those clichés are also true – I remember the bad ones best. From now on I am NOT reading anymore reviews.

Where would you like your work to be produced?
My play ‘Shape of a Girl’ had a good run in the States. I’d like to have more plays that cross that border and have a life.

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?
I write my first drafts, for the most part, in long hand in these little note books. I hate sitting at a desk. I also have always loved the physical act of writing. I am forever buying new pens, the perfect notebook, that sort of thing. I put things into the computer as I go but I don’t create much on the keyboard until after the first draft. I’m afraid the computer will make things look too good too soon (see Morris Panych interview).

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
If they remember that I have a body of work that will be enough. If my work, which is rooted in a time and place that’s specific, is still relevant – great.

What inspires you?
I seem to have made a habit of writing about events that often have actually happened, that shouldn’t have happened – Reena Virk’s murder, the Ocean Ranger sinking, our immigration policies etc. I like to take a good hard look and then figure out a way of making those stories personal.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


So the deputy minister refused to give any details around the decision to cancel Trade Routes and the other arts programs cut last summer.

Let me take a wild guess. It's because the decision was completely politically motivated and the government lied about it being wasteful and ineffective?

The problem is that there is no recourse here that I can see. And what does that say about our government that these kinds of damaging decisions can be made and we're stuck with them?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Funding cuts review

The review of the program cuts by Canadian Heritage which was cut short by the election last year is now underway, according to James Bradshaw.

Today the committee was to hear from high ranking officials from Canadian Heritage. Can't wait to hear what they had to say.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Umbrella Talk with playwright Amiel Gladstone

In this week's Umbrella Talk, Amiel Gladstone talks about why every theatre should have a bar, cool filmmakers, and how nice it is to see other productions of his work.

A little more about Amiel Gladstone
Amiel Gladstone is a director and playwright.

As a playwright, his plays have been produced by Alberta Theatre Projects, Belfry Theatre, Caravan Farm Theatre, the National Arts Centre, Rumble Productions, Solo Collective, SummerWorks, Touchstone Theatre, Theatre SKAM, and Western Edge Theatre, in places as far ranging as France and Romania. A collection, Hippies and Bolsheviks and other plays, was published by Coach House Books in 2007.

As a director, his productions include the world premieres of Veda Hille's opera Jack Pine, Jason Bryden's The Dissemblers, Meg Braem's The Josephine Knot, Brian Fidler's Cam and Legs, Sean Dixon's The Gift of the Coat, Aerwacol and Billy Nothin’, Theatre Replacement's Yu-Fo, Elaine Avila's Lt. Nun, TJ Dawe and Michael Rinaldi's Toothpaste & Cigars, and his own plays The Black Box, The Wedding Pool and We Three Queens. Other directing: The Ends of the Earth, [sic], Unity (1918), Stone and Ashes, Zastrozzi. He has directed at Alberta Theatre Projects, Belfry Theatre, Caravan Farm Theatre, Firehall, the Guild in Whitehorse, Theatre Replacement, Ramshackle Theatre, Rumble Productions, Touchstone Theatre, Theatre SKAM, Vancouver Opera, University of Victoria and Langara College’s Studio 58.

He can be found at

What do you drink on opening night?
Usually whatever I can get my hands on. I think every theatre should have a bar. And you should be able to bring drinks into the theatre.

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
Off the top of my head, Michel Gondry or Richard Linklater. Both filmmakers really.

What scares you? What can't you write about?
Yuck. The last five years before death.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
The story of my grandfather who was shot down in WWII and spent most of the war in a POW camp in Poland. They put on plays and gave concerts for each other while planning the Great Escape.

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?
I try to keep my head down, either way. I'm tall. It can be hard.

Where would you like your work to be produced?
Toronto. New York. I've already done it myself, I just want someone else to produce now. Actually, anywhere really. It's one of my favourite recent things; go on trips to places I have never been to see other productions. It's been delightful.

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?
Both. Pen, to jot things down. Then finally keyboard to make a draft. Then pen on the hard copy. Keyboard to incorporate that, etc.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
His work is so spry and energetic - just like him.

What inspires you?
Music. Good deeds. Sitting through boring shows. Friends. Well prepared food. Adversity. Deadlines.

Friday, March 6, 2009

What if you could save the world?

I'm recognizing that inside me beats the heart of a hero. I have a deep desire to make a difference, to enact change one person at a time. And that I truly believe that theatre has the power to do this by connecting us to our shared humanity.

Am I the only person who feels this way?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Umbrella Talk with playwright Morris Panych

In this week's Umbrella Talk, Morris Panych talks about his hangover cure, his plays achieving a second life, and how music moves him.

A little more about Morris Panych
Morris graduated from Creative Writing at UBC in 1977, and had his first professional production in 1982 with Last Call for Tamahnous Theatre in Vancouver. Since that time, he has written twenty plays and adapted half a dozen others. He has twice won the Governor General Literary Award for Drama, the highest honour for playwriting in Canada. Morris has directed eighty plays. He has also directed for film and opera, as well as music video. His acclaimed film of The Overcoat won an honourable mention at the Prix Italia. You can find out more about his work at

What do you drink on opening night?
I like to start in the morning, to be honest. I like to be pissed enough by show time that I appear relaxed, funny, easy going and generally feeling great about my work, when in actual fact I’m really just a little hammered. At the Tarragon, when Urjo (Kareda) was alive, we used to drink scotch all through the show; he would listen on the tanoy and I would venture, drunk, into the theatre, through the little back door. This I call the barf door, for two reasons. Immediately after any show, the obligatory cheap champagne I sip then dump into somebody else’s glass; if somebody buys me a nice bottle I hide in a washroom and drink it, if somebody else gets a nice bottle I hide in the washroom and drink it with them; as for the ‘gala’ after party, usually I have red wine because I get a free couple of plastic glasses worth. If I am unlucky enough to have Maria Popoff as stage manager, there will be weird cocktails until about four am., and if Randy Hughson is in the show, beer and slurred but meaningful conversation until the sun comes up. Then it’s Richard Ouzounian’s review; a bracing and effective cure for any hangover.

