Ryan is the Artistic Director of Fighting Chance Productions, a young and prolific company whose consistent body of work has already drawn a great deal of positive attention. They were all over the news in November when their mounting of The Laramie Project caused a bit of a stir. And their previous work; The Musical of Musicals, The Musical! was a Pick of the Fringe at last year’s fest, an honour bestowed by the audience themselves.
There’s definitely a momentum building…
1. In one word, describe your present condition.
2. In more than one word, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.
I love Vancouver theatre. There’s so much incredible stuff to behold here. One of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had at the theatre was seeing Other Freds a few years ago. I almost missed it but a friend who was in it said I had to go, and I was thrilled I did. It really opened my mind to what is possible with this art form. I wish there was more opportunities for people to work together too. There seems to be this “us versus them” mentality. This summer we were fortunate to share the fringe space we used with a company called GasHeart Theatre which did a production called “The Mechanical Bride” and we really tried to support each other – their show was incredibly innovative, I really enjoyed it and while it’s not where I see Fighting Chance going in the type of work that they want to do I so enjoyed their show that I told everyone I knew to check it out. We have to support each other, especially us newer, younger companies.
3. Describe the ideal Vancouver theatre industry.
I think an industry where people go and support other people’s work – and not just because they get complimentary tickets – but because they want to put their money where their mouth is. I pay for a lot of theatre, even when I get offered comps. Last year I had a subscription to Pacific Theatre, United Players, See Seven and the Firehall… because I think that unless we support each other financially – how can we expect others to do the same? Obviously we’re not rich – I’m certainly not by any means rich – however I believe in going to theatre. Someone once pointed out that if you go out for a night on the town in Vancouver you’re looking at between 10 and 15 dollars for cover charge, drinks are 6 to 9 dollars and then you’re cabbing home. So when all is said and done by the time you spend one or two nights out you could be subscribing to an entire season of theatre.
4. What’s the first thing we need to address towards attaining that goal?
Working together more. When we did The Laramie Project recently I invited a few artistic directors from some fresher theatre companies to opening, and I comped them in. I don’t know these folks well, but there seems to be an emergence of “under 30” companies in Vancouver right now and I think that we’re going to have to work together if we want to stick it out.
January marks Fighting Chance’s 2 year anniversary, in that time we have produced 5 shows, 3 remounts and 6 fundraisers/cabarets. We are very fortunate. I think that it’s hard enough putting on a show, but if you can strive to continue to do it, well I would hope that others in the community would start to take notice – and indeed they have. Our last two shows (Musicals of Musicals and Laramie) have been attended by some pretty “high up there” theatre people in this community – and that in turn is great for the actors involved, because they get to be seen in a full performance rather than just a 3 minute monologue
5. What responsibilities, if any, does theatre hold to its community?
I think the main responsibility that we hold is to ensure that we are producing material that appeals to the public. People love to see stuff they know – and I think you can entice them to see stuff they don’t know – but it has to be a balance. I think it’s easy to beat up on the “big guys” in town and say “Oh God, they’re doing THAT show again?” but for every David Mamet you have to put on one Rodgers & Hammerstein sometimes to make ends meet.
6. Do you see enough theatre? And how much is enough theatre?
Good question. I was in NYC in December and I saw 13 shows in 9 days. It was ridiculous. It was theatre overload and I haven’t actually been to see anything since being back in Vancouver. I love going though. Even with shows that I don’t enjoy I realize that there’s an educational aspect for me as a producer or as a director there. I try to go to a lot of theatre. In November I saw what averaged out to about 2 shows a week, and that was while Laramie was running. There’s so much good stuff out there, in my “curtain speech” every night before Laramie I would tell people to just pick up a newspaper and head to something they’re unsure of. Sometimes those experiences can be the most rewarding. However, as ticket prices climb that’s easier said than done.
7. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far about directing for the stage?
Trusting your actors. I remember when I first finished college at a school that will remain unnamed due to the fact that it wasn’t the greatest experience of my life, and I figured as a director you had to have a vision, and you had to hold your cast to a super strong standard. That if they were late for rehearsal you had to belittle them, or make them feel bad – because that’s what I saw in my schooling. I wanted to be a ‘professional’ director and therefore I needed to hold everyone to the same standard. I had a little bit of a Napoleon complex. But then I started to realize that a lot of people I was working with were there because they had day jobs, and they wanted to be able to enjoy themselves in a fun atmosphere outside of work. That theatre for them wasn’t a hobby – but a career. So then I started to take a new approach – and it’s worked so far. I cast greatly talented people and I step back and let them do their thing. And if their thing gets to be too much or not enough or not conducive to what’s going on I ask them why they’re doing that and try and work with them to find a happy medium that makes the project work.
8. What do you look for in prospective projects?
Well, with Fighting Chance what I’ve tried to do is pick projects that have smaller casts and are really able to highlight the performers… Autobahn (our first show) had a cast of 14, but all the scenes took place in the front seat of a car so it was only two people per scene. Laramie had a cast of 12 but again each person really had the opportunity to be seen. So that’s the first criteria. Secondly, I try hard to pick material that either has never been done here or rarely been done here. Laramie had been performed by several colleges/high schools, but I think we were the first semi-professional (or whatever you want to call it) production in Vancouver. Musical of Musicals and Autobahn have never been done. Same with tick… tick… BOOM!, our next show. Finally I want people to be entertained – so the script or the music obviously has to be strong. With all the craziness that happened surrounding Laramie a lot of the press asked me if I searched for controversial shows, and the truth is I don’t at all. I know a lot of people feel that theatre has to say something – and I think there’s a place for that sort of theatre – but ultimately it’s an escape for people, and hopefully sparks a discussion on the way home. That’s ultimately what I hope to achieve with each production.
9. Who would you kill to work with?
Haha… I love this question because the people I’d kill to work with probably have no idea who I am! I’ve been blessed that every cast I’ve ever worked with on a Fighting Chance show has just been incredible, given their all to the work. I’d work with anyone from Laramie or Musical again in a heartbeat. The other ones too. But since you’re asking, I’m a huge fan of Josh Epstein – and we are friends, at least on Facebook and I just think he’s extremely talented. That goes for so many performers in this town though. I am so in awe of the work that gets done here.
10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?
1. Anything by Neil Labute. I love the twists in his work.
2. Playbill.com keeps me entertained at work. There’s stories about Broadway shows, who’s going to be in what, and Seth Rudetsky (who’s a Musical Director on Broadway) writes this weekly column all about his week interviewing people and such. It’s the highlight of my Monday mornings.
3. This isn’t sucking up – but I love The Next Stage and I love plankmagazine.com (oh and I also enjoy vancouverplays.com) I wish there was a site that people could write reviews of shows themselves. Plank was doing that for the Fringe and it seemed to be working really well. I think that if someone were to have something like that online that all the companies decided to devote advertising to in their programs it might be a really cool thing!
11. What’s next?
The remount of Laramie closes on January 31st and then we audition for tick…tick…BOOM! on February 2nd and 5th. A week or two after that we’ll hold auditions for our “night with neil” festival which is essentially three Neil Labute shows running in rep for three weeks. The Distance From Here and Some Girl(s) which have never been done here and The Mercy Seat which was part of the Fringe a few years ago. That should be cool, I’ll direct one and I’m hoping to have two other artists direct the other two. Then we’re hoping to partner with a theatre in town to do a musical this summer – but that’s still up in the air.