This One Goes to Eleven: Susan Stevenson

A lot of time is spent on this site and its interview series discussing the many potential ways that the theatre business in Vancouver may be improved. Lest this offer the impression that our theatre has a foot in the grave we present a conversation with Susan Stevenson. Susan is the Executive Director of the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance, a position which affords her a uniquely comprehensive perspective on the our community as a whole. Read on for a good, solid shot of theatrical positivism…

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1.) In one word, describe your present condition.

Optimistic.

2.) In as many or as few words as you’d like, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

Growing. We have over 100 companies and new members joining the GVPTA all the time, and we publish 50% more listings in the Vancouver Theatre Guide than we did when I first started this job four years ago. Bard on the Beach reports they sold out every seat of every show for its entire run in 2007! That, and the recent success of the PuSh festival and the thriving independent theatre scene here tells me there is an audience for all types of theatre in Vancouver. We are in need of more facilities (production, rehearsal, storage, performance) to accommodate all this growth.

3.) Please tell us a bit about the role of the GVPTA today.

We produce two major events each year: The Making a Scene Conference in November and a Celebration of World Theatre Day in March. We also offer artistic and administrative workshops, publish the Vancouver Theatre Guide three times a year, issue daily information to members via e-mail, and send weekly updates to the general public on what’s playing in our “Casting the Net” bulletins. Membership is open to companies of all sorts and to individual artists and friends (see www.gvpta.ca for further details).

4.) What is the most essential resource for young theatre companies that they probably don’t know about?

The GVPTA has a mentorship program and can help find a match for emerging companies/artists with our more established companies. You volunteer some time to the mentor in exchange for your mentorship.

5.) The GVPTA started as an activist group. Is that still an accurate description of its agenda?

Our mandate is to promote live theatre and foster a thriving environment for the continued growth and development of theatre. At times that does involve advocacy work. For example, we just submitted a brief to the City of Vancouver on the acute need for performance, rehearsal, production and storage space for theatre companies. But activism or advocacy to government is only one part of what we do. Like most service organizations, we also offer joint marketing, networking and professional development opportunities to members.

6.) Where should we be focusing our marketing towards developing a future audience for theatre here?

Joint marketing efforts.

I know people pick up the Vancouver Theatre Guide because it offers a quick reference to the diversity of choices in live theatre that exists throughout all the venues/companies in the region. Theatre-goers also have responded favourably to our “Casting the Net” weekly e-mail reminders on what’s opening/closing each week. Obviously, the younger generation in particular can be found on Facebook, so our members are starting to have a presence there, too.

An annual, coordinated Free Night of Theatre program that has taken off in the United States is something that could be worth our while to explore here to help build new audiences.

7.) How healthy is the Vancouver theatre community as a mutually supportive family?

One of the main purposes of creating the Making the Scene conference nine years ago was to build community, and people frequently come away from the conference saying they realize they aren’t alone in their profession after all.

I can think of several good examples of theatre companies and artists coming together to be mutually supportive: the GVPTA Discount Card program helps make shows more affordable for individual artist members; The Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards (founded by the GVPTA but run by a separate society); The See Seven initiative; and Progress Lab/HIVE. The Performing Arts Lodge has also created a new family-like living environment for individuals.

But there’s always room for more community building and more support and services. If you have ideas about how we can work together, the GVPTA’s committees are a grass-roots forum for exploring them. Consider joining one of the following committees: Marketing, Membership, Making a Scene Conference, World Theatre Day or Advocacy.

8.) What would you like to see more of on our stages?

I enjoy seeing work that combines dance or movement with theatre. The GVPTA brought out Paula de Vasconcelos of Pigeons International (Montreal) to give a workshop Feb 16-20 on dance-theatre and it has been fascinating to see a mixed group of dancers and actors learning together. Pigeons International does both dance and theatre equally, but it’s not easy to do and it takes a fairly mature artist to be able to tackle both. As Paula commented, when she sees work that is just one or the other, she feels like she’s using just one half of her brain, but dance-theatre work has the capacity to speak to both halves.

9.) What did you think of the Open Space?

It’s a great way to get people talking and networking and I think possibly the best way to undertake a public consultation process if you really want to be thorough and democratic, rather than setting the agenda in advance.

10.) What are your top three arts administration reads?

The Art of Governance: Boards in the Performing Arts, published by Theatre Communication Group, NYC, 2005.

Hills Strategies Research Inc. e-bulletins

Art News Canada e-bulletins. Subscribe here.

11.) What’s next?

We are gearing up for a celebration of World Theatre Day at the end of March. Check out our web site at www.gvpta.ca and watch for the brochure on all the free, pay-what-you-can or discounted events. Hope to see you at our benefit performance My First Time – The Love Scene March 25 at the Waterfront Theatre! The silent auction this year features an exhibition of Art by Actors on display at the Vancouver Central Library March 1-24.

And then later this spring, we’ll be bringing out Richard Rose from Tarragon Theatre (Toronto) to lead a two-day directing workshop May 6 and 7.

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