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
I can tell you who would direct the uncoolest. The asshole from New York who directed Avenue Q. He arranged a reading of ‘Girl in the Goldfish Bowl’ for the Roundabout Theatre, for which he hired a ten year old actress (a part normally played by a forty year old woman who is recalling her childhood). I said to him, yeah o.k. but how does this person become forty years old at the end of each act? He said, yeah, that’s a bit of a problem. I think the coolest person would be the person who loved and understood my work and wanted an audience to love and understand it in the same way.

What scares you? What can't you write about?
I am scared to write non-comedic material because I fear it will come across as melodramatic. But I have to try. Lately I have been working to take away the comedy somewhat from my writing, deal with different themes. I cannot write about contemporary politics. I think I’ve been around long enough to know that some things don’t last, trends change, philosophy evolves; what matters to me is human interaction; things that don’t change, ever - fear, anger, love, death,suspicion. I can’t write about the war in Iraq because I don’t know what to say about it. I can say ‘war is bad’ but that’s not very interesting, and not necessarily even true. I admire people who can find something to talk about in everyday politics, who can address current issues; I can’t. I am scared of success, and failure in equal measure, but what scares me the most is writing that’s irrelevant. It’s a terrible contradiction to want to be relevant but not write about things that are current; I am pretty much doomed to failure. Sometimes I think I should write about being gay but I have nothing to say about that, either. ‘I’m gay’ is not a play; although some people seem to have made a career of it.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
Sin. What it is. I don’t know, but when I figure it out, I want to write about it. And love; I would like to write a love story – it would be sad, I think, and a little bit funny. I guess Vigil is a kind of love story. I want to write more about lost children; since my parents both died, I feel I have become one.

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)
It would be a Beckett play, except that he’s dead, so there is nobody to write it, thank goodness. Bravo did a documentary about Ken (MacDonald) and I a couple of years ago; I don’t know if ‘Boring Comedy’ is a genre – oh wait, that’s Shaw – how about ‘Comedy Docu-drama’?

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?
I take both far too seriously. I wish, honestly, everybody would just shut the fuck up about the work and either do the work or watch the work; a smattering of applause, go home. You don’t get anybody standing over a plumber at the sink going ‘oh, that washer was connected with such a fine comedic sense’ or ‘haven’t we all seen you attach a faucet like that over and over again?’. A crazy woman came up to me at the corner of Queen and Parliament and said ‘you; you’re ugly’. For a long time after I thought, what did she mean? Am I really ugly? Is she telling me something nobody else will? Does she have some special insight into my soul? Or is she just crazy? Criticism sticks. I’m pretty sure she was insane but there is a small part of me, still, that is carrying around this feeling that I might be just a little bit ugly.

Where would you like your work to be produced?
It’s a nice feeling to have a play make you some money, so anywhere is fine. That said, one of my favorite recent experiences was going to see Lawrence and Holloman at a little hole in the wall place in Kensington Market. I felt that the play had legitimately reached it’s second life; a life away from the main theatre constituency. I love to have my plays achieve this second life, anywhere; in little out of the way places, in big houses. It’s important to me that my work is produced in places other than just where it originated. It makes me feel like my children are finally leaving home and going out into the world to make their mark.

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?
I hate to admit it, but I have almost no penmanship left. I lack the coordination even to write my own name. I believe that writing will move more and more to the keyboard, and that the work itself will more and more reflect this mutable, tangential form; no less true, but less rooted. Committing to pen and paper is very different than committing to computer, which is not so much a commitment as a first date. I can change my writing on computer and nobody has to ever know just how shitty it was. I don’t have to take responsibility for what I write nearly as much as when I used to have to use white out. When I was first in Creative Writing at UBC, we copied our scripts on gestetner machines, which were like a kind of printing press. There were a lot more steps so I thought more carefully about what I was writing. I wish I were the kind of person who could carry around a little notebook. Writing to me needs discipline. I get up, I get coffee, I go to my attic room, I turn on my computer, I fall asleep, I wake up, I write.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
Sometimes, in my moments of lowest self-esteem, which is at about 3:00 every afternoon, I check the online encyclopedias to see what they say about me. This, I guess, is pretty much how it might look in 50 years, unless by then there are no academics and the world has become so self-reflective and narcissistic that the past doesn’t really matter; it’s possible. I would like them to say, these academics, that I existed. The worst fate for an artist is to have not been heard; that’s my idea of eternal damnation.

What inspires you?
To say what inspires me, sort of implies that I’m inspired, which I’m often not. But I am often moved, particularly by acts of kindness; even somebody opening a door for me and smiling can bring me to tears, of late. I feel pretty emotional when somebody displays their humanity, even in passing. The thing that most deeply moves me is music; say, for instance, Prokofiev’s cello concerto. To think how somebody could be such a genius to construct and interweave those harmonies, and to do it with such apparent ease and wit, but more than that how this man has reached out a hundred years and somehow known what was in my heart. How his music speaks to me; that is moving. For art to reverberate through space is wonderful, but through time is awe-inspiring.